Middle East

Barack Obama backs Bahrain king's pledge to reform

Bahraini anti-government protesters wave the national flag as they march past the embassy of Saudi Arabia in the capital Manama, 27 February 2011
Image caption President Obama said he supported a national dialogue initiative led by Crown Prince Salamn bin Hamad al-Khalifa in Bahrain

US President Barack Obama has expressed his support for the King of Bahrain's affirmed commitment to reform.

Mr Obama welcomed a cabinet reshuffle by King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa in which four ministers, including two royal family members, were replaced.

The move followed two weeks of Shia protests against the Sunni-led regime.

President Obama said he supported a national dialogue initiative led by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa in Bahrain.

He urged that the process should be inclusive, non-sectarian and responsive to the people of the Gulf Kingdom.

Manama protests

"I welcome the announcement by King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa about making important changes to the cabinet and restating his commitment to reform," said Mr Obama in a statement.

Thousands of demonstrators remain camped out on Pearl Square in the capital, Manama, as protests move into a 15th day.

They have called for a genuinely democratic elected parliament and the sacking of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman al-Khalifa after 40 years in power.

Shia account for about 70% of the country's 525,000 people.

Bahrain - home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet - is the first Gulf country to be thrown into turmoil by the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world.

On Friday, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen visited Bahrain and described the country as a critical long-time ally.