Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said its security forces would quell unrest in its Shiite dominated Qatif region with "an iron fist."
The ultraconservative Saudi Kingdom blamed an unnamed foreign power - widely understood to be Shiite Iran - for stirring up unrest and backing attacks on its security forces in the Eastern Province.
"It is the state's right to confront those that confront it first ... and the Saudi Arabian security forces will confront such situations ... with determination and force and with an iron first," the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The statement was in response to a sermon preached in the Qatif area of the Eastern Province last week criticizing the government's handling of the protests there, in which at least six people have been killed.
Clashes between Shiite protesters and security forces in Qatif began at the height of the Arab uprisings last year. Four people were killed in November, one in January and one earlier this month.
Members of the Shiite minority have long complained of discrimination, saying it is harder for them to find government jobs, attend university or worship in the open than it is for Sunni citizens.
The government says it does not discriminate against Shiites and has said the increased security is intended to protect Qatif residents. It has repeatedly blamed the clashes on people attacking security forces.
Tuesday's statement said the security forces were using "the greatest restraint ... despite continuing provocations" and "will not act except in self defense and will not initiate confrontations".
"Some of those few (who attacked security forces) are manipulated by foreign hands because of the kingdom's honorable foreign policy positions towards Arab and Islamic countries," the ministry's spokesman said in the statement.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies are in a struggle for hegemony over the Persian Gulf with Iran, whom they have repeatedly accused of provoking their indigenous Shiite populations to rebellion.