Saudi troops cross border to quell unrest in Bahrain
Published 15/03/2011 | 05:00
MORE than 1,000 Saudi Arabian troops were sent into Bahrain yesterday, following fresh protests that pitted protesters from the tiny Gulf monarchy's Shi'ite majority against riot police.
Saudi troops were seen driving across the causeway that links the two countries early yesterday. A Saudi official said: "The force will work under the directions of the Bahraini government and protect vital facilities like oil and power."
However, the opposition al-Wefaq movement described the presence of the troops as "an undeclared war" and "a blatant occupation".
The United Arab Emirates confirmed last night that it has also sent about 500 police officers into Bahrain.
"The Bahraini government asked us to look at ways to help them to defuse the tension in Bahrain and we have sent roughly 500 (police officers)," said UAE's Sheikh Abdullah.
Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's crown prince, has offered opposition groups dialogue, but said the "right to security and stability transcends any other consideration".
Prince Salman's offer came after protesters barricaded a road leading into the financial district on Sunday, a working day, sparking a battle with police. The clashes were the worst since February 17, when police shot seven protesters.
Bahrain has been gripped by its worst unrest since the 1990s after protesters took to the streets last month, inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
Thousands are still camped out at the Pearl roundabout, having returned since the army cleared out the area last month.
Any intervention by Gulf Arab troops in Bahrain is highly sensitive on the island, where the Shi'ite Muslim majority complains of discrimination by the Sunni Muslim royal family.
Bahrain's monarchy is linked with the Bani Utbah, a central Arabian clan of Sunni Muslim faith that seized power in 1783.
Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's king, promised dialogue with the Shi'ite majority after he acceded to the throne in 1999. But 2002 elections were marred by malpractice allegations, and the parliament installed had few real powers.
Bahrain's Shi'ites were also angered by claims that the monarchy was encouraging the migration of Sunni Arabs.
Saudi Arabia's 200,000-strong military is the most powerful military force in the region, and is treaty-bound to respond to requests for assistance from other Gulf Co-operation Council states. (© Daily Telegraph, London)