Saudi cleric issues rare warning in call for reform

By REUTERS
March 16, 2013 21:43

 
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RIYADH - One of Saudi Arabia's leading clerics has delivered a rare warning to the government that it could face "the spark of violence" if concerns over detainees, poor services and corruption are not addressed.

The conservative Islamic kingdom avoided any major unrest among its Sunni Muslim majority during Arab Spring revolts elsewhere after King Abdullah pledged $110 billion in social spending and the powerful clergy backed a ban on protests.

Any signs of public opposition to the government are closely watched in the world's top oil exporter and there have been increasingly frequent small demonstrations in recent months by the families of people held as suspected Islamist militants.

Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, a conservative who was imprisoned from 1994-99 for agitating for political change and has 2.4 million followers on Twitter, expressed his concerns in an open letter on the social media site.

He described a mood of stagnation which he said was caused by a lack of housing, unemployment, poverty, corruption, weak health and education systems, the plight of the detainees and the absence of any prospect of political reform.

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