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Austerity measures force govt to stop paying utility bills for royals

In a development indicating severe division within royals in Saudi Arabia, eleven princes were arrested for staging a protest against the austerity measures introduced by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).

The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announced about the arrests late on Saturday after another Saudi website Sabq, reported that 11 princes were detained after gathering at al-Hakem palace to demonstrate against a government decision to make the country’s royalty pay their utility bills.

According to Aljazeera, following their arrests the princes were sent to a notorious maximum-security facility south of the capital Riyadh.

In November 2017, dozens of high ranking figures, including princes and businessmen were detained in a luxury hotel under anti-corruption drive. Several of them were reportedly released after paying huge amount to the government while others have to face trial.

The SPA statement said, “They were arrested after they refused to leave the palace and were put in al-Ha’ir prison in preparation for their trial.”

Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries are facing tough economic condition because of low oil prices and ongoing war against Yemen. Saudi led alliance has been pounding Yemen for more than two years.

Joseph Kechichian, a senior fellow at Riyadh based King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, has said, “The 11 individuals officially were arrested because they were complaining about the fact that they had asked for subsidies for water and electricity, and for some reason they were denied.”

He further said, “Other reports say that in fact they were cousins of a prince who was executed in October 2016 and that they had come to ask for retribution. It’s very conflicting at this point. We don’t know exactly what is going on.”

This is a rare occasion when someone from a government funded think tank has spoken before media about the incident apparently indicating differences among the members of Royal family.

Saudi Arabia recently introduced several economic reforms, including a value-added tax (VAT) and a halt to state payments of water and electricity bills for royal family members.

Meanwhile, King Salman decreed a series of financial payouts to ease the cost of living on Saturday. Each government employee will receive a monthly bonus of 1,000 riyals ($267) for the next year, while military personnel serving in Yemen will be paid a one-off fee of 5,000 riyals ($1,330).

Students will have their allowances increased by 10 percent for the next year, while retirees and social security recipients will get a monthly stipend of 500 riyals ($133). The state is facing 12 percent unemployment because of the economic crisis.

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