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Wed 9 Mar 2011 04:26 PM

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Saudi minister says dialogue needed, not protest

Demonstrations would not bring reform in the world's largest oil exporter, Foreign Minister says

Saudi minister says dialogue needed, not protest
KINGS NEPHEW: Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal is the nephew of Saudi Arabias King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz (Getty Images)

Dialogue, not protest, is the best way to bring about change in Saudi
Arabia, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Wednesday as the country
braced for possible protests in the world's top oil exporter.

Inspired by unrest sweeping other Arab states, Shi'ite protesters have taken
to the streets in small numbers in eastern Saudi Arabia this month, with
further rallies called for Friday.

Faisal cautioned that demonstrations would not usher in reform to Saudi
Arabia, a bastion of religious conservatism, and said its Muslim clerics had
banned protests.

"The principle of dialogue, I believe, is the best way to address the
issues facing society," he told a news conference, warning foreign states
not to interfere in Saudi affairs.

"Change will come through the citizens of this kingdom and not through
foreign fingers, we don't need them," he said. "We will cut any
finger that crosses into the kingdom."

Saudi Arabia's huge oil wealth has provided a high standard of living
compared to many neighbours, and it was widely thought to be immune from
spreading unrest, but the rumblings of discontent from the Shi'ite minority
have alarmed Riyadh.

"The called-for reform does not come via protests and [the clerics]
have forbidden protests since they violate the Koran and the way of the Prophet
(PBUH)," Faisal said.

Protests by a disgruntled Shi'ite majority in neighbouring Bahrain are being
closely watched in Saudi Arabia, where Shi'ites make up about 15 percent of the
population.

US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said this week that Saudis had the
right to protest peacefully. Asked about this, Faisal said: "The kingdom
absolutely rejects any foreign interference in its internal affairs in any
shape or form."

Faisal added that the motives driving unrest buffeting numerous Arab nations
were not necessarily the same.

"Every country is different from the other. I can't link them and say
this is a rampant phenomenon," he said.

Faisal, who is the nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz,
said it was up to regional grouping the Arab League to decide what to do to
bring calm to Libya, where there is a violent uprising against its leader,
Muammar Gaddafi.

"The options to reach this goal, which is protecting the Libyans and
stopping bloodshed, are up to the Arab League," he said. Arab foreign
ministers are due to meet on Saturday in Cairo to discuss the Libyan crisis.

Libya's rebel leadership has called on the international community to impose
a no-fly zone to ground Gaddafi's warplanes.

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