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UK charters planes for its citizens as Bahrain crisis escalates

The UK Government has advised all British citizens to leave Bahrain, as unrest there continued.

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The Foreign Office website says those British nationals currently in Bahrain “who do not have a pressing reason to remain” should “leave by commercial means if it is safe to do so”.

In addition, it notes, “the UK Government is chartering planes to supplement commercially available options…to assist the departure of British nationals from Bahrain to Dubai on 17 March”.

As reported, Bahrain’s king declared a three-month state of emergency on Tuesday, as anti-government protests continued and 1,500 troops from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates moved in at the Bahrain Government’s invitation.

Hundreds have been injured and as many as six people killed as the government’s forces have sought to clear the streets of Manama, the capital city of Bahrain, of anti-government protesters. 

According to press reports,Bahrain’s stock exchange and a few bank branches reopened today, after being shut on Wednesday, but few Manama shops and other businesses were said to be open, as tanks and other military vehicles patrolled the streets.  

For Bahrain’s financial services industry, which pre-dates those of such neighbouring centres as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, the advice to British citizens to leave is yet more bad news.  More than a quarter of the country’s GDP comes from financial services, and assets under management are said to total around $20bn.

Bahrain’s financial services industry grew after war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, and Beirut’s banks and insurers were forced to relocate. The kingdom now counts more than 400 licensed financial services institutions, according to the Bahrain Economic Development Board’s website.

Among the international banking groups with operations in Bahrain are BNP Paribas, Citibank, Merrill Lynch, Standard Chartered, Arab Bank, the Arab Banking Corporation, Arcapita, GIB, NCB Capital, Gulf Finance House and Investcorp. Bank of China and India’s ICICI also have a presence.
Many insurance groups are also present, including AIG, ALICO, Axa, Legal & General, and Zurich.

Until the recent unrest, Bahrain had actually fared better than many of its glitzier rivals during and after the global financial downturn, due to its more conservative approach to risk management, as a profile of the country in International Adviser last August pointed out.

The article went on to note that broadcaster CNBC had recently made Bahrain its Gulf base, while Skype had just announced it was making Bahrain its Middle East and Africa headquarters, and McLaren, the sports car favoured by many wealthy Arabs (and half-owned by a Bahraini sovereign wealth fund) had also chosen the kingdom for its Middle Eastern hub.

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