x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Saudi officer wounded by gunfire in Qatif

Saudi Arabia said a member of its security forces was shot and injured while patrolling in the Eastern Province.

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia said a member of its security forces was shot and injured while patrolling in Eastern Province, home to its oil reserves and its Shiite Muslim minority, days after a protester was shot dead.

"A routine security patrol ... in Qatif Governorate on Saturday evening came under fire from unknown assailants resulting in the injury of one security man who was taken to hospital," said the media spokesman for the Eastern Province police, quoted by the state news agency.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, is sensitive to any Shiite unrest in the Eastern Province because of what it says are concerns it could be fomented by non-Arab Shiite power Iran to destabilise the Gulf region. Tehran denies involvement.

Demonstrations there have continued sporadically since last March, and in November four people were killed, according to both the interior ministry and activists.

A resident of the village of Awamiya, which is in Qatif, said by email that a march on Saturday evening protesting the death of a local man had been violently dispersed by security forces and that he had later heard gunfire.

The interior ministry said the man was killed "in an exchange of fire" between security forces and protesters on Thursday.

Shiite activists say Qatif, a coastal oasis with farming and fishing villages, has been subjected to a heavy security presence, including checkpoints and armed patrols.

Ths month, an interior ministry spokesman said the authorities were seeking for questioning 23 people in Qatif.

He accused "troublemakers" of firing on police checkpoints, blocking roads and throwing petrol bombs, but described residents of the Eastern Province as "honourable" people, in an apparent attempt to calm sectarian tensions.

In October, the ministry said four security personnel had been injured in an attack on a police station in which guns were fired and petrol bombs thrown.

The government says there are about a million Shiites in the Eastern Province, but a report by International Crisis Group from 2005 said there were two million and a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks put the number at 1.5 million.

Saudi Arabia's Shiites have long complained of widespread discrimination.

They say it is harder for them to get government jobs and university places or to establish centres of worship, that Shiite neighbourhoods receive less investment, and that they are publicly disparaged by Sunni clerics.

King Abdullah has included Shiites in a series of "national dialogue" meetings and appointed members of the sect to the advisory Shura Council.

However, activists say the moves have not gone far enough to improve their status.

Although both the main Shiite centres in the Eastern Province, Qatif and the inland Al Ahsa oasis district, are close to the kingdom's main oil facilities, analysts say the unrest does not pose a risk to either crude production or export.