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Saturday, January 29, 2011
Hundreds detained in Saudi Arabia over protests
Saudi authorities detained hundreds of demonstrators on Friday in Jeddah who gathered to protest against poor infrastructure after deadly floods swept through Saudi Arabia's second biggest city, police and witnesses said.
Some Jeddah streets remained submerged on Friday, and electricity was still out in low-lying parts of the city two days after torrential rains caused flooding that killed at least four people and swept away cars.
The protest came after mass messages sent over BlackBerry smart phones called for popular action in response to the flood, an unusual move in the Arab state at a time of spreading anti-government unrest across the Arab world.
Protesters gathered for about 15 minutes after Friday prayers on a main Jeddah shopping street and shouted 'God is Greatest' before authorities broke up the protest and detained participants, a witness who works in a nearby shop told Reuters.
One police officer said around 30 protesters were detained and police were pursuing others who fled to a nearby building. Another officer put the number held at around 50.
About 12 police cars surrounded the building where protesters were hiding, and 30 more blocked off the street near where the protest happened.
A mass message sent via BlackBerry Messenger on Thursday urged Jeddah residents to join a demonstration on Saturday over the floods, while another urged all government and private sector employees to hold a general strike next week. But Friday's protest had been unexpected.
The call for action in the top oil exporter, where public protest is not tolerated, comes as open defiance of authoritarian rulers spreads, with protests in Egypt and Yemen inspired by unrest which toppled Tunisia's president this month.
Photo: A view of street chaos in front of Danube supermarket on Arbaeen St., Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Arab News/ Mohammed Imad)