Bahrain's king declared a three-month state of emergency Tuesday to quell a Shiite uprising, as clashes spread through the capital and surrounding villages in a showdown that drew in the region's major powers and splintered along its main sectarian faultlines. At least two Bahrainis and a Saudi soldier died, and hundreds of protesters were injured by shotgun blasts and clubs.
A force of more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops expanded to defend the Sunni monarchy; Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah denounced the presence of foreign soldiers; and Washington feared for its main naval base in the Gulf. Any compromise appeared distant at best, with the latest order from Bahrain's king and protesters' demands for the royal family to be toppled altogether.
Doctors were overwhelmed by onslaught of patients at Manama's Salmaniya hospital, rushing the wounded into a packed emergency room, forcing many to wait in the halls. Nurses held back tears when attending to injured young men, and doctors could barely contain their anger.
"They were all shot from close range," said Nabeel Hameed, a neurosurgeon at the capital's biggest hospital. He looked at an X-ray of the latest patient, shot in the chest, and added: "Yes, they do shoot to kill."
The state of emergency in the US-backed regime gives Bahrain's military chief wide authority to battle protesters demanding political reforms and equal rights for the majority Shiites.
'They saw us and just shot at us'
At Manama's Pearl Square, the symbolic center of their revolt, thousands of protesters were still in shock over the arrival of the neighboring armies when the state of emergency was declared. Bahrain said more Gulf troops arrived Tuesday. Opposition leaders have not yet announced their next move.
"We are ready for anything, but this protest started peacefully and it will end peacefully," said Ali Hassan, a demonstrator in the square. "We have no guns, but we will resist by remaining here as long as we possibly can."
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she prodded Saudi Arabia to support a peaceful political solution and stressed that "they along with everyone else need to be promoting the dialogue" between protesters and the monarchy.
The intervention of more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops from several Gulf nations was the first major cross-border military action to challenge one of the revolts sweeping across the Arab world. The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain for 200 years. The family enjoys strong backing from other Gulf states and the United States, fearing Iran's expanding influence.
Several of the injured claimed Saudi forces opened fire between A'ali and Buri, two villages south of Manama.
"I heard the sound of the bullet flying and after that my arm felt like it was falling off," said Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, 18, who was shot in the left elbow. "I saw blood and I realized the bullet hit me."
Mohammed Abdulla Maki al-Nasem, who was shot in his right knee, said he was driving with friends between the two villages when they were attacked. He said he saw several military vehicles - some flying a Saudi flag - moving along an overpass and shooting at cars below.
"They saw us and just shot at us," al-Nasem said.
Shiite power Iran denounced the foreign intervention as "unacceptable" and predicted it would complicate the kingdom's political crisis.
'They want to talk with a gun on our head'
A senior Bahraini foreign affairs official, Hamad al-Amer, called the remarks "blatant intervention in internal Bahraini affairs" and said Iran's ambassador to Bahrain was summoned to the Foreign Ministry.
Iran holds no deep political ties to Bahrain's Shiite groups, but some Iranian hard-liners have supported their efforts over the years for greater rights.
The United States bases its Navy's 5th Fleet in the country in part to try to counter Iran's military reach.
Other Gulf leaders have urged Bahrain's king not to give ground, fearing that gains by Bahrain's Shiite Muslims could offer a window for Iran to expand its influence on the Arab side of the Gulf. There are also worries that political concessions could embolden more protests against their own regimes, which have already confronted pro-reform cries in Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Tuesday's worst confrontations took place on the Bahraini island of Sitra.
A 24-year-old protester, Ahmed Farhan, was shot in the head and killed, said Dr. Ibrahim Youssef, a member of the medical team at the Sitra Health Center. Youssef said hundreds of others were injured by shotgun blasts and clubs. Hameed, the neurosurgeon, said another Bahraini died, also after being shot in the head.
A security official in Saudi Arabia said a Saudi sergeant was shot and killed by a protester in Bahrain's capital, Manama. No other details were immediately given on the death of the soldier, identified as Sgt. Ahmed al-Raddadi. The Saudi official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Mansoor al-Jamri, editor of the main opposition newspaper, Al-Wasat, said pro-government mobs stormed the paper's printing facilities early Tuesday and smashed equipment with metal pipes, clubs and axes. The paper is now publishing using presses from other papers.
Senior opposition leader Abdul Jalil Khalil condemned the monarchy's invitation of the Gulf troops and its order to impose marshal law.
"They want to talk with a gun on our head, and saying, you either take this or you die," said Khalil, a leader of Bahrain's main Shiite group, Al-Wefaq.
Shiites account for 70% of the population, but are widely excluded from high-level political or security posts. The protesters also demand the repeal of a government policy to offset the Shiite demographic advantage by giving citizenship and jobs to Sunnis from other Arab nations and South Asia.
The foreign troops are from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield Force. The bloc is made up of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - all largely Sunni countries who have nervously watched the Arab world's protests. The Saudi government on Tuesday withdrew accreditation to the chief Reuters correspondent there, complaining about a recent report on a protest in the kingdom. Reuters stood by its coverage.
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