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The BBC's David Willis
"It is a love story worthy of Shakespeare"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 03:43 GMT 04:43 UK
Eloped princess faces charges
The couple arrive for the hearing in San Diego
The couple are attracting a lot of media interest
A Bahraini princess who eloped to the United States to marry a US Marine must face charges of illegally entering the country, a federal immigration judge has ruled.

Meriam Al-Khalifa, 19, will now formally apply for political asylum in the US, her lawyer said after a 15-minute hearing in San Diego, California.

The princess fell in love with American marine Jason Johnson after meeting him in a shopping mall. She fled to the US with him in disguise, against her family's wishes.

She says she would be killed if she returned to Bahrain, because she has embarrassed the royal family by marrying a non-Muslim.

"I can guarantee you it is not just 'Daddy is mad at me,'" said her lawyer Jan Joseph Bejar.

But a spokesman for the Bahraini Embassy in Washington said her family was eager for her to return and that she would not face persecution.

Love story

Meriam al-Khalifa met Lance Corporal Johnson, 25, in January 1999 when he was serving with an American counter-terrorism unit based in Bahrain.

They started dating and soon fell in love. It was several months before he found out that she was a princess, and a little longer before her family found out about him.

Emir Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
Bahrain's head of state, Emir Hamad, is a cousin of the princess's father
But when her father, a sheikh and cousin to Bahrain's head of state, Emir Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and the family found out, they forbade the relationship.

The couple decided to elope. He dressed her up as a marine, using a baseball cap to hide her long hair, and smuggled her out of the Gulf state using military documents which he had forged.

They were stopped in Chicago, where she Meriam Al-Khalifa was charged with entering the United States without proper documentation and misrepresenting her identity.

The couple married in Las Vegas two weeks later.

A US State Department spokesman said the case was to be handled by the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS).

"The Bahraini government has made its views known to us concerning the matter," spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"We feel the case should be decided on its merits in accordance with immigration law."

The couple live in government housing at Camp Pendleton, the Marine base 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Los Angeles. The Marine Corps has demoted Johnson to the rank of private first class for smuggling in an illegal immigrant.

Meriam Al Khalifa has up to a year under US law to apply for political asylum. She would need to win asylum before she could be granted permanent residency.

The next court hearing is in two months.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | Middle East
Princess elopes with US marine
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
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