Demonstrators gather in Qatif, in the Shiite-populated east of the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia following the arrest of Shiite cleric and goverment critic Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on July 8, 2012. Two protestors were killed in overnight clashes early July 9 after polce arrested al-Nimr, who they describe as "instigator of sedition", and shot him in the leg as he resisted arrest.    — Photo by AFP

TEHRAN: Iran expressed concern on Tuesday over what it called “violent actions” by Saudi security forces against demonstrators from the country's Shiite minority, in which two people were killed.

Tehran is “concerned by the violent actions carried out by Saudi forces against religious figures and the population” in the heavily Shiite east of the country, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmaparast was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying.

He called on the “Saudi government to respond to the legitimate demands of the population and not use violence.”

Two protesters were killed in overnight clashes with police on Sunday night following the arrest of a prominent Shiite cleric, raising fears of a new wave of unrest in the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s east.

Dozens more protesters were wounded during the clashes that erupted when police opened fire to disperse a demonstration against the arrest of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, activists said.

The Saudi interior ministry described Nimr as an “instigator of sedition.”

Ministry spokesman Mansur Turki said “security forces will not tolerate instigators of sedition who have offended their society and homeland, making of themselves tools in the hands of the nation's enemies.”

That was an apparent reference to the mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom’s main regional rival, predominantly Shiite Iran.

The 53-year-old Nimr called in 2009 for separating the Eastern Province’s Shiite-populated Qatif and Al-Ihsaa governorates from Saudi Arabia and uniting them with Shiite-majority Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia's estimated two million Shiites, who frequently complain of marginalisation, live mostly in the east, where the vast majority of the Opec kingpin's huge oil reserves lie.

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