Friday, March 11, 2011
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a massive deployment of security forces suppressed protests there:
As security forces and pro-government vigilantes beat back protesters here on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived on an unannounced visit to offer American support to the royal family and prod the king and crown prince toward talks with protesters demanding more democracy.
His visit took place against a backdrop of large and continuing protests across numerous Arab capitals on Friday, with neither repression nor government concessions succeeding in stemming the growing tide of anger and demands for change.
The protests were for the most part peaceful, although there were scattered reports of injuries from tear gas and other attacks by government security forces seeking to prevent the demonstrations.
Here in this tiny Persian gulf kingdom, security forces firing rubber bullets and pro-government Sunni vigilantes wielding sticks and swords beat back tens of thousands of predominantly Shiite protesters as they neared the royal palace.
It is becoming more and more evident that the most prominent adversary of the protests is the US:
The calm in the Saudi capital may have been achieved partly by an incident on Thursday in the eastern city of al-Qatif, where police shot and wounded at least two protesters. Unconfirmed reports described trouble there again.
Protesters rallied in Hofuf, close to the eastern Ghawar oil field and major refinery installations. The city has seen scattered protests by Shias who complain of discrimination by the Sunni majority.
Saudi sources also reported marches involving hundreds of people in al-Ahsa and Awwamiya near al-Qatif.
Security in Riyadh was high-profile and intense, with helicopters hovering overhead and police checks on cars and individuals heading for mosques, where protests were expected after prayers.
Police cruisers were given orders to pull over any car, tweeted Mohammed al-Qahtani, president of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association. I saw several cars being searched by officers, and they checked IDs.
If only all those protesters would just go away, and allow the President to sleep more soundly.
So Mr. Obama has thrown his weight behind attempts by the royal family of Bahrain, the home of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, to survive, although protesters say their demands have not been met. He has said little about political grievances in Saudi Arabia, a major oil supplier, where there were reports on Thursday of a violent dispersal of Shiite protesters. And he has limited White House critiques of Yemen, where the government is helping the United States root out a terrorist threat, even after that government opened fire on demonstrators.