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More Shi’ite protests in Saudi oil region

100 protesters in Hofuf demand release of cleric, No immediate comment from government.

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March 5, 2011 2:28 by



Saudi Shi’ites held two small protests in the kingdom’s oil-producing east on Friday, demanding the release of a cleric and other prisoners, witnesses, human rights activists and Shi’ite sources said.

More than 100 protesters marched through the city of Hofuf to demand the release of Shi’ite cleric Tawfiq al-Amir who was arrested after calling for a constitutional monarchy and a fight against corruption, witnesses and human rights activists said.

In the Gulf coast town of Qatif, more than 100 protesters demanded the release of Amir and other detained Shi’ites, witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Videos posted on YouTube.com showed pictures of what purported to be the protests. There was no immediate confirmation by the government that any protests had been held.

Similar demonstrations were held in Qatif and the neighbouring town of Awwamiya on Thursday night.

Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority mostly live in the east, which holds much of the oil wealth of the world’s top crude exporter and is near Bahrain, scene of protests by majority Shi’ites against their Sunni rulers.

Saudi Shi’ites in recent years increasingly have practised their own religious rites thanks to reforms introduced by King Abdullah.

But they still complain they struggle to get senior government jobs and other benefits like other citizens.

The government of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament that usually does not tolerate public dissent, denies the allegations.

Last month, Saudi authorities released three prisoners after a previous protest by Shi’ites in Awwamiya.

Last week, King Abdullah returned to Riyadh after a three-month medical absence and unveiled $37 billion in benefits to help lower- and middle-income people among the 18 million Saudi nationals. It includes pay rises to offset inflation, unemployment benefits and affordable family housing.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)



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