|So far the demonstrations have been small and concentrated but activists are urging a “Day of Rage” [Reuters]|
Police have reportedly opened fire at a rally in Saudi Arabia in an apparent effort to stop planned protests there, AP news agency has reported.
A witness in the eastern city of Qatif told AP that gunfire and stun grenades were fired at several hundred protesters marching in the city streets on Thursday.
The witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal, said police in the area opened fire. The witness saw at least one protester injured.
Government officials have warned they will take strong action if activists take to the streets after increasing calls for large protests around the country to press for democratic reforms.
Freedom for prisoners
Despite the ban on protests and the government warning, demonstrators demanding the release of political prisoners took to the streets for a second day in Qatif.
Several hundred protesters, some wearing face masks to avoid being identified, marched after dark asking for “Freedom for prisoners”.
Police, who were lined up opposite the protesters, fired percussion bombs, followed by gunfire, causing the crowd to scatter, a witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.
Last month, the government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36bn that will give people interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness.
It also reiterated that demonstrations are forbidden because they contradict Islamic laws and society’s values and said security forces were authorised to act against anyone violating the ban.
Ban reversal urged
So far the demonstrations have been small and concentrated but activists have been emboldened by other uprisings and have set up Facebook groups calling for protests in the capital, Riyadh, on Friday to demand democratic reforms.
One such group garnered more than 30,000 supporters.
Earlier on Thursday, the human rights organisation Amnesty International called on the Saudi Arabian authorities to reverse the ban on peaceful protest in the kingdom, amid fears of a violent crackdown on Friday’s planned “Day of Rage”.
“Instead of banning peaceful protests the Saudi Arabian authorities should address the need for major human rights reform in the country,” Philip Luther, deputy director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said.
Media reports over the weekend suggested that some 10,000 Saudi troops would be deployed to crack down on any protests.
“Reports that the Saudi authorities plan to deploy troops to police upcoming demonstrations are very worrying,” Luther said.