LONDON: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday.—AFP
LONDON: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday.—AFP

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May defended Britain’s links to security ally Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Queen Elizabeth for lunch on a high profile to London that has drawn protests over Riyadh’s human rights record.

A fiery exchange in parliament between May and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn underlined tension in Britain over the trip, which is aimed at building a broader economic partnership between the two countries, but has sparked protests about human rights and the war in Yemen.

“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!”.

The debate took place as Prince Mohammed lunched with the British monarch on the first leg of a trip packed with displays of diplomatic affection designed to help widen long-standing defence ties into a more far-reaching partnership.

May later met Prince Mohammed, extending a warm diplomatic welcome to the conservative kingdom’s heir apparent.

Britain is looking for trading partners as it exits the European Union, and energy powerhouse Saudi Arabia needs to convince sceptical investors about its domestic reforms. But demonstrators gathered outside May’s office to protest both countries’ roles in Yemen where war has killed an estimated 10,000 people.

“I don’t believe that someone like Mohammed bin Salman should be welcomed in Britain,” said Hassan Yassine, a 25-year-old customer service worker from London. “It is definitely not ethical, bearing in mind what is going on in Yemen every single day, every single second, even as we speak.”

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2018

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