By Martina Fuchs

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi security forces killed a young protester and wounded three others late on Thursday in the oil-producing Eastern Province, home to a large Shi'ite minority, websites and activists said, while one was injured by bullets in a peaceful march on Friday.

Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil exporter, is sensitive to any Shi'ite unrest in the Eastern Province because of what it says are concerns it could be fomented by non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran to destabilize the Gulf region. Tehran denies involvement.

During the Arab uprisings last year, Saudi Arabia moved swiftly to suppress protests in the Eastern Province in February and March, arresting more than 100 people.

An activist said a peaceful march was taking place in the village of Awamiya in the Eastern Province at around 1700 GMT on Friday, in which one protester was injured by bullets fired by riot police.

"The protest now stopped and they are preparing for a new one after a few hours," he told Reuters in an email on condition of anonymity.

The Shi'ite website www.rasid.com said Saudi security forces opened heavy fire late on Thursday after protesters threw stones at a police vehicle in Awamiya.

It showed a file picture of 22-year-old Essam Mohamed Abu Abdallah and said he was killed by gunfire from security forces.

An Interior Ministry statement quoted by state news agency SPA on Friday said security forces patrolling Awamiya in their vehicle were attacked with petrol bombs and it caught fire.

"While the security forces were trying to control the fire, they were exposed to shooting and were dealing with the situation as necessary," it said. "The exchange of fire led to two people being injured among those involved in the shooting, and they were taken to hospital where one of them died later."

"The security forces will deal firmly with all cases and situations that endanger the security and safety of citizens and security forces," the statement added.

Amnesty International urged Saudi Arabian authorities to launch an independent investigation into the death of the protester, the rights group said in a statement on Friday.

"This is the latest of several disturbing protester deaths in Saudi Arabia in the last couple of months," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's interim director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The need to immediately launch an independent investigation into the death of Essam Mohamed Abu Abdallah is underlined by the fact that investigations that were announced into previous protester deaths in similar incidents do not appear to have gone anywhere," he said.

The Rasid website also said security forces closed down the entrances to the village after clashes between villagers and security forces.

The Eastern Province is home to more than two million Shi'ites, a minority which has long complained of second class status in the absolute monarchy dominated by a rigid form of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism.

Earlier this month, Riyadh ordered the arrest of 23 Shi'ite Muslims in Eastern Province held responsible for unrest. Saudi Arabia accused the 23 of serving the agenda of a foreign power, usually a reference to Iran.

(Additional reporting by Angus McDowall in Riyadh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)


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