Saudi princes arrest at sit-in protesting having to pay

Vastavam web: Eleven Saudi princes face trial after their arrest at a sit-in protesting having to pay their utility bills, authorities said today, as the monarchy pursues reforms amid hefty debt and high unemployment.Saudi Arabia’s attorney general said “no one is above the law” after the princes were detained outside a palace in Riyadh, where they had gathered last week to demonstrate against a government decision to stop paying the water and electricity bills of royals.They have been charged on “a number of counts” and are being held at the maximum security Al-Hayer prison south of Riyadh, he said.

“A group of 11 princes staged a sit-in at the historic Qasr Al-Hokm palace on Thursday… objecting a recent royal order that halted payments by the state to members of the royal family to cover their electricity and water utility bills,” the attorney general said.The recent arrests come amid a string of government spending cuts as Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer of oil, pushes to diversify its economy following the 2014 drop in global oil prices.

The country plans to slash its generous welfare programme and open energy giant Saudi Aramco to partial privatisation.The measures have been linked to rising tension within the royal Al-Saud family which counts thousands of members — only a handful of whom wield direct influence over the kingdom.The economic overhaul has been linked to the arrest of more than 200 princes in an anti-corruption purge in November spearheaded by Prince Mohammed.On January 1, Saudi Arabia also hiked gasoline and fuel prices and imposed a five percent value-added tax on most goods and services, ending its decades-long tax-free policy.King Salman yesterday announced a string of benefits for Saudi citizens, particularly students, military personnel and public servants, to “soften the impact of the economic reforms” in the coming year.

Saudi Arabia’s information minister on Sunday said the handouts would cost the government up to 80 billion riyals (USD 13.3 billion, 11 billion euros) in 2018.