In apparent escalation of a rift between Saudi Arabia and Canada on Monday evening, Riyadh suspended scholarships for Saudi students in Canada and said it would relocate thousands of students studying there to other countries, state media reported, citing an Education Ministry official.

The move followed the Kingdom's announcement yesterday that it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa's vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists.

KSA gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs.

The move, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, came after Canada demanded the immediate release of human rights campaigners swept up in a new crackdown.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was quoted by Reuters as saying to reporters on Monday that "it would be a shame for those students if they are deprived of the opportunity to study here."

According to the Toronto Star, there are about 16,000 Saudi students studying in Canada.

Freeland late on Monday also tweeted an official statement saying that Canada would "continue to advocate for human rights and for the brave women and men who push for these fundamental rights around the world."

"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world. We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy," the press release read.

"We are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador in response to Canadian statements in defence of human rights activists detained in the kingdom. The Embassy of Canada to Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, continues its regular operations, including consular services," the statement added.

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