(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration expressed alarm over a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in key US ally Bahrain on Thursday as a wave of political upheaval moved across the Middle East.
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And Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged governments in the region to move quickly on long-needed political and economic reforms.
Gates and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with their counterparts in Bahrain, the longtime home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet and an anchor of US defense strategy in the Mideast.
The outreach came as political unrest that toppled US-backed leaders in Tunisia and Egypt spread to the Persian Gulf and beyond.
Clinton, speaking to reporters after a closed-door briefing with senators, said she was redirecting $150 million in aid money to Egypt "to put ourselves in a position to support the transition there and assist with their economic recovery."
She said senior State Department and White house officials would travel to Egypt next week "to consult on how we can most effectively deploy our assistance."
On Bahrain, Clinton spoke with Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, to register Washington's shock and concern about the brutal crackdown overnight. Army patrols and tanks locked down the capital of the tiny Gulf kingdom after riot police fired tear gas and beat demonstrators demanding political reforms. At least four people were killed.
Clinton told reporters she "directly conveyed our deep concerns about the actions of the security forces" there. She noted that there would be funerals and prayer meetings on Friday and said she had expressed hope they "not be marred by violence."
She said Bahrain had long been a friend and ally and "we call on restraint from the government to keep its commitment to hold accountable those who have utilized excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and we urge a return to a process that will result in real meaningful changes for the people there."
Gates spoke by phone Thursday morning with Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, deputy commander of Bahraini defense forces, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
Morrell gave no details about what Gates said, except that he "discussed the current security situation" with the prince.