MANAMA Bahrain on Monday declared a senior U.S. official persona non grata and asked him to leave the kingdom immediately, state news agency BNA said, because he had "intervened flagrantly" in the country's internal affairs.
BNA said that the foreign ministry had declared U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Tomasz Malinowski, persona non grata after he "held meetings with a particular party to the detriment of other interlocutors, thus discriminating between one people, contravening diplomatic norms and flouting normal interstate relations".
The latest move highlights the sensitivity in relations between the strategic allies. Bahrain is a U.S. ally in a volatile region and has long provided a base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. But at the same it faces criticism over its record on human rights.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she had heard the reports but said a team of diplomats, including Malinowski, remained in Bahrain and were working with the government.
"He's in Bahrain. He remains in Bahrain. He's in Bahrain today," Psaki said at a news briefing in Washington.
"This visit is not complete yet. He's still on the ground and we're in close touch with government officials."
Last year, Bahraini lawmakers urged the government to stop the U.S. ambassador in Bahrain from interfering in domestic affairs and meeting government opponents.
Bahrain, which is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family, still faces frequent low-level unrest more than three years after authorities quelled Shi'ite Muslim-led protests against the Sunni-led government.
A Bahraini policeman died on Saturday of wounds sustained in a bombing that the Interior Ministry said was a terrorist act.
Bahraini Shi'ites, who make up the majority of the population, complain of political and economic marginalization, an accusation the government denies.
Under criticism from human rights groups, the government invited an independent inquiry to examine its handling of the trouble in 2011. Its report said the authorities had used widespread and excessive force, including torture to extract confessions.
The Bahraini government says it has taken steps to address the problems by dismissing those responsible and introducing cameras at police stations.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Reporting by Farishta Saeed; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Andrew Roche)