Riyadh: Saudi Arabian police shot dead a teenage protester in the country’s oil-producing Eastern Province late on Thursday, local activists said on Friday, bringing the death toll from clashes in the restive area to 12 this year.

They said police had opened fire on protesters demonstrating about the detention of people from the Qatif district, killing 18-year-old Ali Al Marar and injuring six others.

The authorities confirmed in a statement that a man had died but contradicted the activists’ account, saying a security patrol had come under fire and shot back in self-defence.

The spokesman for the Eastern Province police said the routine patrol was attempting to intercept rioters who had blocked a road with burning tyres when it came under fire from several sources, including the man they shot dead. Police said he had a handgun.

Activists said security forces in two sports-utility vehicles had shot “indiscriminately” at the demonstrators in central Qatif and fired at people on rooftops.

Qatif, one of two large Shi’ite population centres in the kingdom, has suffered unrest since early 2011, with protesters complaining of persistent discrimination, and at the arrest of local people.

Those protesting from the Eastern Province say they lack the same job opportunities as others, that their neighbourhoods receive inadequate state investment and that the authorities stop them building places of worship.

Some Qatif activists accuse the government of crushing the protests by shooting at demonstrators, intimidating locals with constant armed patrols, and detaining people without laying charges or bringing them to trial.

Saudi authorities say they do not discriminate against the people of the Eastern Province, pointing to King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz’s efforts to include them in the advisory Shura Council and to his foundation this year of a centre to study different Islamic sects.

They also reject charges of heavy handed policing, saying all the shootings this year have occurred after police came under attack by rioters.

They have accused rival power Iran of stirring up the unrest, a charge Iran denies.