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The News Line: Feature Saudi Arabian anger at government gas price hikes! SAUDI Arabians have taken to the social networking services, venting their anger at the government for hiking domestic gas prices and introducing value added tax (VAT). London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper said on Sunday that furious Saudi citizens had created a ‘salary is not enough’ hashtag on Twitter.

According to various media outlets, the kingdom almost doubled gasoline prices and introduced a five per cent VAT on most goods and services on Monday. The paper said the prices of thousands of goods and services had soared, including gasoline prices which had been hiked 82-126 per cent. The ‘salary is not enough’ hashtag has been recreated four times so far after reaching its follow limit.

Unemployed Saudis, who according to 2016 estimates comprised more than 5.1 per cent of the population, have created another hashtag named ‘the unemployed, the forgotten.’ New footage circulated online seemed to show a Saudi citizen setting fire to a gas station in protest at the fuel price spikes.

The kingdom has been trying to diversify its economy which is reeling from falling oil prices and its costly war on Yemen. Crude prices tumbled last year after Saudi Arabia flooded the market with additional oil. Last month, the country whose economy contracted by 0.5 in 2016 cut the government subsidy on electricity supplies for the second time in two years, leading to a sharp rise in bills.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb confirmed that 11 royals had been arrested after gathering in front of a palace in protest at government cuts of their water and electricity subsidies, Sabq paper reported. It said those arrested were transferred to the al-Ha’ir security prison south of the capital.

The protests have raged on despite King Salman’s efforts to soothe the public on Saturday by ordering a 1,000-riyal ($266) increase in monthly payments of state employees. The payout to Saudi troops involved in the kingdom’s war on Yemen was increased five times the rest of the state employees as per the order as the hugely-deadly warfare becomes more and more unpopular. Mojeb said the royals apprehended on Saturday for protesting over the kingdom’s austerity measures would face trial for ‘disrupting public peace and order.’

The princes were also demanding compensation for a death sentence issued against one of their cousins, convicted of murder and executed in 2016. ‘Despite being informed that their demands are not lawful, the 11 princes refused to leave the area, disrupting public peace and order,’ Mojeb said in a statement issued by Information Ministry. Following their arrest, they have been charged on a number of counts in relation to these offences,’ the statement added.

Separately, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that a prominent Saudi cleric arrested in a crackdown on dissent in September was being held without charge or contact with the outside world. Salman al-Awda was among more than 20 people arrested in what the Saudi government has said was a crackdown on ‘intelligence activities... for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests.’

Awda’s family, however, believes he is being held over a tweet linked to neighbouring Qatar.
Riyadh cut ties with Doha last June, accusing it of backing ‘terrorism.’ Doha rejects the claim.
Saudi activists have said al-Awda’s brother Khaled has also been detained for disclosing that the cleric had been arrested.

The kingdom has widened the scope of its ‘anti-terror’ laws in what rights bodies denounce as a controversially-restrictive action against civic freedoms. Saudi officials have arrested nearly a dozen princes amid the oil-rich kingdom’s purported anti-graft campaign, which is considered the biggest purge of political dissidents and the elite in the country’s modern history.

Members of the Saudi Arabian Royal Guard Regiment arrested 11 princes outside the Royal Palace in Riyadh on Saturday as they were protesting against a decision to cut off their privileges, Arabic-language Sabq online newspaper reported. Informed sources, requesting anonymity, said the princes were demanding the cancellation of a royal order, which calls for the suspension of payment for the costs of electricity and water used by princes. The sources added that the arrested princes had been transferred to al-Ha’ir Prison, located approximately 25 miles south of Riyadh, where they are awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, four poets have been sentenced to jail over writing poems in criticism of senior members of the ruling al-Saud regime, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to a report published by Arabic-language Arabi 21 online newspaper, Abdullah Atqan al-Salami and Mohammed Eid al-Hawaiti were sentenced each to ten years in jail, while Manif al-Munkara and Sultan al-Shibani al-Atibi were handed down five-year jail terms.

The four poets got arrested last October as they were attending a wedding ceremony in northern Saudi Arabia, and reading their poems aloud. Dozens of princes, ministers and former ministers were detained in late December on the order of Saudi Arabia’s so-called Anti-Corruption Committee headed by the Crown Prince, in a crackdown, which is widely believed to be aimed at consolidating his power.

The detained individuals are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and misappropriation of public funds for personal benefits. Prince al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, the chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding Company, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, the founder of Al Tayyar Travel Group, and Amr al-Dabbagh, the chairman of builder Red Sea International, are among the top business executives detained during the purge. Political analysts say Saudi King Salman plans to relinquish power in favour of his son who is pursuing a self-promotion campaign under the cover of tackling high-level corruption.

Pundits believe the targeting of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing elite represents a shift from family rule to a more authoritarian style of governance based on a single man. Riyadh has taken on more aggressive policies since Bin Salman’s promotion to the position of defence minister and deputy crown prince in 2015, and later to the position of crown prince.

The kingdom is currently struggling with plummeting oil prices as the Al Saud regime also faces criticism over its deadly military campaign against neighbouring Yemen, which it launched in March 2015. Many also see Riyadh’s policies as a major cause of the crises in the region, especially in Syria.

• The Egyptian wing of Daesh Takfiri terrorists has released a new execution video, declaring war on the Palestinian Hamas resistance movement based in Gaza. The video, released last Wednesday, purports to show the execution of a man who Daesh claims cooperated with Hamas’ armed wing.

‘Never surrender to them. Use explosives, silenced pistols and sticky bombs. Bomb their courts and their security locations, for these are the pillars of tyranny that prop up its throne,’ said one of the militants in the video.

The Egyptian wing of Daesh, known as the Sinai Province, is notorious for its brutal massacres, including the Sinai 2015 plane crash which killed 224 passengers and mass killing of over 300 people at a Sufi mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the deadliest attack in modern Egyptian history. The video comes as Hamas has been cooperating with Egyptian security forces to restore stability to Sinai, which borders Gaza.

In October, the Palestinian resistance movement arrested four senior Daesh terrorists in Sinai.
In July 2015, Daesh released a video saying that it would overthrow Hamas ‘tyrants’ for their perceived lack of religious rulings in Gaza. Takfiri groups such as Daesh have never attacked Israel despite operating close to Syria’s borders with the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel is widely believed to be supporting terrorists in Syria by launching airstrikes against various targets there from time to time.
 
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