Ahad, 6 Mac 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates

Saudi Arabia says won't tolerate protests

Posted: 06 Mar 2011 07:10 AM PST

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia warned potential protesters on Saturday that a ban on marches would be enforced, signalling the small protests by the Shi'ite minority in the oil-producing east would no longer be tolerated.

Anti-riot police stand-off with protesters in the Gulf coast town of Awwamiya March 3, 2011. Saudi Arabia has banned all protests and marches, state television on Saturday cited the Interior Ministry as saying after Saudi minority Shi'ites staged small protests in the oil-producing eastern province. (REUTERS/Zaki Ghawas)

"The kingdom's regulations totally ban all sorts of demonstrations, marches, sit-ins," the interior ministry said in a statement, adding security forces would stop all attempts to disrupt public order.

Inspired by protests in other Arab countries there have been Shi'ite marches in the past few days in the east and unconfirmed activist reports of a small protest at a mosque in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Friday.

The U.S. ally has not faced protests of the scale that hit Egypt and Tunisia that toppled veteran leaders, but dissent has built up as unrest has spread in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Libya and Oman.

More than 17,000 have backed a call on Facebook to hold two demonstrations this month, the first one on Friday.

A loose alliance of liberals, moderate Islamists and Shi'ites have petitioned King Abdullah to allow elections in the kingdom which has no elected parliament, although even activists say they don't know how many of the almost 19 million Saudis back them.

Last month, Abdullah returned to Riyadh after a three-month medical absence and unveiled $37 billion in benefits for citizens in an apparent bid to curb dissent.

For about two weeks, Saudi Shi'ites have staged small protests in the kingdom's east, which holds much of the oil wealth of the world's top crude exporter and is near Bahrain, scene of protests by majority Shi'ites against their Sunni rulers.

Shi'ite protests in Saudi Arabia started in the area of the main city Qatif and its neighbour Awwamiya and spread to the town of Hofuf on Friday. The demands were mainly for the release of prisoners they say are held without trial.

Saudi Shi'ites often complain they struggle to get senior government jobs and other benefits like other citizens.

The government of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament that usually does not tolerate public dissent, denies these charges.

The interior ministry said demonstrations violated Islamic law and the kingdom's traditions, according to a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Matthew Jones)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Bahrain promises government jobs, protests continue

Posted: 06 Mar 2011 07:10 AM PST

MANAMA (Reuters) - Plans by Bahrain to create 20,000 jobs in its security apparatus could be a move to open up government jobs to the country's disgruntled Shi'ites and appease protesters against the Sunni-led government.

Anti-government protesters gesture in front of Bahrain's prime minister's palace in Manama March 6, 2011. Plans by Bahrain to create 20,000 jobs in its security apparatus could be a move to open up government jobs to the country's disgruntled Shi'ites and appease protesters against the Sunni-led government. (REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)

Bahrain has seen its worst unrest since the 1990s after a nascent youth movement emboldened by similar protests elsewhere in the Arab world took to the streets last month and were met with heavy-handed police violence that killed seven.

The country, an ally of the United States and top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family and its majority Shi'ites have complained of discrimination in government jobs. The government denies this.

Bahrain's Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa told local newspaper editors on Saturday that King Hamad bin Isa had ordered a round of new hires in a number of government institutions, including 20,000 jobs in his ministry.

"We hope this step will have a positive effect on the safety and security of citizens," al-Wasat daily quoted the minister as saying. "The minister said national dialogue was the way to achieving political stability and of raising demands."

The opposition said it interpreted the announcement as an attempt to appease Shi'ite protesters who say government jobs have been shut to them.

"I think it's mainly meant for Shi'ites, in particular for the coming graduates. Unequal opportunities is one reason why we're having people in the street," Jasim Husain of Wefaq, the main Shi'ite opposition group, said.

"The Ministry of Interior has been slow in creating jobs, in particular for Shi'ites."

There is no official figure of how many are employed by Bahrain's armed forces and its police and security forces. Officials at the Ministry of Interior declined to comment but said details of the plans would be released later this week.

Bahrain has granted citizenship to Sunni foreigners serving in its armed forces, limiting the number of secure government jobs its Shi'ite population can potentially access.

The practice has long been a bone of contention for the opposition who see it as an attempt to alter the sectarian balance, an accusation the government denies.

The government says all naturalisation is done in full transparency and in accordance with Bahrain's immigration polices. Bahrain's king said last year the government would start to limit the practice.

Clashes erupted last week between residents in Hamad Town, an area where both Shi'ites and Sunni live, including foreigners who were granted citizenship.

It was not clear what sparked the clashes that were contained by police forces, but residents said that Syrians were involved in the fighting with metal sticks and batons.

Husain said the new jobs could potentially be funded by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that is currently discussing a joint fund to back Bahrain and Oman, which also has seen unrest.

Bahrain's opposition groups, including Wefaq, demand the resignation of the government and a new constitutional monarchy. Currently, parliament has little powers, cabinet is appointed by the king and most ministers are from the ruling family.

But many of the thousands in Bahrain's youth movement who are occupying Manama's Pearl Square and staging daily protests want the complete ouster of the ruling family.

Hundreds staged an hours-long sit-in on Sunday outside the palace in Manama that serves as an office to Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the world's longest serving head of government.

(Reporting by Frederik Richter; editing by Andrew Hammond and Michael Roddy)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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