MANAMA?Bahraini police firing shotguns and tear gas crushed the camp in Manama of a month-old pro-democracy protest on Wednesday in an operation that left five dead and sparked Shiite outrage across the region.
The violence prompted US President Barack Obama, whose country is a close ally of Bahrain, to express "deep concern," as his secretary of state said the deployment of Gulf troops to quell political unrest was the wrong response.
Early on Wednesday morning, hundreds of riot police backed by tanks and helicopters assaulted demonstrators in Manama's Pearl Square, clearing the symbolic heart of the uprising in the strategic Gulf kingdom.
The Shiite opposition, which has been the backbone of protests demanding political change, said three demonstrators were killed in the raid, while the government said two police died in hit-and-run attacks by opposition motorists.
"We now have three martyrs," Khalil Marzouk, deputy head of the Al-Wefaq movement and a member of parliament, told AFP. He added that the situation was "catastrophic," with hospitals closed off and Shiite villages surrounded.
The violence came a day after King Hamad, supported by troops who arrived on Tuesday along with armored vehicles from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, declared a three-month state of emergency in his Sunni-ruled state.
In the wake of the violence, Obama telephoned King Hamad and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to express "deep concern" about the crackdown, his spokesman said.
Clinton criticized the Gulf deployment, in remarks to journalists in Cairo.
She said it was "the wrong track. And we believe that a long-term solution is only possible through a political process."
"What is happening in Bahrain is alarming, and it is unfortunately diverting attention and effort away from the political and economic track. That is the only way forward to resolve the legitimate differences of the Bahrainis themselves."
Police and troops on Wednesday fanned out across the city where protests and gatherings were banned and a dusk-to-dawn curfew was slapped on the business district, which had been under the protesters' control for three days.
Shiite villages around the city remained cut off by the security forces and phone lines were down. A curfew was announced in central Manama from 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.
Human rights activists said medics seeking to tend to wounded Shiites had been beaten by police, injured people left untreated, and security forces blocked access to hospitals.
Bahrain's Health Minister Nizar Baharna, a Shiite, announced his resignation after police burst into a Manama hospital and 12 Shiite judges also stepped down in protest at what they termed the "excessive use of force."
Police arrived at Pearl Square in tanks and buses before moving in on the mainly Shiite Muslim demonstrators, who had been camped out in the square for a month.
Thick clouds of black smoke mixed with tear gas over the area as the protesters' tents were set on fire.
As helicopters hovered overhead, troops then entered the nearby financial center to clear it of demonstrators' roadblocks and the handfuls of protesters still remaining after clashes there on Sunday injured more than 200 people.
Shots were heard as troops escorted a bulldozer into the Financial Harbour business complex, the center of a regional finance hub that hosts major international banks and multinational corporations.
The protesters are demanding reform from the Sunni dynasty that has ruled the strategic archipelago ? a US ally and home of the US Fifth Fleet ? for more than 200 years.
Opposition chief Sheikh Ali Salman said the US-backed, Sunni Muslim regime was acting like Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi and using "extreme brutality" against ordinary people.
As the upheaval dragged in regional rivals and the United States, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned the intervention of Saudi-led forces to prop up the Al-Khalifa royal family as "foul and doomed."
Iran's Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the Bahraini leadership had committed a "strategic and political" blunder and warned that the intervention would cost its "legitimacy."
"Such actions will increase tensions and undermine regional stability and security," said the defense minister of Shiite Iran.
The spiritual guide of Iraq's majority Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, "appealed to Bahraini authorities to stop violence against unarmed citizens" and called instead for Manama to turn to "peaceful methods."
In Beirut, hundreds of supporters of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah held a rally to denounce the Saudi military intervention.
Around 16 people have been killed since the protests started in Pearl Square last month, as mainly Shiite activists took to the streets emboldened by revolts that toppled autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.