Stocks dive on report that Saudis fired on protesters

On what was already a grim day in the stock market, share prices took a fresh dive in the last 40 minutes on a report that Saudi Arabian police fired on protesters at a rally in the country’s eastern region.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 212 points, or 1.7%, to 12,001 at about 11 a.m. PST amid a broad market decline.

“It’s a ‘sell first, ask questions later’ mentality,” said Ryan Larson, head of equity trading at RBC Global Asset Management in Chicago.

[UPDATED at 1:10 p.m.: The Dow ended down 228.48 points, or 1.9%, to 11,984.61, its first close below 12,000 since Jan. 31.]

Saudi dissidents have called for a “day of rage” on Friday to demand social reforms. The government has banned all protests.

World markets had been hit earlier Thursday by news of slowing Chinese export growth and by Moody’s Investors Service’s downgrade of Spain’s debt, the latter a reminder that Europe’s debt crisis was far from solved. Major European stock markets lost between 1% and 1.6% for the session.

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