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Clerics shaken by public anger at Saudi's religion cops

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM

October 12, 2003

ABU DHABI - Saudi clerics appear alarmed by the increased attacks on religious police.

Leading clerics have appealed to Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Aziz to bolster support for the religious police in wake of street fights in several cities as well as attacks in the kingdom-controlled media. The clerics met with Saudi leaders and appealed to them to increase enforcement of Islamic law.

The religious police, termed the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, has been termed brutal by leading Saudi columnists. In 2002, the police were blamed for the death of 15 female students who were prevented from leaving a burning building because they were deemed as improperly dressed.

Over the last month, Saudi journalists and witnesses have described arrests by religious police of married couples who were strolling in Saudi cities, Middle East Newsline reported.

In September, religious police and bystanders clashed as officers tried to arrest young pedestrians.

Last week, the governor of Mecca, Prince Abdul Majid, was called on to replace many of the religious police officers at the Grand Mosque. The mosque is the site of pilgrimage for millions of Muslims every year.

Columnist Hissah Al Oun described the beatings of elderly women by religious police who patrolled the mosque. Al Oun said the Saudi and foreign pilgrims had been trying to find a seat closer to the house of worship when they were attacked.

"The soldiers began kicking the women in their stomachs," Al Oun wrote. "Some fell down with their belongings scattered in all directions. Some of the soldiers even used their hands to push the women, an act that Islam strictly forbids."