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Leading Saudi cleric warns against 'Day of Rage' protests

Friday March 11, 2011 07:30:10 PM, DPA

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Cairo/Riyadh: Riyadh's most prominent religious scholar told worshippers Friday that Islam strictly prohibits protests in Saudi Arabia, while security was beefed up nationwide as a further deterrent amid calls for a "Day of Rage".

"Islam strictly prohibits protests in the kingdom because the ruler here rules by God's will," Sheikh Abdel Aziz Ibn Abudllah Alasheikh said during a sermon in Riyadh's central mosque.

He said that "democracy is Islam" and that the conservative kingdom adheres to the religion by prohibiting the sale of alcohol, fighting corruption and cutting off the hands of those who steal.

Activists on the social networking website Facebook had called for nationwide demonstrations to demand greater reforms and freedoms in the conservative kingdom during the "Day of Rage," which is modelled on similar recent protests in other parts of the Arab world.

Activists said that a few hundred protesters were demonstrating in Hofuf, located in the eastern province. Unconfirmed video posted online showed a male-only crowd marching along a main road.

Riyadh, meanwhile, was reported to be quiet on Friday, with no protests seen after midday prayers, the activists said.

Helicopters hovered over the city, major streets were cordoned off by security forces and a heavy security presence was deployed around mosques, they noted.

The government had this week reminded activists that Saudi Arabia has banned demonstrations. To support the move, authorities recently obtained a religious edict, or fatwa, saying that protests are prohibited by Islam.

Unconfirmed reports on activist websites said that six people were arrested after midday prayers, in an effort to hamper would-be protesters.

The activists had vowed to protest following Friday prayers, calling on God to give them strength.

They said they would protest for the right to elect governors and members of the Shura Council, a governmental advisory body. They are also calling for an independent judiciary, the release of political prisoners, greater civil rights, freedom of expression, higher minimum wage and more rights for women.

Meanwhile, a collective of anonymous hackers called Anonops wrote on the micro-blogging website Twitter that its members are going to target Saudi government websites to support activists on the ground.

Late Thursday, Saudi security forces had fired on demonstrators in the city of Qatif in the east of the country, where minority Shiites have held a series of protests calling for equality from the Sunni-led government, media reported.

It was unclear if anybody was injured during the clash with security forces.






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