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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Saudi detains Islamist after Internet article

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has detained a prominent Saudi preacher who wrote an Internet article criticising the ruling family's advisers, colleagues said on Monday.

They said Mohsen al-Awajy had been in police custody since Friday after writing an article which suggested that a liberal clique of ministers and officials were the real power behind the scenes with a direct line to King Abdullah.

News of the arrest was also published on a Saudi Web site popular among Islamists.

Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry's security affairs spokesman, said he could not confirm the arrest.

Sheikh Abdelaziz al-Qassem, an associate of Awajy, said: "He has been detained because of an article he wrote. My guess is he will be held for several weeks."

The article was published on a Saudi Web site and republished on others.

"Sir, the royal court contains those who have been so brazen as to fill our conservative society, in your name, with ideologies and behaviour that run counter to the Koran and the way of the Prophet," said the article, singling out Labour Minister Ghazi Algosaibi, a poet.

Direct criticism of the ruling family is a red line for the media in Saudi Arabia, which has opened up to a vigorous debate on political and economic reforms unimaginable a decade ago.

Along with dozens of other clerics and writers, Awajy was detained for four years in the 1990s over calls for democratic reforms in the absolute monarchy, which is also a key U.S. ally.

King Abdullah, who has said he supports cautious reforms, pardoned some jailed activists when he came to power last August. Analysts often say it is difficult to discern power shifts within the secretive ruling family.

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