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Anti-Saudi protests in Iran as row worsens

A week-long diplomatic crisis between the Middle East’s leading Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers has raised fears of heightened sectarian tensions across the region.

Around 1,000 protestors marched through Tehran on Friday chanting “death to Al-Saud” — Riyadh’s ruling family, according to an AFP photographer.

Others shouted “death to America” and “death to Israel”, frequent rallying cries at demonstrations in Iran.

Some carried placards with the picture of Nimr al-Nimr, the Shiite cleric and activist executed in Saudi Arabia last week, whose death unleashed a wave of anger across the Shiite world.

Relations between the longtime adversaries hit a fresh low on Thursday as Iran accused Saudi warplanes of deliberately targeting its embassy in Sanaa in raids that it said had damaged the property and wounded staff members.

“During an air raid by Saudi Arabia against Sanaa, a rocket fell near our embassy and unfortunately one of our guards was seriously wounded,” deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian was quoted as saying by the IRNA state news agency.

“We will inform the Security Council of the details of this attack within several hours,” he said, adding that “Saudi Arabia is responsible for the security of our diplomats and of our embassy in Sanaa”.

The Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Iran-backed rebels in Yemen since March denied the claims, saying that Tehran’s embassy in the rebel-controlled capital was “safe and has not been damaged”.

The Yemeni conflict, which pits the rebels known as Huthis against pro-government forces backed by Riyadh and other Gulf Arab states, is one of the main sources of dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

– ‘Crimes against Muslims’ –

Iranian state television said demonstrations were held across the country on Friday.

During weekly prayers in Tehran, influential cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani told worshippers that Riyadh, along with Israel and the United States, was responsible for “all crimes committed against Muslims”.

“The Zionist regime plans, the US supports and Saudi Arabia sources the necessary funds,” Kashani said, according to IRNA.

Nimr was executed on Saturday along with 46 other prisoners that Riyadh said were “terrorists”.

In response, protesters in Iran stormed and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in the second city of Mashhad.

Iran denounced those attacks, but the repercussions quickly rippled across the region with Saudi allies Bahrain, Sudan and Djibouti also cutting diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Somalia followed suit Thursday, saying it had given Iranian diplomats 72 hours to leave.

Among other Saudi allies, the United Arab Emirates has downgraded relations with Iran, while Kuwait and Qatar have recalled their ambassadors.

Iran hit back Thursday by announcing a ban on imports from the kingdom, which will reportedly affect goods worth about $40 million (36.7 million euros).

The latest crisis threatens a fragile UN-backed initiative to end the war in Yemen, where the world body says at least 2,795 civilians have been killed since March.

The two countries also support opposing sides in Syria. Tehran is providing military assistance to close ally President Bashar al-Assad against rebel groups, some backed by Saudi Arabia.

The growing tensions have heaped doubt on a UN-backed plan that foresees talks between the Syrian sides this month in a bid to end a war that has claimed more than a quarter of a million lives.

The roadmap, adopted by the UN Security Council, calls for creation of a transitional government within six months and elections within 18 months.



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