WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama urged Bahrain's monarch to respect "universal rights of the people" on Saturday, two days after the tiny Gulf state sentenced several protesters to death.

US officials have criticized Bahrain over the speed of a trial in which Shiite pro-democracy protesters were sentenced to death and life in prison for killing two policemen.

In his telephone conversation with King Hamad, Obama said the United States "believes that Bahrain's stability depends upon respect for the universal rights of the people of Bahrain, and a process of meaningful reform that is responsive to the aspirations of all Bahrainis," the White House said in a statement.

Bahrain, headquarters for the US Fifth Fleet responsible for US naval forces in the region, was hit by protests from mid-February to mid-March amid a broader revolt roiling across the Arab world.

A Bahraini military court on Thursday sentenced four Shiite protesters to death and three to life in prison for the killing of two policemen at a crackdown on a rally.

Bahraini authorities have come under strong criticism from international rights organizations over a heavy-handed crackdown on protesters from the Shiite-majority community in the kingdom that is ruled by a Sunni dynasty.