Hundreds shot in Bahrain as emergency declared

MANAMA (AFP) – Two people died and hundreds were wounded in clashes between anti-regime protesters and Bahrain's security forces, as the king imposed a state of emergency a day after calling in foreign troops.

Top Bahraini Shiite clerics sought Muslim and international help as they warned that anti-regime protesters would be targeted with a "massacre."

AFP - Anti-government protesters gather outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Manama.

And as the violence escalated Iran, Bahrain's Shiite neighbour across the Gulf, protested the "unacceptable" intervention of foreign troops there.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile, called on Bahrainis to resolve the crisis politically.

"More than 200 people we received today had been shot with buckshot," a hospital medic in the village of Sitra, south of the capital, told AFP by telephone.

More than 200 others had been admitted to hospital suffering from tear gas inhalation, and the hospital itself was under siege by armed gangs and security forces, he added.

They were targeting Shiites -- the backbone of anti-regime protests that have raged for a month, he said.

The medic said people had "confronted the gangs when they arrived in the village," only to discover that they were carrying guns.

In separate incidents in the south of the country, a Shiite protester and a member of the security forces were killed.

Iran's foreign ministry said it had told Manama, Riyadh and Washington that military intervention by Gulf troops in Bahrain was "unacceptable," the country's state television's website reported.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over the crackdown on protesters and the foreign intervention.

"The people of Bahrain have demands, which are legitimate and are being expressed peacefully," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

Any violence in response to these legitimate demands should be stopped."

In response to Iran's protests, Bahrain recalled its ambassador in Tehran.

In a visit last week to the kingdom, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he had warned Bahrain's leaders that if they did not push through major reforms, Shiite Iran would try to exploit the situation.

In the capital Manama, thousands of protesters marched to the Saudi embassy, chanting slogans against the King Hamad and vowing to defend the country from the "occupation" forces.

But they also called for unity between Sunnis and Shiites in the mainly Shiite country, which has been ruled by a Sunni dynasty for more than 200 years.

Police and foreign forces stayed away, witnesses said.

Five top Bahraini Shiite clerics urged "our Hawzah (Shiite religious schools)... the Muslim World League, and the UN Security Council... to immediately intervene to rescue those targeted by this catastrophe."

A "horrible massacre is expected at (Manama's) Pearl Square against the people of this (Shiite) sect, only for peacefully demanding their rights," they warned in a joint statement.

Pearl Square has become one of the focal points of the protests.

"We feel that the fate of this sect is in danger," they said, claiming also that the government was trying to stoke sectarian tension.

"Everyone should know that there is no animosity between Sunnis and Shiites in Bahrain, and that the government is trying to create this animosity," they said.

State television interrupted normal programming to announce a three-month state of emergency in the strategic Gulf state, which is home to the US Fifth Fleet and hosts major international banks and financial institutions.

On Monday, armoured troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rolled across the causeway from Saudi's Eastern Province to help Manama tackle pro-democracy protests shaking the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia's staunchly Sunni government said it had responded to a call for help from its neighbour under a mutual defence pact of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council.

Washington called on the Gulf states to respect the rights of the Bahraini people, but said the entry of foreign troops was "not an invasion."

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said "we call for calm and restraint on all sides. We are particularly concerned by the increasing reports of provocative acts and sectarian violence by all groups."

"One thing is clear: there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain. A political solution is necessary and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain's citizens."

A US official said visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal from Cairo, where she was on the first leg of a North African tour, to express her deep concern.

During a news conference in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi, she said: "Our advice to all sides is that they must take steps now to negotiate toward a political resolution."

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