Saudi Arabia seeks arrest of 23 Shi'ites for unrest

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 02, 2012 8:53 AM
Saudi Arabia seeks arrest of 23 Shi'ites for unrest

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is seeking the arrest of 23 Shi'ite Muslims in the kingdom's Eastern Province who it says were responsible for unrest that has led to shootings and protests in recent weeks, state television said on Monday.

The Sunni kingdom's Interior Ministry accused the wanted men of serving the agenda of a foreign power, the television said, usually a reference to regional Shi'ite rival Iran.

But in an apparent effort to soothe potential sectarian tensions the interior ministry praised as "honorable" the people of the Eastern Province, heart of the kingdom's oil wealth, where most Saudi Shi'ites live, state television said.

In November four people were killed in the province's Qatif oasis area when clashes broke out near police checkpoints and at the funeral of one of those killed.

Eastern Province Shi'ite activists said aggressive policing at checkpoints and the arrest of some community members had provoked the trouble.

The Saudi government has blamed an unnamed foreign power for the unrest and officials have privately pointed the finger at Iran, which they accuse of stirring sectarian violence across the Middle East.

In October the United States also accused Iran of backing an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Iran denies the charges.

Saudi Shi'ites complain of widespread discrimination, which they say prevents them from gaining good government jobs and leads to closures of Shi'ite centers of worship.

The Saudi government denies charges of discrimination.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; editing by Philippa Fletcher)