RIYADH  - A Saudi policeman and an armed protester were killed in overnight clashes in the kingdom’s oil-rich, Eastern Province, the interior ministry said on Saturday. “A security patrol came under heavy gunfire from four armed rioters on motorbikes” in the district of Qatif, ministry spokesman Mansur al-Turki said, quoted by official news agency SPA. Policeman Hussein Zabani was killed while another, Saad al-Shummari, was wounded and hospitalised, he said. “Security forces hunted down the armed rioters who were on motorbikes and exchanged fire with them,” he said. “One of the four caught was wounded and he died while on the way to the hospital.”

Witnesses said the attackers were participating in a demonstration that took place in Qatif late on Friday. The demonstration, to mark a Shia religious celebration, turned violent and police forces opened fire on protesters, wounding at least two, the witnesses said. One of them was killed, they said, identifying the man as 18-year-old Hussein al-Kallaf. Confrontations have intensified recently between police and protesters from the Sunni-dominated kingdom’s marginalised Shia - estimated at about two million and mostly concentrated in Eastern Province. Two protesters were killed last month, triggering attacks on government buildings in Qatif.