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Theresa May defends Saudi Arabia trip after human rights concerns
05 April 2017, 02:20 | Clarence Schmidt
Illustration courtesy Stratfor
"Numerous human rights organisations, including the UNHRC and Amnesty International, have documented the dictatorial Saudi monarchy's shocking human rights record".
The United States has supported the coalition against the Houthis over the past year with intelligence, weapons and mid-air refuelling aircraft - and there have been suggestions from the Trump administration over recent weeks that America is considering deeper involvement.
"The strong British tradition of standing up for human rights is there, the strong British tradition of standing up for British national interest is there", she said, underlining the importance of the two countries' trading and security ties. "I'll be meeting with her and talking to her about the role that she plays, and generally we do encourage people to look at a woman's role in society".
Asked by British reporters if she would bring up humanitarian and rights questions in Riyadh, May told Sky News: "We have no difficulty in raising hard issues with those that we meet, be it in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the world".
"Last year we were the fourth largest donor in terms of humanitarian aid, £103 million".
She said it was important for Britain to maintain worldwide relationships so that she is in a position to raise human rights issues when necessary.
The prime minister said she has raised the issue of female rights a couple of times with the Gulf nation, where women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel or marry and are banned from driving. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama also declined to wear headscarves during visits to the country.
Her comments come after her visit was strongly criticised by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday on account of the Saudi Arabia's human rights record and its military actions in Yemen.
Rights groups say the Saudi-led coalition's air campaign has included hits on hospitals, schools, markets, factories and homes, killing hundreds of civilians in what they say may constitute war crimes.
The UK will help Saudi Arabia with "building a reformed ministry of defence, reviewing Saudi defence capabilities and joint working across the Saudi armed forces", the Government said.
"The security of those Yemeni civilians, who are being killed and injured by these reckless air strikes, must be on the agenda".
But the visit has been deemed controversial as it falls on the second anniversary of the Saudi-led bombardment campaign in Yemen.
Mrs May's Saudi visit is part of the second leg of her Gulf Tour - which has already seen her visit Jordan, where she announced that United Kingdom military trainers will be sent to the country to help the nation's air force in the fight against the so-called Islamic State.
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