RIYADH: Two protesters were killed in overnight clashes with police following the arrest of a prominent Shiite cleric, activists said on Monday, raising fears of a new wave of unrest in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east.
Akhbar Shakuri and Mohammed Filfel, both Shiite, died and a dozen other protesters were wounded during clashes that erupted when police opened fire to disperse a demonstration against the arrest of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, said the activists.
The violence occurred in Riyadh Street, the main artery in Qatif city in Eastern Province, they said. The reports could not be independently verified.
The interior ministry described Nimr as an "instigator of sedition" as it announced that he was arrested at Al-Awamiya in Eastern Province on Sunday, after being wounded in the leg while putting up resistance.
He was transferred to hospital and was due to be interrogated, ministry spokesman Mansur Turki said, cited by the official SPA news agency.
"Security forces will not tolerate instigators of sedition who have offended their society and homeland, making of themselves tools in the hands of the nation's enemies," Turki said, apparently referring to the kingdom's main regional rival Iran.
The reported deaths come after Amnesty International said in May that seven people had been killed and a number of others injured in clashes between the authorities and protesters in the Shiite-populated region since November.
Nimr's arrest came 10 days after he had said he was confident that his arrest or killing would be a "motivation" for protests to reignite in the Eastern Province, during a speech at a mosque in Al-Awamiya.
He is considered one of the main proponents of social unrest in the region, where demonstrations first took place in February 2011 after an outbreak of violence between Shiite pilgrims and religious police in the holy city of Medina.
The protests escalated after the kingdom led a force of Gulf troops into neighbouring Bahrain to help crush a month-long Shiite-led uprising against that country's Sunni monarchy. AGENCIES