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May 11, 2011

Bahrain Says Foreign Forces Will Remain

Bahrain's top military leader says foreign forces will remain in the Gulf island kingdom after it lifts emergency rule next month.

Commander-in-Chief Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa was quoted late Wednesday by the official news agency (BNA) as saying Gulf Arab forces will stay in Bahrain "in anticipation of any foreign threat."  

Led by Saudi Arabia, a 1,500-strong foreign military presence has been in Bahrain since March. Kingdom rulers asked for the help as they cracked down on anti-government protests.

Regional tensions are heightened as Iran has condemned the foreign presence, saying troops are targeting Bahrain's Shi'ite majority, which has lead the revolt against the Sunni-led monarchy.  

Bahrain's military commander also issued a stern warning to government opponents against taking to the streets in protest.

Hundreds have been arrested and dozens put on trial in special courts since protests were crushed in March. The state of emergency is due to be lifted June 1.

Bahraini officials have said 24 people died in the unrest, and the government has arrested hundreds in the aftermath of the protests.

Human Rights Watch said Bahrain should suspend prosecution of civilians in military courts and set up an impartial body to investigate allegations of torture during the government clampdown.

Bahrain's state oil company has fired almost 300 employees in recent weeks for participating in anti-government demonstrations and general strikes.

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa said parliamentary elections would be held September 24 to fill seats vacated by Shi'ite lawmakers who resigned to protest police violence against demonstrators.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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