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Saudi-Canada row: Gulf state pulls thousands of students as spat with Ottawa escalates



A diplomatic spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia shows no sign of abating after Riyadh ordered thousands of Saudi students in Canada to leave the country. 

It’s the latest in a flurry of sanctions imposed in recent days.

The Saudi government on Wednesday ordered some 16,000 Saudi students in Canada to pack their stuff and made arrangements for their relocation, whether they received government funding or not. 

According to a report by state-owned media outlet Al Arabiya, “training, scholarships and fellowships” for Saudi students in Canada are being shelved.

Some university professors expressed regret over the decision, but said they still supported Canadian government’s position.

“I’m concerned about those students, but we still need to stand by our position that we support human rights in the world,” Bessma Momani, an expert on Middle East issues and a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview on Monday, the Star reports. 

“I don’t think, understanding Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, that they’re going to climb down from this, so we’re at an impasse.”

The clash between the two countries began last Thursday when the Canadian government posted a tweet expressing concern over Riyadh’s arrest of two women’s rights activists.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry called the statement “a major, unacceptable affront to the kingdom’s laws and judicial process.” 

It subsequently froze all new trade agreements with Canada and gave the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh 24 hours to leave. 

A Saudi airline has also interrupted flights to the North American country.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s main state wheat-buying agency, Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO), issued a notice to exporters that it will no longer buy Canadian wheat and barley.

Other sanctions include Saudi patients in Canada having their treatments stopped and being relocated to a medical facility outside the country.

However, Ottawa doesn’t seem to be caving in to pressure.

“We’ve been pretty clear in our dealings around the world and specifically in Saudi Arabia that we know that it’s important that we bring Canadian values around the world. 

We are going to continue to enunciate what we believe are the appropriate ways of dealing with citizens,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Tuesday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reportedly expected to be pressed on the diplomatic crisis at a press conference in Montreal.

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