One day after setting 1st elections, Saudis have 1st political protest

Thursday, October 16, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has bolstered security this time to prevent civil protests in the kingdom.

Saudi police were bolstered in Riyad and other major cities on Wednesday in wake of what was termed the first peaceful demonstration that demanded democratic reforms in the kingdom. Several hundred people flocked to downtown Riyad to call for reforms and the release of political prisoners.

Police, who were prepared for the protest, tried to disperse the demonstrators. They fired bullets in the air, tear gas into the crowd and arrested suspected organizers.

The protest was said to have been organized by the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, based in London and regarded as the leading opposition group. The movement called on Saudis to attend the demonstration and at one points hundreds of people blocked traffic in front of a shopping center.

The protesters, most of them young people, chanted "God is Great." None of the chants were directed against the regime.

The demonstration came one day after Saudi Arabia announced that it would hold the first elections ever in the kingdom. The kingdom does not permit any form of public protests.

Saudi officials said 154 people, including women, were arrested in what was termed a violent demonstration. They said about half of the demonstrators were youngsters.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz said about 150 youngsters participated in the protest. Nayef said several of them were arrested as part of an investigation into the breaking of Saudi law, which bans unauthorized gatherings.

"This matter will not be repeated," Nayef said. In September, about 300 Saudis signed a petition that called for accelerated reform in the kingdom. The petition warned that only such a move would stop the growing influence of Al Qaida.

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