Saturday, March 5, 2011

Anti-government protests hit Saudi cities

Anti-riot police stand-off with protesters in the Gulf coast town of Awwamiya

Source: Press TV

Hundreds of Saudi demonstrators have taken to the streets in the capital Riyadh for the first time to join anti-government protests in other cities in the Arab country, calling for the release of political prisoners.

After Friday prayers in Riyadh, protesters gathered in front of Al-Rajhi Mosque in the east of the capital and chanted anti-government and anti-corruption slogans.

As police helicopters hovered over the anti-government demonstrators, they chanted; “Thieves, thieves, where is the 200 billion (riyals)?”, “God is great”, and “God will destroy the arrogant and unjust”, as well as “peaceful, peaceful,” the Financial Times reported Friday.

Witnesses say Saudi security forces detained at least three people after repeating slogans against the Saudi monarchy.

At the same time, groups of protesters continued their rallies in towns of al-Hufuf, al-Ahsa and al-Qatif in Eastern Province, with demonstrators demanding the release of political prisoners, including a senior Shia cleric.

In al-Hufuf, the peaceful protest rally, which condemned the Saudi government's detention of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, was held following the Friday prayers.

A similar protest was held in al-Qatif but was dispersed by Saudi security forces, witnesses said.

The Shia cleric was arrested last Friday after a sermon in which he said Saudi Arabia should become a constitutional monarchy.

Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer has been arrested several times over his calls for giving Shias, a minority in Saudi Arabia, further freedom to exercise their religious rights.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters in the cities of Qatif and Awamiyya took to the streets and called for the release of Shia prisoners, who they say are being held unjustly, some as long as 16 years.

"We want the prisoners free but we also have other demands. We want equality," a protester in Qatif said.

Saudi authorities arrested 22 people for taking part in the protest in Qatif.

The latest protest comes against the backdrop of growing calls for a massive anti-government protest expected later in March. Tens of thousands of Saudis have already joined the drive.

Saudi youths have named March 11 “the Day of Rage” on the social networking website, Facebook.

On February 23, Saudi King Abdullah suddenly promised a $36 billion-package of extra benefits for his people, upon his return from a long medical trip to the US.

He also granted pardon to some prisoners indicted in financial crimes and ordered the implementation of a 15-percent pay hike for state employees as well as an increase in the cash available for Saudi housing loans.

Analysts believe the huge hike in benefits introduced by the Saudi king is actually intended to avert an uprising in the Arab country.

Protests and public displays of dissent are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. The government has become increasingly nervous about the protests that have taken the Arab world by storm, toppling the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, and which recently reached Oman, Bahrain, Yeman and Libya.

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