Bahrain bans contact with 'terrorist' Hizbollah

DUBAI (AFP) - Bahrain on Monday banned opposition groups from having contacts with Hizbollah, as the Sunni-ruled kingdom moves to limit the Lebanese Shi'ite movement's suspected influence on its restive Shi'ite majority.

Last month the Gulf state listed Hezbollah as a "terrorist organisation" - in line with the United States - following a recommendation by the parliament that is boycotted by the opposition.

Its latest decision appears aimed at stifling Shi'ite political associations which led anti-regime protests that erupted in February 2011 before security forces crushed them a month later.

"Political associations are prohibited from having any form of contact with the Hizbollah organisation," Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa said in a ministerial decree.

A second clause in the decree stated the Iran- and Syria-backed group was a "terrorist organisation".

During the 2011 protests, Hizbollah repeatedly slammed Bahrain for cracking down on Shi'ite demonstrators, drawing angry rebuttals from Manama which accused the Lebanese group of meddling in its internal affairs.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa on Sunday branded Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah as a "terrorist", in remarks a day after Nasrallah vowed to keep up the fight alongside regime forces in Syria to defeat rebels.

"Terrorist Nasrallah has declared war on his nation," Sheikh Khaled wrote on his Twitter account.

"Stopping him and rescuing Lebanon from his grip is a national and religious duty for all of us," he said, as Hizbollah's involvement in Syria's armed conflict deepened.

Nasrallah is a popular figure among the Shi'ites of Bahrain.

But the Shi'ite-led opposition clamouring for reforms has repeatedly insisted its political agenda is purely Bahraini, denying any links to Iran or other Shiite forces.

Bahrain and other Gulf states repeatedly accuse Shiite-dominated Iran of meddling in their affairs, a charge that the Islamic republic categorically denies.

Bahrain's security forces were in March 2011 boosted by Gulf troops, led by Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, to quell the protests that appeared to take their cue from Arab Spring uprisings.

Despite the crackdown, Shi'ites continue to demonstrate in their villages, frequently clashing with police.

A total of 80 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.