A Saudi interior ministry official says "foreign parties" are instigating unrest in Shiite-majority eastern regions, calling the protesters "the new terrorists."
The comments by the unnamed official were carried by the official Saudi Press Agency Monday. Protesters from the country's Shiite minority have held limited rallies for the past year in the east complaining of discrimination by the kingdom's Sunni rulers.
At least four protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces since November. Officials have blamed foreign meddling in an apparent reference to Shiite Iran.
The official said Saudi actions were not comparable to other regime crackdowns against protests in Arab world, saying that the authorities were acting in self-defense.