RIYADH  - Saudi authorities announced Monday the names of 23 men wanted for involvement in trouble during the past few months in Shiite areas of the kingdom’s Eastern Province. The group is accused mainly of “possessing illegal firearms and opening fire on the public and police, in addition to using innocent people as shields,” the interior ministry said in a statement carried by SPA state news agency. They were suspected of taking part in “mobs, blocking traffic (and) damaging public and private property” during sporadic confrontations between police and Shiite protesters. Security forces in the Sunni-dominated kingdom shot and wounded three Shiites last week when they raided three homes in the Shiite village of Al-Awamiya, in Qatif, activists and witnesses said.

“Those outlaws are a minority who do not represent the honourable people of the region, who had enough of their acts, as some of them have a criminal record,” the ministry said.

Protests shook Eastern Province in March as Shiites took to the street denouncing Saudi troops’ intervention in neighbouring Bahrain to back a crack down on a Shiite pro-democracy movement.

A total of 385 people arrested, of whom around 60 remain in custody, according to activists.

Saudi Arabia’s estimated two million Shiites mostly live in Eastern Province and complain of being marginalised in the oil-rich kingdom.

Four Shiites were shot dead in November. The interior ministry said security forces had come under fire from gunmen operating on “foreign orders,” hinting at involvement by Saudi’s arch rival Iran.

The ministry said two policemen were wounded in the November clashes.