MANAMA - Bahrain has suspended flights to and from Lebanon a day after it warned its nationals not to travel there following declarations of support by Iranian-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah for protests by Bahrain's Shi'ites.
Bahrain's state-run Gulf Air also said in a statement on its website that all flights to Iran and Iraq had been suspended until March 31, without giving a reason.
The decision highlights growing tensions in the world's largest oil-exporting region between Sunni-ruled Arab countries and non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran, just across Gulf waters.
Iran, which supports Shi'ite groups in Lebanon and Iraq, has criticised the intervention in Bahrain by neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf Arab states.
Street protests against the intervention have also been held in Iraq and Lebanon, which along with Bahrain, are among the few Arab states where Shi'ite Muslims outnumber Sunnis.
"This decision was taken after the irresponsible comments and stances from Lebanon against Bahrain, its people and leaders," state-owned Bahrain news agency cited a statement from the Civil Aviation Affairs department as saying.
Flights by Gulf Air and Bahrain Air to and from Lebanon have been suspended indefinitely, it added.
Twenty senior Lebanese businessmen based in Bahrain met on Wednesday to discuss their response after Lebanese residents in Bahrain complained of being turned away at the airport on their return from holidays or business trips.
Lebanese expatriates said they would lodge an official request for help with their embassy on Saturday. They are also preparing a statement that will condemn outside interference in Bahrain and distance the community from comments by Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
On Tuesday, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry warned Bahrainis not to travel to Lebanon for their own safety and said the ban was due to threats and interference.
Nasrallah criticised Arab states for backing Bahrain's rulers, who called in troops from Sunni-led Saudi Arabia to help them quell protests by mainly Shi'ite protesters.
Bahrain's crackdown, which saw it ban protests and impose martial law, has stunned majority Shi'ites and angered Iran. Bahrain has withdrawn its top diplomats from Iran in protest at the Islamic Republic's criticism of its actions.
Shi'ite clerics and political leaders in Iraq have denounced the deployment of troops from Sunni-led Gulf states in Bahrain.
More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy; but calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed Sunnis, who fear the unrest serves Iran.
Bahrain also said on Wednesday it had reduced curfew times by two hours to try to bring life back to normality in the island kingdom that has been gripped by its worst unrest in years.
Last week, Bahrain imposed a 12-hour curfew on large swathes of Manama. The curfew now runs from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. from Seef Mall through the financial district to the diplomatic area.
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