In meeting with Welby, Saudi crown prince vows to promote religious freedom

Posted March 10, 2018

BRITAIN has given Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince the royal treatment during a three-day visit overshadowed by some very awkward realities.

As the UK Government welcomes the Saudi Crown Prince's first official visit to London, Save the Children has unveiled a life-size statue of a child outside Parliament.

The pair met at Downing Street for talks on reforms in Saudi Arabia, trade and investment relations and defence and security cooperation. The United Kingdom is the third state dealing with Saudi Arabia, in addition to the United States and China.

Prince Salman is the driving force behind reforms such as allowing women to watch sports events and drive and the opening of cinemas, and moves to reduce his country's dependence on oil.

During the meeting, Archbishop Welby raised concerns about the limits placed on Christian worship in Saudi Arabia, "and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK".

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Labour, the Lib Dems and human rights campaigners have heavily criticised the way May has "rolled out the red carpet" for the Crown Prince, with lunch with the Queen and dinner with Prince Charles and Prince William lined up on Wednesday.

One of the most important aspects of the Crown Princes' visit is to set the message that Saudi Arabia is a reliable partner and that the Kingdom is indeed open for business and is looking for global support for his internal economic reforms while at the same time trying to offer reassurance to nervous worldwide investors given the quick pace of internal reforms and anti-corruption campaigns to ensure a level playing field for all parties. In December, Saudi Arabia pledged approximately $US 8 billion of investments to Egypt.

The demonstrators protested over Saudi-led military operation in Yemen.

Protesters chanted "Hands off Yemen - stop the bombing now" and said the crown prince should not have been invited. He will dine with the Queen and meet with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May.

"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", May said, pausing her answer briefly as opposition lawmakers cried "Shame!"

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ReutersThe Saudi Crown Prince has taken out adverts in the Guardian and Financial Times newspaper as he seeks to promote his image as a moderniser.

He said the dispute with Qatar could be long-lasting, comparing it to the US embargo of Cuba imposed 60 years ago, but played down its impact, dismissing the Gulf emirate as "smaller than a Cairo street".

They also agreed to work together "to counter Iran's destabilizing regional activity", May's office said.

On Thursday, the crown prince will attend a business conference in London before travelling to the prime minister's country residence, Chequers, in Buckinghamshire outside London, before returning to the capital.

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