65 arrested as protesters swarm Jeddah, Dammam and Hail
RIYADH: Saudi security forces detained more than 65 people after intervening to stop demonstrations in three cities in the kingdom Thursday, witnesses told AFP.
Those arrested included around 50 people, including five women, in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah; 13 in Hail, north of Riyadh, and at least four in Dammam, in the oil-rich Eastern Province, they said.
In an official account of the demonstrations, called by an exiled opposition group, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said a “limited number of individuals” rallied on Thursday afternoon in Jeddah, Hail and Dammam, drawing “a number of people who came out of curiosity or because they knew what was going on.” Security forces dealt with these rallies “to safeguard public order,” SPA said. Participants “are being interrogated and will be referred to the (Islamic) court,” it added. In Jeddah, “around 100 people tried to demonstrate on Andalus Street in Midan al-Bawakher (Ships Square) on Thursday afternoon, but security forces confronted them, arresting about 50, including five women, while the rest dispersed,” said one witness contacted from Riyadh.
Some of the protesters, who chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as they fled, took cover in a supermarket, the witness said.
In Hail, 13 people who attempted to march in a vegetable market in the center of the city were all rounded up by security forces, witnesses told AFP. In Dammam, some 30 people attempted to march from a mosque in the centre of the city calling for the release of detainees but were stopped by security forces who arrested at least four protesters, witnesses said.
Security forces, including riot units, had deployed in the area around the mosque, blocking roads leading to the site of the protest.
The attempted demonstrations were called by the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA), which called for protests to start from mosques in several parts of the kingdom following a rare rally in Riyadh last week.
In the capital, police and riot units were deployed in force Thursday afternoon around a mosque that was meant to serve as the starting point for a demonstration, blocking access to the area and preventing any protest, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
Dozens of police cars and jeeps used by riot units and special forces patroled the area around the mosque in the al-Rabwa suburb of Riyadh.
Ambulances and civil defence cars were also seen parked around the area, but there was no sign that anyone was given a chance to rally well after the demonstration was supposed to take place following afternoon prayers. Police vehicles blocked access to sidestreets leading to the mosque to prevent cars driving there, and pedestrians were turned away from the immediate vicinity of several of the mosque entrances. Checkpoints were set up on a main road leading to the neighbourhood, and police stopped some cars.
MIRA had called for the protests Thursday to denounce what it termed “injustice and corruption in the kingdom.” Authorities had earlier warned that they would not tolerate any street protests. Protests “violate existing (rules) and anyone who takes part in them will be subjected to deterrent punishment meted out by the (Islamic) court,” Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said late Wednesday.
His ministry issued a statement saying that 83 of the people arrested at last week’s rally, including three women, were still in custody and would appear in court. “Authorities arrested 271 people, of whom 188 were freed after proving that they had been drawn into the crowd and acted out of curiosity,” a spokesman said. —AFP