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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Saudi unrest blamed on 'sorcerer'

Najran is one of Saudi Arabia's remotest areas
Saudi Arabia has blamed unrest in the southwestern province of Najran, in which tribal sources say dozens have died, on the arrest of a foreign "sorcerer".


The authorities said one policeman and two civilians were killed in clashes on Sunday after demonstrators protesting against the arrest marched on the home of the Najran governor, Prince Mishaal ibn Saud.

But in Yemen a leader of the Yam tribe, whose branch in Najran is thought to be at the centre of the protests, said more than 40 people died in clashes, after the security forces cracked down on local Ismaili Muslims.

Ashoura

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the tribal leader, quoted by Associated Press from the Yemen capital San'a, said the trouble started after the Mutawa, or religious police, had stormed Ismaili mosques, confiscated religious books and manuscripts and arrested three senior clergymen.

Another report, attributed to the London-based Saudi opposition activist Sa'd Faqih, said Najran had been tense for more than a week after Ismailis had publicly celebrated Ashoura, the Shi'a festival commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein in the 7th century.

The reports coincide with increasing international criticism of alleged widespread human rights violations and persecution of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia.

Illegal practice

The official Saudi Press Agency gave a very different version of what had happened, stressing that Ismaili Muslims enjoyed total freedom of worship in Saudi Arabia.

The agency said security forces entered a house in Najran where a sorcerer lived. One of those present in the house shot at the security men.

"The sorcerer was arrested not because he is Ismaili but because he was involved in an illegal practice in the kingdom," the agency quoted Prince Mishaal as saying.

Correspondents say healing with talismans or using amulets or charms to ward off the evil eye and affect events are all considered sorcery in Saudi Arabia.

Such practices are banned in the kingdom which ruled by members of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam.

The agency said the policeman was killed when demonstrators began shooting at the governor's house after the earlier incident.

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See also:

24 Apr 00 | Middle East
Policeman 'killed' in Saudi demos
17 Mar 00 | Middle East
Amnesty demands Saudi probe
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
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28 Mar 00 | Middle East
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