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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, July 17, 2018

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Bahrain orders expulsion of US diplomat, triggering diplomatic row

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MANAMA - Bahrain, the island country in the Persian Gulf, Tuesday kicked off a diplomatic row with the United States by ordering the expulsion of a visiting senior American diplomat for allegedly meddling in the country's internal affairs.

Tom Malinowski, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, stirred controversy after meeting with a leading Shia opposition group.

He was ordered to leave after meeting with Bahrain's Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq. Two leaders of the Al-Wefaq opposition party, Sheikh Ali Salman and Khalil al-Marzouq, were summoned to meet the public prosecutor for interrogation Tuesday about what they discussed with Malinowski.

The kingdom's foreign affairs ministry said Malinowski is "unwelcome and should immediately leave the country" because of his "interference in (Bahrain's) internal affairs".

"These activities have included holding meetings with one party, leaving out others who represent different parts of society, which is indicative of an approach which discriminates amongst the people of this one nation."

The remarks and the expulsion have left the US surprised. The State Department said it was deeply concerned with Bahrain's demand.

The department said Malinowski's visit was coordinated far in advance and was welcomed by Bahrain.

The kingdom "is well-aware that (the) US government officials routinely meet with all officially-recognized political societies".

"Contrary to our longstanding bilateral relationship and in violation of international diplomatic protocol, the government insisted 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 US embassy," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"These actions are not consistent with the strong partnership between the United States and Bahrain," she added.

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said the kingdom's ties with the US remain strong and important but such meetings were divisive and Malinowski's actions "run counter to conventional diplomatic norms", it said in a statement.

"Bahrain reaffirms its strong and solid relations with the United States of America, and underlines that the progress and development of these ties should not be affected by such unfortunate acts," it said.

Malinowski arrived in Bahrain Sunday and had been scheduled to stay for three days.

The US diplomat said the move to expel him undermined reconciliation efforts between the government and the opposition.

In his Twitter post, he said Bahrain's decision is "not about me but about undermining dialogue. Those committed to reconciliation should not be deterred."

Bahrain has faced some pro-democracy protests in the last three years that sparked a government crackdown.

The country has a majority Shia population but is ruled by the Sunni minority.

Talks between the government and opposition have failed to defuse the tensions.

The king in February imposed a new law that entails a prison sentence of up to seven years and fine of up to $26,500 for anyone who publicly insults him.

"Aggravating circumstances will be applied if the offense occurred in the presence of the King," it said.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain condemned the decision to expel Malinowski.

"Malinowski's deportation, which appears to be a result of meeting with various opposition figures and human rights activists, undermines any claims by the Bahraini government that they are serious about reconciliation in the country and creating the space necessary for reform to occur," the group's executive director Abdulla Husain said in a statement.>BNN

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