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Saudi Police Presence Dampens 'Day of Rage'

Saudi riot police gather as Saudi Shi'ite protesters, unseen, chant slogans during a demonstration in Qatif, March 11, 2011

Saudi police flooded the streets of the country's capital Friday, setting up checkpoints to prevent planned anti-government protests.

Officials had been bracing for a so-called "Day of Rage" rally in Riyadh promoted by activists over the Internet as part of an effort to demand democratic reforms in the oil-rich kingdom. But reports said that by Friday afternoon, few if any protesters had taken to the streets.

Several hundred protesters did turn out in the eastern city of Qatif, where police reportedly opened fire Thursday to disperse a crowd demanding the release of prisoners.

Eastern Saudi Arabia is home to many of the country's Shi'ite Muslims, who are about 10 percent of the total Saudi population. They say they are often the victims of discrimination.

The eastern provinces are also home to much of Saudi Arabia's oil.

The eastern rallies took place despite a Saudi ban on protests enacted after several small groups of demonstrators gathered to demand change.

The United States has said it was closely monitoring the situation and reiterated its support for the right to peaceful assembly.

In February, Saudi King Abdullah announced a number of reforms, in an apparent effort to appease citizens in the wake of anti-government protests elsewhere in the Middle East.

The incentives included pay raises, increased spending on social programs and interest-free loans.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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