MANAMA, Bahrain -- Foreign military forces entered Bahrain on Monday across the causeway linking the island kingdom to Saudi Arabia, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy.
The embassy statement did not give the nationality of the troops. Agence France-Presse said a Saudi official confirmed that more than 1,000 Saudi troops had crossed the 16-mile bridge linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, but there was no official confirmation from the Bahraini government.
The force apparently was sent to help Bahrain's Sunni royal family quell protests by the nation's majority Shiite Muslims that have intensified in recent days as demonstrators have closed down a major highway into Manama, the capital.
The military intervention represents a major escalation of the crisis that has consumed Bahrain over the last month as protesters have demanded far-reaching reforms from the ruling royal family.
At about 3:30 p.m., the statement said, the U.S. Embassy "received confirmation that foreign military elements are entering Bahrain along the King Fahad Causeway from Saudi Arabia." It provided no other details.
Protesters near Pearl Roundabout, the traffic circle occupied by demonstrators for the last month, were bracing for a possible crackdown Monday afternoon, but there was no immediate indication that foreign troops would attempt to clear the area. On major roads into Manama, young men were constructing crude barricades with rocks, furniture and trash, hoping to block security forces from Pearl circle and from downtown. At one intersection, young men dragged a small boat behind a bus to use as a barrier.
There were no soldiers or police visible near the square by late afternoon.
"If they send them, they will kill us," protester Abdullah Ali said of Saudi troops. "We are ready to be killed. Everyone's ready here."
All around him, young men, some carrying sticks, milled around the tent city that has arisen in the roundabout. Some wore medical masks in anticipation that tear gas would be fired at them. Over loudspeakers came warnings about a possible confrontation. Female protesters were escorted away from the square.
Rumors of a possible Saudi intervention had been swirling throughout the day after the Gulf Daily News, a newspaper close to Bahrain's royal family, reported that the Gulf Cooperation Council -- a six-member regional bloc made up of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, in addition to Bahrain -- was sending forces to protect strategic facilities in Bahrain.
"Forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council arrived in Bahrain to maintain order and security," Nabeel al-Hamer, Bahrain's former information minister and adviser to the royal court, said on his Twitter feed, quoted by Reuters.
As darkness arrived, the streets were largely deserted and there were no signs of clashes between protesters and security forces.
On the outskirts of Manama and on the road into the city from the causeway to the mainland, there was no sign of foreign troops.
(c) 2011, Tribune Co.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.