Saudi Arabia's state airline to suspend Canadian operations starting August 13

Samar badawi

Saudi Arabian airlines announced the suspension flights to and from Toronto from August 13 in the latest escalation in the diplomatic spat that broke out earlier this week.

On Friday, the Canadian government sent out a tweet condemning the arrests of women's rights activists, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed dissident Raif Badawi.

Saudi officials reacted with fury to the criticism: expelling Canada's ambassador and withdrawing their own ambassador from Canada, suspending flights from Saudi Arabia to Canada, halting all new Saudi business and investments in Canada, and issuing what to many Canadians appeared to be a veiled threat of terrorist violence.

The first Canadian source said Ottawa had no regrets about speaking out on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Canada has said it is "gravely concerned" about the arrests and has called for those detained to be released immediately.

Raif Badawi's wife has been granted asylum by Canada.

"Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is trying to pull off a very delicate process in which he liberalizes some aspects of Saudi society, which is extremely conservative, but also retains virtually absolute power over that society", Kliment said.

The United States said Tuesday that both Canada and Saudi Arabia are "close partners" of the USA, and asked the Saudi government for more information of the detention of several activists.

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Samar is a vocal campaigner for her brother Raif Badawi, a blogger who was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

"Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs", the Saudi ministry's said.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the USA raises such issues privately with Saudi Arabia - and that it is up to the Saudis and Canadians to work this out, but she declined to condemn the activist's arrest.

Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor and Middle East expert at the University of Ottawa, said Saudi irritation at the way the General Dynamics contract was handled also helped explain Riyadh's response.

Canada has responded by saying it "will continue to advocate for human rights".

Genevieve Paul, the director of Amnesty's francophone branch, points out that pressure is put on the Saudi government when news of such arrests becomes public.

"Saudi Arabia is shooting itself in the foot".

"These countries are able to host the students, and we at the ministry are committed to facilitating the students' transfers so they can easily complete their education", he said. In 2014, the Canadian unit of US weapons maker General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) won a contract worth up to $13 billion to build light-armored vehicles for Saudi Arabia, in what Ottawa said was the largest advanced manufacturing export win in Canadian history.

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