Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims protested in cities across the world on Sunday (3 January) to condemn the execution of a prominent Muslim cleric by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi kingdom's execution of Shia cleric Shiekh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday (2 January), along with 46 other prisoners, provoked sectarian anger across the Middle East, but by putting to death dozens of al-Qaeda convicts at the same time it also delivered a strong message that Sunni violence would not be tolerated at home. In the Iranian capital of Tehran, hundreds gathered in the city's Palestine Square where they burned Israeli and US flags and chanted slogans against the Saudi royal family.

In the streets of Istanbul, Turkey, demonstrators held up pictures of Nimr and marched towards the Saudi consulate chanting slogans like "Saudi Arabia will pay the price" and "Sunni, Shi'ites are brothers, Wahhabis are treacherous". Wahhabi Sunni school is founded on a mission to 'purge Islam of incorrect belief' – Shi'ism included.

Security at the consulate in Istanbul was fortified with riot police, water cannon and barricade on Sunday (3 January), after protesters in Tehran set fire to the Saudi Embassy there earlier in the day.

"Sheikh Nimr was a dominant Shi'ite who was killed by the infidels, and every free Muslim person considers it their duty to defend their sisters and brothers all around the world," said university student Asma Shariati.

Earlier, protesters had stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, broke into the embassy building, smashed furniture and started fires before being ejected by police. Shi'ite Muslim Iran's top leader predicted "divine vengeance" for Saudi Arabia's execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. President Hassan Rouhani condemned the execution as "inhuman", but also urged the prosecution of "extremist individuals" for attacking the embassy and the Saudi consulate in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, state media reported.

Riyadh knew its killing of Nimr and three other Shi'ites for involvement in police deaths would prompt outrage and protests abroad, but seemed to calculate that, within the kingdom at least, the consequences would be controllable. Nimr was executed alongside 46 other people, including 43 Sunni jihadists, some of them al-Qaeda leaders and ideologues.