Saudi Arabia’s crown prince met with PM Theresa May in Downing Street at sunset on Wednesday. Instead of crickets chirping, though, a chorus of yells from hundreds of protesters railed against his first official UK visit.
Over 200 protesters, keen to take Prince Mohammed bin Salman to task over his alleged war crimes against the Yemeni people, gathered to make their message clear: the Saudi royal is not welcome in the United Kingdom.
The Saudi Arabian government was clearly expecting the backlash – targeted advertisements were taken out on social media, in newspapers, and on billboards across London to promote the prince’s whirlwind trip. Many of the ads promoted the prince’s revolutionary approach to women in his home country. Women are now able to join the army, drive, and even attend the cinema – drastic liberal reforms for the highly conservative Arab nation.
Although rights for women in Saudi Arabia are advancing in leaps and bounds, activists take issue with the Saudi-led coalition force and their attacks on Yemen. According to the UN, more than 9,000 people, over half of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen. More than 52,000 have also been injured in the fighting since the war began in March 2015. The UNHCR cite that some 22 million Yemenis are in need of aid due to the conflict.
So where are the Saudi forces getting these weapons? As it turns out, some of them are coming from the UK. Government statistics show that since the bombardment of Yemen began in 2015, the UK has licensed £4.6 billion-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, including helicopters, drones, grenades, bombs, and missiles. A poll of over 2,000 adults, carried out by Populus for Campaign Against Arms Trade, has found that only six percent of UK adults believe it is acceptable to sell weapons to the Saudi Arabian regime.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the statistics show that the “overwhelming majority of people in the UK do not share Theresa May’s political and military support” for the prince and Saudi Arabia. “Despite the spin surrounding the Crown Prince, he is a figurehead for one of the world’s most authoritarian dictatorships,” he added.
“The regime has carried out atrocities against Saudi people for decades and has inflicted a terrible humanitarian catastrophe on the people of Yemen,” Smith continued. “It is time for Theresa May and her colleagues to end their shameful support for this appalling autocracy.”
During his visit the crown prince will also meet the Queen, the Duke of Cambridge and the Prince of Wales.
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