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6 Aug, 2018 15:51

Saudis suspend educational exchanges with Canada as diplomatic row grows

Saudis suspend educational exchanges with Canada as diplomatic row grows

Riyadh has decided to suspend its scholarship and fellowship programs in Canada amid the ongoing row with Ottawa provoked by Canada’s criticism of human rights activists’ arrests in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it stopped all educational training programs it ran in cooperation with Canada and revealed its plans to move the recipients of the scholarships in Canada to other countries, Al Arabiya reported. Earlier, Riyadh said it would freeze all new trade and investment deals with Canada, adding that it “retains the right to take further action.”

Riyadh also recalled its ambassador to Canada for consultations and expelled the Canadian ambassador on Sunday. The angry reaction was provoked by Canada's statement of concern over the arrests of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, Canada called on Riyadh to “immediately release” civil and human rights activists recently arrested by the Saudi Arabian authorities, including Samar Badawi, an internationally recognized human rights defender. Riyadh then dismissed Canada’s concerns by calling them "totally false".

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also condemned Canada’s statements by calling them “explicit interference in the internal affairs” of the kingdom, which runs “contrary to the most basic international norms and charters that govern relations between countries.”

On Monday, the Saudi ambassador to Canada, Nayef bin Bandar Al-Sudeiry, also slammed Ottawa’s remarks by calling them “a grave and unacceptable violation of the Kingdom's laws and procedures” as well as “a breach of the principle of sovereignty.”

Riyadh’s harsh response to Canada’s statements also received some backing from Saudi Arabia’s allies in the Middle East.

“We cannot but stand with Saudi Arabia in defending its sovereignty and laws and taking the needed procedures. We also cannot accept for our laws and sovereignty to be bargained or subjected to pressure. The fact that some countries believe their style and experience allow them to intervene in our affairs is unacceptable,” the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post on Monday.

Earlier, Bahrain’s foreign ministry and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, expressed their support to the Kingdom and condemned what they called interference into the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia, as reported by al Arabiya.

In late July, the UN expressed its concern over the widening clampdown on opposition in Saudi Arabia, with its human rights office (OHCHR) calling the spate of arrests since spring “apparently arbitrary detentions.” Since May 15, at least 15 critics of the Saudi government have been detained, the office noted on Tuesday.

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