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Middle East france 24

Saudi Arabia allies suspend Iran ties over Shiite cleric row

© AFP | Protests spread to Bahrain, a majority Sunni state, on Sunday

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-04

Following Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries on Monday moved to scale back or sever diplomatic ties with Iran amid growing tensions over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

A day after Saudi Arabia said it was cutting ties with the Islamic republic after its embassy in Tehran was attacked by an angry mob, Bahrain followed suit, giving Iranian embassy and consular staff 48 hours to leave the country.

Sudan and the United Arab Emirates later rallied behind oil-rich Saudi Arabia, with Khartoum ejecting Iran’s ambassador and Abou Dabi announcing it was downgrading diplomatic ties with Tehran.

The row between the two regional heavyweights was sparked by Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute leading Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. On news of the execution, enraged Iranians stormed into the Saudi embassy on Sunday, destroying furniture and lighting fires.

"In response to the barbaric attacks on the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad ... the government of Sudan announces the immediate severing of ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Iranian demonstrators also attacked a consulate in Iran’s second city of Mashhad.

Protests spread to Bahrain, a Sunni kingdom which has a Shiite majority population. 

Nimr, a prominent opponent of the ruling Al Saud dynasty, was executed on Saturday along with three other Shiites and 43 members of al Qaeda.

Saudi authorities said they had asked their Iranian officials to ensure security at the embassy, but Tehran failed to protect it. In response, Riyadh cut ties with Iran, ordering diplomats, as well as consular and embassy staff representing Tehran, to leave the country within 48 hours.

Later Sunday, a Saudi Arabian man was killed in the home town of the executed Shiite cleric when gunmen opened fire on police, according to Saudi state media.

Tehran hit back on Monday, accusing Saudi Arabia of exploiting the embassy attack to fuel tensions in the region, adding that it was committed to protecting foreign diplomatic missions.

"Iran... is committed to provide diplomatic security based on international conventions. But Saudi Arabia, which thrives on tensions, has used this incident as an excuse to fuel the tensions," Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in televised remarks.

‘Inhuman’ execution

The 56-year-old cleric's execution has fuelled long-simmering tensions between the Middle East rivals.

Relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-ruled Iran have been strained for decades, with Riyadh frequently accusing Tehran of interfering in Arab affairs.

The two countries have also been divided over the nearly five-year war in Syria, where Iran is backing the regime, and the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Shiite rebels.

Fears for Syria peace talks

Nimr was a central figure in Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned Nimr's execution, saying "God will not forgive" the kingdom for putting him to death.

"The unjustly spilt blood of this martyr will have quick consequences," he said, adding, "It will haunt the politicians of this regime."

Meanwhile, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani condemned the execution as “inhuman”, but also urged the prosecution of “extremist individuals” for attacking the embassy and the Saudi consulate, state media reported.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

 

Date created : 2016-01-04

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  • IRAN

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  • IRAN

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