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US moves embassy staff in Bahrain as anniversary of uprising approaches

Hasan Jamali / AP

Bahraini anti-government protesters carry a box of prepared Molotov cocktails during clashes with riot police Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, in the eastern village of Ma'ameer.

MANAMA, Bahrain - As the anniversary of a failed pro-democracy uprising approached in Bahrain, the United States warned Americans in the tiny Gulf kingdom of potential unrest and moved embassy employees to safer locations.

The travel alert issued late on Monday did not specifically mention the anniversary of the uprising on February 14 last year when protesters, mainly from Bahrain's majority Shiite population, took to the streets of Manama to demand political rights.

The country is dominated by the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty, a Sunni family closely allied to other Gulf rulers and seen as a bulwark against Shia-dominated Iran's influence in the Arabian peninsula. It is also home to the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The U.S. State Department said the Bahrain government had recently refused entry to some U.S. citizens at Manama airport and that U.S. embassy employees were being relocated within the country because of the potential for violent demonstrations.

It also noted what it called "isolated examples" of anti-U.S. sentiment such as flag-burnings during protests and warned that foreigners could become targets.

"The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations, as even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse," the alert, which runs to April 19, said.

It warned of spontaneous and sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations by protesters throwing rocks and petrol bombs, lighting trash cans and blocking highways.

"The Ministry of Interior maintains official checkpoints in some areas and routinely uses tear gas, stun grenades, and other crowd control measures against demonstrators," it said.

Washington stood behind Bahrain's government during the protests, while removing its support for rulers in Egypt and Tunisia. However, it has made an arms deal contingent on political reform.

The protest movement was crushed after a month when Saudi troops entered Bahrain to back the government, followed by nearly two months of martial law.

A rights commission headed by international lawyers said in November that 35 people - including protesters and security personnel - were killed up to June. Activists say deaths among Shiites apparently as a result of the clashes have taken the casualty list to around 60.

Bahraini employees of some companies say they have been told not to take any holidays in the coming months, in an apparent effort to discourage people from taking part in protests.

Reuters, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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