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The Latest: Protesters enter Saudi embassy in Iran
The Associated Press
Jan. 03, 2016
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The latest developments following Saudi Arabia's execution of 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shiite cleric who had rallied demonstrations in the kingdom (All times local).
Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency says protesters upset over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia have entered the Saudi embassy in Tehran, setting fires and throwing papers from the roof.
The Saturday night ISNA report said that the country's top police official, Gen. Hossein Sajedinia, has rushed to the scene and police were working to disperse the crowd.
The demonstrators were protesting the Saudi government's execution on Saturday of prominent Shiite cleric and activist Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, along with 46 other condemned prisoners.
Al-Nimr was one of the leaders Saudi Arabia's Shiite Muslim minority and was convicted for his role in multiple protests that turned violent. He remained a staunch critic of the ruling Al Saud family, but maintained that he never advocated violence.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby says the Saudi Arabian government needs to respect and protect human rights after the execution of 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shiite (SHEE'-eyet) cleric.
Kirby says in a statement Saturday that the U.S. is calling on Saudi Arabia to ensure fair judicial proceedings and permit peaceful expression of dissent while working with all community leaders to defuse tensions after the executions.
Kirby said the U.S. is particularly concerned that the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric and political activist risks making sectarian tensions worse at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.
Saudi Arabia says it has summoned Iran's envoy to the kingdom to protest critical comments by Iranian authorities over the execution of an influential Saudi Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
In a statement late Saturday by the Saudi Press Agency, the Saudi Foreign Ministry described the Iranian criticism of its judicial system as "blatant interference" in its internal affairs.
Earlier, the Iranian Foreign Ministry had summoned the Saudi envoy in Tehran to protest the execution of the Shiite cleric, who was among 47 prisoners executed Saturday. Iran's parliament speaker warned that the execution would prompt "a maelstrom" in Saudi Arabia.
The execution threatens to stoke further sectarian tensions between the regional rivals who back opposing sides in civil wars in Yemen and Syria.
The brother of an executed Shiite cleric says Saudi authorities have told the family that they had already buried his body, but didn't tell them at which cemetery.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 prisoners executed by Saudi Arabia on Saturday in a move that threatened to further damage Sunni-Shiite relations in the region.
The sheikh's brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, says the family had hoped to bury him in his hometown in eastern Saudi Arabia. His funeral would have attracted thousands of supporters as well as large numbers of protesters.
Mohammed al-Nimr told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Saturday evening that the family will be holding prayers and accepting condolences at the Imam Hussain Mosque in the village of al-Awamyia, where the sheikh used to pray.
Germany's Foreign Ministry has condemned the mass executions conducted in Saudi Arabia. Germany does not allow the death penalty.
"Our position is clear: the death penalty is an inhumane form of punishment that we reject under all circumstances," the ministry statement said. "Together with its EU partners, Germany is working to abolish and ban the death penalty worldwide."
In addition, the German government's human rights envoy, Christoph Straesser, said on Twitter, "#Stop_deathpenalty - every execution is one too many. Appalled by reports about recent executions in #Saudi."
The Foreign Ministry statement specifically criticized the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, saying it will exacerbate widespread Sunni-Shiite tensions in the Middle East.
"The execution of Nimr al-Nimr strengthens our existing concerns about the growing tensions and the deepening rifts in the region," it said.
Iran's parliament speaker says the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr will prompt a "maelstrom" in Saudi Arabia.
In comments posted on Iranian state television's website, Ali Larijani said, "Nimr's martyrdom will put Saudi Arabia in a maelstrom. Saudi will not pass through this maelstrom."
An Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq has condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of prominent opposition Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and called on Baghdad to reconsider the re-opening of the Saudi embassy.
In a statement aired on its TV network, Asaib Ahl al-Haq called the execution, which was announced Saturday, a "new crime" carried out by the Saudi royal family.
It called on the Iraqi government to "reconsider the benefit of having a Saudi embassy in Iraq, with a suspicious ambassador and goals."
Saudi Arabia is gearing up to re-open its embassy in Shiite-dominated Iraq for the first time in 25 years. The kingdom closed the embassy in 1990, after Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion of Kuwait.
Al-Nimr, who led anti-government protests by the kingdom's Shiite minority before his arrest in 2012, was among 47 people whose execution was announced by Saudi authorities on Saturday.
An international rights group which works to abolish the death penalty has condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of 47 people, saying two were teenagers when they were detained.
Reprieve says the 47 people whose execution was announced Saturday include four Shiite dissidents.
It says one of the dissidents, Ali al-Ribh, was 18 when he was arrested in 2012, and another, Mohammed al-Shuyokh, was 19.
Both were convicted on charges related to anti-government protests in eastern Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite minority is centered. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric and central figure in those protests, was also among those executed.
Reprieve said in a statement that the Saudi government "is continuing to target those who have called for domestic reform in the kingdom."
Saudi Arabia's top cleric has defended the execution of 47 people, calling it a "mercy to the prisoners" because it would save them from committing more evil acts and prevent chaos.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency that the executions announced Saturday were in line with Islamic law and the need to safeguard the kingdom's security.
Islamic scholars around the world hold vastly different views on the application of the death penalty in Shariah law, with Saudi judges adhering to one of the strictest interpretations.
The 47 who were executed included an al-Qaida ideologue as well as Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Shiite cleric who had rallied anti-government protests before his arrest in 2012.
The brother of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition leader who was among 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia, says he is shocked by the move.
Mohammed al-Nimr told The Associated Press by phone Saturday that the executions came as a "big shock" because "we thought the authorities could adopt a political approach to settle matters without bloodshed."
He says the family has not yet been asked to pick up the body but that a funeral would be held as soon as possible.
The execution of al-Nimr was expected to escalate tensions in eastern Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite minority is concentrated, and Bahrain, which has seen years of simmering unrest between its Shiite majority and Saudi-allied Sunni monarchy.
Mohammed al-Nimr said "there will be reactions" but urged people to "adopt peaceful means when expressing their anger."
Iran has strongly condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Shiite cleric.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said Saturday that the execution of al-Nimr, "who had no means other than speech to pursue his political and religious objectives, only shows the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility." His statement was carried by state-run Press TV.
Saudi Arabia announced the execution of 47 prisoners on Saturday, including al-Qaida militants convicted of deadly attacks and at least four Shiite dissidents.
Al-Nimr, arrested in 2012, was a central figure in demonstrations by the kingdom's Shiite minority calling for greater rights.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are regional rivals, and support opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.