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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Princess elopes with US marine
Manama skyline
The couple met in a shopping mall in Bahrain
It has all the trappings of a fairy tale - an 18-year-old princess falls in love with a commoner and then secretly elopes with him, abandoning her life of luxury for love.

But this love story is now wrapped in a legal fight and has the potential to cause an international row.

I did the worst thing possible in my country, to fall in love with a non-Muslim

Bahraini Princess Meriam Al-Khalifa
The princess, a member of Bahrain's royal family, is now battling to stay with her American marine husband in the United States.

Princess Meriam Al-Khalifa will appear at an immigration hearing in San Diego in a bid to win political asylum on 17 July.

She says she fears retribution if she returns home but the State Department has said it wants her deported.

Emir Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
Bahrain's head of state Emir Hamad is a cousin of the princess's father
The US considers Bahrain a valuable strategic ally.

She married Lance Corporal Jason Johnson - the son of a lorry driver - in Las Vegas last November, two weeks after arriving in the US.

Marriage does not automatically provide a right to stay in the US.

Mr Johnson helped her flee Bahrain by dressing her up as marine, using forged military document documents and a New York Yankees cap to hide her hair.

Met at the mall

The couple met in a shopping mall in Bahrain when Mr Johnson was serving in the country with a US anti-terrorism unit, the Los Angeles Times reported.

For several months of courtship, the princess did not tell the marine that her father was the cousin of the country's head of state, Emir Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

"I did the worst thing possible in my country, to fall in love with a non-Muslim," the princess, now 19, said. "To make it even worse, he's an American."

Nothing will happen to her. This is a family matter

Bahraini diplomat
"She embarrassed the royal family. To keep their reputation clean, they would have to take vengeance," Mr Johnson told the paper.

Bahraini officials said the princess had no reason to fear returning.

"The family still loves her very much," a Bahraini diplomat in Washington said.

"Nothing will happen to her. This is a family matter, not a royal matter."

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See also:

29 Feb 00 | Middle East
Bahraini dissident goes on trial
07 Jul 99 | Middle East
Bahrain court convicts opposition cleric
07 Mar 99 | Middle East
Bahrain sticks with West
06 Mar 99 | Monitoring
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