Yesterday’s planned protests in Saudi Arabia weren’t as big as expected, and were much more peaceful than we might have anticipated:
Michael Birnbaum reports from Qatif:
A “Day of Rage” planned by critics of the Saudi Arabian government proved relatively calm Friday, with peaceful demonstrations in and around the eastern city of Qatif, a day after police fired on protesters there, and elsewhere in oil-rich Eastern province.
Witnesses reported a heavy police presence in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, but no protests.
In Saudi Arabia, hundreds marched in Ahsa, an oasis town in the country’s largely Shiite Eastern province, and several protesters were arrested, but there was no violence, said Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, president of the country’s Human Rights First Society. Another witness said that marches were held in three small towns outside Qatif and that hundreds of people marched in Qatif itself late in the evening. All the protests took place without incident.
Protesters have called for increased democracy in the country that has been ruled by the Saud family since they united it by conquest almost 80 years ago. The royal family and the majority of the country’s population are Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims in Eastern province – home to the bulk of the nation’s oil reserves – have urged an end to what they say are discriminatory government measures that prevent them from holding many public positions and that restrict their public services.
Other parts of the Middle East, however, were quite different:
In other countries in the region, protests led to violence. Demonstrators in Bahrain who have been on the streets for almost a month calling for democratic reforms were attacked by government supporters brandishing sticks and knives, witnesses said. Police fired tear gas on the protesters as they attempted to march to a royal complex on the outskirts of Manama, the capital.
In Yemen, security forces opened fire on protesters near Aden, injuring at least six, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital, Sanaa, to demand the immediate ouster of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh and to mourn the death of a protester killed by security forces at a rally Tuesday.
Also Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates flew to Bahrain to meet with officials there, in a sign of the United States’ continued concern about the events unfolding in the region.