Wary of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, military troops and security forces backed by tanks on Wednesday cracked down to clear the landmark Pearl Square in Manama, a day after the country's Sunni rulers clamped martial law in the violence-wracked Gulf kingdom.
Helicopters hovered overhead, as hundreds of police and military units fired tear gas shells and charged thousands of protesters camping in the area, killing two people as they overran the Square, BBC reported. Multiple explosions were heard and smoke was seen billowing over Central Manama.
Gulf News, quoting Bahrain police, said the dead were policemen. The police pounced on the protesters from all sides, forcing them to flee. The crackdown came two days after hundreds of Saudi-led foreign forces entered Bahrain as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to protect government facilities.
It was not immediately clear whether Wednesday's security clampdown involved Saudi troops. Ali Al Aswad, an opposition lawmaker, told Al Jazerra that government was using Apache helicopter gunships to fire at people.
An official statement read out on television said the king had authorised the commander of Bahrain's defence forces to take all necessary measures to protect the safety of the country and its citizens.
Gulf News said the United Arab Emirates had also sent about 500 police personnel to Bahrain, and quoted foreign minister Abdulla bin Zayed Al-Nahyan saying that he did not rule out the possibility of its troops also going to Bahrain.
The tiny Gulf kingdom, home to United States 5th fleet, has a dominant Shia majority, and has been swept over by protests over the last several weeks. The protesters allege discrimination and lack of rights and are seeking political reforms, including restricting the country's monarchy to a constitutional role only.
The authorities have closed down all educational institutions and the country's stock exchange suspended trading business. The unrest has sparked unease in Saudi Arabia, and has put the US in the difficult position of having to stand by a regional ally while also backing democratic change.