Police flood Saudi capital ahead of protests
Riyadh, Mar 11: Hundreds of police deployed today in the Saudi capital ahead of planned protests calling for democratic reforms as the government tried to prevent the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world from spreading in the oil-rich kingdom.
Police blocked roads and set up random checkpoints in Riyadh, searching residents around a central mosque as large numbers of people gathering for Friday prayers raised the prospect of them later spilling into the streets for mass demonstrations.
Yesterday, rare violence broke out at another protest in the country's east when Saudi police opened fire to disperse demonstrators in the city of Qatif, where minority Shiites live. At least three protesters and one police officer were wounded.
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 today.
Any violence at today's planned protests could reverberate through the world's markets because of the importance of Saudi oil exports.
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 yesterday 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.
Last month, the Saudi government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated USD 36 billion that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, nemployment assistance and debt forgiveness. (AP)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 11 Mar 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 11 Mar 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 Mar 2011 00:00:00 IST
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