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Saudi-Iranian tensions Swiss summon Saudi diplomat over executions

Iranian anti-riot police stand guard during a demonstration near the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran.

(Keystone)

The Swiss foreign ministry has summoned the Saudi Arabian chargé d’affaires to express its opposition to the mass execution of 47 people, including a prominent Shiite cleric.

In a statement issued on Monday, the foreign ministry said it had summoned the Saudi diplomat to explain Switzerland’s principled opposition to the use of the death penalty.

It said: “These mass executions risk to reignite confessional tensions which have already caused too many victims in the region”.

The execution on Saturday of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others convicted of terror charges – the largest mass execution carried out by Saudi Arabia since 1980 – laid bare the sectarian divisions gripping the region.

In Tehran, a protest outside the Saudi Embassy early on Sunday quickly grew violent as protesters threw stones and gasoline bombs at the embassy, setting part of the building ablaze. Forty people were arrested and investigators were reportedly pursuing other suspects.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of al-Nimr, but also branded those who attacked the Saudi Embassy as “extremists”. A Saudi diplomatic mission in Mashhad was also attacked.

Shiite protesters took to the streets from Bahrain to Pakistan, while Arab allies of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia lined up behind the kingdom. Sudan and the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain said they would sever ties with Iran, as Saudi Arabia did. The United Arab Emirates announced it would downgrade ties to Tehran to the level of the chargé d’affaires and would only focus on economic issues. Somalia also issued a statement criticizing Iran.

Western powers have sought to calm the tensions. The Swiss foreign ministry urged all governments from the region to work to de-escalate the situation. 

“Everything should now be done to lower tensions and avoid provocations,” it declared. 

The growing tensions between the two longtime regional rivals look to further imperil efforts to end the wars in Syria and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran back rival sides. 

Al-Nimr was a central figure in the Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence. 

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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