Iran criticized the deployment of soldiers from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states into Bahrain, the first cross-border intervention since a wave of popular uprisings swept through parts of the Arab world.
“The presence of foreign troops and meddling into Bahrain’s internal affairs will only further complicate the issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran today. Saudi troops were not visible in main areas of the capital today.
A month of clashes between mainly Shiite protesters and Bahraini security forces escalated on March 13, with more than 100 people injured as demonstrators demanded democracy through elections from their Sunni monarch.
The protests have fueled fears that unrest may spread to Saudi Arabia. Many Shiite Bahrainis retain cultural and family ties with Iran and Shiites in eastern Saudi Arabia; Bahrain’s ruling family has close links with Saudi Arabia, which holds 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves.
Credit-default swaps on Bahrain rose 18.5 basis points to 332.5 basis points, according to CMA, the highest since July 2009. Bahrain’s 10-year dollar bond fell yesterday with the yield on the 5.5 percent bond maturing in March 2020 climbing 29 basis points, the most since Feb. 3, to 6.60 percent, according to prices compiled on Bloomberg.
In the center of the capital, Manama, more than a thousand people were gathered in the main roundabout, a frequent site of protests for the past month. A military helicopter flew overhead. No police could be seen in the area.
Several dozen protesters camped out overnight on a main street in Manama’s financial center, closing off the thoroughfare. The demonstrators set up tents, including one to provide first aide.
“The Saudis are adding fire to the situation,” said one of the protesters, Hussein Ali, a 40-year-old mechanical engineer. “We consider the Gulf force to be an invader.”
Small groups of young men set up barricades with poles, concrete and trash containers on streets in the diplomatic section of Manama last night, not far from the central bank and justice and foreign affairs ministries. Armed with metal pipes, they monitored passing cars.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has offered a national “dialogue” toward changes in response to the demonstrations, which hasn’t quieted protesters. Gulf states said on March 10 that they plan to provide Bahrain and Oman, which also faces a popular protest movement, with $10 billion each over a decade. Shiites comprise as much as 70 percent of the Bahraini population.
Saudi Arabian troops moved into Bahrain as part of a regional force from the Gulf Cooperation Council. The United Arab Emirates sent some 500 soldiers, U.A.E. Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan said. The troops are part of Joint Peninsula Shield, a GCC military coalition established to protect the six member states from outside attack. More than 100 military vehicles have crossed into Bahrain, Al Jazeera television reported.
The forces will protect “vital installations in Bahrain and maintain stability and security,” Jamal Fakhro, the first deputy chairman of the Bahrain Shura Council, said yesterday in a telephone interview.
The deployment of Gulf soldiers signals that the Bahraini regime has lost confidence it can deal with the protests and underscores Saudi Arabian concerns about uprisings at home, according to Christopher Davidson, a scholar in Middle East politics at Durham University and author of “Power and Politics in the Gulf Monarchies,”
“It is in Saudi’s interest that nothing serious happens in Bahrain, because it would embolden similar protests in its eastern provinces,” Davidson said in a telephone interview late yesterday.
Saudi Arabia’s Shiite population, who make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population, have been holding protests every Thursday and Friday for the past few weeks in towns and villages a short drive from the Bahrain causeway. The Saudi Shiites have demanded the release of Shiite prisoners held without public trial since 1996.
The U.S. State Department urged citizens to defer travel to Bahrain and advised those in the island kingdom to “consider departing,” the State Department said in an e-mailed statement.
The U.S. is urging Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, to allow nonviolent protests and encouraging Gulf nations to use restraint, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa said he was committed to starting a dialogue with the opposition that would address demands including a “parliament with full authority,” and a “government that represents the will of the people.”
The decision to “invite another country’s military under the pretext of the GCC, means that negotiations” for a constitutional monarchy have become more than a distant prospect, Davidson said.
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