Mecca: Saudi Arabia`s Interior Minister said on Sunday the kingdom hopes not to have to "resort to force" to maintain security for the hajj, in a reference to worries Iranian pilgrims may demonstrate.
"We hope we will not be obliged to resort to force," Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said when asked about recent calls by Iranian figures for their pilgrims to protest against the United States and Israel while in Mecca.
"It is not permitted to undertake any actions which are not part of the ritual... and we will not permit anyone to damage the hajj or the pilgrims," he said.
But Nayef, who is chairman of the national hajj organisation, said he did not really expect trouble.
"We have heard different Iranian statements but the most recent... from Iranian officials who are here seem to indicate that their pilgrims are going to dedicate themselves to the ritual" of the hajj, Nayef told a news conference.
The run-up to the hajj, which kicks off on Wednesday, has been marked by a war of words between Tehran and Riyadh over Iran`s allegations that the Saudis, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, mistreat the predominantly Shi’ite hajj participants from Iran.
In 1987, Saudi police attempts to stifle a protest by Iranian pilgrims led to a riot in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.