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Iran Warns Bahrain Over Top Shi'ite Cleric


Bahraini protesters hold up posters of Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassem during an antigovernment demonstration in 2013.

Bahraini protesters hold up posters of Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassem during an antigovernment demonstration in 2013.

A senior Iranian military figure has warned Bahrain's government of armed struggle after the Sunni-ruled kingdom's most prominent Shi’ite cleric was stripped of his citizenship.

In a June 20 statement, Bahrain's Interior Ministry accused Ayatollah Isa Qassem of using his position to "serve foreign interests" -- an apparent reference to Shi’ite Iran -- and promote "sectarianism and violence."

After the decision was announced, reports say thousands of Qassem's supporters gathered outside his house in the village of Diraz to show their support for the cleric, who has backed protests led by Bahrain's Shi’ite majority for greater civil and political rights.

In a statement carried by Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency, the commander of the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qasem Soleimani, warned Bahrain's government that it faces "dire repercussions" for its action against Qassem.

Soleimani said the response may include "armed resistance” and the "overthrow"of the ruling dynasty.

In a statement published by the Tasnim news agency, Iran's Foreign Ministry urged the Bahraini government "not to burn all the bridges that connect the government to the people" and "to hold serious national talks to end the current crisis."

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Shi'ite militant group Hizballah warned that the move against the cleric would have "grave consequences" and called on Bahrainis to "express their indignation."

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States was "alarmed" by Bahrain's decision to revoke Qassem's citizenship, saying it is "unaware of any credible evidence to support this action."

Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Based on reporting by Fars, Reuters, and AP
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