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Saudi Arabian princes arrested over palace protest

Saudi authorities have reportedly detained a group of 11 Saudi princes who staged a protest over a decree that suspended payment of their utility bills. They were put in a maximum security prison, local media claims.

The princes gathered in a historic royal palace in Qasr al-Hokm to demand compensation for a death sentence issued against one of their relatives, Saudi media reported on Saturday. The group of 11 princes also decried the recent royal decree that introduced various austerity measures, including cutting state payment of water and electricity bills for the royals.

Saudi Arabia's royal family has many thousands of members, thanks to polygamy practiced in the kingdom. Some observers estimate that around 15,000 princes and princesses live in the oil-rich state. They have seen many of their perks cut as part of an economy drive pushed by the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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"They [protesting princes] were informed of the error of their demands, but they refused to leave Qasr al-Hokm," said the government-linked Sabq website, 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."

The al-Hayer compound is a maximum-security prison south of Riyadh that houses criminals, militants and al-Qaida terrorists.

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'Everybody is equal before the law'

The Sabq report did not identify the protesting princes by name. "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.

The account was collaborated by the Arabic-language Okaz daily. Saudi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Reuters news agency.

Read more: Saudi Arabia carries out major purge, cementing crown

Last year, a crackdown initiated by Mohammed bin Salman saw over 200 people arrested, including dozens of princes, ministers and billionaires. The prince explained the arrests as a part of an anti-corruption drive, but critics claim the crackdown was an attempt to consolidate power.

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Sweetening the deal

Also on Saturday, the state announced that it would boost stipends and benefits for citizens hurt by the economic reforms, especially the introduction of the value-added tax that went into effect at the start of the year.

According to a royal decree by King Salman, military personnel and public servants would receive a 1,000-riyal ($267, €222) monthly living allowance for one year. The bonus will be five times larger for soldiers serving at the border with war-torn Yemen.

The state would also raise student stipends and cover up to 850,000 riyals of the tax on any citizen's first home purchase. The measures aim to "soften the impact of economic reforms on Saudi households," the official statement said.

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dj/nm (Reuters, AP, AFP)

 

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