MANAMA – At least 200 people were shot and wounded on Tuesday in a Shiite village south of the Bahraini capital, a medic said, and two people killed elsewhere, as the king imposed a state of emergency after bringing in foreign troops to help quell anti-regime protests.
As violence escalated, close ally the United States warned that there was "no military solution" to political upheaval in Bahrain and that any violence against peacefully expressed political demands "should be stopped."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Bahrainis must "take steps now" toward a political resolution of the crisis.
And top Bahraini Shiite clerics sought Muslim and international help as they warned that anti-regime protesters will be targeted with a "massacre."
"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 were said to have been admitted to hospital suffering from tear gas inhalation.
The medic said people had "confronted the gangs when they arrived in the village," only to discover that they were carrying guns.
The medic said the hospital was under siege by armed gangs and security forces targeting Shiites -- the backbone of anti-regime protests that have raged for a month.
A Shiite protester and a member of the security forces were killed in two other incidents in the south.
Neighbouring Iran condemned Monday's intervention by Saudi and Emirati troops to help put down the protests, prompting Manama to recall its ambassador.
Thousands of protesters marched to the Saudi embassy, chanting slogans against the king and vowing to defend the country from the "occupation" forces.
In Manama, the protesters brandished banners against the king.
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 were nowhere to be seen there, witnesses 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.
"The Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force has been mandated to take the measures and procedures necessary to preserve the safety of the nation and its people," it said, adding that "other forces" could also be used if necessary.
Armoured troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had earlier 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.
But Iran said the military intervention in a Shiite-majority country to which it has historic claims was unacceptable.
"The people of Bahrain have demands, which are legitimate and are being expressed peacefully," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran.
"Any violence in response to these legitimate demands should be stopped."
Bahrain's state news agency said the kingdom had decided to "immediately recall" its ambassador in Tehran, as the crisis widened into a broader standoff between Iran and the Gulf Arab states.
The United States warned 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 statement by Bahraini 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."
The statement warned that a "horrible massacre is expected at (Manama's) Pearl Square against the people of this (Shiite) sect, only for peacefully demanding their rights."
A US official said visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 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 about the violence and potential for escalation.
She "urged restraint and stressed that the only durable solution is a credible political process, not a military one," the official said.
"She stated that all parties must avoid violence and provocation and find a peaceful path forward."
At a news conference in Cairo, she insisted that Bahrainis "must take steps now to negotiate toward a political resolution."