Protests hit eastern Saudi Arabia, calm in capital
Protests hit eastern Saudi Arabia but are prevented by police in capital
Friday March 11, 2011
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Several hundred people protested in heavily Shiite eastern Saudi Arabia Friday but hundreds of police prevented protests in the capital calling for democratic reforms inspired by the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world.
Police blocked roads and set up random checkpoints in Riyadh, searching residents and vehicles around a central mosque as large numbers of people gathered for Friday prayers. Witnesses said groups of policemen manned street corners and intersections and a helicopter flew over the city.
By midday, no protesters had showed up in the capital and the police presence significantly decreased.
In the eastern city of Qatif and nearby areas where the country's minority Shiites live, several hundred people staged protests, shouting slogans calling for reforms and equality between Shiites and Sunnis. In Qatif, the protesters were surrounded by armored personnel carriers and dozens of riot police in full gear.
On Thursday, violence broke out at another protest in Qatif, when Saudi police opened fire to disperse demonstrators. At least three protesters and one police officer were wounded. Friday's protest was largely peaceful.
Although protests have so far been confined to small rallies in the east, activists have been emboldened by other uprisings in the region that have toppled longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. The Saudi activists have set up online groups calling for protests in Riyadh on Friday.
Any violence at Friday's planned protests could reverberate through the world's markets because of the importance of Saudi oil exports.
Security officials on Friday said security measures around state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco and its oil facilities in the east were beefed up protectively, in case of any violence. The company is based in Dhahran district on the kingdom's eastern coast.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the new measures were "considered normal under the current circumstances," referring to the online call for protests in the area.
Investors are sensitive to any sign of upheaval in Saudi Arabia because the OPEC leader has been using its spare capacity to make up for output lost amid the violent uprising against Libya's government. When news broke that Saudi Arabian police fired shots to break up the protest Thursday, prices soared $3 in just 12 minutes.
Discord is common between Saudi authorities and the country's Shiites, who make up 10 percent of the kingdom's 23 million citizens. The Shiites 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.
The pro-Western monarchy is concerned protests could open footholds for Shiite powerhouse Iran and has accused foreigners of stoking the protests, which are officially forbidden.
In Riyadh, the Interior Ministry organized a tour for a few journalists who were escorted by police around the city Friday. At one point in front of a government building, the journalists encountered a man, Khaled al-Juhni, standing outside a government building, shouting calls for more freedoms.
Police and journalists watched as the man criticized the regime as a "police state" and "a big prison" before he got in his car and left.
Despite the ban on demonstrations and a warning that security forces will act against them, protesters demanding the release of political prisoners took to the streets Thursday 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. Other witnesses said the protesters threw Molotov cocktails and stones from rooftops on the security troops.
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 $36 billion 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 Shiites 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.
Saudi police open fire at protest
By SARAH EL DEEBThe Associated Press
Thursday, March 10, 2011
CAIRO -- Saudi police opened fire Thursday to disperse a protest in the mainly Shiite east, leaving at least one man injured, as the government struggled to prevent a wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world from reaching the kingdom.
The rare violence raised concern about a crackdown ahead of more planned protests after Friday prayers in different cities throughout the oil-rich kingdom. The pro-Western monarchy is concerned protests could open footholds for Shiite 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 face 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.
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 injured.
Scores of protesters in Qatif had also marched in the city streets Wednesday night.
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 months.
Last month, the ultra-conservative government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36 billion that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness. It also has 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 and concentrated in the east among Shiites 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 spread of calls for protests, particularly outside the generally tense eastern Saudi Arabia, home to the country's Shiite minority, has prompted government officials to issue strong warnings that it will act against activists taking to the streets.
Amnesty International called on Saudi authorities to reverse the ban on peaceful protests in the kingdom.
Philip Luther, a spokesman 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."
Will Saudi Arabia Follow Egypt and Tunisia?
March 6, 2011
Minority Shiite Muslims are demanding the release of political prisoners.
BY BRANDON TWICHELL
Anchor: Megan Murphy
You're watching multisource world news analysis from Newsy
It appears no Middle Eastern country is safe from protests.
Minority Shiite Muslims in oil-rich eastern Saudi Arabia are protesting the government, calling for it to release political prisoners and to create more jobs. (Video: Press TV)
The Saudi government says the protests go against Islamic law - and are therefore forbidden, but Link TV translates for an analyst on Iran’s Al Alam TV - who says, these protests in the Kingdom were bound to happen.
“It is clear that the winds of change flowing through a number of Arab countries will not continue to blow without reaching a country that has resisted political and social changes, such as Saudi Arabia. This was reflected by the Saudi authorities dealing with protesters in the area of al-Qatif and the eastern cities, dominated by aspirations for freedom of expression and legal rights.”
A reporter for CBC News witnessed the protests and says they are unlike protests in other Middle Eastern countries like Tunisia and Egypt, with only a few hundred demonstrators -- but the government seems wary.
"There are no violent clashes, though police eventually forced the demonstrators to leave, pushing them down the street... In the last two days, large numbers of police have been seen in the cities where protests have been held, and checkpoints have been erected on the roads.”
The Los Angeles Times explains one of the reasons why Shittes are protesting against a ruling Sunni monarchy.
“Shiites in Saudi Arabia regularly complain about discrimination and say they still face restrictions in getting some jobs, although their situation has improved somewhat under King Abdullah and the reforms he has implemented. The government denies charges of such discrimination.”
Protesters are also organizing through Facebook’s “Day of Rage” on March 11. London’s The Independent reports if Saudi Arabia decides to use violence against protesters, it could cause a major headache for the United States.
“In Egypt, [President Obama] only supported the demonstrators after the police used unrestrained firepower against protesters. But in Saudi Arabia – supposedly a ‘key ally’ of the US and one of the world's principal oil producers – he will be loath to protect the innocent.”
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