Four people were killed and nine wounded in clashes between Shiite Muslims and Saudi Arabian security forces in the oil-rich Eastern Province, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The latest round of fighting took place last Wednesday, during a funeral for one of the protesters.

Security checkpoints and vehicles have been the target of gunfire from aggressors hiding among civilians since Monday, the ministry said, Security forces have dealt with the situation with as much restraint as possible.

Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority is concentrated in the kingdom's eastern oil-producing hub. There were violent clashes in February and March this year as security forces crushed protests by Shiites demanding democracy and representative governments.

The politics of Saudi Arabia takes place in a framework of a particular form of absolute monarchy whereby the King of Saudi Arabia is both head of state and the head of government. Predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has accused Shiite-led Iran of interfering in the affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, home to three-fifths of the world's oil reserves. Iran denies the allegation and accuses the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain of discriminating against Shiites.

Shiites say they face discrimination in education and government jobs and that they are spoken of disparagingly. They also complain of restrictions in setting up places of worship and marking Shiite holidays.

The Saudi government denies these charges of discrimination and asserts that the latest confrontations by protesters were ordered by their masters abroad, by which the government invariably means Iran.

As per the latest report from AFP, Saudi security forces have withdrawn from Shiite villages in Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia.