European Union concerned about rights in Saudi but sidesteps Canada spat

Saudi Arabia expelling Canadian ambassador and suspending new trade with Canada

Saudi Arabia said Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and recalling its envoy while freezing all new trade, in retaliation for Ottawa's vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists. Hariri later rescinded the resignation, widely believed to be orchestrated by Riyadh, and returned to Beirut.

The dispute looks set to damage what is a modest bilateral trade relationship worth almost $4 billion a year.

"This message is obviously not just being sent to Ottawa", said Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based risk consultancy. The Saudi scholarship students there will be transferred to other countries.

The spat began last week after the Canadian Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the arrests of activists in Saudi Arabia in a series of tweets. It wasn't immediately clear if he was in the kingdom.

"They have a life here that they are going to leave and they are being taken away from", she said. "This is something where we know we need to lead with our values".

Neighbors and allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates said they stood with Riyadh, although they did not announce similar measures.

"We stand by what we have said".

Plans to relocate 7,000 students and their families in Canada to other countries, primarily the United States and Britain, were already underway, education ministry official Jassem al-Harbash said.

She said the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh was continuing regular operations.

"The aircraft was meant to symbolize the return of the ambassador", the apology said.

Questioned in Brussels about the tensions, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that "we have been seeking clarification from Saudi authorities" over a number of arrests since May.

The dispute appears centred around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to "immediately release" detained women's rights activists.

Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam" online back in 2014.

His case long has been raised by worldwide human rights groups and Western diplomats, including Canadians, who have called on Saudi Arabia to free him.

Both Freeland and the Canadian Foreign Ministry have voiced concerns over reports that Badawi had been arrested.

"Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi's sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia", she wrote.

"Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this hard time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi".

Just two months ago, Saudi women were given the right to drive a vehicle, yet several of the country's most prominent women's rights activists - including some who fought for years to drive - were arrested earlier this year on national security grounds.

He has introduced a raft of headline-grabbing reforms, such as lifting the ban on women being allowed to drive. Women were only recently granted the right to drive and are required to get approval from a male guardian for most basic activities.

Trade between the two countries exceeded $3 billion a year ago, according to the Canadian government.

"They're friends, they're partners, as is Canada as well".

The dispute with Canada is part of a larger pushback against external criticism, analysts say.

She noted it's unclear how numerous students are impacted by the Saudi government's decision to axe their scholarships, but there are options available to help them stay.

Ayham Kamel, the head of the Eurasia Group's Mideast practice, said Canada should have expected repercussions for championing the Badawis, given Crown Prince Mohammed's assertiveness.

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