Hundreds of protesters injured by shotgun blasts and clubs as Bahraini king declares emergency

Associated Press
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 12:43 PM

MANAMA, Bahrain - Frenzied clashes swept Bahrain Tuesday, a day after a Saudi-led military force entered the country to defend its Sunni monarchy from a Shiite-led protest movement. Hundreds of demonstrators were injured by shotgun blasts and clubs, a doctor said.

As the government's crackdown intensified, the Bahraini king declared a three-month state of emergency Tuesday that gave his military chief wide authority to battle protesters demanding political reforms and equal rights for Shiites. One demonstrator was shot in the head and killed, and a Saudi official said one of his country's soldiers was shot dead by a protester.

The force of more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops from several Gulf nations saw its first day of action to help prop up the U.S.-backed regime in Bahrain. Its intervention was the first major cross-border military action to challenge one of the revolts sweeping across the Arab world.

Further underlining the regional implications of the unrest in Bahrain, Shiite power Iran denounced the foreign intervention as "unacceptable" and predicted it would complicate the kingdom's political crisis.

Iran holds no deep political ties to Bahrain's Shiite groups, but some Iranian hard-liners have hailed their efforts over the years for greater rights for their community, which represents a majority of the nation's population.

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.

"Hundreds of people are here. They are everywhere - in the halls, on the floor of the health center," he said. "People are screaming. There is lots of blood."

There was a growing conviction among the protesters, centered in the tent camp in the capital's Pearl Square, that the monarchy is unwilling to meet their demands for an elected government and a voice for Shiites in running the nation.

"They brought tanks from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to keep the monarchy as it is, not to change it," said Ali Issa, a protester manning a checkpoint on a road leading to the square. "We are expecting they will attack us any minute now."

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