Middle East

Two die during Saudi Arabia protest at Shia cleric arrest

People protest against the arrest of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Qatif, Saudi Arabia (9 July 2012)
Image caption Eastern Province's Shia majority has long complained of marginalisation

Two men have been killed in Saudi Arabia during a protest against the arrest of a prominent Shia cleric.

Activists said Akbar al-Shakuri and Mohammed al-Filfil were shot by police while attending a demonstration in Qatif, a city in Eastern Province.

The interior ministry said there had been no clashes with police, and that the incident was being investigated.

Earlier, officials had said the cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was hurt in a car accident as security forces chased him.

The interior ministry said Sheikh Nimr was an "instigator of sedition" and would be interrogated after receiving treatment for a leg injury.

Ten days ago, the cleric said in a speech that he was confident his arrest or killing would be a "motivation" for more widespread demonstrations demanding reforms, an end to sectarian discrimination and the release of political prisoners.

The oil-rich Eastern Province is home to a Shia majority that has long complained of marginalisation at the hands of the Sunni ruling family.

Protests erupted in the region in March 2011 when a 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.

The interior ministry said that following Sheikh Nimr's arrest on Sunday "a limited number of people" had assembled in al-Awamiya, a town not far from Qatif.

"Gunshots have been overheard in random areas of the town. However, there was no security confrontation whatsoever."

The security forces were later notified by a nearby medical centre that four individuals had been brought in by their relatives, the ministry added.

"Two of them were dead. The other two were slightly injured. Competent authorities initiated investigations into the incident."

Shia activists and websites reported that the two men had been killed when police opened fire to disperse a demonstration on Riyadh street in Qatif, where hundreds of people were photographed marching.

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