The two-hour demonstration, including women covered head-to-toe in black chadors, ended peacefully, but it caused a minor traffic jam on a key highway cutting through the commercial Seef district on the outskirts south of the capital, Manama.

The area is home to foreign banks, companies, shopping malls and the island's only five-star deluxe hotel, currently at full occupancy because of Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

"Wealth should be for all," read one banner. "Unemployment is a time bomb," read another as protesters screamed, "We want decent jobs."

Discrimination accusations

Lack of job opportunities in Bahrain, which has a population of 400,000 citizens and 200,000 residents, was a key factor in unrest that erupted in the mid-1990s, when Shia Muslims accused the Sunni-dominated government of job discrimination. More than 40 people were killed in the unrest.

One study said jobs must be
doubled over the next decade

Bahrain's Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa in September called for the start of a national debate about the tiny Gulf kingdom's economic future after a study predicted the labor force will nearly double in the next decade.

Job shortage

An independent study on Bahrain's labor market by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. warns that over the next decade the country needs to find employment for 100,000 new job entrants, nearly doubling its current labor force of around 110,000.

The study estimated the Bahraini unemployment rate is hovering at about 13-16 percent and warns that if the current trends continue, the rate could reach 35 percent over the next decade, leaving possibly one in three Bahrainis unemployed.

In 2001, the government began a $66 million program to train and find jobs for citizens, but unemployment still continues to be a burgeoning problem with thousands of Bahrainis entering the job market each year.

Bahrain's king, Shaikh Hamad, has taken bold steps since assuming the throne in 1999 to move the country from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. He pardoned more than 1000 political prisoners and allowed exiles to return.

In 2002, Bahrain held its first parliamentary elections since 1971.