Opposition leader slams Syria over Saudi row




"(Vice-President Faruq) Al Shara’s remarks are part of the policy pursued by the ruling clique, which aims at severing Syrian links with the Arab world and tying it further to Iran’s regional strategy," Abdel Halim Khaddam told the Saudi daily Al Watan from his Paris exile.

Khaddam, who resigned as Syrian vice president in 2005 to join the opposition, said that the Damascus regime’s "campaign against Saudi Arabia" should be seen in the context of Iran’s regional strategy and Syria’s role in it.

This is because Saudi Arabia "constitutes one of the main barriers to Iranian hegemony in the region, be it in the Gulf, Iraq, Palestine or Lebanon," he said.

Khaddam, a powerful and wealthy figure of the Baathist regime which has ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than four decades, was commenting on the row sparked by Shara’s criticism of the kingdom.

Syria moved on Saturday to calm the spat, saying the statements attributed to Shara had been distorted.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday launched a fierce attack on the Syrian official, accusing him of making false statements and seeking to "stoke disorder in the region" after he claimed that Riyadh’s regional role has become paralysed.

Relations between Riyadh and Damascus have been fraught since disagreements over last summer’s war between Israel and Lebanon’s Syrian-backed Shi’ite movement Hezbollah.

They were further strained after the Hezbollah-led Lebanese opposition launched a campaign to oust the government of Western-backed Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is close to Saudi Arabia.




Saudi activists call for release of reformists



AFP: More than 60 Saudi activists have signed a petition calling for the release of a group of reformists held in the kingdom since early February accused of funding terrorism.

The petition was signed by 67 activists and sent to the justice ministry and advisory Shura council in Riyadh, as well as to two government-sanctioned human rights watchdogs.

The petition said the reformists had been held for longer than six months without a trial and that under Saudi law they should therefore be released.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that has taken tentative steps towards reform, including holding male-only elections in 2005 to pick half of the members of municipal councils.

The petition stated the seven reformists had been arrested in an “undignified way” and had been “denied and access to lawyers to be informed of the specific accusations of their detention.”

It listed those being held as Issam Basrawi, Saud Al-Hashimi, Suleiman al-Rashudi, Sharif Khalib, Musa Al-Qarni, Abdul Rahman al-Shamiri and Abdul Aziz Al-Khariji.

It also said that the reformists should be compensated upon their release.

Writer Mohammed bin Hudeijan Al-Harbi said in April that three of the reformists being held had themselves signed a petition to King Abdullah calling for the establishment of an Islam-based constitutional monarchy.

The petition demanded the introduction of a parliament “elected by all adults, men and women” in oil-rich Saudi Arabia.




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