Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Sunday condemned the execution of fellow Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia while another leading cleric said he was organizing demonstrations in Baghdad and the southern city of Najaf.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed al-Nimr and three other Shiite Muslims alongside dozens of alleged al Qaeda members on Saturday, drawing protests from Shiite-majority Iraq and other countries around the world against the kingdom's ruling Al Saud family.
"We have received with much sorrow and regret the news of the martyrdom of a number of our brother believers in the region whose pure blood was shed in an unjust aggression," Sistani said in a letter addressed to the population of Saudi Arabia's eastern Qatif region where al-Nimr used to preach.
The opinion of Sistani, based in the Shiite holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad, carries weight with millions of Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere.
Separately, protests were planned and being held by various Shiite supporters in cities around the world, including Karachi, Istanbul, Beirut, Bahrain, Tehran, Baghdad and even London. Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite leader in Iraq, called for "angry demonstrations" on Monday in Najaf and at the gate of Baghdad's fortified Green Zone where the Saudi embassy is located.
And in Beirut, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah condemned the execution, saying the death of Sheikh al-Nimr could "not be taken lightly."
"We are today faced by an appalling event, a huge event that Al Saud took lightly... but this is an event that cannot be taken lightly," Nasrallah said in a speech broadcast live on the Lebanese Shi'ite group's Al Manar television.
Saudi Arabia reopened its Baghdad embassy last week after closing it in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but al-Nimr's execution sparked calls from prominent religious and political figures to reverse the recent rapprochement with Riyadh.
Iraq's foreign ministry also condemned al-Nimr's execution, warning in a statement on Sunday that "it will not benefit stability in the region nor peace between the region's peoples."