Gunfire reported in flash-point Saudi Shia town

Gunfire reported in flash-point Saudi Shia town
Gunfire was heard in the flash-point Saudi town of Awamiya on Wednesday, residents said, as authorities moved into a neighbourhood slated for redevelopment.

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Saudi security forces marched into the Shia-majority town [File Photo: Getty]

Gunfire sounded in a flashpoint Shia-majority town in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, as security forces moved into a neighbourhood slated for redevelopment, residents said.

Pictures purportedly from the scene circulated on social media showing smoke rising over Awamiya, where bulldozers, excavators and police armoured cars were stationed.

Some reported the killing of at least one person and dozens more injured during the raids.

A resident reported gunfire around the old section of Awamiya, known as Almosara, and said children were not able to sit their school exams.

"People are so scared, so they have hidden in their houses," the resident said, asking for anonymity, AFP reported.

There was no immediate comment from the interior ministry on the situation in Almosara.

Security incidents have been repeatedly reported on the Gulf coast Awamiya town in recent years.

In March, the ministry said a teenage suspect died from wounds after Saudi police "responded" under fire while looking for suspects hiding among abandoned homes that were due to be redeveloped in Almosara.

A local resident at that time told AFP that people had been living for more than a month in Almosara, resisting the urban renewal project.

They had no water and their electricity came only from generators, the resident said, adding that they wanted to be given new houses and the area kept as a historical district. 

But the government cut dialogue with the Shia community on this and other issues, the resident said, calling for efforts to build trust between the two sides.

On Wednesday, a second resident reported that authorities had sealed off roads in the area.

Awamiya, a town of 30,000 in the Shia-majority Qatif district, was the home of Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric put to death in January last year for alleged "terrorism."

Nimr was a driving force behind democracy protests by community members that began in 2011 and developed into a call for equality in the Sunni-majority kingdom.

Most of Saudi Arabia's Shias live in the oil-rich east, where they have long complained of marginalisation, with security forces arresting protesters and activists.

Last month, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights, Ben Emmerson conducted an investigation into the kingdom's 2014 counter-terrorism law saying it contains an "unacceptably broad definition" of what is terrorism is. 

On New Year's Day in 2016, Saudi Arabia carried out a mass execution of 47 people - including leading Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr - some sentenced to death on charges of terrorism.

Human rights groups said among those beheaded were political activists