Gulf troops staying until Iran "threat" gone: Bahrain

Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:50pm GMT

By Fredrik Richter and Martina Fuchs

MANAMA/DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's foreign minister said Monday Saudi and UAE forces called in to help quell street unrest would leave only when "any external threat" he associated with Iran was seen to be gone.

Pro-democracy demonstrators in Bahrain have denied any link with the Islamic Republic.

Bahrain's prime minister described the several weeks of anti-government protests by the Sunni Muslim-ruled country's disaffected Shi'ite majority as a coup attempt and said those who took part would be held to account.

The mostly Shi'ite protesters in the outpouring of unrest in February and March demanded more freedom, an end to discrimination and a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain, a U.S. ally that hosts Washington's Fifth Fleet.

Bahraini rulers crushed the protests last month, deploying security forces in the capital and calling in troops from Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia and the UAE under the aegis of a Gulf defence pact, a move demonstrators saw as an act of war.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa hinted that Gulf troops could be there for some time, saying they would remain until what he described as a threat to Gulf Arab countries from nearby Shi'ite power Iran was over.

"There are no Saudi forces, there are GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) forces and they will leave when they are done with any external threat," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in the United Arab Emirates.

Asked to elaborate, he said: "The external threat is a regional one. The external threat is a complete misunderstanding between the GCC and Iran. This is a threat."   Continued...

<p>A soldier from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces flashes the victory sign as he guards the entrance to Pearl Square from his armoured personnel carrier (APC) in Manama March 19, 2011. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed</p>
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