Saudi Arabia warns against political rallies in Hajj

AFP | Oct 04, 2012 | JORDAN TIMES

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi security chief warned on Thursday that the Muslim kingdom will not tolerate any attempt to exploit the Hajj pilgrimage to stage political rallies, as Iranians have in the past, provoking deadly clashes with police.

“We will not allow any attempt to exploit this gathering for aims that are not related to the rituals,” said General Saad Al Khelyawi, the commander of Hajj security forces.

“All attempts to threaten the security of the Hajj and pilgrims will be dealt with firmness,” he said, as pilgrims began to arrive in Saudi Arabia for the world’s largest annual gathering which peaks around October 25.

He was responding to a question in a media briefing about reported calls from Iran to stage a “repudiation of polytheists” rally, a ritual promoted by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to denounce the West and Israel.

Saudi security forces have confronted Iranian pilgrims several times in the past for holding anti-US and anti-Israeli protests.

In 1987, police efforts to stifle such a demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.

Iranian pilgrims have since held their rallies in tents without provoking clashes with security forces in the Sunni-dominated kingdom.

Last year, nearly three million Muslim pilgrims performed the Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and should be done by every able Muslim at least once in a lifetime.

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