Saudi Shia cleric urges protesters to avoid violence

AFP , Wednesday 5 Oct 2011

Protesters urged to use 'words' rather than 'bullets' in their fight for equality in the Sunni-ruled kingdom

A prominent Saudi Shia cleric has urged protesters to use "words" rather than "bullets" in their fight for equality in the Sunni-ruled kingdom after violent clashes in a Shia village.

In a sermon to worshippers at a mosque in the village of Al-Awamia late on Tuesday, Sheikh Nimr Nimr said Shias must "not respond to bullets with bullets," according to the text of the sermon published online.

"The (Saudi) authorities depend on bullets ... and killing and imprisonment. We must depend on the roar of the word, on the words of justice," said Nimr after two days of violent clashes between Shia protesters and Saudi security forces.

Fourteen people, including 11 policemen, were hurt when riots erupted Monday in Al-Awamia, a Shia village in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Saudi's interior ministry blamed the unrest on a "foreign country," according to a statement released by the kingdom's official news agency. Shia activists in Gulf countries are regularly accused of having links with their co-religionists in rival Iran.

Tension in the village grew on Monday when Saudi police arrested two men, both in their 70s, in a bid to force their wanted sons, accused of taking part in Shia-led protests, to surrender, a Shia activist had said.

Nimr said some protesters used guns during the clashes with police "and we do not accept this. This is not how we operate. This is not in our interest. We will be the losers (if we follow in this path)."

He also blamed Saudi authorities for "provoking" the protesters by firing on them with live bullets.

Nimr pointed out that Saudi authorities were far better armed than the Shia and that it would be in the people's "interests" to use words, a tool he believes is "more powerful weapon than bullets."

The overwhelming majority of the estimated two million Saudi Shias live in the Eastern Province, which neighbours Bahrain where authorities, supported by Saudi-led Gulf troops, earlier this year crushed a Shia-led protest.

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