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Saudi Arabia severs ties with Iran: foreign minister

Saudi Arabia has cut ties with Iran and expelled the Islamic Republic’s diplomats, a day after its embassy in Tehran was attacked and set ablaze to protest the Saudis’ execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a statement on his website Sunday “divine vengeance will befall the Saudi politicians”, for al-Nimr’s execution.

And the American State Department said the execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced”.

Nimr, who spent more than a decade studying theology in Iran, was among a group of 47 Shia and Sunnis executed Saturday on charges of terrorism.

Saudi foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir’s visit to Islamabad on Sunday has been postponed, the foreign office said.

The US, which is allied with the oil-rich kingdom, urged diplomatic engagement and called for leaders in the region to take “affirmative steps” to reduce tensions after the Saudi announcement.

NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports that Iran’s supreme leader promised divine retribution while Iran’s president condemned both the execution and the subsequent storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran on Saturday.

“The only thing he did was public criticism”, Khamenei said.

Iran officials argued that “peaceful opposition is a fundamental right”.

Last year, 157 people were put to death in Saudi Arabia, compared to 90 in 2014.

The sheikh’s brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, told The Associated Press that Saudi officials informed his family that the cleric had been buried in an undisclosed cemetery, a development that could lead to further protests. Iranian police have since arrested a number of demonstrators.

An Egyptian national by the name Mohammed Fathi Abula’ti Al-Sayed was among those executed by Saudi Arabia, according to the statement issued by the Saudi Interior Ministry.

On Sunday, dozens of protesters assembled outside the USA consulate on University Avenue to decry the executions. Shiites are a minority in Saudi Arabia, significantly outnumbered by Sunni Muslims – as they are in most Middle Eastern nations. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki warns that the executions could very well “topple the Saudi regime”.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry later said it had summoned Iran’s envoy to the kingdom to protest the critical Iranian reaction to the sheikh’s execution, saying it represented “blatant interference” in its internal affairs.

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