(Updates with comment from U.S. on Eastern Province in seventh paragraph.)
Feb. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia blamed “a number of elements” for trying to provoke violence by firing on security forces in Awwamiya, a Shiite village in the nation’s eastern oil-producing region.
Some “deliberately seek to challenge” the police by firing live ammunition at them and their vehicles, the Interior Ministry said today in a faxed statement.
Saudi security forces killed one Shiite protester in Awwamiya on Feb. 10 after being fired upon, the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an unidentified police spokesman. A day earlier a Shiite protester was killed and three wounded in a gun battle with police in al-Qatif, also in the eastern region, the news agency said.
Saudi forces and Shiite protesters have clashed in the Eastern Province since October, when 11 Saudi security personnel were injured in an attack by gunmen on motorcycles. Seven Shiite protesters have been killed since November, according to figures provided by Human Rights First Society.
Predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has accused Shiite- led Iran of interfering in the affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, home to three-fifths of the world’s oil reserves. Iran denies the allegation and accuses Sunni rulers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of discriminating against Shiites. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries sent troops to Bahrain in March to quell the mainly Shiite unrest.
The latest clashes in Awwamiya and al-Qatif occurred before Iran marked the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on February 11. That uprising toppled the pro-western monarchy and brought Shiite Islamic clerics to power.
U.S. citizens should continue to “exercise caution” and be aware of the potential for protests that sometimes result in violence” if living in or traveling to Awwamiya, Safwa and Saihat in the Eastern Province, the U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, said in an e-mailed message today.
“At least two persons have reportedly been killed and a number of others injured in the last several days following confrontations between demonstrators and government security forces in the city of Qatif,” the consulate said.
Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority is concentrated in the Eastern Province, which lies across a 16-mile (26-kilometer) causeway from Shiite-majority Bahrain.
The U.S. State Department noted in a human-rights report on Saudi Arabia published in 2009 that Shiites in the kingdom face “significant political, economic, legal, social and religious discrimination condoned by the government.”
--Editors: Digby Lidstone, Jonas Bergman
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