RIYADH, 24 March 2005 — A series of raids on commercial and residential premises in downtown Riyadh have led to the arrest of at least 172 people, mostly expatriates, allegedly involved in running gambling dens and selling or renting out fake and pornographic CDs.

The raids also uneartherd two warehouses used for gambling by two different gangs besides a number of cozy rooms and shops used for illegal businesses like unlicensed telephone booths.

“Raids are still continuing,” said an eyewitness.

So far, the raids have resulted in the seizure of 1.2 million fake, pirated and pornographic CDs, 200,000 obscene video cassettes besides forged iqamas and passports.

An Asian manager of a video shop, A.J. Siddiqui, said that a large number of pirated film cassettes and music recordings in different languages have been confiscated during the search operations”.

An expatriate worker has also been detained for operating an illegal telephone booth following the raids conducted by security authorities, who, in fact, started looking for criminals and overstayers after the murder of two people — a Saudi and a Bangladeshi — only a few weeks ago. “The continuing raids are important to ensure public safety in the capital city,” said a local businessman who preferred to remain anonymous.

He, however, said that the continuing raids will have a negative impact on the businesses especially in the markets located along Al-Batha Street or in adjoining areas. This is not for the first time that certain notorious areas are being combed by security officials. A few months ago, authorities arrested five people after raiding computer shops selling compact disks containing hidden bomb making instructions.

Security sources said raids are being conducted in all areas located on both sides of Al-Batha Street, beginning from Manama Square. The primary targets for search operations are Bangladeshi and Kerala markets of the city. They said that a task force composed of officials from police department, municipality, passport office and religious police department has been deployed to conduct joint raids.

“In fact, piles of objectionable material have been seized from illegal residents, mainly Asians,” a security source said. “Persons arrested have been charged with forging CDs, selling porn films, forging stamps of government departments and other documents, which were sold to Arab and Asian workers,” said two local businessmen.

“The Batha area,” they said, “has many shops selling a range of cheap goods for kids and, in fact, more than 1,000 odd shops along Al-Batha Street and adjacent areas attract some 20,000 shoppers on a daily basis. More than 100,000 shoppers visit Batha on weekends alone,” said the businessmen.

They, however, said that the markets around Al-Batha Street looks very clean and spacious because most of the vendors have fled following the raids. A number of overstayers have also been rounded up.

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