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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
‘Saudi intervention is a declaration of war’
By staff and agencies
MANAMA/TEHRAN - Bahraini opposition groups, including the largest Shia Muslim party Wefaq, said on Monday that any intervention by foreign Arab forces on the Persian Gulf island is a declaration of war and occupation.
The comments came in response to reports that Bahrain had called in forces from its Persian Gulf neighbors to put down the month-long uprising, Reuters reported.
More than 1,000 Saudi troops, part of the Persian Gulf countries’ Peninsula Shield Force, have entered Bahrain, a Saudi official told AFP on Monday.
The Saudi forces are there on behalf of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC), the regional organization whose members are Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman.
Their intervention underlines Saudi Arabia’s deep concern over the unrest on its border, but it will most likely only harden the stance of the protesters, who have not been satisfied with the government’s response to their demands, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
Opposition protesters are demanding far-reaching democratic reform in the mainly Shia country which has been ruled by a Sunni monarchy for more than 200 years.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has offered dialogue and a new, empowered parliament and other reforms, but the opposition has refused to sit down to talks until the government resigns.
-------Iran expresses concern
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman also expressed deep concern over the intensification of violence and foreign intervention in Bahrain.
Commenting on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent visit to Manama, Ramin Mehmanparast said that it would be better for the United States to respect democracy and regional nations’ rights instead of giving the green light to military intervention in Bahrain.
The Saudi intervention came after Gates visited Manama last week and held talks with King Hamad, in which he allegedly urged him to make rapid and significant reforms.
But apart from rhetorical condemnation, the U.S. has yet to take any action against the Bahraini government.
Bahrain received roughly $19 million in military aid from the U.S. in 2010, and expects to receive a similar amount this year.
Many Bahrainis are now nervously looking across to Saudi Arabia and wondering whether its neighbor will send more troops to prop up its close ally, the Al Khalifa ruler.
According to Al Jazeera, anti-regime protesters are concerned that Saudi troops will be used to clear Pearl Square. And even some regime supporters fear the economic impact of what would essentially become a foreign invasion.
Political analysts believe that if foreign troops confront protesters, the situation will most likely escalate.
------- Calls for martial law
Also on Monday, a parliamentary group asked King Hamad to impose martial law in Bahrain.
The parliamentary bloc’s statement, carried by the state-run Bahrain News Agency, asked for a three-month declaration of martial law and claimed “extremist movements” are trying to disrupt the country and push it toward sectarian conflict, Al Jazeera reported.
The appeal also seeks a curfew and the dispatch of army units across the country.
But witnesses say there are now checkpoints -- manned by ordinary citizens -- in several cities and towns outside Manama.
The thousands of protesters camped in Pearl Square say they will not leave until the king steps down and the government implements political and economic reforms.
-------Ministry of Foreign Affairs closed
In another development, Bahraini protesters closed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ordered the employees to leave on Monday.
According to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency, security forces created checkpoints on the King Fahd Causeway on Monday and only allowed vehicles to enter Saudi Arabia after inspecting them.