Tensions in Saudi Shi'ite Town over Secession Call

[Reuters] Souhail Karam - The street graffiti is so brazenly political in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province that it hardly seems like Saudi Arabia at all. Hundreds of Shi'ites have staged protests in recent weeks as police searched in vain for firebrand preacher Nimr al-Nimr, who breached a taboo to suggest in a sermon that Shi'ites could one day seek their own separate state. The threat, which diplomats say is unprecedented since the 1979 Iranian revolution provoked anti-Saudi protests, followed clashes between the Sunni religious police and Shi'ite pilgrims near the tomb of Prophet Mohammad in the city of Medina, in the western region of Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials say Shi'ites make up less than 10% of the population, although diplomats believe the figure is closer to 15%. The rising influence of Shi'ite Iran, after the 2003 Iraq invasion empowered Iraq's Shi'ite majority, has revived official fears that Shi'ites could become a fifth column against the Saudi state.

2009-04-17 06:00:00

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