PARIS (Reuters) - Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Tuesday Group of Eight powers were greatly concerned about the sending of armed forces into Bahrain, which is struggling to quell weeks of unrest.
Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency on Tuesday, a day after Saudi soldiers were drafted in to protect government facilities from an uprising by the country’s Shi-ite Muslim majority.
Bahrain said on Monday it had asked for support under a Gulf defense pact after mainly Shi’ite protesters overran police and blocked roads. Around 1,000 Saudi troops rolled into the kingdom in a long convoy of armored vehicles.
“We discussed this and expressed great concern about the fact that for the first time probably in the recent history of that region, neighbors have decided to send armed forces to sustain the king of Bahrain,” Frattini told reporters following a G8 foreign ministers meeting in Paris.
“The extreme sensitivity to this (foreign military intervention) is something which we Westerners often understand too little, and Arab people understand very well,” he said.
He noted that troops were sent to Bahrain just as its rulers sent out positive signals on dialogue with the opposition.
More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi’ites who complain of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni royal family. Calls for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed Sunnis.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that the G8 powers hoped to see a democratic transition in Bahrain. “Obviously we think that a democratic transition is just as important there as anywhere else,” he told a news conference.
Much of the G8 meeting was devoted to the uprisings that have swept the Arab world since the popular uprising that began in Tunisia last December, and in particular to the Libya crisis.
Frattini said the situation in Bahrain underscored the importance of avoiding foreign military intervention when it comes to dealing with the violence in Libya.
“The simple fact of seeing solely Western airplanes flying over and maybe bombing the territory of a country situated in the heart of the Arab world, you can well understand that this is something we wanted to avoid.”
Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Louise Ireland