Saudi police fire on Shi’ite protest
Kingdom keeps a wary eye on civil unrest
Saudi police opened fire yesterday to disperse a protest in a part of the country where minority Shi’ites live, leaving at least one man injured, as the government toughened its efforts to prevent a wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world from reaching the kingdom.
The violence raised concern about a crackdown ahead of planned protests after Friday prayers in different cities throughout the oil-rich kingdom. Violence there could reverberate through the world’s markets because of the importance of Saudi oil exports.
Discord is common between authorities, and the country’s Shi’ites, who make up 10 percent of the kingdom’s 23 million citizens. They have long complained of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are not given an equal share of the country’s wealth.
As discontent rises across the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi authorities are increasingly determined to prevent the unrest from spreading to other cities.
Saudi security forces have deployed around the capital of Riyadh on the eve of planned protests calling for democratic reforms.
Witnesses reported seeing riot police and special forces with batons and tear gas canisters yesterday, particularly around shopping malls and main roads.
The pro-Western monarchy is concerned protests could open footholds for Shi’ite powerhouse Iran and has accused foreigners of stoking the protests, which are officially forbidden.
Despite the ban and a warning that security forces will act against them, protesters demanding the release of political prisoners took to the streets for a second day in the 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, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.
The witness said at least one protester was injured and lifted by others to a car for treatment. It was not clear how the protester was hurt.
A resident said the Saudi authorities also beat some protesters with clubs. The resident said up to 12 protesters were injured, and some were arrested at the local hospital.
It was not possible to verify this information independently.
Videos dated yesterday and posted on social websites showed what appeared to be shooting. Crowds, of mostly men with a few children, were gathered in a small street, separated by an empty plot from the apparent source of fire. Occasional bursts of gunfire can be heard on the videos. The crowd was shouting “Peaceful, peaceful.’’
Yemen Yemen’s embattled president yesterday proposed a new constitution guaranteeing the independence of the Parliament and judiciary, but thousands of unsatisfied protesters poured into the streets to demand his ouster.
Opposition leaders promptly rejected President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s offer and called for mass demonstrations today, marking a month since the protests began.
The demonstrators have set up protest camps in the capital and the cities of Aden and Taiz, saying they will not leave until Saleh resigns.
Saleh, an ally in the Obama’s administration’s fight against Al Qaeda, has been making a series of concessions to try to head off the protests, seen as one of the most serious threats to an Arab government since popular revolutions toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
Saleh told thousands of supporters gathered at a stadium in Sana that a new constitution would be drafted by the end of year establishing the separation of legislative and executive powers. The president currently controls all branches of government.
Saleh said he ordered the government to fulfill the demands of the youth camping in Sanaa, Aden, and Taiz and in other cities, but without sit-ins or chaos.
Shortly after Saleh finished his speech, some 4,000 people, mostly students, took to the streets and headed toward the main square in Sana, calling for his ouster.
Saleh has ruled Yemen for 32 years.
Bahrain Bahrain’s depleted Parliament warned yesterday against continued protests near government ministries, calling Shi’ite rallies for a leadership overhaul in the Persian Gulf kingdom illegal.
Bahrain has been gripped by three weeks of unprecedented political unrest inspired by the uprisings that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
The country’s majority Shi’ites are trying to loosen the Sunni monarchy’s grip on power, staging daily demonstrations and marching on state and financial institutions they say symbolize political oppression and economic inequality.
Several remaining members of Bahrain’s 40-seat Parliament yesterday noted an increasing number of unauthorized gatherings in the capital of Manama. They demanded protesters comply with laws that require permission from the state’s security agency to hold public rallies.