Saudi Ara­bia sev­ers diplo­matic ties with Iran

Ten­sions grow over ex­e­cu­tion of Shi­ite cleric

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Saudi Ara­bia an­nounced Sun­day it was sev­er­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions with Shi­ite pow­er­house Iran amid es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions over the Sunni king­dom’s ex­e­cu­tion of a prom­i­nent Shi­ite cleric.

The move came hours af­ter demon­stra­tors stormed and set fire to the Saudi Em­bassy in Tehran in protest over the death of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel al-Jubeir said Ira­nian diplo­matic per­son­nel had 48 hours to leave his coun­try and all Saudi diplo­matic per­son­nel in Iran had been re­called home.

The mass ex­e­cu­tion of al-Nimr and 46 oth­ers — the largest car­ried out by Saudi Ara­bia in three and a half decades — has laid bare the di­vi­sions grip­ping the Mid­dle East, where demon­stra­tors took to the streets from Bahrain to Pak­istan in protest over the out­spo­ken cleric’s death.

It also il­lus­trates the king­dom’s new ag­gres­sive­ness un­der King Sal­man. Dur­ing his reign, Saudi Ara­bia has led a coali­tion fight­ing Shi­ite rebels in Ye­men and staunchly op­posed re­gional Shi­ite power Iran, even as Tehran struck a nu­clear deal with world pow­ers.

Iran’s top leader warned Saudi Ara­bia on Sun­day of “divine re­venge’’ over al-Nimr’s death, while Riyadh ac­cused Tehran of sup­port­ing “ter­ror­ism’’ in an es­ca­lat­ing war of words that threat­ened to in­ten­sify even as the U.S. and the Euro­pean Union sought to calm the re­gion.

Al-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.

On Satur­day, Saudi Ara­bia put al-Nimr and three other Shi­ite dis­si­dents to death, along with a num­ber of al-Qaida mil­i­tants. AlNimr’s ex­e­cu­tion drew protests from Shi­ites around the world, who backed his call for re­form and wider po­lit­i­cal free­dom for their sect.

While the split be­tween Sun­nis and Shi­ites dates back to the early days of Is­lam and dis­agree­ments over the suc­ces­sor to Prophet Muham­mad, those di­vi­sions have only grown as they in­ter­twine with re­gional pol­i­tics, with both Iran and Saudi Ara­bia vy­ing to be the Mideast’s top power.

Iran ac­cuses Saudi Ara­bia of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism in part be­cause it backs Syr­ian rebel groups fight­ing to oust its em­bat­tled ally, Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. Riyadh points to Iran’s back­ing of the Le­banese Hezbol­lah and other Shi­ite mil­i­tant groups in the re­gion as a sign of its sup­port for ter­ror­ism. Iran also has backed Shi­ite rebels in Ye­men known as Houthis.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, con­demned al-Nimr’s ex­e­cu­tion, say­ing Sun­day the cleric “nei­ther in­vited peo­ple to take up arms nor hatched covert plots. The only thing he did was pub­lic crit­i­cism.’’

Iran’s pow­er­ful Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard said Saudi Ara­bia’s “me­dieval act of sav­agery’’ would lead to the “down­fall’’ of the coun­try’s monar­chy.

Saudi Ara­bia’s For­eign Min­istry said that by con­demn­ing the ex­e­cu­tion, Iran had “re­vealed its true face rep­re­sented in sup­port for ter­ror­ism.’’

In Tehran, a protest out­side the Saudi Em­bassy early Sun­day quickly grew vi­o­lent as pro­test­ers threw stones and gaso­line bombs at the em­bassy, set­ting part of the build­ing ablaze, ac­cord­ing to Gen. Hos­sein Sa­je­dinia, the coun­try’s top po­lice of­fi­cial, the semi-of­fi­cial Tas­nim news agency re­ported.

AP PHOTO

Ira­nian demon­stra­tors chant slogans dur­ing a protest de­nounc­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion Shi­ite cleric in Saudi Ara­bia, seen in posters, in front of the Saudi Em­bassy, in Tehran, Sun­day.

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