Kuwait sends medical aid to Bahrain

BARBARA SURK - Associated Press
Bahrainis carry a coffin as they shout slogans during funeral of Ahmed Farhan, a 29-year-old demonstrator slain Tuesday in the town of Sitra, Bahrain, Friday, March 18, 2011. Thousands of Bahrainis gathered for the funeral of Ahmed Farhan, a 29-year-old demonstrator slain Tuesday in the town of Sitra hours after the king declared martial law in response to a month of escalating protests. Shiites account for 70 percent of the tiny island's half-million people but they are widely excluded from high-level posts and positions in the police and military. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
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Bahrainis carry a coffin as they shout slogans during funeral of Ahmed Farhan, a 29-year-old demonstrator slain Tuesday in the town of Sitra, Bahrain, Friday, March 18, 2011. Thousands of Bahrainis gathered for the funeral of Ahmed Farhan, a 29-year-old demonstrator slain Tuesday in the town of Sitra hours after the king declared martial law in response to a month of escalating protests. Shiites account for 70 percent of the tiny island's half-million people but they are widely excluded from high-level posts and positions in the police and military.

A convoy of Kuwaiti doctors and medical equipment was en route Saturday to Bahrain as Gulf neighbors pour more troops and aid into the violence-torn island kingdom that has become an arena for regional tensions.

Kuwait's ambassador, Sheik Azzam Mubarak Al Sabah, said the team is expected to arrive Sunday and includes 53 doctors, 21 ambulances and other vehicles, according to Kuwait's state-run KUNA news agency.

Kuwait is not contributing troops to the Saudi-led force that entered Bahrain earlier this week to support the nation's Sunni monarchy, which was reeling after more than a month of protests by majority Shiites seeking to break the dynasty's grip on power.

Qatar, however, was the latest Gulf nation to announce its soldiers joined the military action in Bahrain.

The Gulf force underscores the deep worries about Bahrain's stability among the region's Sunni kings and sheiks. They fear any stumble by Bahrain's leaders could embolden more challenges to their own regimes and possibly open room for Shiite heavyweight Iran to make political inroads.

But Iranian authorities and their Shiite allies around the Middle East have expressed outrage at the Gulf military support — raising the risks that any serious clash could spark regional unrest along the Sunni-Shiite fault lines.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged Friday for "maximum restraint" by Bahrain's security forces and more than 1,500 troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation bloc that include Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. — which counts Bahrain as a centerpiece of its Gulf military framework — has sent top envoys to meet with the embattled monarchy and has been criticized by Shiite opposition groups for not coming to their support. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which is the Pentagon's main regional counterweight to Iran's growing military powers.

No serious clashes were reported Saturday in Bahrain, which is under martial law-style rules and nighttime curfews in some areas. Bahraini authorities expanded the no-go zones offshore, banned all professional and sport fishermen from leaving port at night in an possible attempt to clear waters for anti-smuggling patrols.

On Friday, officials wiped away a main symbol of the uprising. Cranes pulled down the 300-foot (90-meter) monument at the heart of a landmark square that has been occupied by protesters and the scene of deadly confrontations.

The monument — six white curved beams topped with a huge cement pearl — was built in Pearl Square as a tribute to the kingdom's history as a pearl-diving center. It became the backdrop to uprising after protesters set up camp at Pearl Square in the capital, Manama.

Security forces overran the camp on Wednesday, setting off clashes that killed at least five people, including two policemen. At least 12 people have been killed in the monthlong revolt.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told reporters in Manama that the army brought down the monument Friday because "it was a bad memory."

"We are not waging war, we are restoring law and order," Khalid said at a press conference in Manama.

Shiites account for 70 percent of the tiny island's half-million people but they are widely excluded from high-level posts and positions in the police and military.

"Brothers and sisters" in Bahrain should "resist against the enemy until you die or win," Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers at Friday prayers at Tehran University, a nationally televised forum seen as expressing the views of Iran's ruling Shiite clergy.

Worshippers chanted angry slogans against Saudi Arabia's royal family, which has sent troops to back Bahrain's king.

"There is no God but Allah, Al Saud is God's enemy," some chanted in Arabic. One Persian banner read, "Death to Al Saud."

Across Iraq, thousands rallied in mostly Shiite cities in the country's largest demonstrations since a wave of dissent spread across the Middle East in the wake of Tunisia's overthrow of its autocratic president.

There are no apparent links between Iran and Bahrain's Shiite opposition but the U.S. and Sunni leaders in the Persian Gulf leaders have expressed concern that Iran could use the unrest in Bahrain to expand its influence in the region. Iran has recalled its ambassador from Bahrain to protest the crackdown.

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Associated Press writers Reem Khalifa in Manama and Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.