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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A new pan-Arab news channel backed by a billionaire Saudi prince was suspended from broadcasting from its home in Bahrain on Monday, just hours after it went on air and carried an interview with a prominent opposition activist.
The Alarab television station said on its official Twitter feed that coverage was halted for "technical and administrative reasons," and that it hopes to be back on the air soon. It went live on Sunday afternoon.
The unexpected stoppage, apparently on the order of Bahraini authorities, came just hours after Alarab surprised many viewers by featuring Bahraini opposition activist Khalil al-Marzooq as one of its first guests.
Yusuf Mohammed, the media director at Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, cited similar reasons as the channel for its being "temporarily suspended" in comments to the official Bahrain News Agency. He did not give further details.
He said the authorities are working with Alarab management "to swiftly resolve the matter," and he expected the channel will resume broadcasting soon.
A brief front-page article in the pro-government Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper said the channel's broadcasts had been suspended because they did not conform to Gulf norms. It did not cite its sources.
Bahraini government officials did not immediately respond to Associated Press requests for comment.
Viewers tuning into the channel Monday morning were only able to see prepackaged promotions for the network, not news programming.
Al-Marzooq is a former deputy parliament speaker who is a senior member of al-Wefaq, the country's main Shiite political bloc. He was cleared of allegations of instigating violence and having links to a protest faction that authorities blame for bombings and other attacks in a closely watched case last year.
He was asked on to discuss Bahrain's decision Saturday to revoke the citizenship of 72 people. The list included Turki al-Binali, a 30-year-old who is one of the Islamic State group's leading ideologues. It also included several Shiite activists living in exile.
Al-Wefaq welcomed Alarab's launch in a statement Monday and said it has submitted a request to launch a Bahrain-based channel of its own.
Alarab is headquartered in Bahrain's twin-towered World Trade Center, one of the landmark buildings in the capital, Manama.
Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and is part of the U.S.-led coalition striking the Islamic State group. It is connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, and its royal family has close political and security ties to the OPEC kingpin.
Bahrain has faced four years of instability following widespread anti-government protests in February 2011 that were dominated by the country's Shiite majority, which seeks greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy.
Bahraini authorities, backed by security forces from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, crushed the initial uprising, but street protests, petrol-bomb attacks and other low-level unrest continue.
The channel's decision in late 2011 to locate its headquarters in Bahrain rather than a larger media hub such as Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was seen as a key endorsement of the country's prospects despite its political unrest.
Alarab's general manager, Jamal Khashoggi, told reporters in December that the network "will cover all views" and would not shy away from sensitive topics in Bahrain.
Alarab is backed by Saudi royal family member Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose Kingdom Holding Co. investment firm has stakes in several well-known companies, including Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc., News Corp. and Twitter.
The network enters a crowded news landscape in the Arab world, with regional competitors including Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, as well as Sky News Arabia and Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, both of which are headquartered in the United Arab Emirates.
Schreck reported from Dubai.
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