Bahrain upheaval tests Obama backing for democracy

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama, struggling to find his footing in the upheaval shaking Bahrain, has urged the kings of that island nation and its ally, Saudi Arabia, to show restraint in dealing with protesters. 

The calls to the monarchs Wednesday reflected the cautious approach Obama is taking in Bahrain after openly supporting anti-government protesters who forced out autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt – both longtime U.S. allies. 

Obama doesn’t want to sour the longstanding alliance that allows the U.S. Navy to maintain strategic port facilities in Bahrain for the powerful 5th Fleet, a bulwark of U.S. power in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Its presence is key to containing Iranian political and military ambitions in the region. 

Bahrain has a Sunni monarchy, but it has a Shiite majority. A change in its leadership could be a boon for Iran’s Shiite theocracy.

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