Saudi Arabia to suspend Toronto flights as spat with Canada continues

Tue 07 Aug 2018 16:06 GMT | 20:06 Local Time

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Saudi Arabia's state airline is suspending flights in and out of Toronto amid an intensifying diplomatic row with Canada.

Earlier on Monday, Ottawa refused to back down in its defense of human rights after Riyadh froze new trade and investment and expelled the Canadian ambassador in retaliation for the country's call to free arrested Saudi civil society activists.

In her first public response to Saudi Arabia's actions, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said, "Let me be very clear... Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women's rights are human rights."

On Monday evening, the airline, Saudia, made the announcement on its Twitter account that it was suspending flights from the 13 August. 

The news prompted users to ask how Saudis already on holiday in Canada were going to get back.

"Can I know how my family and I get back after the holiday?" one Twitter user asked Saudia. "We have a confirmed reservation and return tickets on August 24 from Toronto to Riyadh!" 

Riyadh on Sunday recalled its ambassador from Canada and gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave, Azvision reports citing Mirage News.

The Saudi government also banned new trade with Canada, although it was unclear if it would affect existing annual Saudi-Canadian trade of more than £3bn billion and a £10bn defense contract.

The moves were a stern rebuke to Canada after the country on Friday expressed concern over the arrests of activists in Saudi Arabia, including prominent women's rights campaigner Samar Badawi, and called for their release.

Riyadh said that amounted to "a blatant interference in the Kingdom's domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols."

Saudi Arabia's sudden sharp response to criticism shows the limits of reforms by Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs its day-to-day government. He has launched a campaign of social and economic change but has not eased the absolute monarchy's total ban on political activism.

In recent months Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on women driving, but it has also arrested activists, including more than a dozen high profile campaigners for women's rights.

On Monday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir again criticised Canada's calls to free arrested civil society activists as a position built on "misleading" information.

The moves, carried on the official Saudi Press Agency caught diplomats in Riyadh off guard. Both the Saudi and Canadian ambassadors were away on leave when it was made.

The kingdom will suspend educational exchange programmes with Canada and move Saudi scholarship recipients to other countries, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya reported on Monday. Neighbors and allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates said they stood with Riyadh, although they did not announce similar measures.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a loose association of the six Gulf Arab countries, the Arab League and Palestine also supported Saudi policy. But Qatar, which is locked in a diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia and other neighbors for over a year, said on its foreign ministry's official Twitter account that the GCC secretary general's statement did not represent its view of the situation.




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