Hundreds of Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia have protested in the oil-producing east of the country for a second day, calling for political and religious rights and the release of prisoners held without trial.

The protesters took to the streets in the town of Qatif and in the nearby village of Awwamiya on Friday.

They carried banners showing solidarity with the Shia population of neighbouring Bahrain after the government cracked down on their protest movement.

The rally was a continuation of protests held in Qatif and Awwamiya a day earlier calling for release of detainees, an end of arbitrary arrests, and political and religious freedoms including an end to an official ban on protests.

An activist said the two-hour rally had around 400-500 protesters who did not clash with police forces stationed around the area.

Dissent

Another activist, in the village of Awwamiya, said he took part in a rally that also had around 400-500 protestors and also avoided conflict with police.

"The security forces were very close but there were no clashes," he said.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute Sunni Muslim monarchy that tolerates no form of dissent. It has not seen the kind of mass uprisings that have rocked other Arab countries in the last few months.

Shia in the country's east have long complained of discrimination, a charge denied by the government.

They have held some protests over the past few weeks resulting in police detentions of some demonstrators, but almost no Saudis answered a call for protests on the social networking site Facebook in Sunni cities in the kingdom on March 11, amid a high security presence.

Source: Agencies