WASHINGTON — The White House warned on Wednesday that Bahrain should respect the rights of its citizens to peaceful protest, but declined to discuss whether unrest could impact the US Fifth Fleet base there.
President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said that the White House was closely watching developments in the pro-Western Gulf kingdom after two protestors died in clashes with police.
His comments came after Bahrain’s largest opposition bloc said it would not end a boycott of parliament until measures were taken to establish a real constitutional majority in the Shiite-majority nation ruled by Sunni royals.
“What the president believes … is that Bahrain like all the countries in the region needs to respect the universal rights of its citizens, their right to protest, their right to have their grievances heard.
“They should refrain from violence on both sides. We are obviously watching events from Bahrain and around the region very closely.
“Our position on all the countries is the same at the universal rights level,” Carney said, as unrest reached Bahrain after reverberating across North Africa and the Middle East, including in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.
Thousands of Bahrainis had earlier chanted for a change of regime and buried a second protester killed in clashes with police.
After the funeral, large crowds poured on to capital Manama’s Pearl Square, which demonstrators occupied on Tuesday emulating their counterparts in Cairo’s Tahrir Square where protests triggered the fall of president Hosni Mubarak.
Bahrain is a staunch US ally which hosts the US Fifth Fleet and was the scene of deadly unrest among the Shiite majority in the 1990s.
Carney would not be drawn to comment on whether the protests could