BlackBerry maker meets Saudi officials as ban looms

RIYADH (Reuters) - BlackBerry maker Research In Motion and Saudi officials met on Thursday needing to reach a compromise to avert a pending ban on BlackBerry Messenger in the Middle East’s biggest economy.

RIM officials met representatives from telecom regulator CITC and three local mobile operators as a ban set for Friday loomed.

“I think it will be a long meeting,” a senior telecom company executive said.

At the popular mobile phone market in Riyadh, located on a street leading to one of the kingdom’s main telecom firms, shopkeepers said customers were turning in their BlackBerrys.

“Who will buy a BlackBerry now? Look, I have 10 secondhand devices left to me by their owners. Some of them told me if you get 300 riyals ($80) for it, sell it,” said salesman Mohamed Salim.

“Lebanese expats are the only buyers: They take them to Lebanon,” he said.

A new BlackBerry handset costs 800 riyals in Saudi Arabia, where local retailers such as Fast Net and Al-Haddad have launched promotions for mobile handsets made by rivals of the Canadian firm.

Some Saudi BlackBerry users, loath to give up the Messenger text messaging function, said they had started exchanging messages on the device on how to circumvent the ban right after the CITC announced it on Tuesday.

The messages gave tips on how to avoid using Saudi mobile operators as access points to the Messenger function by reconfiguring the device settings or by downloading new software.

One BlackBerry owner said he was pleased about the ban.

“It’s a waste of time and money,” said a father of five who declined to give his full name.

“I had to buy it for the eldest of my children and since then, the little time he spends at home he is punching messages and laughing by himself. It’s not normal.”

Editing by Jason Neely