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Sectarian strife between Saudi Arabia, Iran could easily impact Asia

TOKYO -- Islamic sectarian conflict has again flared up in the Persian Gulf region. On Jan. 2, a mob attacked the Saudi embassy in Iran, angered by the execution of a Shiite religious leader in Saudi Arabia, leading to a chain reaction in which Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated Arab countries severed diplomatic relations with Iran. Protests also arose in Pakistan and India. If the tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims continues, the inflamed hostility in the Middle East could have a serious impact on Asia.

     The latest upheaval started with an execution. On Jan. 2, Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on charges of involvement in terrorist acts. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an influential Shiite cleric, was among them. In Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Sunni royal family, Shiite Muslims in the eastern part of the kingdom have repeatedly clashed with Saudi security forces in the past several years, and the authorities suspected that al-Nimr had incited the riots.

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