RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi authorities detained a number of protesters Friday in the restive eastern Shiite region after they set tires ablaze during an overnight rally, the kingdom's official news agency reported.
The arrests took place in the city of Qatif, where members of the Shiite minority have been clashing with police over the past year, demanding greater rights and an end to what they say is discrimination by the Sunni rulers.
The SPA report didn't say how many people were arrested but described those detained as "instigators of riots." It cited an unidentified spokesman of the Interior Ministry. The report only said that among those detained was a wanted fugitive, identified as Mohammed al-Shakhouri. The Interior Ministry spokesman said he was among the 23 most wanted men in Qatif.
The Saudi government has tried to portray the protests as the result of "foreign efforts" to destabilize the kingdom. Earlier this year, it released the names of 23 people it said were taking part in confrontations with security forces for the purpose of serving "foreign agendas" and offered rewards to those who turn them in.
As uprisings against autocratic rulers began to sweep the Arab world last year, small protests were held in eastern Saudi Arabia but were largely quelled, though tensions remain.
The oil-rich monarchy fears Shiite-led protests could escalate as they have in neighboring Bahrain, where a Shiite majority is ruled by a Sunni king.
Shiites make up 10 percent of the 23 million Saudi citizens.