DUBAI Oct 4 Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that clashes on Monday night that injured 14 people in its oil-rich Eastern province, home to a large Shi'ite population, were the work of an unnamed foreign power, usually code for its rival Iran.
Oil traders said the news helped Brent oil prices LCOc1 pare some of the earlier losses on Tuesday with November contracts rising by around $1 to above $101 per barrel.
Protests in the region in March, inspired in part by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, had sent global oil markets reeling.
The area is home to more than 2 million Shi'ites, some of whom have called for better access to jobs and to be treated as equals in the ultraconservative kingdom dominated by a rigid form of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism.
"A group of troublemakers... assembled... some on motorbikes and carrying petrol bombs as they began their actions to disrupt security at the behest of a foreign country which tried to undermine the security of the homeland in a blatant act of interference," an Interior Ministry statement said.
The mention of a foreign country meddling in local affairs is usually a coded reference to Iran, the Shi'ite power and Saudi rival across Gulf waters.
Of the total injured, 11 were security personnel and three were civilians, the ministry statement said.
Qatif, a Shi'ite stronghold on the Gulf coast, and nearby Awwamiya, are in the east which holds much of the oil wealth of the world's top crude exporter and is near Bahrain, scene of protests by majority Shi'ites against their Sunni rulers.
Police came under gunfire as they tried to disperse the crowd. Nine policemen were shot and wounded and two hurt by petrol bombs, the statement said. It also said one man and two women were injured by gunfire. (Reporting by Firouz Sedarat and Angus McDowall; Writing by Reed Stevenson)