Bahrain Charges Syria With Stirring Unrest

Bahrain's King Hamad says Iran's key ally Syria is training the opposition leaders and provocateurs who are stoking unrest in his domain

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Gabe Kahn.,

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa
USN Photo

Bahrain's King Hamad on Tuesday charged Syria with training opposition figures and provocateurs in his tiny island kingdom.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa told Britain's Daily Telegraph, "We have evidence that a number of Bahrainis who oppose our government are being trained in Syria .... I have seen the files and we have notified the Syrian authorities, but they deny any involvement."

Syria is dominated by President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and is allied with Shiite Iran, long blamed by Bahrain for stirring trouble among its majority Shiite population.

Bahrain's Shiites hold frequent protests against what they see as state discrimination in jobs, services and political representation, charges the government denies. Officials in Bahrain have long-accused Iran of sowing dissent and eyeing the kingdom as a prize to be plucked.

King Hamad visited London on Monday for sensitive talks "of mutual national interest" with Prime Minister David Cameron and Charles, the Prince of Wales. The visit comes just weeks after an independent inquiry found evidence of systematic rights abuses and said Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers used excessive force to cow protesters and detainees.

Downing Street said Cameron called on King Hamad to embrace reform during their meeting.

"It is not the policy of the Ministry of Interior to go and kill people on the roads. The policemen and soldiers involved in the killings did not take notice of the discipline side of matters," King Hamad told the Telegraph - saying he promised Cameron wrongdoers would be held accountable.

Last month the king replaced the head of the state security apparatus as part of a shakeup after the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, headed by international rights lawyers.

King Hamad also dismissed concerns by opposition leaders that he is a figurehead whose reform efforts are window-dressing. His uncle, critics say, is the world's longest serving Prime Minister who – with others – wield the true power.

However, with the Arab Spring having toppled ostensibly elected rulers in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen – with Syria possibly next – the king insists he is firmly in power and insists his country has survived for the very reason that it is a monarchy.

"You do not keep them outside your tent; you bring them inside the tent. This is the beauty of a monarchical system of government. We always find a way to get over our differences," Hamad said.

Bahrain is a key Western ally in the region and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.