By Bethan McKernan
Opposition to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the UK are based on a “misunderstanding” of the war in Yemen, the Saudi foreign minister has claimed, as protest groups ready for three days of planned demonstrations.
The powerful heir to the throne arrives in London on Wednesday for three days of talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the royal family.
Government officials have stressed Saudi Arabia is a key ally in the global fight against terrorism as well as a key trading partner. In the wake of Brexit it is hoped Riyadh will pick London for the planned floatation of state oil company Aramco, which could be as high as $1.5tn (£1.1tn).
British exports to the country have risen 41 per cent to £6.2bn since 2010 - the majority of which are arms sales. Rights groups say the weapons are destined for use in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a stalemated effort against the Houthi revolutionaries … to restore the exiled regime.
But the prince is a controversial figure: he is widely acknowledged to have spearheaded the kingdom’s intervention in the Yemeni conflict, sparking a humanitarian disaster. His critics claim rapid social and economic reforms introduced since he was appointed heir to the throne last June are “cosmetic changes” designed to distract from the Kingdom’s still dismal human rights record.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s 'Today' program on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisted that the Saudi presence in Yemen was justified.
“I believe [opposition group’s] positions are based on misunderstanding and not knowing.
“They criticize us for a war in Yemen that we did not want, that was imposed on us.
“They criticize us for a war in Yemen that is a just war, that is supported by international law.
“They criticize us for the casualties in Yemen when it was imposed on us by the Houthis.
“They should be demonstrating against the Houthis for taking nine-year-old boys into battle, they should be protesting against the Houthis for laying siege on towns and villages and starving people, for stealing humanitarian assistance.”
“The overwhelming majority of people in the UK do not share Theresa May’s political and military support for the Saudi regime,” Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) said in a statement.
“Despite the spin surrounding the Crown Prince, he is a figurehead for one of the world's most authoritarian dictatorships.
"The regime has carried out atrocities against Saudi people for decades, and has inflicted a terrible humanitarian catastrophe on the people of Yemen. It is time for Theresa May and her colleagues to end their shameful support for this appalling autocracy.”
The crown prince himself said that strong relations between the two countries were important for global security in an interview with The Telegraph published on Tuesday - and that the Kingdom’s strategy to wean itself off dependence on oil, known as Vision 2030, represented opportunities for British business.
“We believe that Saudi Arabia needs to be part of the global economy,” he said.
“People need to be able to move freely, and we need to apply the same standards as the rest of the world.”
Expected protests outside Downing Street would not affect the crown prince’s plans, Mr Jubeir said.
“This is part of your traditions, there are protests that take place in London all the time,” he said.
“This is not going to affect the visit or the objective of the visit."
Source: The Independent, Edited by Website Team