Troops from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf states have entered Bahrain at the request of the island's royal family to help bring order after a monthlong protest, government officials said.
Demonstrators at Manama's Pearl traffic circle are bracing for attack, building makeshift barricades to block city streets.
The arrival of the foreign force came a day after some of the worst fighting between pro-democracy protesters and police. On Sunday, demonstrators seized control of the capital's financial center and blocked the city's main road, King Faisal Highway. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Moniem Al-Mahyoof, a bank worker, was in the crowd.
"We saw so many people that got tear-gassed and they cannot breathe," he said.
A middle-aged sales manager who gave his first name as Zuhair said young protesters are now so angry, they just rush at police.
"That shows the frustration," he said. "We've reached a level that people are willing to die. And believe me, it's true. And I'm not saying willing to die as a suicide bomber or something like that. Willing to die for their freedom, for their rights."
'We Are Not In The Middle Of War'
Weeks of protests and violence seem to have hardened demonstrators' resolve. Most are Shiite Muslims. They are demanding a democratic political system and an end to what they say is systematic discrimination by the ruling minority Sunnis.
On Sunday night, Bahrain's royal family again offered talks with the opposition. But Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa also warned that Bahrain's security "will never be negotiable."
Then, on Monday, an estimated 1,000 troops drove across the causeway from Saudi Arabia. The main opposition political parties called any intervention an act of war.
Zuhair said protesters were furious.
"They feel it's an intervention in our internal issues," he said. "The majority of Bahrainis, they are against any intervention from any country, even if they are friends, even if they are family. We are not in the middle of war."
Bahraini officials say the foreign troops are only in the country to protect key sectors, such as oil, electricity and finance. But when rumors swirled they were headed to the traffic circle, thousands of protesters poured down the highway to confront them.
Demonstrators barricaded streets with trash bins, shopping carts and park benches.
Some protesters think the foreign troops are just in Bahrain to intimidate. But others say that more violence — from Bahraini forces or foreign ones — feels inevitable.
"We are expecting [they] attack us again," says Adel Ashoor, a businessman and protester. "But people are increasing, numbers are increasing every time they attack."
Protesters say they want the government to go, and they are skeptical of calls for dialogue. Attacks by police last month left seven dead and damaged trust. Demonstrators say bringing in foreign troops hasn't helped.