RIYADH, July 30 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's interior minister
said on Monday that a prominent anti-government cleric arrested
earlier this month was mentally unstable, undermining a figure
who has a growing following among disaffected Shi'ite Muslim
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was shot in the leg during the arrest
which sparked deadly protests among members of the minority
Shi'ite community who say they are routinely discriminated
against in the Sunni-dominated kingdom.
Three people were killed in the demonstrations in what the
Interior Ministry described as exchanges of fire.
Shi'ite activists in the Qatif district of Eastern Province,
a centre of the Shi'ite population where Nimr has a base of
support, said security forces fired on peaceful protesters, a
charge authorities deny.
Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz dismissed Nimr,
criticised by authorities for rejecting the idea of working with
the government to address Shi'ite concerns, as mentally
"Nimr al-Nimr, the spreader of sedition, is a man of dubious
scholarship and dubious mental condition, and the issues he
raises and speaks about show a deficiency or imbalance of the
mind," the state news agency quoted the minister as saying.
Shi'ites have long complained that no members of the sect
are appointed to important government positions and that they
struggle to find jobs with state companies and university
places. They also say the government closes their religious
Saudi Arabia, dominated by the strict Wahhabi school of
Sunni Islam that regards Shi'ism as heretical, denies
discrimination. It accuses non-Arab Shi'ite Iran of fomenting
unrest among the Shi'ite minority.
Prince Ahmed, who was appointed interior minister in June,
said Nimr's children were on government scholarships in the
United States and that the cleric's wife had joined them there
for cancer treatment paid for by the government.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)