April 22, 2011 / 4:26 PM / 8 years ago

Saudi Shi'ite protesters demand human rights reform

JEDDAH (Reuters) - Some 200 Shi’ites protested in Saudi Arabia’s oil-producing east Friday, calling for human rights reform and denouncing the demolition of Shi’ite mosques in nearby Bahrain, two activists told Reuters.

The gathering in the town of Awwamiya defied a call by leading Shi’ite clerics a day earlier for an end to two months of protests in the conservative kingdom’s Eastern Province, in an apparent bow to government pressure.

Shi’ite activists said they were protesting against the destruction of Shi’ite mosques in Bahrain by the Sunni-led government, after its crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in the country led mostly by Shi’ites.

“There are about 200 men and women objecting to the burning of the Koran in Bahrain by the Gulf Peninsula Shield forces, who have also demolished mosques in Bahrain. They (the protesters) are also calling for human rights in Saudi Arabia,” an Awwamiya activist told Reuters by telephone.

The Sunni Muslim monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and a major U.S. ally, does not tolerate any form of public dissent. Other than scattered Shi’ite protests, the kingdom has not seen the mass uprisings seen in other countries across the region.

But Bahrain’s Shi’ite-led uprising unnerved nearby Saudi Arabia, which is connected to the Gulf island kingdom by a causeway. It feared protests could embolden its own Shi’ites.

Saudi Shi’ites in the Eastern Province have protested against Bahrain’s move last month to quash its pro-democracy movement, in which the country’s Sunni rulers called in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states including Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, dozens of Shi’ites staged protests in the main Shi’ite city of Qatif and Awwamiya, a neighbouring village, an activist said.

Saudi authorities have been increasingly nervous about protests, arresting participants and making independent travel for journalists more difficult in the Eastern Province.

More than 160 Saudi activists have been arrested since February, Human Rights Watch said in a report this week.

Reporting by Asma Alsharif; writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Janet Lawrence

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