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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saudi Shias rise in protest at Medina attack


Women pray outside the Baqi cemetery. Saudi authorities have banned women from entering all graveyards in the country.
Hundreds of people in Saudi Arabia have taken to the streets in rare protests against government maltreatment of the Shia minority.

The angry Saudis took part in two protests late on Tuesday near the city of Qatif in Eastern Province, shouting anti-government slogans and condemning the pro-Sunni prejudice in the country.

Youths threw stones at a police post before anti-riot officers fired in the air to disperse the crowd, which included women, witnesses told the Associated Press. No casualties were reported.

The demonstrations followed a string of hostilities against Shia pilgrims in the holy city of Medina in western Saudi Arabia.

Earlier in the week, pilgrims sought entry into the Baqi burial ground, which houses the graves of many of the Prophet's relatives and companions.

Women are not allowed to visit the graveyard according to the Wahabbi interpretation of Islam; therefore, Shia and Sunni women wishing to visit the graves are allowed only to stay outside the gates.

Security forces later killed at least three Shia pilgrims and injured several others.

Saudi security guards filmed the people gathered outside the cemetary and later arrested several people captured on tape while demonstrating.

A Saudi official blamed the Shia pilgrims for the trouble, accusing them of performing religious rituals offensive to other worshippers and authorities at the cemetery.

Watch the pilgrims protest outside the cemetery.

Following the government-sponsored violence, a number of other Shias were arrested in Medina.

Shias amount to nearly 10 percent of the Muslim population of Saudi Arabia, which is dominated by a Sunni population.

Human rights groups, have, meanwhile condemned the attacks on the Shia population and have urged the Saudi government to bring those responsible to justice.

MP/AA

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