Saudi cops open fire on protesters

2011-03-11 09:49

Cairo - Saudi police opened fire to disperse a protest in a region where minority Shi’ites live, leaving at least one man injured as the government toughened its efforts to prevent a wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world from reaching the oil-rich kingdom.

Thursday's rare violence raised concern about a crackdown ahead of planned protests after Friday prayers in different cities throughout the kingdom. Violence there could reverberate through the world's markets because of the importance of Saudi oil exports.

Discord is common between authorities and the country's Shi’ites, who make up 10% of the kingdom's 23 million citizens.

They have long complained of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are not given an equal share of the country's wealth.

Riot police, special forces

Eyeing rising discontent across the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi authorities are increasingly determined to prevent the unrest from spreading to other cities.

Saudi security forces have deployed around the capital of Riyadh on the eve of planned protests calling for democratic reforms.

Witnesses reported on Thursday seeing riot police and special forces with batons and tear gas canisters, particularly around shopping malls and main roads.

The pro-Western monarchy is concerned protests could open footholds for Shi’ite powerhouse Iran and has accused foreigners of stoking the protests, which are officially forbidden.

Despite the ban and a warning that security forces will act against them, protesters demanding the release of political prisoners took to the streets for a second day in the eastern city of Qatif.

Several hundred protesters, some wearing masks to avoid being identified, marched after dark asking for "Freedom for prisoners".

Police, who were lined up opposite the protesters, fired percussion bombs followed by gunfire, causing the crowd to scatter, a witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.

Protesters beaten with clubs

The witness said at least one protester was injured and lifted by others to a car for treatment. It was not clear how the protester was hurt.

A resident, contacting The Associated Press by e-mail, said the Saudi authorities also beat some protesters with clubs. The resident said up to 12 protesters were injured, and some were arrested at the local hospital.

It was not possible to verify this information independently.

Videos dated Thursday and posted on social websites showed what appeared to be shooting.

Crowds, of mostly men with a few children, were gathered in a small street, separated by an empty plot from the apparent source of fire. Occasional bursts of gunfire can be heard on the videos.

The crowd was shouting "Peaceful, peaceful".

Scores of protesters in Qatif had also marched in the city streets on Wednesday night.

Protests forbidden

Mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia has struggled to stay ahead of the unrest that has led to the ouster of the Egyptian and Tunisian leaders in recent weeks.

Last month, the ultraconservative Saudi government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36bn that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness.

At the same time, it reiterated that demonstrations are forbidden in the kingdom because they contradict Islamic laws and society's values and said security forces were authorized to act against anyone violating the ban.

So far the demonstrations have been small, concentrated in the east among Shi’ites demanding the release of detainees. But activists have been emboldened by other uprisings have set up Facebook groups calling for protests in the capital, Riyadh, on Friday to demand democratic reforms.

One such group garnered more than 30 000 supporters. The group called the "Honein Revolution March 11" has listed a number of mosques in 17 Saudi cities for protesters to rally.

The group says it strives to have elected officials in Saudi Arabia, including the ruler.

The spread of calls for protests has prompted government officials to issue strong warnings that it will act against activists taking to the streets.

Some changes ‘necessary’

Khalid al-Dakhil, a political science professor from Riyadh, said large scale protests are unlikely to spread outside the east, but he warned that the Arab "revolutionary wave" will catch up with the kingdom.

"Saudi Arabia will be affected by this running wave. But I don't think it will be fatal or dangerous to the political system," he said.

However, al-Dakhil said: "A security solution is not a solution. Some changes have to take place," including constitutional and political reform.

Amnesty International called on Saudi authorities to reverse the ban on peaceful protests in the kingdom.

‘Dialogue key to reform’

Philip Luther, a spokesperson for the international rights group, said authorities should address the need for major human rights reforms and heed the growing calls for change instead of trying to intimidate protesters.

"Reports that the Saudi authorities plan to deploy troops to police upcoming demonstrations are very worrying," he said.

The Interior Ministry has banned demonstrations, saying they contradict Islamic laws and society's values and adding that some people have tried to go around the law to "achieve illegitimate aims".

"Reform cannot be achieved through protests ... The best way to achieve demands is through national dialogue," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi al-Faisal said on Wednesday.

  • Jamesons - 2011-03-11 10:52

    I dont like Saudi Arabi, They force girls at the age of 10 to marry men. They stone woman to death. If you go there and talk about the "Gospal". you get killed. Not a nice nation at all.

      jgillow7 - 2011-03-15 12:19

      What can christainity teach islam?nothing! If we wanted to become christians we will ask.Another thing is the gospel has not substance as it been changed so many times.

      Pragmatist - 2011-03-15 23:55

      Well your "Gospel" is a load of crap anyway...

      alessandroz067 - 2011-03-17 14:03

      Saudi Arabia (not Arabi) doesn't like you either. They don't just stone random women to death you fool, read up islamic law. Why would you go and talk about the gospel there anyway? Don't be a wanker!

      theoldmanofthemountains - 2011-03-18 14:10

      Jameson: "Saudi Arabia" & "Gospel" Read your Bible, stoning's been around for a while in that part of the world - it isn't an Arabian practice. jgillow7: Love & grace vs. servitude & deeds (that's the essence between Christianity & Islam). "Gospel" etymologically means "good news". The word is applied in the Christian Book to the Good News which Jesus brought to a sinful world, whether by what He said or even more by what He did for us. This is what Jesus and His apostles originally meant by "Gospel" (Greek: euangelion). Thus, when Jesus proclaimed: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), He did not mean: "Believe the Book", since no book was yet in existence. Rather, He meant: "……Believe in My glad tidings." Pragmatist: thank you, I hope that makes you feel better. You are clearly perfect & therefore have no need of the Gospel. Lucky you. Alessandro: Because Jesus brought glad tidings for all people, not just you & I.

  • Zee - 2011-03-14 16:12

    The biggest abuser of human rights against it's own population, yet you won't hear a word spoken about it - the Saudi royal family are a bunch of crooks, let's hope they get what they deserve. Although with all the money they make, and the way they control the oil supply - it's unlikely. Here's hoping. Here is a country that needs democracy!

      Mr D - 2011-03-19 16:48

      True were is the no fly zone from the useless UN?

  • Adam Kane - 2011-03-15 14:16

    "Islamic Law" states that "oppression is worse than the slaughter of man"... The law of tyrants is not the "law of the land". The Saudi "leadership" fails.

  • Pragmatist - 2011-03-15 23:57

    Politics is all about money... what a load of crap!

  • AKS - 2011-03-16 11:38

    It's time for the Saudi royal family to disappear. They usurp the country's God given wealth, waste it in frivilous activities and deprive their own citizens of the country's wealth. See the poverty in the outskirts of the main cities - I've seen it.

      Mr D - 2011-03-19 16:50

      U THINK IT'S GOING TO CHANGE IF SOMEONE ELSE TAKES OVER..look what happens here is SA the BLACK Gov is filling up their pockets and f>>> the rest...

  • Pee-Jay - 2011-03-17 12:36

    Why is Hilliary Clinton not in Saudi Arabia to promote democracy?

      Mr D - 2011-03-19 16:50

      because she does not know how to suck

  • za101 - 2011-03-17 13:14

    bahrain is apartheid state. the minority rules the majority the majority got no say in government or business

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