September 11, 2012 / 1:21 PM / 8 years ago

Bangladeshi man shot dead in Shi'ite area of Saudi Arabia

RIYADH (Reuters) - A Bangladeshi man was shot dead in the Awamiya district of eastern Saudi Arabia on Monday, police and activists said, amid conflicting accounts of how he was killed.

The shooting took place in an area where clashes between security forces and protesters from the country’s Shi’ite Muslim minority have caused 12 deaths since November.

Since early last year, some Saudi Shi’ites have staged demonstrations over what they describe as persistent discrimination in a country dominated by a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam, a charge the government denies.

There have also been violent confrontations leading to deadly shootings, described by the authorities as exchanges of fire after security forces came under attack.

Activists have previously said that some of those killed were shot by police during peaceful demonstrations.

Saudi police said in a statement late on Monday that the Bangladeshi man was driving when his car was hit by bullets fired at two security patrol cars.

The police statement said the car was one of two vehicles that had been hit by bullets and that it caught fire, but that no one else had been wounded.

However, an activist in Awamiya gave a different account of the incident, saying the Bangladeshi man had been killed by gunfire when security forces stormed a house while trying to arrest a wanted man.

There are more than 8 million foreigners in Saudi Arabia, many of whom work as drivers in a country where it is illegal for women to get behind the wheel.

Protests broke out in Qatif last year when Saudi troops were invited by the government of neighbouring Bahrain to help its Sunni royal family quash a popular uprising by the Shi’ite majority.

In July, a new round of protests ended with three deaths after police arrested and injured a firebrand Shi’ite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who had preached sermons urging demonstrations against the government.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have both accused Shi’ite regional power Iran of fomenting the unrest among members of the sect in both countries, a charge Tehran denies.

Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Osborn

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