Saudi Arabia severs ties with Canada over Ottawa 'interference'

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The ministry said that the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh had 24 hours to leave the country, and announced the "freezing of all new commercial and investment transactions" with Ottawa.

On 2 August, Canada's foreign minister Chrystia Freeland called for the "release" of Samar Badawi, the sister of Raif Badawi, a prominent rights campaigner who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.

Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry did not take well to the statement, suggesting Canada's use of "immediate release" was "unfortunate, reprehensible and unacceptable in relations between states".

The Saudi ministry had been briefed that the Canadian foreign ministry and the Canadian embassy urged the Saudi authorities to "immediately release" civil rights activists, the statement said.

Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger who is now serving a 10-year sentence for expressing dissent online, and is also the ex-wife of Waleed Abu al-Khair, a human rights lawyer serving 15 years in prison for his activism.

Canada's remarks are "an affront to the kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty", the ministry said. It issued a statement saying, "Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs". 'Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to worldwide diplomacy'.

Saudi Arabia is Canada's second largest export market in the Gulf region and Canadian exports to the kingdom exceeded 1.4 billion Canadian dollars in 2017, according to Statistics Canada data. Saudi Arabia has invested about $6 billion in Canadian businesses since 2006, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Badawi was arrested along with fellow activist Nassima al-Sadah last week. It must be noted that Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar lives in Canada itself and recently acquired the Canadian citizenship.

A Saudi official confirmed reports that the Kingdom has agreed to admit an Iranian diplomat to head an office representing Iranian interests in Riyadh.

She is a Canadian citizen whose brother Reif Badawi, a blogger who was critical of the Saudi government, was already in jail in the kingdom. Many others are banned from traveling outside the kingdom.

Observers say Riyadh's expulsion of the Canadian ambassador was meant to send a strong message to other critical Western governments.

"Canada is easier to cut ties with than the rest", Bessma Momani, a professor at Canada's University of Waterloo, told AFP.

Saudi investments in Canada include G3 Global Holdings Ltd., a joint venture between Bunge Ltd. and Saudi Agricultural & Livestock Investment Co., which purchased the former Canadian Wheat Board in 2015.

Criticism of the deal angered the Saudis, who said publicly that the contract was meant to be a gift to cement friendship between the two countries and noted Riyadh could easily have awarded it to manufacturers elsewhere in the world.