RIYADH: Saudi officials have arrested 11 princes for staging a protest against the kingdom’s austerity measures.
The princes, who gathered in the historical Palace of Government area in the capital Riyadh on Saturday, were demonstrating against a government decision to suspend payment of their utility bills, Sabq said.
Upon arrest, they were reportedly sent to Ha’ir prison, a maximum-security facility south of Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia recently introduced a raft of economic reforms, including a value-added tax (VAT) and a halt to state payments of water and electricity bills for royal family members.
On Saturday, King Salman decreed a series of financial payouts to ease the cost of living. 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 unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia surpassed 12 percent last year as the economy grappled with the fallout from low oil prices.
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has been spearheading attempts to diversify the country’s oil-dependent economy.
The VAT, implemented as of January 1, applies to a wide range of commodities, including food, clothes, entertainment, electronics, and telephone, water and electricity bills.
Its imposition is part of a region-wide measure agreed upon by the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states in Riyadh in 2016. The International Monetary Fund has estimated it will raise additional revenues of 1.5 to three percent of non-oil gross domestic product, depending on the country.
According to Saturday’s decree, the Saudi government will absorb the cost of the tax for citizens purchasing private healthcare and education, and for first-time homebuyers of properties valued at up to 850,000 riyals ($226,660).