February 10, 2012 / 2:41 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Police kill protesters in eastern Saudi Arabia

(Updates to add protest and killing on Friday, police statement)

DUBAI, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Saudi security forces shot dead a protester during a clash on Friday with demonstrators in the oil-producing Eastern Province, home to a large Shi’ite minority, state news agency statements said.

The Saudi Press Agency said a protester was killed and three others were wounded in a similar clash on Thursday.

“While security men were following up on an illegal gathering in the town of Awwamiya in Qatif on Friday they were attacked by gunfire,” a police statement on the state news agency said on Friday.

“They dealt with the situation by firing back, which resulted with the death of one,” it added.

Activists earlier said a 21-year-old man had been shot dead on Thursday when police fired to disperse demonstrators in the town. Saudi opposition websites said between six and 14 people were wounded.

An SPA statement said a clash had taken place on Thursday in which one protester was killed and three were injured, confirming what a police spokesman had said earlier.

Saudi Arabia has been spared the mass protests that have forced four Arab heads of state out of office, partly thanks to a generous financial package announced by the world’s largest oil exporter early last year.

But the Eastern Province has seen sporadic demonstrations since March last year, and in November four people were killed, according to the Interior Ministry and activists.

Saudi Arabia is sensitive to any unrest in the Eastern Province because of what it says are concerns it could be fomented by non-Arab Shi’ite power Iran to destabilise the Gulf region.

Protesters’ demands have focused on political reforms in the mainly Sunni kingdom to improve the conditions of the country’s Shi’ite minority, as well as the release of political prisoners.

Security forces have arrested and released around 500 people over the prostests, and are currently holding 80 people behind bars, according to activist counts.

In October Saudi Arabia blamed a foreign power, widely understood to mean Iran, for instigating an attack by protesters on a police station, where shots were fired and petrol bombs thrown. Tehran denies involvement. (Reporting by Nour Merza and Asma Alsharif; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Alison Williams)

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