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Shiite cleric’s execution in Saudi exposes Mideast divisions

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned Saudi Arabia’s execution of al-Nimr, but also branded those who attacked the Saudi Embassy as “extremists”.

On late Saturday, angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi diplomat mission against the Saudi execution of 47 individuals over terrorism charges, including a Saudi Shiite cleric, Namir Al Namir, a member of Saudi Shiite community. Some protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the embassy, setting off a fire in part of the building, said the country’s top police official, General Hossein Sajedinia, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed along with 46 others convicted of terrorism-related offenses in Saudi Arabia Saturday.

“It is unjustifiable”, he said in a statement. Al-Nimr’s execution drew protests from Shiites around the world, who backed his call for reform and wider political freedom for their sect.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the Obama administration was aware of the Saudis’ severing of ties with Tehran.

“We have received with much sorrow and regret the news of the martyrdom of a number of our brother believers in the region whose pure blood was shed in an unjust aggression”, Sistani said in a letter addressed to the population of Saudi Arabia’s eastern Qatif region where Nimr used to preach. The two countries each back opposing sides in civil wars in Yemen and in Syria.

Across the region, demonstrators took to the streets Sunday in protest over the execution of al-Nimr. Held under the banner of the Majlis-e-Ulama-e-Hind (MUH), an all India organization of Shia clerics, the protest also saw participation of some Sunni Muslims and Hindu religious leaders including Sunni Sufi leader Maulana Hasnain and Acharya Pramod Krishnan.

British Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood on Sunday expressed “disappointment” at the mass executions in Saudi Arabia, saying Britain will continue to raise these cases with the Saudi authorities. “We have stressed this to the Saudi authorities and also expressed our disappointment at the mass executions”. Already yesterday there were public calls for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to shut the embassy down again.

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