(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over a hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Iranian Embassy in Bahrain Friday to protest a recent editorial in a conservative Teheran newspaper arguing that Bahrain is part of Iran.
Waving Bahraini flags, the mostly Sunni protesters called for the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and the closure of the embassy, as police prevented them from reaching the building.
The controversy started with an editorial written Monday by Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper and a close aid to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Shariatmadari wrote that Bahrain was an Iranian province whose people wanted to return to the motherland.
Shi'ite Iran laid claim to Bahrain, a British protectorate at the time, and other Persian Gulf islands in 1970. But the country voted instead for independence from both Britain and Iran, which it achieved in 1971.
In his editorial, Shariatmadari also criticized Bahrain for supporting a claim by the United Arab Emirates on three Persian Gulf islands Iran considers an integral part of its territory.
Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni Muslim, but about 60 percent of the country's 725,000 citizens are Shi'ite. Roughly 25 percent of them originally hail from Iran.
Bahraini Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa has described Shariatmadari's remarks as "irresponsible talk," the country's official news agency BNA reported on its Web site Friday.
An Iranian embassy spokesman said Wednesday that the editor's views "do not represent the official stance of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was expected to arrive in Bahrain late Friday and will hold meetings with senior officials on Saturday to discuss the controversy.
Bahrain's minister of state for foreign affairs, Nazar al-Baharna, said that he hoped the meetings with Mottaki would help resolve the issue.
"We are waiting for the meetings tomorrow to clarify the confusion that was brought up by the report ... and we hope that this case is to be solved within these meetings," al-Baharna said.
Bahraini Shi'ites have joined their Sunni countrymen to protest the controversial remarks. The nation's most prominent Shi'ite cleric Isa Qassem condemned the editorial Friday, calling Shariatmadari's remarks "baseless."
"Bahrain is an independent country and there will be no subservience by it to any other state," Qassem said during his Friday sermon.
The tiny Persian Gulf kingdom is a close US ally. The oil-refining and banking island also hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.