Beirut, March 11: Saudi police officers opened fire at a protest march in a restive, oil-rich province yesterday, wounding at least three people, according to witnesses and a Saudi government official. The crackdown came a day before a planned day of rage throughout the country that officials have said they will not tolerate.
Witnesses described the small protest march in the eastern city of Qatif as peaceful, but an interior ministry spokesman said demonstrators had attacked the police before the officers began firing, Reuters reported. The spokesman said that the police fired over the protesters heads, but that three people were injured in the melee, including a police officer.
Some residents agreed that the police had shot above peoples heads.
The clash with protesters in Qatif, located in a heavily Shia region, underscored longstanding tensions in Saudi society: there is a sense among the Shia minority that it is discriminated against by a government practicing a zealous form of Sunni orthodoxy. Mohammad Zaki al-Khabbaz, a human rights activist in Qatif who was reached by telephone, said that security forces fired tear gas and shot in the air trying to disperse the crowd. He said an official at a nearby hospital reported that two protesters had been wounded.