Saudi crown prince welcomed in London amid rights activists protests
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has arrived in London for his controversial three-day visit amid massive outcry and protests against Riyadh’s human rights violations and its deadly war on Yemen.
According to Press TV, Bin Salman was welcomed at London airport by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson late on Tuesday. He had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday and is scheduled to dine later with Prince Charles and Prince William.
The Saudi delegation will also meet Prime Minister Theresa May and senior ministers inside the premier’s Downing Street offices to launch a UK-Saudi "Strategic Partnership Council," focusing on cooperation in different spheres, including economy, education and culture, as well as defense and security.
The three-day visit will also include a briefing with national security officials and a visit to May's country residence.
As welcoming ceremonies were underway for the Saudi crown prince, anti-war activists rallied near Parliament and said they would protest later outside the gates of Downing Street against Riyadh and London’s roles in the war on Yemen.
In a fiery exchange with opposition lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday, May defended Britain's links to Saudi Arabia.
May defends Saudi ties
Asked by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn whether she would slam Riyadh’s "shocking abuse of human rights," May said, "The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one, and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country."
Her statements were interrupted briefly as opposition lawmakers cried "Shame!"
Although May noted that she would raise humanitarian concerns about Yemen in his meeting with bin Salman, she stressed that all arms sales to Saudi Arabia were strictly regulated.
She underlined her government’s support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, noting that the campaign has been supported by the UN Security Council.
Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015 to reinstall its former Riyadh-allied government. The military aggression has so far martyred over 15,000 Yemenis.
The war is being led by bin Salman, also Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, with the help of the US and the UK.
May’s government has remained defiant in the face of growing pressure to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia, defending the sales amid evidence of war crimes and civilian deaths in Yemen.
The UK has increased its weapons sales by around 500 percent since the onset of the Saudi invasion, according to a report by The Independent.
The UK has, so far, sold more than six billion pounds of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Both Saudi Arabia and Britain try to seize the opportunity to broaden their existing business ties. While Saudi Arabia needs to convince skeptical investors about its domestic reforms, the UK is looking for trading partners as it is in the process of exiting the European Union.
Britain seeks to expand its market for service sector exports in Saudi Arabia and attract Saudi cash to finance domestic projects. London also eyes listing state oil firm Saudi Aramco in its stock market.
According to British and Saudi sources, bin Salman’s visit is expected to bring about several business deals, including an agreement with British defense group BAE Systems and European weapons maker MBDA as well as an initial agreement on gas exploration, petrochemicals and other industries.
Diplomats say the agreements could be worth more than $100 billion.
'War criminal bin Salman not welcome'
The government tries to create a welcoming atmosphere for the Saudi crown prince in London. London taxis display advertising graphics welcoming Prince Mohammed and electronic billboards promote the visit.
However, anti-war activists and human rights campaigners have designed buses and vans touring London over the past two days with banners accusing bin Salman of war crimes. More similar programs are underway before the main planned rally on Wednesday.
"The UK should not welcome war criminal Mohammed bin Salman," the banners read.
The activists accuse Mohammed bin Salman of being the "chief architect" of the Yemen war, which according to the UN, has led to the world's worst humanitarian crisis.