Thousands of jubilant Bahrainis returned on Saturday to Manama's Pearl Square, the focal point of bloody anti-regime demonstrations, after police and troops withdrew in what appeared to be a conciliatory move.
After the security forces had pulled out, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered that they were to stay away from demonstrators.
Prince Salman, deputy commander of armed forces, ordered “all security forces to immediately withdraw from assembly areas,” said a statement carried by BNA state agency.
It added that he had also asked the “crowds to leave” to start a “new phase of national action that would bring together all parties”.
The latest developments come as pressure grows on the pro-western, strategically vital Gulf kingdom to negotiate with the Shia-led opposition, which has been demanding the government resign before talks offered by the king can begin.
Protesters began erecting tents in the square after removing barbed wire and pouring in from three streets.
Police, who had earlier fired tear gas in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent people from getting in from one of the streets, eventually followed the Army's lead and withdrew as well.
Some demonstrators were evacuated to Salmaniya hospital after inhaling gas, an AFP journalist there reported.
“I am happy we are back; I told you we would be back,” 23-year-old Ibrahim told AFP in the square from which protesters were driven in a deadly police raid on Thursday and the Army moved in with threats of firm measures to enforce security.
But three days later, the Army returned to its bases on Saturday afternoon.
“People want the regime to fall,” chanted demonstrators gathered at the roundabout, saying they wanted “peaceful” protests.