- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MANAMA, Bahrain | Bahrain’s king declared a three-month state of emergency Tuesday and gave the country’s military chief wide authority to battle a Shiite-led protest movement that has threatened the Sunni monarchy and drawn in forces from around the Persian Gulf.

The martial-law-style order was read out on Bahrain state TV a day after more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops arrived to help prop up the U.S.-backed regime in the first major cross-border military action to challenge one of the revolts sweeping across the Arab world.

On Tuesday, clashes broke out across the tiny island nation, with a doctor reporting that hundreds of protesters were injured by shotgun blasts and clubs and that one died from a bullet to the head. One of the Saudi soldiers also was fatally shot by a protester, said a security official in Saudi Arabia.

Further underlining the regional implications of the unrest in Bahrain, Shiite-power Iran denounced the intervention of foreign troops 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 the majority of the nation’s population. In the month of protests, the Shiite-led opposition also has pressed for political freedoms.

The United States bases the 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 concessions could embolden more protests against their own regimes, which already have 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 fatally shot in the head, said Dr. Ibrahim Youssef, a member of the medical team at the Sitra Health Center. Dr. 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 Roundabout, 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.”

Senior opposition leader Abdul Jalil Khalil said the monarchy’s steps indicated it has decided to “give a military solution to a political problem.”

“They want to talk with a gun on our head, and saying, you either take this or you die,” said Mr. Khalil, a leader of Bahrain’s main Shiite group, Al-Wefaq.

Shiites account for 70 percent of the population but are widely excluded from high-level political or security posts.

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