Hundreds back Facebook call for Saudi protest

DUBAI Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:02pm IST

The Facebook logo is shown at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California May 26, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files

The Facebook logo is shown at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California May 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith/Files

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Hundreds of people have backed a Facebook campaign calling for a "day of rage" across Saudi Arabia next month to demand an elected ruler, greater freedom for women and release of political prisoners.

The page called for a "revolution of yearning" on March 11 in the kingdom, the world's biggest oil exporter and which is ruled by an absolute monarchy.

More than 460 people had endorsed the page by Wednesday morning, but it was impossible to verify how many of them were inside Saudi Arabia or whether any protest would materialise.

Arab uprisings which overthrew leaders in Tunisia and Egypt were mobilised by youths using social media, but activists in Saudi Arabia say a recent Internet call for a demonstration in Riyadh failed to bring anyone onto the streets.

A protest last month in Jeddah after floods swept through Saudi Arabia's second-biggest city was quickly broken up.

The demands included "that the ruler and members of the Shura (Consultative) Council be elected by the people" as well as calls for an independent judiciary, release of political prisoners and the right of freedom of expression and assembly.

They also sought a minimum wage of 10,000 riyals ($2,700), greater employment opportunities, establishing a watchdog to eliminate corruption and cancellation of "unjustified taxes and fees".

Other requests included rebuilding the armed forces, reforming Saudi Arabia's powerful and conservative Sunni Muslim clerics, and "the abolition of all illegal restrictions on women" in the kingdom.

Despite its oil wealth, Saudi Arabia is grappling with unemployment that hit 10.5 percent in 2009. It offers its 18 million nationals social benefits but they are considered less generous than those provided by other Gulf Arab oil producers.

Saudi state television said King Abdullah, returning home on Wednesday after months of absence for medical treatment, would grant benefits to Saudis worth billions of riyals.

The measures did not include political reforms in the absolute monarchy such as fresh municipal elections demanded by liberals or opposition groups. The kingdom has no elected parliament and does not tolerate public dissent.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by David Stamp)

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