By Mohammed Fadhel (AFP) – Mar 30, 2011
MANAMA — Bahrain's Shiite opposition head Ali Salman on Wednesday warned Iran and Saudi Arabia against using his country as a "battlefield" in a proxy war.
Salman urged Iran to keep out of the Sunni-ruled state's affairs and called on Saudi troops to leave the country.
Bahrain's foreign minister, meanwhile, renewed accusations that Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Tehran, was "training" regime opponents in the Shiite-majority country.
"We urge Iran not to meddle in Bahraini internal affairs," opposition head Ali Salman said, also demanding the withdrawal of Saudi-led troops in a joint Gulf force deployed in Bahrain since mid-March to help quash the protests.
"We demand Saudi Arabia withdraw the Peninsula Shield forces," he told a press conference. "We do not want Bahrain to turn into a battlefield" for Saudi Arabia, which is predominantly Sunni, and Shiite Iran, its arch-foe.
Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said last week that bringing in Gulf troops was a "strategic and political" blunder that would cost the Bahraini regime its "legitimacy".
A teenager was killed when a police patrol opened fire with live rounds west of the capital Manama, the main Shiite-led parliamentary opposition group, Al-Wefaq, said.
There was no immediate confirmation from police of the circumstances of the death of Ahmed Sayyed Said Shams, 15, in the village of Sar.
Twenty-four people, four of them police, were killed in a month of unrest, Bahrain's Interior Minister Rashed bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa said on Tuesday, linking the troubles to Hezbollah.
Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa, in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, said Manama had "proof" of "plotting with Hezbollah" and of training in Lebanon on how to organise mass protests.
But authorities in Bahrain have no intention of taking steps against Lebanese expatriates living in the kingdom, he said.
The foreign minister said his country, which has been widely condemned over the use of deadly force to crush unrest, had feared its Shiite-led protests could spark sectarian conflict in other Gulf states.
"There have been sectarian tensions everywhere" for centuries, he told Al-Hayat. "Bahrain was afraid sectarian confrontations would break out not only in Bahrain but in all other regions."
Sheikh Khaled argued that unrest in Bahrain was fired not so much by political opposition but rather a sectarian division.
"We want to affirm to the world that we don't have a problem between the government and the opposition ... There is a clear sectarian problem in Bahrain. There is division within society," he said.
At Wednesday's news conference, Salman who heads Al-Wefaq, accused the government of using "the security option to shut the door to dialogue".
Last month, Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman, with the encouragement of Washington, offered to start an open dialogue with all parties on the issues which sparked the protests.
But the opposition says it refuses to be coerced into talks.
Salman said opposition supporters were not being called on to stage fresh protests or to confront security forces. On Saturday, a day of mourning is to be held for the "martyrs" of the protests, he said.
On March 16, security forces drove the pro-democracy protesters out of central Manama's Pearl Square and demolished their camp under a state of emergency put in place for three months.
Bahrain's 40-member parliament on Tuesday accepted the resignation of 11 out of 18 MPs from Salman's Wefaq, exposing them to possible legal action, after a news blackout om the arrests of top activists.
Al-Wefaq MPs resigned en masse in February in protest at the use of deadly force against demonstrators.
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