MANAMA (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters marched to the Saudi embassy on Tuesday, protesting against the arrival of Saudi troops to help restore calm in the Sunni-ruled kingdom after weeks of protests by the Shi‘ite majority.
Carrying Bahraini flags, some 5,000 people marched from Pearl roundabout, the focal point of protests, to the embassy in an upscale area of the capital where streets were otherwise deserted.
“Down, down with Hamad!” the crowds chanted, referring to Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
Bahrain declared martial law on Tuesday, a day after Saudi troops rolled across a causeway that joins the neighbors.
Analysts saw the troop movement into Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that concessions by the country’s monarchy could inspire the conservative Sunni-ruled kingdom’s own Shi‘ite minority.
“People are angry. We want this occupation to end. We don’t want anybody to help the al-Khalifa or us,” said a protester who gave his name as Salman, referring to the ruling family.
“We’re not going to attack the embassy, but if they attack we will defend ourselves.”
Over 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi‘ites who complain of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni royal family. Calls for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed the Sunni minority, which fears that unrest could serve non-Arab Shi‘ite power Iran.
Iran, which sits across the Gulf from Bahrain, sharply criticized the Saudi intervention. Bahrainis are concerned that their tiny island could become a proxy battleground for a wider stand-off between the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab countries, all U.S. allies, and Shi‘ite-ruled Iran, a U.S. foe.
“It’s part of a regional plan and they’re fighting on our (land). If the Americans were men they would go and fight Iran directly but not in our country,” said protester Aly Suhair.