Bahrain complains over Hezbollah comments on protests

MANAMA Fri Mar 25, 2011 5:39am EDT

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MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain has made a formal complaint to the Lebanese government over Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah's offer of support to mainly Shi'ite protesters demanding reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab kingdom.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said his country would not tolerate threats from what he termed a terrorist group and would consider lodging a complaint to "international sides" if Lebanon was not able to act.

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Bahrain has withdrawn top diplomats from Iran in protest over criticism of last week's crackdown on demonstrations.

"We did not take this decision without consulting the Gulf Cooperation Council," Khalifa told Al Arabiya television, referring to a six-member Gulf Arab economic and political bloc.

"When it gets to a situation where there is a conspiracy, that does not just affect Bahrain but several countries."

Bahrain has suspended flights to Lebanon and warned its nationals not to travel there after Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian-backed guerrilla group, criticized Arab states for backing Bahrain's rulers while supporting the rebels in Libya.

Some Lebanese expatriates in Bahrain say they have not been allowed back into the country when returning from business trips or holidays. About 1,500 Lebanese live in Bahrain and the community has sought to distance itself from Nasrallah's speech.

In his televised speech, Nasrallah offered support to the protesters in Bahrain, but did not specify what kind of help.

"The terrorist threats we heard forced us to take this decision," he said. "There is training and organization and some of those arrested.... came from London via Beirut."

The comment apparently referred to Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of Bahraini opposition group Haq, who returned from exile in London on February 26 via Beirut.

After arriving back in Bahrain, Mushaimaa escalated what had hitherto been calls for a constitutional monarchy to demand the overthrow of the ruling Al Khalifa family. Mushaimaa was arrested last week after Bahrain called in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled neighbors and drove protesters off the streets.

Hezbollah withdrew its lawmakers from Lebanon's parliament in January, toppling the government over its refusal to cut links with a tribunal over the assassination of former premier Rafik al-Hariri.

(Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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