WASHINGTON The United States on Wednesday urged a halt to violence by all sides in Bahrain and called on the Gulf state's rulers to redouble efforts to implement promised political reforms.
The White House also expressed concern for the well-being of a jailed pro-democracy protest leader, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is on a two-month-old hunger strike, and pressed Bahrain to "consider urgently all available options to resolve his case."
Bahraini security forces, with help from other Sunni-led Gulf Arab states, crushed last year's pro-democracy uprising, mainly by majority Shi'ite Muslims against the Sunni royal family, but protests remain frequent and often end in violence.
Bahrain is of particular strategic importance to Washington as the home for the U.S. Fifth Fleet and because of its location on the Gulf close to U.S. foe Iran.
"The United States continues to be deeply concerned about the situation in Bahrain, and we urge all parties to reject violence in all its forms," Jay Carney, press secretary for U.S. President Barack Obama, said in a statement.
He condemned violence "directed against police and government institutions" and also "excessive force and indiscriminate use of tear gas against protestors" by security forces.
"We urge the government to redouble its ongoing efforts to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry," he said, calling for "genuine dialogue" between the government and the opposition on meaningful reforms.
Concern over Khawaja's health has sparked frequent protests in the small Gulf island, and demonstrators have also been protesting almost daily against plans to hold a Formula One Grand Prix there later this month.
The state news agency BNA said Khawaja was in "good condition" but that his life could be at risk if he keeps refusing food and medication.
Khawaja, who also holds Danish citizenship, went on a hunger strike in early February after he was sentenced to life in jail for trying to topple the monarchy and other offenses.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Eric Beech)