Saudi Arabia severs ties with Canada over Ottawa 'interference'

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Saudi Arabia has ordered Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak to leave the ultraconservative kingdom within 24 hours after his nation criticized the recent arrests of women's rights activists.

Riyadh also suspended new trade and investment with Canada.

On Aug. 3, the Canadian government's main foreign policy Twitter account followed this up by saying that "Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women's rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi".

"The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation".

The ministry added that Saudi Arabia is recalling its ambassador to Canada in a dispute that appears to be over a tweet on Friday from Global Affairs Canada.

"We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists", tweeted the Canadian embassy.

Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said Saudi Arabia had arrested women's rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah, the latest two to be swept up in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists.

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Canadian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Samar Badawi is a prominent women's rights advocate, and her brother Raif has been in a Saudi jail since 2012 for his criticism of the regime and was lashed 50 times in 2015.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was "very alarmed" by the news of Samar Badawi's arrest, the sister of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi.

"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", the Saudis said. The Canadian position has been deemed "an attack" and an "attempt to interfere with our internal affairs", requiring a firm stance to deter "attempts to undermine the sovereignty of the KSA".

Saudi Arabia is also an important source of foreign students for Canada, with more than 15,000 students in Canada, as well as 800 resident physicians who "provide care to the Canadian population".

"Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this hard time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi", she wrote on Twitter. "The legitimate rights (of those arrested) have not been denied and they were provided with all guarantees during the investigation and trial stages", the statement said.

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