Bahraini Protesters Angry With United States Some say they believe the White House tacitly approved the attacks on demonstrators last week — and put its strategic interests over democratic principles.
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Many Bahraini Protesters Angry With United States

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Many Bahraini Protesters Angry With United States

Many Bahraini Protesters Angry With United States

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The ruler of Bahrain says he has crushed a rebellion in his country and ended a foreign-inspired plot to unseat him. In a thinly veiled reference to Iran, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said his government had defeated a, quote, subversive plot against security and stability. But the events of the past week have left many in the capital, Manama, angry with the United States.

NPR's Frank Langford reports that many protesters believe the White House tacitly approved the government's crackdown and was more concerned about strategic interest than democratic principles.

Sheikh ISSA QASSIM (Imam, Sadiq Mosque): (Foreign language spoken)

FRANK LANGFITT: On Friday at the Sadiq Mosque in Manama, the preacher recounted the week's extraordinary events. Sheikh Issa Qassim criticized Bahrain's royal family sending in soldiers and police to crush an anti-government rebellion, an assault that left at least seven dead and hundreds wounded.

Then, he criticized the United States for not doing more to prevent it. Quote, "They have influence they're not using to save the people here."

(Soundbite of a crowd)

LANGFITT: Walking out of the mosque afterwards, one of the worshippers, Isa Ashoor, agreed.

Mr. ISA ASHOOR: Everybody is thinking that America gave them a green light to beat the Bahraini people.

LANGFITT: America is Bahrain's most powerful ally. Ashoor, who works in the airline industry, said if America warned the royal family against smashing the demonstrators, it would have been more reluctant to do.

Ashoor noted that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates came here recently to assess the situation. Soon afterward, Saudi troops drove onto the island at the royal family's request to help crush the rebellion. Ashoor says he feels differently about the United States today than he did a few weeks ago.

Mr. ASHOOR: We was happy with them. They was a friend with us. But now the USA government, we think they are bad.

LANGFITT: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says she was alarmed by the violence in Bahrain and deplored the use of force.

Here's Mark Toner, the acting deputy spokesman for the State Department.

Mr. MARK TONER (Acting Deputy Spokesman, State Department): There's no way to resolve this situation through security or excessive force. There needs to be a political dialogue that leads to a political resolution, essentially. You know, but we're deeply troubled by reports of injuries and deaths of civilians.

LANGFITT: But protesters in Manama say it's not what Washington said, it's what it didn't say.

When Saudi troops rolled across the causeway into Bahrain, the White House didn't publicly tell them to turn around. Saudi Arabia, a close American ally and the world's largest oil exporter, is frightened that protests in Bahrain could encourage more unrest among its own people.

A businessman, who gave only his first name, Ghani, said the United States supports monarchies in the region because they provide stability.

GHANI: I know that there is clashes between your interests and the clashes between your values. Where is your democratic values? Where is it? We want to see them, these values.

LANGFITT: Ghani is a Shiite Muslim, the majority in Bahrain. Shia say they are treated like second-class citizens by the ruling Sunni minority. They said they were protesting to end discrimination and replace the monarchy with a democratic system.

But Ghani said the United States has more pressing concerns. Bahrain, a tiny island, is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

GHANI: Maybe they are thinking that their 5th Fleet here will not be protected from a democratic government.

LANGFITT: The 5th Fleet's main job is to protect the crucial shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf. And that's not lost on Ghani.

GHANI: The stock of the oil, worldwide here, 25 percent of it available in the Gulf. So America needs to protect this area because they want to maintain their oil. And they think, they think that the government protect their interest in this regard.

LANGFITT: After weeks of protests, the government of Bahrain has now retaken control of the capital. The United States continues to urge a dialogue between the opposition and the monarchy. But that won't be easy. Seven political opposition leaders are already under arrest.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain.

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