“Saudi police patrol Riyadh ahead of demonstrations”

March 11, 2011

Hundreds of police have been deployed in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, ahead of anti-government rallies planned for after Friday prayers. Security forces have blocked roads and set up checkpoints, while reports suggest some protesters have begun to gather in the eastern town of Hofuf. On Thursday, police opened fire at a rally in the eastern city of Qatif, with at least one person being injured.

Activists have been inspired by a wave of popular revolt across the region. Analysts have warned that any violence could have a big impact on global oil prices. Protests are illegal in Saudi Arabia, which has had an absolute monarchy since its unification in the 1930s. Interior ministry spokesman General Mansor al-Turki has told the BBC that the situation is under control and police are not using excessive force.  Last month, the arrest of Shia cleric Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, detained reportedly for calling for a constitutional monarchy, sparked outrage and drew crowds on to the streets.

He was released last weekend, but relatively small-scale protests have continued in the Eastern Region, where much of the country’s crude oil is sourced. On Thursday, an interior ministry spokesman told reporters that police had fired over the heads of protesters during a rally in Qatif, while witnesses said police also beat demonstrators with batons. The ministry spokesman added that three people, including a policeman, had been injured.

The protesters have been demanding the release of nine Shia prisoners who they say have been held without trial for more than 14 years. Shias, who are mainly concentrated in the east of the country, make up about 10% of the population in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia. The region borders Bahrain, a Shia-majority kingdom ruled by a Sunni government that has been rocked by anti-government protests since mid-February. Amid signs of growing unrest in the region, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah recently unveiled $37bn (£22.7bn) in benefits for citizens, including a 15% pay rise for state employees.

Shiite Muslims detained in Saudi Arabia

March 6, 2011

Saudi Shiites have staged small protests for about two weeks in the kingdom’s east, which holds much of the oil wealth of the world’s top crude exporter. “Twenty-two were arrested on Thursday plus four on Friday, so the total is 26. This was all in Qatif,” said rights activist Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, who heads the Saudi-based independent Human Rights First Society. A Shiite activist in the town of Qatif in the Eastern Province said he knew of 22 arrests. Interior ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

Shiite protests in Saudi Arabia started in the area of the main city town of Qatif and neighbouring Awwamiya and spread to the town of Hofuf on Friday. The demands were mainly for the release of prisoners they say are held without trial. Saudi Shiites often complain they struggle to get senior government jobs and other benefits like other citizens. The government of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament that usually does not tolerate public dissent, denies these charges. The interior ministry said on Saturday demonstrations violated Islamic law and the kingdom’s traditions, according to a statement on state news agency SPA. More than 17,000 people have backed a call on Facebook to hold two demonstrations this month, the first one on Friday. A loose alliance of liberals, moderate Islamists and Shiites have petitioned King Abdullah to allow elections in the kingdom, which has no elected parliament. Last month, the king returned to Riyadh after a three-month medical absence and announced tens of billions of pounds in benefits for citizens in an apparent bid to curb dissent.

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