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Sunday, March 7, 1999 Published at 13:56 GMT

World: Middle East

Bahrain sticks with West

Thousands of Bahrainis attend Sheikh Isa's funeral

The new Emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has pledged to continue pro-Western policies as the country mourns the late emir.

Sheikh Hamad, a career soldier, said he would work to maintain the stability his father created.

[ image: Sheikh Hamed: Close to Saudi Arabia]
Sheikh Hamed: Close to Saudi Arabia
Sheikh Isa ibn Salman al-Khalifa was buried on Saturday, just hours after dying suddenly of a heart attack.

The streets and main market of the capital Manama were deserted, while thousands of Bahrainis paid their respects at the royal palace.

A number of Arab countries have declared official mourning and several statesmen including Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Sultan of Oman have arrived to express sympathy.

President Clinton has paid tribute to the late emir, calling him a good friend of peace.

New ruler

Fergus Nicoll: The new emir "does not inherit a totally trouble free state"
The BBC's Gulf Correspondent Frank Gardner says the advent of a new ruler is bound to bring changes to Bahrain.

Sheikh Isa was renowned for his close links to Britain. Sheikh Hamad, who commands Bahrain's armed forces, is known to be closer to the princes of Saudi Arabia.

[ image:  ]
Many observers expect him to steer Bahrain's policies towards a more pan-Arab agenda.

Despite Sheikh Isa's death, the US said it had concluded a deal for Bahrain to buy sophisticated new medium-range air-to-air missiles.

Bahrain, a key Gulf ally of the United States, is the headquarters of the American Fifth Fleet.

Nation in shock

Sheikh Isa died at 1000GMT on Saturday, ending a reign spanning nearly four decades.

[ image: The emir had ruled since 1961]
The emir had ruled since 1961
The country declared a three-month mourning period, with government offices closed for five days.

"The emir died suddenly of natural causes after a meeting with [US Defence] Secretary [William] Cohen," an official of the Bahraini Defence Forces said.

The emir's sudden death has left his country's citizens in shock, even though he had long suffered from heart problems.

Ninth in the lineage of Al-Khalifa rulers, Sheikh Isa left nine children.

Gulf Correspondent Frank Gardner: "Death will bring enormous change"
The emir had ruled the Gulf state since 1961, when he succeeded his father Sheikh Salman to the throne. He had served as crown prince since 1958.

Sheikh Isa took the title emir in August 1971, assuming full power when Bahrain achieved independence from Britain that year.

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