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BRUSSELS: The United States and the European Union said on Tuesday that they are seeking details about the arrest of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, but they sidestepped a sensitive diplomatic dispute over the crackdown between the ultraconservative kingdom and Canada.

Describing both countries as “close partners” of the US, the US State Department on Tuesday referred inquiries about the spat to the Saudi and Canadian foreign ministries.

Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador on Monday and froze “all new business” with Ottawa over criticism of its arrest of women’s rights activists.

Analysts say the dispute shows Saudi Arabia will reject any outside criticism and continue to flex its muscles abroad, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with President Donald Trump.

She said the European Commission wants to understand the allegations against the activists and to ensure they receive a fair trial.

But it said it has asked the Saudi government “for additional information on the detention of several activists” and that it urges Riyadh “to respect due process and to publicise information on the status of legal cases”.

Questioned in Brussels about the tensions, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that “we have been seeking clarification from Saudi authorities” over a number of arrests since May.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2018