Reuters International

DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. ally Bahrain on Monday dismissed as "unacceptable interference" statements by Britain and the United States criticising its decision to dissolve the main Shi'ite Muslim opposition party on Sunday in a widening crackdown on dissent.

Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, said that a court's decision to dissolve the al-Wefaq opposition party, accused of helping foster violence and terrorism, was "just" and "transparent", state news agency BNA reported.

"Bahrain expresses its deep regret at the statements from the British foreign secretary and U.S. State Department and considers them as unacceptable interference in its internal affairs," said BNA.

Close ally Britain expressed deep concern at Sunday's ruling and a statement by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged Bahrain to guarantee political freedoms for all its citizens.

The State Department said the government’s recent steps to "suppress nonviolent opposition" undermined Bahrain’s and the region’s stability, and strained America's partnership with its Gulf ally.

Bahrain said it wanted to take into account the interests of its allies and partners to preserve "distinctive and historical relations" with them.

The Gulf country has a Shi'ite majority but a Sunni Muslim-led government, mainly drawn from the ruling al-Khalifa family.

Seen by other Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdoms like Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Iranian influence, it put down Arab Spring protests in 2011.

It drew U.S. and U.N. criticism in June when it moved to strip a top Shi'ite cleric's citizenship and announced it was suspending Wefaq and closing its offices and arresting prominent activist Nabeel Rajab.

The country has been gripped by political tension since 2011, with Shi'ites complaining of discrimination and demanding reforms that would give them a bigger say in government affairs.

Bahrain denies any discrimination and says a minority inspired by Iran are trying to foment sectarian unrest in the kingdom. 

(Reporting by Noah Browning,; Writing by Tom Finn; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

reuters_tickers

 Reuters International