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Mon 30 Apr 2012 09:08 AM

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European MP says stopped from entering Bahrain

Ana Gomes held at Manama Airport for several hours, despite diplomatic passport

European MP says stopped from entering Bahrain
Ana Gomes said she was held at Manama airport for over seven hours when she tried to enter the Gulf Arab. (AFP/Getty Images)

European Union member of parliament with a diplomatic passport said she was prevented from entering Bahrain on Sunday in an application of visa rules imposed while the government grapples with a pro-democracy movement.

Ana Gomes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament's foreign affairs and human rights committees, said she was held at Manama airport for over seven hours when she tried to enter the Gulf Arab state during a stopover on the way to Libya.

"I've been... waiting to get a visa on arrival and that was denied to me, in spite of having a diplomatic passport and I identified myself as an MEP," Gomes told Reuters by telephone from Manama airport.

She said she was waiting to get on another flight to Benghazi, Libya after being refused permission to stay overnight.

The Bahraini Interior Ministry and information affairs authority did not respond to several requests by phone and text message for a comment on the incident.

Gomes said that when asked for a contact for her stay in the country she gave the name of Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of jailed protest leader Abdulhadi al-Khawaja who has been on hunger strike for more than two months. His daughter is also in detention after a protest in Manama last week.

"This is one more reason why EU governments and the high representative have to clearly send [Bahraini authorities] a very loud message that they are accountable for these human rights activists that are detained and were being tortured," she said.

Bahrain has been in turmoil since February last year when protesters demanding democratic reforms took to the streets after successful popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

After an initial crackdown that halted protests with Saudi military help, and the subsequent finding of a rights commission that thousands of people were arrested and many tortured, unrest has resumed with regular clashes between protesters and police.

Several foreign journalists hoping to cover Bahrain's Formula One Grand Prix were stopped at Manama airport last week and deported as the government tried to limit coverage of unrest during the motor racing tournament.

Bahrain said in February it would limit tourist visas upon arrival for some Western nationalities after 12 foreign activists entered as tourists to join protests, only to be seized by police and expelled.

The government, dominated by the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family, says the protest movement has Shi'ite Muslim sectarian motivations and receives support from Iran.

Bahrain witnesses disturbances on a daily basis in Shi'ite neighbourhoods in which police fire tear gas, sound grenades and birdshot while youths throw petrol bombs. The turmoil has slowed the economy as the banking and tourism sectors shrink.

Shi'ites form the majority among Bahrainis, and complain of political and economic discrimination. The government denies this and says many Shi'ites hold government positions and help run the economy.