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Saudi minister says dialogue needed, not protest

Saudi foreign minister says dialogue is only way forward; Faisal warns against protest, foreign interference.

March 9, 2011 4:17 by

Dialogue, not protest, is the best way to bring about change in Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Wednesday as the country braced for possible protests in the world’s top oil exporter.

Inspired by unrest sweeping other Arab states, Shi’ite protesters have taken to the streets in small numbers in eastern Saudi Arabia this month, with further rallies called for Friday.

Faisal cautioned that demonstrations would not usher in reform to Saudi Arabia, a bastion of religious conservatism, and said its Muslim clerics had banned protests.

“The principle of dialogue, I believe, is the best way to address the issues facing society,” he told a news conference, warning foreign states not to interfere in Saudi affairs.

“Change will come through the citizens of this kingdom and not through foreign fingers, we don’t need them,” he said. “We will cut any finger that crosses into the kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia’s huge oil wealth has provided a high standard of living compared to many neighbours, and it was widely thought to be immune from spreading unrest, but the rumblings of discontent from the Shi’ite minority have alarmed Riyadh.

“The called-for reform does not come via protests and (the clerics) have forbidden protests since they violate the Koran and the way of the Prophet,” Faisal said.

Protests by a disgruntled Shi’ite majority in neighbouring Bahrain are being closely watched in Saudi Arabia, where Shi’ites make up about 15 percent of the population.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said this week that Saudis had the right to protest peacefully. Asked about this, Faisal said: “The kingdom absolutely rejects any foreign interference in its internal affairs in any shape or form.”

Faisal added that the motives driving unrest buffeting numerous Arab nations were not necessarily the same.

“Every country is different from the other. I can’t link them and say this is a rampant phenomenon,” he said.

Faisal, who is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, said it was up to regional grouping the Arab League to decide what to do to bring calm to Libya, where there is a violent uprising against its leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

“The options to reach this goal, which is protecting the Libyans and stopping bloodshed, are up to the Arab League,” he said. Arab foreign ministers are due to meet on Saturday in Cairo to discuss the Libyan crisis.

Libya’s rebel leadership has called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone to ground Gaddafi’s warplanes.

(By Ulf Laessing. Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush and Andrew Hammond in Dubai; Writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Michael Roddy)

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