Saudi police open fire on pro-democracy protesters

Police in Saudi Arabia have opened fire at a rally in the country’s east in an apparent escalation of efforts to stop planned protests.

Government officials have warned they will take strong action if activists take to the streets after increasing calls for large protests around the oil-rich kingdom to press for democratic reforms.

A witness in the city of Qatif said bullets and stun grenades were fired at several hundred protesters marching in the city streets on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

The witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal, said police in the area opened fire and at least one protester was injured.

The Reuters news agency reported one witness as saying police fired percussion bombs to disperse the crowd of around 200 people.

Last week Saudi Arabia banned public protests following demonstrations by minority Shia groups.

The ruling came after widespread demonstrations in the Middle East – including those that led to the downfall of regimes in Egypt and Tunisia – and two weeks of Shia agitation in Saudi Arabia itself, during which 22 people were arrested.

A statement issued by the country’s council of senior clerics at the time said: “The council … affirms that demonstrations are forbidden in this country. The correct way in sharia [law] of realising common interest is by advising, which is what the Prophet Muhammad established.

“Reform and advice should not be via demonstrations and ways that provoke strife and division, this is what the religious scholars of this country in the past and now have forbidden and warned against.”

The statement made clear the council’s stance against political parties, which are banned as they are deemed to be not in keeping with Islam.

(www.guardian.co.uk / 10.03.2011)

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