Bahrain's Gulf Air to resume flights to Tehran next month

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's Gulf Air will resume flights to the Iranian capital Tehran next month, almost three years after they were suspended, the national carrier said in a statement on Monday.

The carrier's lucrative air services to Iran and Iraq, where Shi'ite Muslim religious sites are located, were suspended at the height of the anti-government protests in 2011. Bahrain accused Iran of supporting the protests led by majority Shi'ite Muslims, a charge Iran denies.

Gulf Air's passenger numbers have fallen since the 2011 protests by the Sunni Muslim-ruled island kingdom. Although the protests were quelled, the Gulf Arab state has been rattled by bouts of unrest.

The airline said it would operate four weekly flights to Tehran, starting from March 3.

It resumed flights to Iraq in September 2012 and also started operations to the Iranian city of Mashhad last December, after several delays. But flights to Tehran remained suspended.

Bahrain's Shi'ites complain they have long been marginalized in political and economic life, a claim the government rejects. Bahrain's Sunni rulers have rejected the protesters' main demand for an elected government.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Susan Fenton)