Saudi Hails Hajj Success

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kaaba, seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 3, 2011.

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz hailed the “success” of this year’s hajj despite fears of “chaos” in the wake of the Arab Spring, as remaining pilgrims continued final rites on Wednesday.

“We thank God for the success of this year’s hajj, which was the best pilgrimage season to ever pass,” Nayef told the commanders of hajj security forces late on Tuesday.

“Some (pilgrims) were expected to exploit the international and regional changes taking place to cause chaos. But thank God this did not happen,” SPA quoted Nayef, who also holds the interior portfolio, as saying.

The hajj — the world’s largest annual gathering — this year coincided with the Arab Spring democracy protests that have swept many nations in the region and led so far to the unseating of three autocratic leaders, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as protests continue in Yemen and Syria.

“What’s going on in Syria is painful,” Syrian pilgrim Abu Imad told AFP. “I’m coming here for perform pilgrimage and to pray for myself and my children.”

According to the United Nations, more than 3,500 people have been killed, most of them civilians, in Syria’s uprising that began in March.

Saudi Arabia itself had been slightly touched by the unrest as Shiites held sporadic protests in its Eastern Province a few times over the past months.

But their movement was quickly contained by authorities in the conservative Sunni kingdom.

“We thank all the pilgrims for proving that they are Muslims who respect this (hajj) rite and for being cooperative,” the prince said.

Indonesian pilgrim Hamid Eddine also believes that “pilgrims must follow instructions to gain the rewards of hajj and to smoothly perform their pilgrimage.”

Saudi security forces have several times in the past confronted Iranian pilgrims holding anti-US and anti-Israeli protests.

In 1987, Saudi police efforts to stifle such a demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.

But no incidents were reported this year as Iranian pilgrims, put at around 97,000 — the maximum allowed for Iran under a Saudi system apportioning pilgrim quotas among the world’s biggest Muslim countries — held their protests inside their own camps on Saturday.

Already strained ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia became taut last month when the United States accused Iranian officials of having a hand in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Iran has strongly denied involvement and emphasized “good relations” with its Arab neighbor across the Gulf.

Most of this year’s three million Muslim pilgrims had left the holy city of Mecca after after a farewell circumambulation of the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque into which is set the Black Stone, Islam’s most sacred relic.

Others completed stoning of the devil on Wednesday — a ritual, which is carried out over three days in which pilgrims must stone the three pillars said to symbolize the devil.

In previous years, hundreds of people have been trampled to death in stampedes triggered by crowds trying to get close to the pillars to take their vengeance on the devil.

But this year, the stoning, like all other rituals, passed with no major incidents.

The ritual is an emulation of Ibrahim’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

Saudi authorities have installed a multi-level walkway through the stone-throwing site in a bid to avoid the trampling that caused the deaths of 364 people in 2006, 251 in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those who are able to.

AFP

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Turkey Rescue Efforts Hurt by Lack of Equipment

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Hürriyet Daily News

Search-and-rescue personnel working in the Van earthquake zone have decried their “primitive” working conditions and lack of technical equipment as they try and reach survivors from the eastern province’s devastating temblor.

“We are working with primitive tools, we have no equipment,” one rescuer told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Emergency personnel said they heard cries for help coming from under a collapsed building this morning and started to work on the wreckage to reach the survivors. The cries had stopped at around noon, they said, adding that they had to dig out the dead bodies of quake victims.

“We can’t get to survivors fast enough,” one rescue team member said.

The spirit among rescuers is noticeably low, and some members could only weep in frustration at the situation.

There is a device to find people under rubble, rescuers said, but added that they only had one of the devices in the district of Erciş, which was worst hit by the Oct. 23 quake.
“We yell into collapsed buildings, asking if anybody is there,” a rescue team member said.

Aid inadequate

Only one food distribution point was set up in Erciş and there was a significant lack of supplies and equipment. No new aid truck or supplies arrived for the hours that the Hürriyet Daily News was in Erciş.

Banks, hospitals and stores were all damaged or destroyed in the quake but there have been no reports of looting as people have continued to walk around Erciş in shock.

Many survivors said the only thing they wanted was some bread.

All but one of the homes in the nearby Yedikonak village was flattened in the quake.

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Saudi Arabia Tightens Media Laws

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Royal order threatens fines and closure of publications that jeopardize kingdom’s stability or offends clerics.

Security has been strengthened in Saudi Arabia in an effort to crush possible protests [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has tightened its control of the media, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order.

They also banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country”.

“All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests,” the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia, which is a major US ally, follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.
It has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Facebook call unheeded

Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

Minority Shias have staged a number of street marches in the eastern province, where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located.

Shias are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the country’s 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

In turn, the royal order banned the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen”.

King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

According to the amendment published on Friday, punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation.

It also allows for banning the writer from contributing to any media.

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Saudi Arabia Tightens Media Laws

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Royal order threatens fines and closure of publications that jeopardize kingdom’s stability or offends clerics.

Security has been strengthened in Saudi Arabia in an effort to crush possible protests [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has tightened its control of the media, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order.

They also banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country”.

“All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests,” the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia, which is a major US ally, follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.
It has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Facebook call unheeded

Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

Minority Shias have staged a number of street marches in the eastern province, where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located.

Shias are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the country’s 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

In turn, the royal order banned the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen”.

King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

According to the amendment published on Friday, punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation.

It also allows for banning the writer from contributing to any media.

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Saudi Arabia Detains Bloggers over Protest: Activists

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

JEDDAH (Reuters) – Authorities in Saudi Arabia have detained two Shi’ite bloggers this week for taking part in demonstrations in the country’s oil-producing Eastern Province, a Shi’ite website and activists said on Wednesday.

The Sunni Muslim monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and major U.S. ally, does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has not seen the kind of mass uprisings other countries in the region have over the past few months.

But minority Shi’ite Muslims in the Eastern Province, who have long complained of discrimination — a charge the government denies — have staged small demonstrations, which have led to some protesters being detained.

Shi’ite website, www.rasid.com, said on Wednesday police had stormed the houses of Mustafa al-Mubarak, 26, and Hussein al-Hashem, 25, arrested them and confiscated their computers,
The website also said a 58-year-old man named Samir Aldahim was also detained for taking part in the demonstrations.

A spokesperson for the Eastern Province police could not be reached for comment.

“The series of arrests are still continuing today,” said one activist who declined to be named for fear of being detained.

“Even ordinary people have been detained for taking part in demonstrations. They are summoned while at work or taken from their homes,” he said.

A Human Rights Watch report issued this month said Saudi Arabia had arrested over 160 activists since February.

“In this last week there were no less then 10 detentions, and they were all transferred to jail. Their families believe it is because they have participated in demonstrations,” the activist said.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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