Bahrain severs diplomatic ties with Iran, UAE downgrades relations

Saudi Arabia's Gulf allies followed its lead in severing or downgrading relations with Iran as regional tensions escalate over the execution of a Saudi Shiite dissident cleric.

On Monday, Bahrain cut off diplomatic links with Iran and the United Arab Emirates downgraded its ties with the Islamic Republic, hours after neighbouring Saudi Arabia broke off relations with Tehran.

The two Gulf states accused Iran of interfering in the internal affairs of Gulf and Arab countries.

Sectarian tensions in the region have escalated following the execution of prominent Shiite dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

The Shiite cleric was among 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia on Saturday after their convictions on terrorism-related charges.

Bahrain has ordered Iranian diplomats to leave its territory within 48 hours, the official Bahrain News Agency said on Twitter.

Manama charged Iran with "blatant and dangerous interference" in the internal affairs of Arab countries and support for terrorism. It also condemned the Saturday night attack by protesters on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Bahrain, whose Sunni ruling family is closely allied to Saudi Arabia, has seen two days of protests by members of its Shiite majority since al-Nimr's execution.

The UAE meanwhile pulled its ambassador from Tehran and said it was downgrading links to the level of charge d'affaire.

The UAE would also cut the number of Iranian diplomats in the country, its Foreign Ministry said.

There have been reports of unrest in the eastern Saudi Arabian governorate of Qatif, al-Nimr's home region and a stronghold of the country's restive Shiite minority.

A civilian was killed and an 8-year-old injured when gunmen opened fire on police in the cleric's hometown of Awwamiyeh, police said Monday.

The incident took place as security forces were trying to recover a stolen vehicle, a police statement said.

Awwamiyeh and neighbouring Qatif city have seen frequent protests in recent years.

Al-Nimr was sentenced to death in 2014 on charges of causing sectarian strife and disobeying the ruler.

The trial was condemned as unfair by human rights groups and his supporters say he had only called for peaceful protests and criticized the ruling Al Saud family.

The execution has provoked a furious reaction from Shiite Muslims in the region. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened regional rival Saudi Arabia with "divine vengeance" for executing al-Nimr.

Last update: Mon, 04/01/2016 - 13:53

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