03/15/2011, 00.00
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Saudi troops in Bahrain, Manama says thanks, Tehran complains

Gulf Cooperation Council members send security forces to help Sunni-led Bahrain. The Shia-dominated opposition protests and issues warnings, backed by Iran’s foreign minister who demands “respect” for the rights of demonstrators.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – With a front-page title that reads “Joint destiny”, the Gulf Daily News reported the arrival of troops (pictured) from the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an organisation that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. According to the paper, King Hamad said, as he received Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and Qatari Premier and Foreign Minister Shaikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, that GCC support for Bahrain reflected the organisation’s strong bonds and joint destiny.

However, the intervention could take on confessional overtones and have international repercussions because Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are backing the government and the opposition respectively.

Manama’s request for military aid came a day after another Shia-led pro-reform demonstration in the capital’s business district, which was harshly put down by police with a heavy toll in deaths and injured people.

The wave of grassroots protests that is sweeping the Arab world has taken on a particular hue in Bahrain because it combines a demand for democracy and a call for power sharing by the country’s Shia majority after two centuries of Sunni domination.

Bahraini authorities called on the population to “co-operate fully and to welcome” the Saudi-led troops. In Riyadh, officials were quick to point out that “The Saudi Cabinet has confirmed that it has answered a request by Bahrain for support”.

The arrival of foreign troops has not been welcomed by Bahrain’s Shias. Their leader, Saeed al-Shehabi, speaking on Iranian TV, warned the Saudis that they “are better advised to go back to their borders [. . .] otherwise there will be bad consequences.”

The presence of foreign soldiers, he added, “could ignite [. . .] war in the region, because changing the balance of power [. . .] is very sensitive at this moment of time, especially when the revolutions and people's demands continue to be put forward.”

Al-Shehabi’s words were echoed in Tehran. Speaking on behalf of the Iranian government, which did not hesitate to crush in blood demonstrations by Iranian dissidents, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned Bahrain against using “violence and force against the population”, adding that Iran expects "the Bahraini government to be wise in responding to the demands of protesters and respecting their rights.” (PD)

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