Prince Andrew has withdrawn at the last minute from a controversial Bahraini-funded promotional conference in London promoting the Gulf Kingdom as a place of freedom and tolerance.

The Duke of York, who has maintained good relations with the Bahraini regime with frequent visits as Britain's former special representative for trade and investment, caused a controversy when speaking during a visit to Bahrain last month, claiming that what's happening in the archipelago is "a source of hope for many people in the world".

"He has already committed to attend an economic event at Bloomberg and regrettably it wasn't possible to attend both events," said a royal official, according to the Telegraph. "The Duke is, however, a long-standing supporter of the UK's bilateral relationship with Bahrain."

The surprise withdrawal was welcomed by Bahraini pro-democracy activists, who staged a protest in response to the Gulf kingdom's PR campaign which highlighted the regime's human rights violations, repression and unrest.

"Prince Andrew withdrew from this conference this morning and there is no high-level person at this conference today, so pretty much what we were striving for has happened," Maryam Al-Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), told IBT UK.

"It has become too embarrassing [for the Duke of York] to appear publicly with them".