MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahrain ordered a top U.S. diplomat to leave the country Monday, the Foreign Ministry said, after he met with a leading Shiite opposition group.

The ministry said in a statement that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski is not welcome in Bahrain. It said he intervened in the country’s domestic affairs by holding meetings with some groups at the expense of others.

The statement said that such meetings “segregate” the people of the nation. His actions, added the statement, “run counter to conventional diplomatic norms.”

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Despite the diplomatic spat, the Foreign Ministry statement said relations between Bahrain and the U.S. remain strong and important.

“The government of Bahrain asserts that this should not in any way affect the two countries’ relationship of mutual interests,” the statement said.

Malinowski was ordered to leave after meeting with Bahrain’s Shiite opposition group, Al Wifaq. He arrived in the country on Sunday and was scheduled to stay for three days, but his visit was cut short by the abrupt order to depart a day early.

He also had meetings scheduled with government officials, as well as leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab who was released from prison late May after serving two years for taking part in illegal protests. Rajab told The Associated Press he did not meet Malinowski.

Bahrain, a tiny island nation off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, has been roiled by near-daily protests by Shiites seeking greater political rights since early 2011. Repeated rounds of political talks have failed to significantly close the rifts between its Sunni monarchy and majority Shiite factions.

Two US officials in Washington confirmed that Malinowski has been ordered to leave but is still there while the logistics of his departure are worked out. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

AP writer Matthew Lee in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.

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