11 Saudi princes detained following protest: Report

#SaudiPurge

The princes were protesting against austerity measures introduced to reform the kingdom's economy

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah take part in the Annual Horse Race ceremony, in Riyadh (Reuters)
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Saturday 6 January 2018 13:05 UTC
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Saudi authorities have detained 11 princes after they gathered at a royal palace in Riyadh in a rare protest against austerity measures that included suspending payment of their utility bills, Saudi media reported on Saturday.

Saudi officials did not respond immediately to a request for a comment on the report.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has introduced reforms that included cutting subsidies, introducing value-added tax (VAT) and cutting perks to royal family members to try to cope with a drop in crude prices that has caused a budget deficit estimated at $52bn in 2018.

Online news website sabq.org said the princes had gathered at the Qasr a-Hokm, a historic royal palace, demanding the cancellation of a royal decree that stopped state payment of water and electricity bills for royal family members.

They were also demanding compensation for a death sentence issued against a relative, Sabq.org said.

"They were informed of the error of their demands, but they refused to leave Qasr al-Hokm," Sabq said, quoting unidentified sources.

"A royal order was issued to the royal guards ... to intervene and they were detained and put into al-Hayer prison in preparation to put them on trial."

It gave no details on the identity of the princes but said the leader of the group had been identified by the initials S.A.S..

"Everybody is equal before the law and anyone who does not implement regulations and instructions will be held accountable, no matter who he is," the website added.

Arabic-language Okaz daily carried a similar report. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

Saudi Arabia last year rounded up dozens of royal family members, current and former senior officials in a crackdown on corruption that has also strengthened the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

They were held at the five-star Ritz Hotel in the capital Riyadh while government officials negotiated financial settlements.

Saudi Arabia has aggressively changed its economy recently. On 1 January, the country changed the status of its national oil giant Aramco to a joint-stock company as part of a key step for an initial public offering of shares planned for later this year.

Last month, Saudi Arabia said its economy contracted for the first time in eight years due to austerity measures as it announced record spending to stimulate growth.

MbS, the architect of the "Vision 2030" programme of reforms for a post-oil era, has announced a host of large projects, including a futuristic mega-city with robots and driverless cars, which require about $500bn in investments.

He said the 2018 budget will have the largest state spending in the kingdom's history, which was evidence of success in spite of low world oil prices. He said improving living standards for Saudi citizens was a government priority, according to comments cited by state news agency SPA.