ABU DHABI Ñ Saudi Arabia has bolstered security Ñ 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
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.