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Posted at 4:01 PM ET, 03/10/2011

Saudi Arabia: "Day of Rage" Friday, oil prices spike, witness says gunfire at protest

By Elizabeth Flock
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in the Gulf coast town of Qatif March 10, 2011. (REUTERS/Stringer)

An earlier version of this post stated that Qatif was close to the capital. This version has been corrected.

A day before protesters planned to take to the streets for an anti-government "Day of Rage" rally in Saudi Arabia's capital, there were conflicting reports of Saudi police firing shots at protesters in the eastern city of Qatif.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said Saudi police fired over the heads of protesters after they attacked policemen, according to Reuters.

Three people were injured during the protest, one of them a policeman, the spokesman told reporters. He did not say how the injuries were caused.

AP reported that one witness, a Shiite activist in Qatif, 12 miles north of Dammam and 240 miles from the capital, said gunfire and stun grenades were fired by police at several hundred protesters marching in the city streets. The witness also claimed to see at least one demonstrator injured.

"There was firing, it was sporadic," the witness said.

Another witness said police fired percussion bombs to disperse the crowd.

According to the Wall Street Journal, local human rights activists said police fired rubber bullets.

The Washington Post has not independently confirmed this report. A Post correspondent has just landed in Saudi Arabia. We'll update when we have more information.

Video footage has emerged that purportedly shows the protests in Qatif. WATCH:

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on a conference call with reporters that the White House was aware of reports of firing in Saudi .

"What we have said to the Saudis and to all the people of the region is that we're going to support a set of universal values in any country in the region," he said. "And that includes the right to peaceful assembly, to peaceful protest, to peaceful speech."

He added, "And we'll of course continue to closely monitor this particular situation, get as many facts as we can about exactly what transpired, since these reports are relatively recent."

Oil fell as low as $100.62 Thursday morning, the lowest price this week, but shot back up on the rumors of gunfire, Money News reported.

The reaction to the Saudi development reveals how sensitive the current market is to news of protests in the Middle East. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal shows just how quickly oil prices surged on rumors of gunfire:

Screen grab

Saudi Arabia has provided a buffer to declining oil supplies resulting from unrest across the Middle East, but that may end Friday, as several thousand people have joined Internet groups to call for Friday's protest in the capital, Riyadh. Energy Digital reports that Friday's "Day of Rage" may cause the biggest oil price spike yet.

In February, Saudi King Abdullah announced a number of reforms, such as pay raises and increased spending on social programs to appease protesters.

A ban on protests was enacted earlier by the government earlier this month.

On Thursday, human rights organization Amnesty International asked Saudi authorities to reverse the ban on peaceful protest in the kingdom.

"Instead of banning peaceful protests the Saudi Arabian authorities should address the need for major human rights reform in the country," Philip Luther, deputy director of their Middle East and North Africa program, said.

Some 10,000 Saudi troops are ready to be deployed to crack down on any protests, the Telegraph reported last week.

A Global Voices Online editor tweeted:

mark my words: watch Saudi kill its people for asking for ... Rightsless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

By Elizabeth Flock  | March 10, 2011; 4:01 PM ET
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What!!? Qatif 12 miles North of the capital of Saudi Arabia? Really? It is, in fact, about 12 miles North of Dammam. Last I heard, Riyadh was the capital AND Riyadh is nowhere near the Gulf coast. I expected better from a paper as prominent as The Washington Post.

I know the area quite well, incidentally; I worked in the town for a year in '74 on the construction of a new sewerage system. Several houses there saw their occupants "disappear" between the time of the house connection survey and the actual connections being made.

Posted by: Johnife | March 10, 2011 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Peaceful protests must be supported by the US, even if King Abdullah forbids them.

Posted by: morristhewise | March 10, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Astir our city is 12 KM north of Dammam or 12 mails north of Dhahran city. Well the protesters is asking the goverement to realize the pepoal who's in jill more than 16 years with out gagemant !!! What is wrong with that!!! Please tell us? Know more has been taken so pepoal is become more angare. And thy will go for more freedom. We are not with Day of Raqe since the leader of it is not believing that we shall be free in our realign. Old mane and educated pepoal does not supporting to go out tomorrow however the young men seem will do. We are peaceful pepoal in eastern Qatife and not wanna any thing other than justice. All of you who is or were living with us is know that very well. Peace to all. Thank. From Qatife ...

Posted by: Hashimsa | March 10, 2011 9:25 PM | Report abuse

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