Mufti tells Saudis to back government austerity moves

September 29, 2016 9:58 AM EDT

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RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's top religious authority urged citizens to support government austerity measures, saying recent decrees were temporary moves necessitated by public interest, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

King Salman, in one of the most drastic measures to save money, ordered salaries of ministers and Shoura council members cut this week by 20 and 15 percent, and scaled back financial perks for public sector employees.

Okaz newspaper quoted the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh as saying that the recent orders were necessitated by special conditions would not be in place forever.

"Cooperation and helping the state in what it sees to be in the public interest and honest vision is necessary," Okaz quoted al-Sheikh as saying in his weekly radio address on Wednesday.

"What has been issued is incidental and will fade away."

The plunge in oil prices since mid-2014 has pushed energy-rich Gulf Arab states to rein in lavish public spending. Saudi Arabia racked up a record budget deficit of nearly $100 billion last year, forcing it to find new savings and ways to raise money.

Wahhabi clergy offer legitimacy and public support to a king who styles himself "custodian of the two holy mosques", and leave all matters of governance and foreign policy to him so long as his edicts do not contradict Muslim law.

In return, the ruling family has given them top government jobs, control over Saudi Arabia's Sharia Muslim law, great influence over social issues and public morality, and funds for foreign evangelism and Wahhabi seminaries.

(Reporting by Katie Paul, writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by William Maclean and Dominic Evans)



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