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Saudi Arabia says two killed in clash in eastern province


November 24, 2011 - Two people were killed and three wounded in an exchange of gunfire in oil-producing eastern Saudi Arabia between security forces and what the government called gunmen serving a foreign power. The shooting on Wednesday night raised the death toll to at least four in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province since Sunday...The government has implied that protests supported by members of the Shi'ite Muslim minority and attacks on police stations and checkpoints were instigated by its rival Iran. Activists say they started after police at a checkpoint shot a young man on Friday, which the government denies...


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Saudi Arabia says two killed in clash in eastern province

Reuters

DUBAI, Nov 24, 2011 (Reuters) - Two people were killed and three wounded in an exchange of gunfire in oil-producing eastern Saudi Arabia between security forces and what the government called gunmen serving a foreign power.

The shooting on Wednesday night raised the death toll to at least four in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province since Sunday.

It broke out during the funeral of one of two people killed in what the government has described as a string of attacks this week on security checkpoints.

"These casualties have occurred due to the exchange of gunfire with unknown criminal elements who have infiltrated among citizens, and are firing from residential areas and narrow streets," the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

An activist in the provincial town of Qatif, who requested anonymity, told Reuters: "Everything was fine until the body arrived, then the people got very angry and started to chant anti-government slogans and the riot police shot in the air."

"People came back onto the streets after evening prayer and the riot police started shooting at them directly. I could hear shooting from 8 p.m. until midnight."

The government has implied that protests supported by members of the Shi'ite Muslim minority and attacks on police stations and checkpoints were instigated by its rival Iran.

Activists say they started after police at a checkpoint shot a young man on Friday, which the government denies.

LINK TO IRAN?

Echoing language it used after an attack on a police station in Eastern Province last month, the ministry said: "The goal of those who provoke unrest is to achieve dubious aims dictated to them by their foreign masters."

The previous references to foreign meddling have been widely read to mean Shi'ite Iran, the Sunni Muslim-led kingdom's rival for influence in the Gulf. Sunni Arab monarchies in the region see Tehran as the force behind unrest earlier this year in majority Shi'ite Bahrain.

Iran has denied the accusations that it is trying to destabilise Bahrain and an inquiry commissioned by the island state's government on Wednesday said there was no evidence of Iranian interference.

There are close ties between the Shi'ite communities of Bahrain and the Eastern Province, including family connections.

QATIF

Saudi Arabia has avoided mass protests that have led to the unseating of four Arab leaders this year, reacting to the unrest in the region by promising to spend some $130 billion on housing and other social benefits for its citizens.

The Interior Ministry's security spokesman played down the violence in a news conference carried by state television, describing the security situation in Qatif as good, with the exception of incidents where criminals had infiltrated among residents.

"In general, certainly the situation doesn't extend to the whole province," he said.

But small-scale protests have taken place in the Eastern Province's al-Qatif oasis district, which comprises a town of the same name surrounded by farming and fishing villages.

In its statement on Thursday, the ministry said tyres had been burned and roads blocked during the funeral that preceded the most recent shootings.

"The security forces in the area are fully authorised to deal with the situation and end these criminal actions," it said.

Last month, the government pledged to use "an iron fist" after it said 14 people, including 11 members of the security forces, had been wounded in an attack on a police station in Awamiya, a village in Qatif district.

Saudi Shi'ites complain of systematic discrimination, neglect in public spending, and incitement against them in religious sermons and educational materials.

The kingdom, which is founded on an austere form of Sunni Islam and regards itself as the guardian of that faith, disputes this, and Saudi King Abdullah has appointed Shi'ite officials to advisory government bodies. (Reporting by Ali Abdelatty; Writing by Joseph Logan and Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan)






:: Article nr. 83372 sent on 24-nov-2011 22:28 ECT

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Link: af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL5E7MO01420111124?sp=true



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