Saudi forces kill four militants in Awamiya - interior ministry

DOHA (REUTERS) - Saudi security forces killed four militants in a clash in Awamiya region on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said.

The troops raided a militant hideout in Awamiya town and killed the four in an exchange of fire.

The dead were behind the killing of a member of the security forces and wounding of another last Sunday, a ministry spokesman said, quoted by the Saudi state news agency SPA. They included the leader of that attack, it said.

Awamiya has been the focal point of unrest among Saudi Shi'ites since protests in early 2011 calling for an end to discrimination against the minority sect and for democratic reforms in the Sunni monarchy.

More than 20 people have been killed in the unrest since then, most of them local people shot in incidents that police have described as exchanges of fire. Shi'ite rights activists say some of those killed were shot dead while peacefully protesting, which the government denies.

Saudi Shi'ites complain it is harder for them to get government jobs than Sunnis, or to build places of worship, and the kingdom's state-employed clergy use abusive language to describe their sect in sermons and religious text books.

The government denies discrimination and has accused Shi'ite activists involved in attacks on security officers or protests as working on behalf of a foreign power, widely understood to mean Iran. The activists and Teheran deny that.