Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr: Saudi Arabia executes top Shia cleric

Saudi Arabia has executed the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the interior ministry said.
He was among 47 put to death after being convicted of terrorism offences, it said in a statement.
Sheikh Nimr was a vocal supporter of the mass anti-government protests that erupted in Eastern Province in 2011, where a Shia majority have long complained of marginalisation.
Shia-lead Iran said Saudi Arabia would pay a “high price” for the execution.
A foreign ministry spokesman said Riyadh “supports terrorists… while executing and suppressing critics inside the country”.
Iran is the main regional rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.
The executions were carried out simultaneously in 12 locations across Saudi Arabia.
Those also put to death include Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks in 2003.
Of the 47 executed, one was a Chadian national while another was Egyptian. The rest are Saudis.
The cleric’s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, who was 17 when he was arrested following the demonstrations, was not listed as one of those killed.
Protests broke out in early 2011 in the oil-rich Eastern Province in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Sheikh Nimr’s arrest in the following year, during which he was shot, triggered days of protests in which three people were killed.
His death sentence was confirmed in October 2014, with his family saying he had been found guilty among other charges of seeking “foreign meddling” in the kingdom.
Sheikh Nimr has been a persistent critic of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni royal family, but his supporters say he supported only peaceful demonstrations and eschewed all violent opposition to the government.
His brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, said he hoped any reaction to the execution would be peaceful.
But an MP in Iraq’s governing Shia coalition said the death aimed at “provoking sectarian fighting”, while Lebanon’s Shia council called it a “grave mistake”, Reuters reported.
Police in Bahrain, which has seen tensions between the majority Shia population and its Sunni rulers, are reported to have fired tear gas on protesters angry at the execution.
Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia and blame Iran for stirring up discontent.
Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions last year, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.

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