RIYADH, April 8 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Saudi Shi’ites protested in the kingdom’s oil-producing east on Friday seeking the withdrawal of Saudi troops from neighbouring Bahrain and political rights and freedoms at home, demonstrators said.
The peaceful protests, with riot police nowhere to be seen, were held in the main Shi’ite Muslim centre of Qatif, where demonstrators, some of them women, waved Bahraini as well as Saudi flags. Others gathered in the nearby village of Awamiya.
Banners read “respect the rights to demonstrate” and “freedom of expression and opinion.”
Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 troops to Bahrain, a Sunni Muslim monarchy, to help contain pro-democracy protests led by that Gulf Arab country’s Shi’ite majority. [ID:nLDE71O2CH]
Saudi Shi’ites complain of discrimination, saying they often struggle to get senior government jobs and benefits available to other citizens. The government of Saudi Arabia, a monarchy that usually does not tolerate public dissent, denies such charges.
The world’s No.1 oil producer and a U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia has escaped the kind of mass uprisings that have rocked the Arab world this year, but some protests have occurred in the Eastern Province, where most of the kingdom’s oil fields are.
Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protest on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.
Dozens of Saudi men gathered outside the Interior Ministry in the capital in March to demand the release of jailed relatives.
King Abdullah last month offered $93 billion in handouts and boosted his security and religious police forces but did not make concessions on political rights. [ID:nLDE72H0ZC] (Reporting by Jason Benham; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Sophie Hares)