Bahrain foreign minister floats plan to expand Gulf force

May 20, 2011

DUBAI: Bahrain’s foreign minister floated the idea of expanding military bases within a bloc of Sunni-led Gulf Arab allies that helped Manama quash mostly Shiite protests it blamed rival Shiite power Iran for stoking.

Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa said in an interview with PBS Newshour Wednesday evening that concerns over Iranian interference may push the Gulf Cooperation Council to reshape its Gulf military presence.

“Any threat that any country would face would definitely, no doubt, affect its neighbors. Saudi Arabia is only 28 kilometers away from here. We are looking at the GCC force to be expanded, to have multi-bases everywhere in the GCC,” he told the U.S. television program. “So whether they leave or stay or be restructured, that’s what is to be discussed in the future.”

Bahrain’s Sunni rulers imposed emergency law and called in troops from neighboring countries in March to quash protests led mostly by its Shiite majority demanding reforms.

Sheikh Khalid told Newshour that Bahrain was getting a “daily barrage” of statements from Iran that worried the tiny Gulf island country.

“I can tell you that they have people sympathizing with them here,” he said, adding that not all Shiites were siding with Iran. “There’s definitely an Iranian interest group in Bahrain.”

Meanwhile, a military court Thursday sentenced nine people to 20 years in prison after they were convicted of kidnapping a policeman. One of the men sentenced was a prominent religious cleric and political activist.

International and local rights groups have criticized the government for the severity of its security sweep, in which masked troops manned checkpoints throughout the city and hundreds of people, mostly Shiite activists or politicians, were arrested. At least four detainees have died in custody.

Some 1,000 protesters in a Sunni neighborhood of Manama rallied Wednesday night but several religious clerics urged them to return home.

Some of the demonstrators vowed to gather again after prayers Friday, a day which has taken on great significance since pro-democracy protests began sweeping the Arab region. Protesters have used Friday prayers to mobilize larger crowds.

In his Newshour interview, Sheikh Khalid said that a security presence would still be high after emergency law is lifted despite the removal of tanks and military from the streets.

“There’s no doubt that the police will be on their toes 24/7, because the time just after June 1 … it’s a very delicate period we want to ensure nothing goes wrong and we don’t slide back to chaos.”

Source: The Daily Star.
Link: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2011/May-20/Bahrain-foreign-minister-floats-plan-to-expand-Gulf-force.ashx.

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