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Saudi Arabia Bans All Protests

Anti-riot police stand-off with protesters in the Gulf coast town of Awwamiya, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2011

Saudi Arabia has banned all protests following several small gatherings of demonstrators demanding change in the conservative kingdom.

The country's Interior Ministry announced Saturday on state television that security forces would use what it called "all measures" to prevent any attempt to disrupt public order.

The ban follows a series of protests by minority Shi'ite Muslims, calling for the release of prisoners they said were being held unjustly. Media reports say police made a number of arrests during these events.

Most of Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite minority lives in the country's oil-rich east. This region borders the kingdom of Bahrain, which has been the scene of protests by majority Shi'ites against their Sunni rulers. Saudi Shi'ites - like their Bahraini bretheran - complain that their Sunni-controlled government discriminates against them.

Opposition activists in Saudi Arabia have made public calls on Facebook for two organized rallies, one on March 11 as a "Day of Rage," and the other on March 20.

So-called "Day of Rage" rallies have spread across the region, contributing to the ouster of Tunisia's and Egypt's leaders.

Late last month, more than 100 Saudi academics, activists and businessmen called for major reforms in Saudi Arabia, including the establishment of a constitutional monarchy.

Their statement published online also called for members of the kingdom's advisory assembly (known as the Shura Council) to be elected rather than appointed. In addition, the statement included demands for economic and social reforms, in a country where women's freedoms are very restricted.

In February, Saudi King Abdullah announced a number of new economic incentives to his people, including pay raises and increased spending on social programs. The total package of reforms is worth an estimated $36 billion.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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