Saudi Arabia quick to quell anti-Assad demonstrations in Mecca: report


Thousands of Muslim pilgrims arrive to throw pebbles at pillars during the "Jamarat" ritual, the stoning of Satan, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, on October 26, 2012. Pilgrims pelt pillars symbolising the devil with pebbles to show their defiance on the third day of the hajj.



Hundreds of Syrian pilgrims disregarded Saudi calls for a politics-free hajj by holding a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Mecca today, prompting a quick response from Saudi police, according to Reuters

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A witness told Reuters protesters blamed the international community for failing to stem the violence in Syria, where the fight between Assad's regime and an armed insurrection is believed to have taken some 30,000 lives over the past 19 months.  

The group was headed toward a bridge in Mina, a city of east of Mecca, when police cars showed up, according to Reuters. Their sirens blaring, authorities ordered the pilgrims to disperse, which they did. 

In a separate development also today, Human Rights Watch called on Saudi Arabia to stop arresting its own non-violent protesters, accusing the government of systematically harassing opposition activists there.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly stated that the annual hajj pilgrimage, which started on Wednesday, is not the place for politics. The powerful Gulf nation does not support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has pulled its envoy from the country. 

But 27-year-old Syrian Sabri said the rally today was "not a political protest," telling Reuters it was "more of a humanitarian demonstration because the Syrian question has become a humanitarian one."

It is not known precisely how many of this year's 3.4 million pilgrims come from Syria, but the Associated Press said "Syria's banner was nowhere in sight" in pilgrim areas, in contrast with other nations' prominently-displayed flags. 

Syrian state media earlier lashed out at Saudi Arabia for denying Syrians enough visas for the pilgrimage, an accusation Riyadh has denied, according to AP

The hajj pilgrimage is required for all Muslims, being one of the five pillars of Islam.