Saudi police open fire at protest

Saudi Shiite protesters hold Saudi flags and portraits of unidentified Saudi Shiite prisoners during a demonstration in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, March 9, 2011.

CAIRO - Saudi police have opened fire at a rally in the kingdom's east in an apparent escalation of efforts to stop planned protests.

Government officials have warned they will take strong action if activists take to the streets after increasing calls for large protests around the oil-rich kingdom to press for democratic reforms.

Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab world

A witness in the eastern city of Qatif says gunfire and stun grenades were fired at several hundred protesters marching in the city streets Thursday. The witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal, said police in the area opened fire. The witness saw at least one protester injured.

Unrest in Saudi Arabia, a key oil exporter, could rock world markets.

Protests are rare in the ultra-conservative kingdom. Saudi religious leaders have declared popular protests a violation of Islamic laws.

There have been a few gatherings in recent weeks, patterned after similar protests in the region but on a smaller scale.

The protests are driven by social media. Facebook pages have sprung up, calling for the Saudi ruling family to introduce reforms. One such page has garnered more than 30,000 supporters.