MANAMA Bahrain on Monday ordered a visiting senior U.S. official to leave the kingdom immediately because he had "intervened flagrantly" in the country's internal affairs, the state news agency BNA said.
BNA said the foreign ministry had declared U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Tom 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 the United States was "deeply concerned" about Bahrain's demand that Malinowski leave immediately.
In a statement, Psaki said the visit had been coordinated with Bahrain in advance and said the government was "well aware" that visiting U.S. officials typically meet with different political groups.
Psaki also said that Bahrain had imposed requirements on Malinowski's visit that violated diplomatic protocol.
"The government insisted - without advance warning and after his visit had already commenced - to have a Foreign Ministry representative present at all of Assistant Secretary Malinowski’s private meetings with individuals and groups representing a broad spectrum of Bahraini society, including those held at the U.S. embassy," she said.
It is not the first time that U.S. actions in Bahrain have created political controversy. 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 Missy Ryan and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Reporting by Farishta Saeed; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Andrew Roche and Eric Walsh)