Pompeo in Bahrain on first leg of tour of Gulf allies

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa after arriving at Manama International Airport in Manama, Bahrain, Jan. 11, 2019. (Reuters)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan arrive in Manama International Airport in Manama on January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second right, and his wife Susan, third right, pose for pictures with Assistant Foreign Minister for North and South American Affairs , Reda Habeeb Ibrahim Zaki, right, and Charge d'Affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, Tom Goldberger, left, before boarding the plane leaving Egypt as he departs for Manama, Bahrain at Cairo International Airport in Cairo, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (AP)
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Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, left, watches as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leaves at the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (AP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Pompeo in Bahrain on first leg of tour of Gulf allies

  • In Bahrain, Pompeo is due to have a working lunch with King Hamad
  • Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet

MANAMA: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Bahrain on Friday, the first leg of a tour of Gulf monarchies which Washington says are “critical” to confronting Iran and militants.
“These Gulf partnerships are critical to achieving shared regional objectives — defeating Daesh, countering radical Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy supplies and rolling back Iranian aggression,” a State Department spokesman said.
In Bahrain, Pompeo is due to have a working lunch with King Hamad, Crown Prince Salman and Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa, according to his official program.
Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet with around 7,800 US military personnel deployed in the country, as well as a British naval base.
It is one of the closest allies of regional power house Saudi Arabia and shares its hostility Iran.
“Bahrain is a staunch supporter of countering Iran’s malign efforts” in the region, the US spokesman said.
“Bahrain continues efforts to investigate and counter Iranian sanctions evasion and combat illicit maritime activity,” he added.
Pompeo’s visit is part of a whistlestop regional tour aimed at reassuring US allies after President Donald Trump’s shock decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria.
The US top diplomat flew in to Manama from Cairo and has already visited Amman, Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.
He will also visit the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
State Department officials have said Pompeo hopes his trip will strengthen the GCC.
The State Department has said that a “united Gulf Cooperation Council the backbone for regional peace, prosperity, security and stability” and key to countering Iran.
It said Pompeo would also work with regional leaders to advance a proposed Middle East Strategic Alliance — a NATO-style security pact.


Morocco Christians urge religious freedom before pope visit

Updated 35 min 41 sec ago
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Morocco Christians urge religious freedom before pope visit

  • Morocco is 99 percent Muslim
  • The pontiff is due to visit the North African country on March 30-31 at the invitation of King Mohammed VI

RABAT: Morocco’s Christian minority on Thursday called on authorities in the Muslim-majority country to guarantee religious freedoms, ahead of a visit by Pope Francis.
The Coordination of Moroccan Christians, a group representing converts to Christianity in a nation that is 99 percent Muslim, appealed for “basic freedoms of which we, Moroccan Christians, are still often deprived.”
These include freedom of public worship as well as the right to have church or civil weddings and Christian funeral rites and education, it said in a statement.
“We dream of a free Morocco” which embraces religious diversity, the group said, adding that it hopes Pope Francis’s visit this month will be a “historic occasion” for the country.
“We also call on the Moroccan authorities to no longer put pressure on the country’s official churches, including the Catholic church in Morocco, to dissuade them from accepting” converts to Christianity, the statement said.
The pontiff is due to visit the North African country on March 30-31 at the invitation of King Mohammed VI.
More than 40,000 Christians — mostly foreigners — are estimated to live in Morocco, whose king describes himself as the “commander of the faithful.”
Religious pluralism is enshrined in the constitution and freedom of worship is guaranteed, according to the Moroccan authorities.