Posts Tagged Arabia

US Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales, UK suspends licenses

By Michael Mathes, with Dmitry Zaks in London

Washington (AFP)

June 20, 2019

Saudi Arabia’s controversial military campaign in Yemen suffered a double blow Thursday as US lawmakers voted to block President Donald Trump’s arms sales to Riyadh hours after Britain temporarily suspended similar sales.

In Washington, the Senate voted to prevent $8.1 billion in US arms in a symbolic bipartisan rebuke to the president and his close ties with the kingdom.

A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in voting against 22 separate sales of aircraft support maintenance, precision-guided munitions and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan at a moment of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

The votes were only assured this week when Republican leadership agreed to hold the sensitive roll calls on the arms sales, which critics say will aggravate the devastating war in Yemen.

Trump’s administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve the sales in May, declaring Iran to be a “fundamental threat” to regional stability.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the administration was responding to an emergency caused by Saudi Arabia’s historic rival Iran, which backs the Huthi rebels in Yemen.

But critics in the United States and Britain have expressed concern about the devastating toll that the four-year Saudi bombing campaign in neighboring Yemen has taken on civilians.

“When they target civilians how can we continue to sell those arms?” Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, author of the resolutions, said Thursday.

The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and triggered what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst existing humanitarian crisis.

Britain’s temporary sales suspension was announced by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox after a British court ordered the government to “reconsider” the sales due to their toll on non-combatants.

“We disagree with the judgement and will seek permission to appeal,” Fox said in a statement delivered in parliament, adding authorities “will not grant any new licenses to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners which might be used in the conflict in Yemen.”

Government figures analyzed by CAAT show that Britain, which accounts for 23 percent of arms imports to Saudi Arabia, has licensed nearly 5 billion pounds ($6.4 billion, 5.6 billion euros) in weapons to the kingdom since its Yemen campaign began in 2015.

Germany halted all arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to Saudi opposition columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 killing and called on other EU governments to follow suit.

– ‘Resolve or weakness’ –

The process in Washington, traditionally a major provider of weaponry to the kingdom, is more protracted.

The measures, which passed with votes of 53-45 and 51-45, now go to the Democratic-led House of Representatives, where they are expected to win approval and then head to the president’s desk.

Trump is likely to veto them, and it will remain an uphill climb for Congress to come up with a two-thirds vote to override a veto.

Some of the president’s allies in Congress are outraged by Saudi Arabia’s behavior.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he hoped his vote to block the sales would “send a signal to Saudi Arabia that if you act the way you’re acting, there is no space for a strategic relationship.”

Khashoggi’s murder in Turkey by Saudi agents triggered a full-blown crisis in Riyadh’s relations with the West.

“There is no amount of oil that you can produce that will get me and others to give you a pass on chopping somebody up in a consulate,” Graham said.

Senator Tom Cotton, a hawk who backs Trump’s policies in the Gulf, warned colleagues that Tehran would be watching the Saudi arms sales votes “for signs of resolve or weakness” by Washington.

Congress rebuked Trump in March with a historic resolution curtailing the president’s war-making powers and ending American support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Trump vetoed the measure in April.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_Senate_votes_to_block_Saudi_arms_sales_UK_suspends_licenses_999.html.

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Saudi woman fleeing alleged abuse heads for asylum in Canada

January 12, 2019

BANGKOK (AP) — An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was abused by her family and feared for her life if deported back home left Thailand on Friday night for Canada, which has granted her asylum, officials said.

The fast-moving developments capped an eventful week for Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. She fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and grabbed global attention by mounting a social media campaign for asylum.

Her case highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases go unreported.

Alqunun is flying to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Alqunun tweeted two pictures from her plane seat. One with what appears to be a glass of wine and her passport and another holding her passport while on the plane with the hastag “I did it” and the emojis showing plane, hearts and wine glass.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum. “That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for woman’s rights around the world and I can confirm that we have accepted the U.N.’s request,” Trudeau said.

Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Alqunun, Surachate said earlier in the day. “She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.

Canada’s ambassador had seen her off at the airport, Surachate said, adding that she looked happy and healthy. She thanked everyone for helping her, he said, and added that the first thing she would do upon arrival in Canada would be to start learning the language. She already speaks more than passable English, in addition to Arabic.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada’s decision. “The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms. Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case,” the agency said in a statement.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted Alqunon to choose Canada over Australia. Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.

“When referring cases with specific vulnerabilities who need immediate resettlement, we attach great importance to the speed at which countries consider and process cases,” a UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok told The Associated Press in an email reply on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan said Saturday that Australia had moved quickly to process her case but Canada decided to take her in. He added that, ultimately, the outcome was a good one. “She’s going to be safe,” he said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, cited Alqunun’s “courage and perseverance.” “This is so much a victory for everyone who cares about respecting and promoting women’s rights, valuing the independence of youth to forge their own way, and demanding governments operate in the light and not darkness,” he said in a statement.

Alqunun was stopped Jan. 5 at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport. She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and took her plight onto social media. It got enough public and diplomatic support that Thai officials admitted her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials, who granted her refugee status Wednesday.

Alqunun’s father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him. Surachate said the father — whose name has not been released — denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight. He said Alqunun’s father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.

“He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes,” Surachate said. Canada’s decision to grant her asylum could further upset the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia. In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s Foreign Ministry tweeted support for women’s right activists who had been arrested. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

No country, including the U.S., spoke out publicly in support of Canada in that spat with the Saudis. On Friday, Trudeau avoided answering a question about what the case would mean for relations with the kingdom, but he said Canada will always unequivocally stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world.

Canadian officials were reluctant to comment further until she landed safely in Canada. Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wanted to seek refuge in Australia. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met Thursday with senior Thai officials in Bangkok. She later said Australia was assessing Alqunun’s resettlement request.

Payne said she also raised Australia’s concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national soccer team who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

He was arrested while vacationing in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

Al-Araibi’s case is being considered by Thailand’s justice system, she said.

Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press video journalist Samuel McNeil in Sydney contributed to this report.

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Thai police: Canada, Australia willing to accept Saudi woman

January 11, 2019

BANGKOK (AP) — Several countries including Canada and Australia are in talks with the U.N. refugee agency on accepting a Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse by her family, Thai police said Friday.

Thailand’s immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, told reporters the U.N. was accelerating the case, though he gave no indication of when the process would be complete. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun was stopped at a Bangkok airport last Saturday by Thai immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.

While barricading herself in an airport hotel room, the 18-year-old launched a social media campaign via her Twitter account that drew global attention to her case. It garnered enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees granted her refugee status on Wednesday. Alqunun’s case has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.

By Friday, Alqunun had closed down her Twitter account. Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who got in contact with Alqunun while she was stuck in the airport hotel room and has kept in touch with her, said Friday in a Twitter posting that Alqunun “is safe and fine.”

“She’s just been receiving a lot of death threats,” McNeill wrote, adding that Alqunun would be back on Twitter after a “short break.” Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wishes to seek refuge in Australia.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday. She later told reporters that Australia is assessing Alqunun’s request for resettlement but there was no specific timeframe.

Payne said she also raised Australia’s concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national soccer team who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand last November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

Al-Araibi’s case is being considered by Thailand’s justice system, she said.

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Activists call on Australia to accept fleeing Saudi woman

January 08, 2019

BANGKOK (AP) — Human Rights Watch has called on the Australian government to allow entry to a Saudi Arabian woman who’s being processed by UN refugee authorities in Thailand after fleeing her homeland.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun was detained after arriving in Bangkok on Saturday, but has come under the protection of the UN’s refugee agency after refusing to return home. The 18-year-old says she had a visa to continue to Australia, but media reports say the Australian government has now cancelled it. Australian officials have not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Human Rights Watch’s Australian director Elaine Pearson says since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, it should “come forward and offer protection for this young woman.”

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Hasan Minhaj jokes about ‘Patriot Act’ episode pulled from Saudi Arabia

JAN. 3, 2019

By Wade Sheridan

Jan. 3 (UPI) — Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj has poked fun at Netflix for pulling an episode of the series from Saudi Arabia due to its content revolving around slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The streaming service announced they had removed the episode on Wednesday following a valid legal request from the Saudi government.

Minhaj is featured in the episode blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for having Khashoggi — a Saudi citizen, U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist — killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. The CIA concluded in November that Salman ordered the killing.

“Clearly, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online, and then leave it up on YouTube,” Minhaj said on Twitter.

Minhaj’s comments refer to how the episode can still be accessed globally on YouTube.

Minaj also asked for donations to help the International Rescue Committee in Yemen. “Let’s not forget that the world’s largest humanitarian crisis is happening in Yemen right now. Please donate,” he said.

The IRC is asking for donations to help save lives in war-torn Yemen, stating that 22 million are in need of humanitarian aid.

Netflix launched Patriot Act in October. The talk show features Minhaj, a former star on The Daily Show, discussing politics and culture.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Entertainment_News/TV/2019/01/03/Hasan-Minhaj-jokes-about-Patriot-Act-episode-pulled-from-Saudi-Arabia/1501546519504/.

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Khashoggi’s son leaves Saudi Arabia, US praises decision

October 26, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — The son of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has left Saudi Arabia after the kingdom revoked a travel ban and allowed him to come to the United States. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino says Washington welcomes the decision.

It’s the latest turn in the saga of the killed Saudi writer and dissident after the kingdom on Thursday cited evidence showing that his killing was premeditated — changing its story again to try to ease international outrage over the macabre circumstances of Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had discussed the case of Khashoggi’s son, Salah Khashoggi, during his recent visit to the kingdom, making it “clear to Saudi leaders” that Washington wanted the son to return to the United States.

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Turkish official: Police found evidence of Khashoggi slaying

October 17, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — Police searching the Saudi Consulate found evidence that Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed there, a high-level Turkish official said Tuesday, and authorities appeared ready to also search the nearby residence of the consul general after the diplomat left the country.

The comment by the Turkish official to The Associated Press intensified pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain what happened to Khashoggi, who vanished Oct. 2 while visiting the consulate to pick up paperwork he needed to get married.

The crown prince “told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly,” Trump said in a tweet. The president later appeared to take a stronger stance in defense of Saudi Arabia, criticizing the global condemnation against the kingdom and comparing it to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.

“Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump told AP in an interview. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia to talk to King Salman and the 33-year-old crown prince about the fate of the journalist who wrote critically about the Saudis for The Washington Post.

While it was all smiles and handshakes in Riyadh, one prominent Republican senator said he believed that the crown prince, widely known as MBS, had Khashoggi “murdered.” “This guy has got to go,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, speaking on Fox television. “Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “serious evaluation” was being given to whether U.S. law enforcement officials would aid in the investigation of Khashoggi’s disappearance. He declined to comment further, or to say whether he had any concerns with the current investigation.

Saudi officials have called Turkish allegations that a team of 15 Saudi agents killed Khashoggi “baseless,” but U.S. media reports suggested that the kingdom may acknowledge the writer was killed at the consulate, perhaps as part of a botched interrogation.

The close U.S. ally is ruled entirely by the Al Saud monarchy, and all major decisions in the ultraconservative kingdom are made by the royal family. Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said the Saudi government “owes the Khashoggi family and the world a full and honest explanation of everything that happened to him,” noting that Tuesday marked two weeks since the disappearance of the 59-year-old journalist.

“The Saudi government can no longer remain silent, and it is essential that our own government and others push harder for the truth,” Ryan added. The high-level Turkish official told the AP that police found “certain evidence” of Khashoggi’s slaying at the consulate, without elaborating. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Police planned a second search at the Saudi consul general’s home, as well as some of the country’s diplomatic vehicles, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. Leaked surveillance video shows diplomatic cars traveled to the consul general’s home shortly after Khashoggi went into the consulate.

Consul General Mohammed al-Otaibi left Turkey on Tuesday afternoon, state media reported, just as police began putting up barricades around his official residence. Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge he had left or offer a reason for his departure.

Earlier in the day, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the “inviolability or immunity” of people or premises granted under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations “should be waived immediately.” That convention covers diplomatic immunity, as well as the idea that embassies and consulates sit on foreign soil in their host countries.

“Given there seems to be clear evidence that Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate and has never been seen since, the onus is on the Saudi authorities to reveal what happened to him,” Bachelet said. Turkey had wanted to search the consulate for days. Permission apparently came after a late Sunday night call between King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Certain areas of the consulate were to remain off-limits, although officials would be able to inspect surveillance cameras, Turkish media reported.

Erdogan told journalists Tuesday that police sought traces of “toxic” materials and suggested parts of the consulate had been recently painted, without elaborating. In Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir greeted Pompeo at the airport. The former CIA chief didn’t make any remarks to the media.

Soon after, Pompeo arrived at a royal palace, where he thanked King Salman “for accepting my visit on behalf of President Trump” before the two went into a closed-door meeting. Pompeo then met a smiling Prince Mohammed, the heir apparent to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter.

“We are strong and old allies,” the prince told Pompeo. “We face our challenges together — the past, the day of, tomorrow.” Pompeo later said that Saudi Arabia had made a “serious commitment” to hold senior leaders and officials accountable in the case, and said the crown prince again denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.

Pompeo was to have a dinner Tuesday night with Prince Mohammed and was expected to fly to Turkey on Wednesday. Trump had previously warned of “severe punishment” for the kingdom if it was found to be involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, which has spooked investors.

Trump’s warning drew an angry response Sunday from Saudi Arabia and its state-linked media, including a suggestion that Riyadh could wield its oil production as a weapon. The U.S. president has been after King Salman and OPEC to boost production to drive down high oil prices, caused in part by the coming re-imposition of oil sanctions on Iran.

On Monday, however, Trump offered a different theory after speaking by telephone with King Salman. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers,” Trump said. “I mean, who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.”

The New York Times and The Washington Post have reported, citing anonymous sources, that Saudi officials may soon acknowledge Khashoggi’s slaying at the consulate but blame it on a botched intelligence operation.

That could, like Trump’s comments, seek to give the kingdom a way out of the global firestorm of criticism over Khashoggi’s fate. “The effort behind the scenes is focused on avoiding a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and has succeeded in finding a pathway to deescalate tensions,” said Ayham Kamel, the head of the Eurasia Group’s Mideast and North Africa division.

“Riyadh will have to provide some explanation of the journalist’s disappearance, but in a manner that distances the leadership from any claim that a decision was made at senior levels to assassinate the prominent journalist.”

Nils Melzer, the U.N. special investigator on torture, said that if Turkey and Saudi Arabia can’t conduct “a credible and objective investigation,” then international involvement may be needed.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey, and Gambrell from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Jill Colvin and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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