JNN 29 July 2012 Riyadh : Saudi security forces opened fire on Shia protesters in the tense Qatif district of Eastern Province on Friday, wounding several as hundreds marched to demand the release of detainees, witnesses said.
Live rounds fired by anti-riot police wounded a number of protesters who took to the streets in the early hours, the witnesses said, without specifying a figure.
The interior ministry said security forces dealt with “rioters who burned tyres” in parts of Qatif, arresting several people, including Mohammed al-Shakhuri, whose name figures on a list of 23 wanted people.
“There were no casualties,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
Witnesses said Shakhuri had been taken to the military hospital in nearby Dhahran with bullet wounds to his back and neck.
The demonstrators carried posters of Shia detainees, including prominent cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was arrested earlier this month, witnesses said.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans following the arrest of a popular Shia cleric.
Riot police cracked down on a demonstration in the eastern Saudi Arabia town of Qatif, populated mostly by Shia Muslim believers. The protests were sparked after police had earlier engaged in a shootout and a car chase with a popular Shia cleric who has been reportedly arrested with a gunshot wound. The protesters were allegedly calling for the fall of the ruling Saudi monarchy.
Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr and his followers exchanged fire with police and got into an accident with a police car, the official Saudi Press Agency reports Al-Nimr was shot in the thigh, the agency says, and was arrested on charges of instigating unrest in the Eastern Province famous for its oil reserves.
Sheikh Nimr’s brother insists the cleric was just returning from his farm in Qatif.
Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr is a prominent Saudi Shia religious leader. He is known as a fierce critic of the Wahabi government over its alleged discrimination against the two million Shia minority in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabian Shias are prevented from taking high-ranking posts in the governmetn and security forces.
The Sheikh is on the government black list for statements demanding more rights for the Shia community, the release of political prisoners and corruption-curbing measures.
“He had been wanted by the interior ministry for a couple of months because of his political views,” Sheikh Nimr’s brother told Al-Jazeera.
He also said that Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr was previously detained for several days in 2004 and 2006.
The protesters believe that persecution of their religious leader exposes Wahabi plans to escalate the conflict.
The last demonstrations of a similar scale in Saudi Arabia occurred over half a year ago, when at least six protesters were shot dead. After those protests, in January 2012, police arrested 22 Shias, placing the responsibility for the unrest squarely at their feet.
The Shia opposition remains the only considerable obstacle in the domestic political life for the ruling Wahabi Muslim dynasty in the world’s biggest oil exporter.
In recent days, confrontations have intensified between police and protesters from the kingdom’s marginalized Shia minority — estimated at about two million and mostly concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province.
Two Shia protesters were killed earlier this month, triggering attacks on government buildings in Qatif.
The district witnessed a spate of protests after an outbreak of violence between Shia pilgrims and religious police in the Muslim holy city of Medina in February last year.
The protests escalated when the kingdom led a force of Persian Gulf troops into neighboring Bahrain the following month to help crush uprising against the Sunni monarchy.
Meanwhile, the family of Nimr said the cleric had been transferred from the military hospital in Dhahran, where he was receiving treatment for a bullet wound, to another in the capital.
And Shia writer Nazir al-Majed, who was arrested in March last year for taking part in protests, was released on Thursday, relatives said, adding that he was never charged or put on trial.
‘Far behind Syria’
Riyadh is far from the ideology it preaches, says Professor Ibrahim Alloush, a political analyst from the Zaytouneh University in Jordan.
“Saudi Arabia is not only supplying arms [to Syrian rebel forces], it’s also financing the Western-backed insurgency in Syria, and it has its long arm playing games in other places, including Lebanon , Pakistan and several countries in the Gulf as well,” he told RT.
The Saudi regime is extremely supportive of the West in general, Alloush continued, and is in fact a reliable conductor of the NATO policy in the Arab World.
“I think it’s really funny that they should speak about a so-called dictatorship in Syria when, you know, when we apply the same [criteria] to Saudi Arabia – [whether] it’s the elections or having different political parties, a free press, or you name it – we find that Saudi Arabia lags far behind Syria and many other countries in the region,” Professor Alloush concluded.