gency) - Tens of thousands of Bahrainis have rallied outside the capital, Manama, to protest against the proposed Saudi Arabia-Bahrain merger plan.Marching under the slogan of '"Yes to Our Nation", Bahraini protesters jammed a major highway west of Manama on Friday to express their opposition to the Saudi bid for a closer union with Bahrain, saying their country is not for sale.
They also chanted slogans against their country's ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Similar protest rallies in Sitra, Nuwaidrat and Bilad al- Qadim turned violent after Saudi-backed Bahraini forces fired tear gas at protesters.
Bahraini opposition described the proposed merger plan as a sellout of the country's independence and an effort to give Saudi security forces a stronger hand in suppression of anti-government protests.
Meanwhile, top Bahraini cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim has said that any proposed union of the two countries must be put to a referendum.
The people have the "right to oppose or approve this union," Qassim said.
"Why prevent the people from expressing their fear, their opposition and their legitimate peaceful resistance to a project that is being forced on them?" he asked.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to initially create a closer union with Bahrain in line with plans to unify the six Arab member states of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council.
Although the exact nature of such union among the six Arab countries is unclear, reports say the Saudi unity proposal calls for economic, political and military coordination and a new decision-making body based in Riyadh to replace the bloc’s current secretariat.
Iran says the plan is aimed at quelling the protests in Bahrain as the Al Khalifa regime is unable to stop the peaceful demonstrations in the country.