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Saudi Troops “Sent into Bahrain”

DOHA, Qatar, Mar 14 2011 - A Saudi military force of about 1,000 troops has entered Bahrain to help protect government facilities there, according to witnesses and reports citing Saudi sources.

The development on Monday follows weeks of unrest in the tiny Gulf state which lies between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where the country’s Sunni rulers face growing pressure from a majority Shia population to institute political reforms.

“About 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered Bahrain early on Monday morning through the causeway to Bahrain,” the Reuters news agency reported a Saudi source as saying, referring to the 26km causeway that connects the island kingdom to Saudi Arabia. “They are part of the Gulf Co-operation Council [GCC] force that would guard the government installations.”

Abdel al-Mowada, the deputy chairman of Bahrain’s parliament, told Al Jazeera: “I cannot guarantee it 100 percent. We heard that they [the Saudi force] are coming … but it is not 100 percent guaranteed [that they are here].”

The move follows a request from Bahrain for help from its Gulf Arab neighbours after Bahraini police clashed on Sunday with mostly Shia demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month.

The Gulf Daily News newspaper had reported that forces from the GCC, a six-member regional bloc, would be arriving in the country on Monday with a mission “limited to protecting vital facilities”.

But the involvement of a Saudi force is unlikely to receive much support among the protesters who worry that they will be used to clear Pearl Roundabout, the scene of much of the protest in Bahrain.

Hundreds of protesters gathered behind makeshift checkpoints around the area on Monday readying to confront any crackdown.

‘Blatant occupation’

Opposition groups, including Wefaq, the country’s largest Shia movement, have spoken out against the use of foreign troops.

“We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,” Wefaq said in a statement. “This real threat about the entry of Saudi and other Gulf forces into Bahrain to confront the defenceless Bahraini people puts the Bahraini people in real danger and threatens them with an undeclared war by armed troops.”

Even some government supporters fear the economic impact of a Saudi intervention.

“Who would want to do business here if there are Saudi tanks rolling across the causeway?” asked Abdullah Salaheddin, a Bahraini banker, last week.

In a sign that the opposition and Bahrain’s royal family could still find a solution, the opposition groups said they had met Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince, to discuss a mechanism for national dialogue.

The crown prince offered assurances on Sunday that dialogue would address key opposition demands, including giving parliament more power and reforming government and electoral districts.

*Published under an agreement with Al-Jazeera.

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