RIYADH - Saudi Arabian police shot dead a Shi'ite protester in the country's oil-producing east 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 defense.

The spokesman for the Eastern Province police said the routine patrol was attempting to intercept rioters who had blocked a road with burning tires 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.

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