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March 20, 2011

Bahrain Says Foreign Plot Foiled

The king of Bahrain says a "foreign plot" against his country has been foiled with the help of Gulf Arab forces. He did not name any specific plotters, but some analysts saw his remarks as a veiled reference to Iran.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s comments on Monday came after Sunni-ruled Bahrain and Shi’ite-ruled Iran had recalled their ambassadors and each expelled a diplomat of the other country.

Tehran has criticized the deployment of Gulf troops to Bahrain to help quell anti-government protests by mainly Shi’ite Muslims, who represent nearly two-thirds of the country’s population.

Director of International Relations at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, Christian Koch, says there are fears Iran is trying to intervene in Bahrain’s internal affairs to extend its influence in the region, which it has tried to do in the past.

"At the moment there is at least a suspicion that Iran would once again try to take advantage and establish contact with some more radical opposition groups in Bahrain to cause a little bit more disturbance and therefore, Bahrain is very concerned about this," Koch said.

Since demonstrations broke out in mid-February, Bahraini protesters have largely distanced themselves from neighboring Iran.

Most analysts like Gala Riani from IHS Global Insight say the majority of demonstrators and opposition groups in Bahrain are cautions of Tehran’s backing.

"If any of those groups openly seek out Iranian support and call for Iranian support then that would simply exacerbate matters for them," said Riani.

However, Riani says a prolonged crackdown by Bahrain's government could prompt opposition supporters to seek outside assistance in the future.

Protesters in the island nation have been demanding more rights and political reforms, but some hardliners have also been calling for the ouster of the ruling family.

The crisis in the country is raising worries of growing sectarian unrest in the region.

On Monday, hundreds of Shi’ite protesters in Saudi Arabia marched in support of Bahrain's Shi'ites. There have been similar demonstrations by Shi’ites in Iraq.

 

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