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Saudi officials grilled over deadly floods

Riyadh, December 28, 2009

Saudi Arabia has detained at least 30 people, including active and retired officials, for questioning over floods that killed more than 120 people in the port city of Jeddah last month, newspapers reported.

People were swept to their death after heavy rain in the Red Sea port destroyed bridges and roads and caused flash floods that swept through illegal housing developments, some of them built on dry river beds and in valleys.

The newspapers al-Watan, al-Hayat and Okaz said at least 30 people, including officials who had issued construction permits, were held for interrogation in connection with one of the worst natural disasters to hit the desert kingdom.

The floods are known to have killed 123 people, but a further 38 are still unaccounted for.

King Abdullah, who ordered the investigation, told a Kuwaiti newspaper over the weekend that he would show no leniency 'towards those who were negligent in carrying out their duties'.

He also acknowledged that the disaster should lead to a review of infrastructure in other cities. Al-Hayat said no charges had been laid. Officials at Jeddah city council could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jeddah has become notorious for its pot-holed streets, poor sewage system and slums. Residents often complain that the government pays far less attention to Jeddah's infrastructure than that of the capital, Riyadh.

'This has been going on since the 1980s, but little has been done about it. There is public outrage, look at the newspapers. There has to be some exemplary finger-pointing at the people responsible,' a Jeddah-based professional said.

Public outrage over the disaster has spawned accusations of corruption among city officials.

Saudi opposition activists asked King Abdullah earlier this month to allow parliamentary elections and to combat mismanagement following the floods.

The US ally and top oil exporter is a monarchy without an elected parliament or political parties. Its courts are run by clerics who apply an austere version of Sunni Muslim Islamic law, and newspapers usually follow the official line.

Many Saudis believe King Abdullah supports some political reforms, but diplomats say his room for manoeuvre is restricted by opposition from powerful members of the royal family and  many clerics.-Reuters




Tags: Saudi | floods | detain | grill |

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