Eleven Saudi princes detained following protest over utility bills

RIYADH/DUBAI, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian authorities have detained 11 princes after they gathered at a royal palace in Riyadh in a rare protest against the government suspending payment of their utility bills, the public prosecutor said on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has introduced reforms that include reducing energy subsidies, introducing value-added tax and cutting some perks to royal family members to try to cope with a drop in crude prices that has caused a budget deficit estimated at 195 billion riyals ($52 billion) in 2018.

The princes had gathered on Thursday at Qasr al-Hokm palace demanding the cancellation of a recent decree that halted state payment of water and electricity bills for royal family members and seeking compensation for a death sentence implemented in 2016 against one of their cousins, Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer.

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Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman waves as he meets with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 11, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) attends a meeting between Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (L) welcomes Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman meet at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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A picture taken on June 6, 2017 shows a poster of Saudi King Salman (C), Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef (R) and Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman placed on on the offices of the Saudi national airline carrier in Riyadh. Arab nations including Saudi Arabia and Egypt cut ties with Qatar accusing it of supporting extremism, in the biggest diplomatic crisis to hit the region in years. / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
US Defence Secretary James Mattis meets Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) in Riyadh on April 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JONATHAN ERNST (Photo credit should read JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images)
US Defence Secretary James Mattis bids farewell to Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C-R) following their meeting in Riyadh on April 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JONATHAN ERNST (Photo credit should read JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 30: Saudi Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Vice Premier of China Zhang Gaoli (not seen) lead 1st China - Saudi Arabia High-Level Cooperation Council meeting in Beijing, China on August 29, 2016. (Photo by Pool / Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - APRIL 5: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'BANDAR ALGALOUD / SAUDI KINGDOM COUNCIL / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) British Prime Minister Theresa May (R) meets with Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud (L) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on April 5, 2017. (Photo by Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Pavel Golovkin (Photo credit should read PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Despite being informed that their demands are not lawful, the 11 princes refused to leave the area, disrupting public peace and order. Members of a security services stepped in to restore order and the princes were arrested," the public prosecutor's statement said, without identifying the princes.

"Following their arrest, they have been charged on a number of counts in relation to these offenses. They are detained at Al-Hayer prison south of the capital pending their trial."

News website Sabq earlier identified the leader of the group of princes by the initials S.A.S. The Saud al-Kabeer branch of the House of Saud descend from a cousin of late King Abdulaziz, who founded the modern kingdom.

The meteoric rise of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's favored son, and his ambitious, sometimes aggressive, policies have caused rare tensions within the royal family, which for decades favored rule by consensus.

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Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where Saudi dignitaries were being detained
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Saudi men walk out of the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is staying in Riyadh on March 4, 2013. From Saudi Arabia, Kerry heads into the homestretch of his lengthy first official trip abroad, traveling next to the United Arab Emirates and then Qatar before returning to Washington. AFP PHOTO/JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL (Photo credit should read JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A view shows the Ritz-Carlton hotel's entrance gate in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are projected on the front of the Ritz-Carlton, where Trump is staying in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US and Saudi officials walk in the hallway of the Ritz Carlton hotel in the capital Riyadh on May 21, 2017, during a visit of the US president. / AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
A view shows the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
The motorcade carrying US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel early in the morning in Riyadh on January 23, 2016, after a previous stop in Switzerland. The top US diplomat arrived from Switzerland in Saudi Arabia and next heads to Laos, Cambodia and China. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Jacquelyn Martin / AFP / POOL / JACQUELYN MARTIN (Photo credit should read JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker cleans a fountain at the entrance of the Ritz Carlton hotel as Arab officials attend the 30th Conference of the Arab Interior Minister's Council in Riyadh on March 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Visitors stand next to a Ferrari luxury car displayed during the 2016 World Luxury Expo Riyadh 2016 held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital Riyadh, on March 30, 2016. / AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are projected on the front of the Ritz-Carlton, where Trump is staying in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US and Saudi officials walk in the hallway of the Ritz Carlton hotel in the capital Riyadh on May 21, 2017, during a visit of the US president. / AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Dozens of prices, high officials and senior businessmen were rounded up in November in a crackdown on graft that has boosted Prince Mohammed's power.

They have been held at the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh while government officials negotiate financial settlements, asking them to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

The round-up followed a meticulously planned palace coup in June through which Prince Mohammed ousted his elder cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the throne. ($1 = 3.7501 riyals)

(Writing by Sami Aboudi and Stephen Kalin, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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