ABU DHABI Ñ Saudi Arabia employed helicopters, combat vehicles and a
massive ground force to quell nationwide democracy protests.
Saudi opposition sources said National Guard and Interior Ministry
troops responded quickly to protest gatherings in major Saudi cities on
Thursday. The sources said Saudi anti-riot police, armed with water cannons,
quickly dispersed demonstrators, arrested suspected organizers and in some
cases engaged in shootouts with armed insurgents.
About 800 people were held or arrested in demonstrations in Jedda and
Riyad, the sources said, while smaller protests were reported in Hail and
Tabouk. The protest campaign was called by the London-based Movement for
Islamic Reform in Saudi Arabia, headed by Saad Al Faqih, Middle East Newsline reported.
Saudi officials said most of the protests were dispersed peacefully.
They said two men were arrested in Jedda after they fired into the air
outside a mosque meant to serve as a gathering site for an illegal protest.
"Two people fired their handguns in the air near a police patrol
vehicle," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour Turki said. "They
were arrested straight away, but there was no exchange of fire and no one
Saudi authorities closed parts of Riyad and Jedda to prevent people from
arriving at the demonstrations. Helicopters flew overhead to search for
This was the second time in as many months that Saudi authorities foiled
plans for nationwide protests. In November, the Movement for Islamic Reform
in Saudi Arabia failed to organize protests amid a rapid response by
On late Wednesday, more than 30 Saudi pro-government clerics called for
Saudis not to participate in demonstrations.
At the same time, Osama Bin Laden was said to have called for the
overthrow of the Saudi regime. In an audiotape posted on an Islamic website,
Bin Laden called the royal family sinful and corrupt.
"The sins the regime committed are great," the message said. "It
practiced injustices against the people, violating their rights, humiliating