'Protester' shot dead in eastern Saudi Arabia

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A protester has been killed by security forces in eastern Saudi Arabia, activists have said.

Munir al-Medani, 21, was shot in the chest late on Thursday when police fired on a demonstration in the town of Qatif, in Eastern Province, they added.

The police confirmed a man had died, but said officers had responded after being shot at by unidentified gunmen.

The protesters were reportedly demanding the release of Shia political prisoners and democratic reforms.

Qatif is home to a Shia majority that has long complained of marginalisation at the hands of the Sunni ruling family, the Al Saud.

'Exchange of fire'

Saudi opposition websites said at least six other people were injured at Thursday's demonstration. Photographs and videos posted online meanwhile showed a young man identified as Medani covered in blood.

A police spokesman in Eastern Province later told the state news agency, SPA, that one "rioter" had been killed and three wounded.

"A security force patrol came under heavy gunfire from masked men while it was carrying out its duties in al-Shwaika area of Qatif," he said.

There was "an exchange of fire that left four of the rioters wounded, one of whom died before reaching hospital", he added.

Protests erupted in Eastern Province in March when the popular uprising in neighbouring Bahrain, which has a Shia majority and a Sunni royal family, was crushed with the assistance of Saudi and other Gulf troops.

In November, four Shia men were shot dead by security forces over four days in Qatif. The interior ministry said they had been armed and operating on "foreign orders" - generally seen as code for Iran.

Another protester was shot dead last month in the town of al-Awamiya.

About 500 people have been arrested since March. Activists say 80 remain in custody, including author Nazir al-Majid and human rights activist Fadil al-Munasif.

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