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The Malaysian Insider :: World


Bahrain bans Lebanon travel, sectarian tension rises

Posted: 22 Mar 2011 05:30 PM PDT

A family member of Bahiya al-Aradi, a woman who was killed during riots, stands next to the door of a mosque to welcome other family members and friends, during her funeral in Manama March 22, 2011. — Reuters pic

MANAMA, March 23 — Bahrain warned its nationals yesterday not to travel to Lebanon for their own safety after Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah came out in support of weeks of protests by mainly Shi'ite demonstrators.

The warning 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.

Bahrain has withdrawn its top diplomats from Iran in a protest over the Islamic Republic's criticism of last week's crackdown on mainly Shi'ite protesters in the island kingdom.

The crackdown has also drawn sympathy protests in countries with Shi'ite populations, including Lebanon, where Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah criticized Arab states for backing Bahrain's rulers while supporting the rebels in Libya.

"Due to the threats and interference that Bahrain has faced from terrorist elements, it warns and advises its nationals not to travel to Lebanon because of the dangers they may face that may affect their safety, and it advises nationals in Lebanon to leave immediately," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The ferocity of the crackdown, which banned protests, imposed martial law and called in forces from Bahrain's fellow Sunni-ruled neighbors, has stunned its majority Shi'ites.

OVERTHROW

More than 60 per cent 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.

Iran, which supports Shi'ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon, has complained to the United Nations and asked neighbours to join it in urging Saudi Arabia to withdraw forces from Bahrain.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in a joint news conference in Ankara Tuesday with Bahrain's foreign minister, said: "It is very important that the civilian population is protected and that the civilian population and security forces do not confront one another ... A sectarian clash would harm the intense process of change in the region."

He said the intervention of foreign forces in Bahrain must be temporary.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said: "Foreign forces are only there to protect state organs" and would be there for a "very limited" time.

In London, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal discussed the situation in Bahrain with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Cameron's office said.

It said Britain supported political dialogue that the Bahraini government says it is seeking to establish and encouraged all parties to take part in those talks.

Cameron said Bahrain's approach "needed to be based on the principle of reform to address the legitimate aspirations of the people of Bahrain."

Bahrain complained to the Arabsat broadcaster Sunday over "abuse and incitement" on Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam television, Hezbollah's Al-Manar and Shi'ite channel Ahlulbayt, which are all carried by Arabsat.

Bahrain's political crisis has been the subject of a media war between pro-Iranian channels and Bahraini state television. Both have accused the other of incitement.

Bahrain also condemned a protest outside the Saudi consulate in Tehran, after reports Saturday that some 700 demonstrators broke windows and raised a Bahraini flag over the gate.

One Lebanese resident of Bahrain said yesterday he had initially been denied entry to the country when he tried to return from a brief business trip.

At least 1,500 Lebanese live in Bahrain and a group of expatriates issued a statement Sunday, distancing the community from Nasrallah's comments. — Reuters 

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Yemen president warns of civil war, US concerned

Posted: 22 Mar 2011 04:58 PM PDT

A boy shouts slogans and holds a red card, similar to football rules, to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh during an anti-government protest outside Sanaa University March 2, 2011. — Reuters pic

SANAA, March 23 — Yemen's president said yesterday his country would descend into civil war if he were forced to quit and Washington voiced concern about instability in the Arab state that has become an al Qaeda stronghold.

Seven weeks of unrelenting anti-government protests and defections among the ruling elite have piled pressure on Ali Abdullah Saleh, a US ally against radical Islamist ambitions in the Arabian peninsula, to step down immediately after 32 years in power. But an aide said he would leave office only after organising parliamentary polls and establishing democratic institutions, by January 2012 — a declaration the opposition promptly rejected.

"Ali Abdullah Saleh does not seek power," Saleh's media secretary Ahmed al-Sufi told Reuters. "Ali Abdullah Saleh will not leave without knowing who he is handing over to."

The United States, grappling with the diplomatic fallout of uprisings and uncertainty across the Arab world, voiced rare public alarm about the situation in Yemen.

"We are obviously concerned about the instability in Yemen," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said. His chief concern was to avoid "diversion of attention" from opposing al Qaeda there.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabry, rejecting Saleh's offer to go by January 2012, said the coming hours would be decisive.

In speeches to army officers and tribal leaders in Sanaa, Saleh said Yemen faced a danger of civil war and disintegration because of efforts to stage a "coup" against his rule.

"You have an agenda to tear down the country, the country will be divided into three instead of two ... (parts). A southern part, northern part and a middle part. This is what is being sought by defectors against ... unity," he said, referring to northern Shi'ite rebels and al Qaeda militants.

"Those who want to climb up to power through coups should know that this is out of the question. The homeland will not be stable, there will be a civil war, a bloody war. They should carefully consider this," Saleh told army commanders.

Presidential guards loyal to Saleh surrounded an air force battalion in the coastal city of Hudaida after its commander said he supported the protesters. A presidential guard and a soldier died in clashes between the two forces in the southern coastal city of Mukalla late on Monday, medical sources said.

In southern Abyan province, troops clashed with al Qaeda militants, killing 12 and wounding five, state media said.

Liquefied natural gas producer Yemen LNG has told customers that unrest could lead to supply disruptions, leading stakeholder Total said.

SLIDE INTO FAILED STATE

Western countries fear the political crisis could hasten a slide into failed nation status for a country that borders the world's biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and major shipping routes. One scenario could see the country split into separate zones along tribal, military or regional lines.

Al Qaeda has already used Yemen to attempt attacks in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the past two years. The Shi'ite Houthi movement has staged a number of revolts against Saleh.

One opposition leader offered Saleh the prospect of secure retirement if, like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he would go quietly, unlike Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"He shouldn't follow the style of Gaddafi by destroying the country and killing people," Yassin Noman, rotating head of Yemen's opposition coalition said.

"After this long term of governing, he should say: Thank you my people, I leave you peacefully."

"I know the morality of Yemeni people. If he left peacefully, they will look at him as a real leader. He will be able to live wherever he likes," Noman told Reuters. "They will ensure him a very nice life. His dignity will be kept."

Several generals and officials have abandoned Saleh this week after a massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators on Friday

Yesterday, Abdel-Malik Mansour, Yemen's envoy to the Arab League, told Al Arabiya television he was siding with protesters. Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani, whom Saleh sacked as environment minister on Sunday along with the rest of the cabinet, said on Facebook he was joining "the revolutionaries."

PROTEST MASSACRE

Defections have included generals, tribal leaders, diplomats and ministers. They have gained momentum since gunmen loyal to Saleh opened fire on demonstrators in the capital Sanaa on Friday. Fifty-two people were killed.

A crowd of around 10,000 gathered outside Sanaa University in a rally that has been repeated for the past seven weeks, with youth playing a key role. Saleh offered dialogue with young people yesterday, and state media said he was sympathetic to their problems.

Protesters, however, have been uncompromising. Echoing demands that have been satisfied in Tunisia and Egypt and continue to be heard elsewhere across the region, they chanted: "The people want the fall of regime."

The body of one of those killed on Friday was brought to the protesters before burial. "The people want a trial for the butcher," they shouted, hurling abuse at Saleh.

France on Monday became the first Western power to call publicly for Saleh to stand down. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described his departure as "unavoidable."

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi returned from Riyadh on Monday where Saleh sent him to seek Saudi-led Gulf Arab mediation. A diplomatic source said there had been no indication of success in the effort to involve those countries.

Tribal sources said tribal sheikhs had embarked on mediation efforts yesterday, focusing on a potential agreement that protests could continue, violence against protesters would be investigated and a smooth transition of power would take place.

No more details were available.

POVERTY

Yesterday, soldiers were preventing cars driving along roads close to Saleh's presidential palace in Sanaa. Late on Monday night residents heard explosions and shooting near a presidential place in Yemen's eastern port of Mukalla.

General Ali Mohsen, commander of the northwest military zone and Saleh's kinsman from the al-Ahmar clan, said on Monday he was backing the protesters and warned of civil war.

Yesterday Mohsen — seen by northern rebels as a ruthless military leader — declared in a statement read out to the protesters camping out in Sanaa that the "era of military coups is over" and vowed to protect the "youth revolution."

Tanks were deployed outside the presidential palace in the southern port city of Aden, focal point of a separatist movement hoping to escape Yemen's myriad problems by recreating the former South Yemen that feels cheated by unity under Saleh.

Opponents complain that Yemen under Saleh has failed to meet the basic needs of the country's 23 million people. Unemployment is around 35 per cent and 50 per cent for young people. Oil wealth is dwindling and water is running out. — Reuters 

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