Demands for reform pressure Saudi king

Associated Press / February 28, 2011

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As more than 100 leading Saudi academics and activists urged King Abdullah yesterday to enact sweeping reforms, including setting up a constitutional monarchy, the king ordered that government-sector workers with temporary contracts be given permanent jobs in a move to preempt the unrest that has engulfed other Arab nations.

The activists’ statement, seen on several Saudi websites, reflects the undercurrent of tension that has simmered for years in the world’s largest oil producer.

While Abdullah is seen as a reformer, the pace of those reforms has been slow as Saudi officials balance the need to push the country forward with the perennial pressure from hard-line clergy in the conservative nation.

The statement, which was signed by 119 academics, activists, and businessmen, said the kingdom is facing a “prevalence of corruption and nepotism, the exacerbation of factionalism, and a widening in the gap between state and society.’’

They said oil wealth should be better distributed to the people instead of being channeled to expensive projects with few immediate benefits.

Abdullah offered a new incentive, ordering permanent contracts be given to government workers who have been employed under temporary ones. Analysts estimate the move would affect more than 50,000 people.

Yesterday also brought other developments in countries hit by unrest:

Arab League chief Amr Moussa, a popular career diplomat, said he plans to run in Egypt’s presidential election expected later this year.

Moussa, a former foreign minister, declared his candidacy a day after a constitutional reform panel recommended far-reaching reforms that relaxed rules limiting who can run for president.

Moussa, who was Egypt’s foreign minister for 10 years, is a harsh critic of Israel.

Earlier in the day, about 500 Egyptians protested in Tahrir Square to demand that Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq resign, saying he is a continuation of Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

Omani security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters demanding political reforms, killing at least one person in the strategic Persian Gulf country. The clashes marked a significant escalation in two days of protests in Oman and showed the unrest is spreading farther across the region.

Thousands of protesters streamed through Bahrain’s diplomatic area and other sites, chanting against the country’s king and rejecting his appeals for talks to end the two-week crisis. At least three marches paralyzed parts of the capital, Manama, reflecting a growing defiance of calls by Bahrain’s rulers to hold talks to ease the showdown.

Yemen’s opposition parties said they will join young protesters in their push to bring down the country’s beleaguered president. The announcement marked the second major setback in two days for President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after two powerful chiefs from his own tribe abandoned him.

Police and security officials displayed a massive show of force in Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities, trying to snuff out any hint of protests modeled on the uprisings in the Middle East. Premier Wen Jiabao, meanwhile, used a morning Internet chat to promise to purge senior officials who are corrupt and to rein in inflation and rising home prices. top stories on Twitter

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