WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged Bahrain to show restraint, bolster reform efforts and "hold accountable" those who used deadly force against anti-government protesters.
Clinton delivered the message to Bahrain's foreign minister in the latest sign of growing administration anxiety over instability in the home of the US Fifth Fleet and neighbor of another leading US ally, oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
The chief US diplomat said she "directly conveyed" to her counterpart Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa "our deep concerns about the actions of the security forces" in deadly protests.
She also urged him to make sure that prayers and funerals on Friday "not be marred by violence."
She added: "I stressed the need to seriously engage all sectors of society in a constructive, consultative dialogue to meet the way forward in accordance with the aspirations of the people.
"And there have been reform steps taken which we want to see continued, we want to see strengthened," she said.
"We call on restraint from the government to keep its commitment to hold accountable those who have utilized excessive force against peaceful demonstrators," Clinton said.
Bahrain's military deployed armored vehicles in the center of the capital Manama and vowed to restore order Thursday after a violent police raid on anti-regime protesters left four people dead and scores wounded.
Inspired by protests that toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of people have taken to Bahrain's streets to call for a change of regime and a "real constitutional monarchy" in the Sunni-led but Shiite-majority country.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates "discussed the current security situation" when he called the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Bahraini Defense Force," press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement.
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Democratic lawmaker who is close to the administration, meanwhile condemned the violence in Bahrain.
On Tuesday, Obama warned all Arab and Middle Eastern rulers that they should get ahead of the wave of protest by moving towards democratic reforms after decades of autocratic rule.
The White House said Wednesday it was watching the unrest in Bahrain "very closely" and called on the pro-Western kingdom to allow peaceful anti-government protests.
Bahrain serves as headquarters for a pillar of American military power, the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which commands a rotating flotilla of vessels charged with safeguarding oil shipping lanes in the Gulf and countering Iran.
The archipelago of Bahrain is also an important banking and oil refining center that is linked via causeway to Saudi Arabia, which has a sizeable minority Shiite population that has been restive in the past.
Anthony Cordesman, a former intelligence analyst for the Department of Defense, said Bahrain's Shiites are focused on lack of jobs and their political marginalization rather than on the US presence in Bahrain.
Cordesman, analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies who still offers his expertise to the US government, said that "for a long time, the US has tried to persuade the regime to be more open and to address the grievances of Shiites," who rioted in the 1990s.
He said the current unrest is not so much "a direct threat to the United States as the fact that any instability in an important country is a problem."
But he said the naval base in Bahrain -- which coordinates naval exercises and training for Gulf Arab navies, is "very important" in light of the "steady buildup" in the last decade by the naval branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
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