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Mohammed bin Salman backs Yemeni government as Saudi-led coalition descends into infighting

Mohammed bin Salman backs Yemeni government as Saudi-led coalition descends into infightingMohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, has thrown his weight behind the Yemeni government as it battles against a separatist group backed by Saudi Arabia’s allies in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  The prince’s military coalition in Yemen fractured dramatically over the weekend as the Yemeni government and the southern separatists turned their guns on each other after years of fight side-by-side under Saudi leadership.    The intense fighting in the port city of Aden left 40 people dead as separatist forces, who seek an independent state in south Yemen, seized control of government buildings and fought against presidential guards.   Saudi jets carried out an airstrike in Aden in support of government troops and Prince Mohammed met with the Yemeni president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, on Sunday night in a show of support.  Mr Hadi’s office said the two men discussed the separatist “coup” against the government and “various other crimes against the sons of Aden”.  By Monday morning a tense calm appeared to have settled over Aden with no reports of fresh fighting between the two sides. Humanitarian groups warned that thousands of civilians were trapped in the firing line.  Mohammed bin Salman is supporting the Yemeni government. Credit: REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo But it was unclear how the standoff would be resolved and whether separatist forces, known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC), would withdraw from seized government buildings. Aidarus al-Zubaidi, the head of the STC, said he was committed to a ceasefire and was prepared to travel to Saudi Arabia to negotiate a long-term truce.  He said his forces had moved against the Yemeni government because he had intelligence that government troops were preparing to launch an attack of their own.  Even if the immediate crisis in Aden can be resolved, the violence highlights the deep fractures in Prince Mohammed’s coalition, which has been struggling for more than four years against Houthi rebels aligned with Iran.     Saudi Arabia led an Arab military coalition into an air campaign against Houthi forces in 2015 in an effort to restore Mr Hadi’s control over Yemen.  The fighting has plunged the country into famine and the UN now considers Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Thousands of civilians have been killed by the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes. The separatists are armed by the UAE Credit: REUTERS/Fawaz Salman The UAE, which has one of the region’s most effective militaries, played a major role in helping government forces push the Houthis back towards their stronghold in the country’s northwest.  It also provided weapons and support to the STC, arguing that the separatists were key partners in fighting both the Houthis and jihadists groups in Yemen.   However, the UAE withdrew most of its forces from Yemen in recent months, hampering the coalition’s ability to continue fighting the Houthis.   With their patrons withdrawing from Yemen, the STC decided to move against the Yemeni government.  In an statement over the weekend, the Yemeni embassy in Washington said it held “the United Arab Emirates fully responsible for the coup perpetrated against the state in Aden”.



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Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman heads to Pakistan on Asian diplomatic offensive

Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman heads to Pakistan on Asian diplomatic offensiveSaudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman flew to Pakistan at the start of a three nation diplomatic tour designed to repair the kingdom's reputation and bolster ties with key regional allies. The crown prince's visit could be overshadowed by dangerously spiraling tensions between Pakistan and India. The trip comes days after a suicide bomber killed 44 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region.  New Delhi has accused Pakistan of having a hand in Thursday's attack and vowed to punish Islamabad, which denies involvement. Iran, a regional rival of Saudi Arabia, accused Pakistan of harbouring and training militants behind a suicide bombing in Baluchistan that killed 27 troops on Wednesday.  Crown prince Mohammed is expected to travel to Dehli to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday. He will spend Thursday and Friday in China.  The three nation tour has been characterized as part of a Saudi "pivot to the east" and is in part meant to repair the crown prince's reputation following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ensuing state-led cover-up. Despite his vow to shift Saudi Arabia to renewable energy, the trip is also in part a roadshow to sell Saudi oil. China is the world’s largest buyer of Saudi crude, and India is close behind. As the guardians of the most holy site in Islam, the Saudi royal family carry great clout in Pakistan. The visit also deepens a long standing alliance that has seen Saudi Arabia propping up Pakistan's fragile economy.  Pakistani officials have said that Saudi Arabia will announce eight investment agreements during the visit, including a $ 10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port. Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped keep Pakistan's economy afloat by propping up its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $ 6 billion loan, giving Islamabad breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.



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Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: Saudi teenager fleeing family arrives in Canada after being granted asylum

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: Saudi teenager fleeing family arrives in Canada after being granted asylumAn 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family this week saying she feared for her life arrived in Toronto on Saturday after Canada granted her asylum. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun grabbed international attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse. Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try take her back to Saudi Arabia. Qunun arrived at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Saturday morning and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to address the media shortly. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (C) accompanied by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chryistia Freeland (R), arrives at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto Credit: Reuters Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families. Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto. Qunun arrived in Bangkok a week ago and was initially denied entry. But she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia. Within hours, a campaign sprang up dubbed #SaveRahaf, spread on Twitter by a loose network of activists. Following a 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter the country and has been processed as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).



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Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: Justin Trudeau announces Canada will grant asylum to Saudi teen

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: Justin Trudeau announces Canada will grant asylum to Saudi teenJustin Trudeau has confirmed that Canada will grant asylum to a Saudi Arabian teenager fleeing alleged family abuse. Thailand’s immigration police chief earlier said that Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun had left Bangkok on a flight to South Korea, with a final destination of Toronto. “That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for woman’s rights around the world,” Mr Trudeau said.



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Aide to Mohammed bin Salman 'supervised torture of female prisoner'

Aide to Mohammed bin Salman 'supervised torture of female prisoner'A top aide to Saudi Arabia's crown prince, fired for his role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, personally oversaw the torture of at least one detained female activist earlier this year, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. Saud al-Qahtani was a royal adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman until October, when he was sacked and then sanctioned by the US Treasury over the Washington Post columnist's murder. Now three sources, briefed on the activists' treatment, say a group of men subjected this woman and at least three others to sexual harassment, electrocution and flogging between May and August at an unofficial holding facility in Jeddah. They described the group of about six men as distinct from the regular interrogators the women saw and said they belonged to the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, which Mr Qahtani headed at the time, or to state security. Mr Qahtani was present when at least one of the women was tortured, two of the sources said. Reuters has been unable to reach Mr Qahtani since he was sacked in October. Portraits of Saudi King Salman (R) and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) are displayed in Riyadh Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images A Saudi official said the allegations of mistreatment and torture of the female detainees were "false … and have no connection to the truth." "The detainees were detained based on accusations related to harming the security and stability of the kingdom," the official said in response to questions from Reuters. Their legal rights were being respected and they were receiving medical and social care, family visits and had the right to an attorney, the official said. The women are among more than a dozen prominent activists arrested since May amid a broader crackdown targeting clerics and intellectuals. Eleven women are still being held, activists say, including the four alleged to have been tortured. The allegations come as Riyadh tries to get past the Oct. 2 killing of Khashoggi, a long-time royal insider who became a critic of Prince Mohammed and went into self-exile in the United States last year. Khashoggi was killed inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, damaging the crown prince's reputation and opening Riyadh up to the threat of sanctions. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said last month at least three of the activists — most of whom had agitated for the right to drive and an end to a male guardianship system — were tortured. They did not report Mr Qahtani's involvement. The sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, told Reuters that Mr Qahtani was in the room on several occasions when one of the four detained activists was subjected to kissing, groping and electrocution. He made threats of rape and murder to the woman, the sources said. At least two other detainees endured sexual insults, flogging and electric shocks that turned one of the women's fingers blue, the sources said. Captors also made another woman kiss a male detainee while they watched, one of the sources said. Reuters could not determine whether Mr Qahtani was in the room during the episodes with those three other detainees, but the sources said all of the women's tormentors were from "Saud's group". A third source said Mr Qahtani addressed several of these women in May when they were initially transferred to Jeddah from Riyadh, telling them the penalty for treason was 20 years in prison or the death penalty. 



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Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchange friendly handshake at G-20

Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchange friendly handshake at G-20Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greet each other with very friendly handshake as the leaders gather at the G-20 Summit in Argentina



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How Saudi's Mohammed bin Salman went from promising reformer to tainted heir accused of plotting Khashoggi's murder

How Saudi's Mohammed bin Salman went from promising reformer to tainted heir accused of plotting Khashoggi's murderExactly a year ago, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, was on top of the world.  Or more specifically, he was on stage at the first “Davos in the Desert” investment summit in Riyadh, happily discussing his plans for a $ 500 billion (£385 billion) new Saudi mega city.  Western politicians and international business leaders flocked to hear the young prince describe his vision of a reformed Saudi economy and of a gentler society freed from the grip of hardline clerics.   Today, Crown Prince Mohammed at the centre of an international storm over allegations that he ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.  The same global elites who raced to Riyadh last year are nowhere to be seen this year. The conference hall at the Ritz-Carlton hotel remains packed but few of the attendees are from major US or European firms. The fall from international favour is the latest dramatic turn in the life of the 33-year-old heir to the throne, who has gone in a few short years from an unknown royal to one of the Middle East’s most powerful men.  Widely known by his initials “MBS”, Crown Prince Mohammed is one of the younger sons of the current monarch King Salman and a favourite among his 13 children.  King Salman is 82 and in declining mental health Credit: EPA/MAST IRHAM He has been groomed for leadership ever since King Salman took the throne in 2015, and unlike many of his siblings he was educated in Saudi Arabia not in the West. He was appointed defence minister at the age 29 but his authority has spread to almost all corners of the Saudi government, earning him the nickname “Mr Everything” from some foreign diplomats. His 82-year-old father is declining mentally and has handed his son broad powers over the economy. MBS has also been a driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s more aggressive foreign policy, including its disastrous bombing campaign in Yemen and the diplomatic effort to isolate Qatar.  In June last year, King Salman moved dramatically to re-order the Saudi line of succession and shift the direction of the kingdom’s future. He removed the serving crown prince, his 58-year-old nephew Mohammed bin Nayaf, and gave the title to MBS instead.  The decision overturned years of tradition in which the Saudi crown is passed sideways from brother-to-brother or cousin-to-cousin and instead set Saudi Arabia on a course where the son would inherit the father’s throne.  In 17 months since Crown Prince Mohammed was elevated, he has moved with unbridled aggression both at home and abroad, smashing what had previously been a slow-moving Saudi governing system based on consensus among the elite.   The crown prince imprisoned many of his rivals at the Ritz-Carlton Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst He pushed through high-profile social reforms, like allowing women to drive and re-opening cinemas, although he has done little to ease the guardianship laws which severely restrict the rights of female Saudi citizens.  Unlike his father, Crown Prince Mohammed has only one wife, a princess named Sara bint Mashoor. Little is known about her but the couple are believed to have four children.   In November last year, he announced an “anti-corruption” drive which saw Saudi police arrest many of his fellow princes and some of the kingdom’s leading business figures. Analysts saw the move as an effort to consolidate power and crush any potential rivals.  At the same time, Crown Prince Mohammed summoned Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, and effectively imprisoned him in Saudi Arabia and ordered him to resign his position in protest at Iran’s influence in Lebanon.    Mr Hariri was eventually freed and resumed his post after the intervention of France and other Western powers. But the crown prince did not pay any major price for flouting of international norms.  Saad Hariri was imprisoned in Riyadh and forced to resign his post Credit: (Future TV via AP) All the while, Saudi Arabia continued its three-year bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. While human rights groups criticised the kingdom for the level of civilian casualties and for a devastating blockade that has fueled famine, MBS has retained the backing of the US and UK.  His support from Donald Trump, the US president, and his close relationship with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has insulated him from opponents at home and abroad.  One of the key questions of the Khashoggi crisis is whether the White House will rethink the trust it has put in a man it sees as a dynamic reformer, a reliable opponent of Iran, and a potential lynchpin of a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.    Even if the White House stands by him, his international reputation has certainly been tarnished for the time being.  In the summer of 2018 he embarked on a high-profile tour of the US and met with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and other leading figures from Hollywood and Silicon Valley.  Crown Prince Mohammed was once feted by international business leaders Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images These same figures are unlikely to agree to another photo opportunity with the crown prince while Mr Khashoggi’s murder is fresh in the public mind, although they will likely quietly continue do business with the kingdom.  Crown Prince Mohammed is likely to keep a lower profile for the time being as he licks his wounds and reflects on Western leaders who have not stood by him. Expect the Kremlin to aggressively court the young leader and whisper to him that the US and Europe cannot be relied upon. 



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From blackmailing princes to murdering journalists: how Saudi Arabia’s spy network has expanded under Mohammed bin Salman

From blackmailing princes to murdering journalists: how Saudi Arabia’s spy network has expanded under Mohammed bin SalmanInside the Georgian mansion in Mayfair that houses Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London, two offices of Saudi intelligence operatives are busy at work.  The first office belongs to the General Intelligence Presidency, Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence agency. Its staff are engaged in the “normal” work of spies, meeting with MI6 to discuss Britain and Saudi Arabia’s shared fight against al-Qaeda or to swap secrets on Iran.  The second office has a darker purpose. There the staff of the Mabahith, Saudi Arabia’s secret police, are tracking people of interest inside the UK.  Its operatives are watching obvious targets like Saudi dissidents who have gone into exile in Britain, or London-based Islamists whose ideology is seen as a threat to Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy. But they are also keeping tabs on Arab businessmen and the decadent lives of Gulf royals living the UK. The Mabahith’s spies are especially interested in compromising material they can use as blackmail to further Riyadh’s interests.       “These guys gather the dirt and they hold it until directed,” said a former Saudi embassy employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They want to know who is sleeping with who, who is drinking and doing drugs, who is spending money they don’t have.”  Saudi spies and secret police work out of the kingdom's embassy in London Credit: Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images The set-up in the London embassy is replicated at Saudi diplomatic posts around the world, forming a vast web of spies watching the kingdom’s enemies and surveilling its own people.  While this apparatus has existed for years, it has become more aggressive and more violent under Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, who controls the Saudi security services.  His ambition to silence critics abroad and stomp out political rivals at home has depended on a new ferocity in the intelligence agencies. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is just the most extreme example.   “For many decades Saudi Arabia had a system in which the king sought to develop a policy consensus within the royal family, the clerical establishment, and the entrepreneur elite,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who now heads the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institute.  “That has changed profoundly in the last few years. Instead of a consensual system they have moved to a very autocratic system, which relies much more on the intelligence services hounding out dissent at home and abroad.”  Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer, was allegedly part of the squad that killed Mr Khashoggi Credit: Sabah via AP  Mr Khashoggi was no stranger to the craft of the secret police or how its methods changed over time. In the mid-2000s he worked at the Saudi embassy in London as an advisor to the ambassador, Prince Turki bin Faisal. The prince was Saudi Arabia’s spy chief before moving to the UK.   One of Mr Khashoggi’s embassy colleagues was Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer stationed in London. Mr Mutreb is now under arrest in Saudi Arabia as part of the 15-man squad accused of Mr Khashoggi’s murder.    In his Washington Post column, Mr Khashoggi noted the aggression of Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide to Crown Prince Mohammed who was sacked over the weekend amid the fallout out of the killing. The prince’s aide made no secret of his hatred for dissidents and once asked his 1.35 million Twitter followers to give him names for a blacklist. Mr Khashoggi pointed to the tweet as an example of how unrestrained Saudi repression had become in the last two years. “Writers like me, whose criticism is offered respectfully, seem to be considered more dangerous than the more strident Saudi opposition based in London.”  Saudi Arabia’s spies have always focused on the UK, which has given safe harbour to many Saudi dissidents as well as Islamists and anti-monarchists from across the Middle East.  One of their targets has been Sa’ad al-Faqih, the leader of Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, a UK-based Saudi opposition group that campaigns to replace with the royal family with an Islamic government. Saad al-Faqih, a Saudi dissident based in London, has been a target for Saudi intelligence Credit: AP Photo/Richard Lewis Dr Faqih was attacked at his home in Willesden Green, northwest London, in June 2003 by two men who he said claimed to be plumbers. They tried to spray chemicals in his face and then attacked him with a spanner but he was able to fight them off.  He believes the two white men were British gangsters hired by Saudi Arabia to kidnap him, a claim that the kingdom has always denied.   Dr Faqih has not faced any more physical attacks since 2003. But he has felt a heightened threat since Crown Prince Mohammed began to gather power three years ago and he started taking new security precautions. “We feel extra danger because we know that this boy is reckless and impulsive,” he said.  Saudi dissidents were rattled by an incident in August this year on the pavement outside Harrods in central London. Ghanem al-Masarir, a popular Saudi political satirist who often mocks Crown Prince Mohammed, was confronted and attacked by two Saudi men.  يا شين المهايط فـ الخلا ما يحمّس يبربر على اسياده .. ولا احدٍ درا به ٰ سلامي على يـدٍ عطته ( المخمّس ) هذي اصغر ردود السعودي والاجابه��������#جلد_الكلب_غانم_الدوسري@GhanemAlmasarirpic.twitter.com/axejGsqNAt— بيع قصايد جزله .. (@Be3_600) September 9, 2018 “They were shouting about the king and Mohammed bin Salman and they said: ‘how dare you insult al-Saud?’” Mr Dosari said. He is convinced that the men were put up to the attack by Saudi intelligence.  “I don’t think they were trying to kill me or kidnap me but they wanted to insult me and to send a message that I was not safe where I was,” he said. Video footage of the attack was widely shared by pro-Saudi Twitter accounts under a hashtag celebrating the attack. The Saudi embassy in London did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Saudi Arabia insists that Mr Khashoggi's death was the result of "a rogue operation" which was not ordered by the government.   Before the killing in Istanbul made global headlines, the starkest example of the Saudi intelligence's new aggression was an apparent campaign to kidnap rebel princes in Europe and bring them back to Saudi Arabia.  According to the BBC, three princes who had fallen out with the royal family have been captured since 2015. One, Prince Sultan bin Turki, a grandson of King Abdulaziz, accepted a flight on a Saudi government private jet from Paris to Cairo in January 2016.     The prince went to sleep on the flight and when he awoke he realised the jet was in fact heading Saudi Arabia. He was dragged off the plane by Saudi agents and is believed to be under house arrest to this day.  Saudi dissidents joke darkly that Mr Khashoggi’s death probably means they are safer now than they have been in years because Riyadh will be unwilling to risk another international scandal. But none believe the danger has fully passed.  Over the weekend, King Salman ordered his ministers to prepare reforms of the Saudi intelligence services to prevent another incident like Mr Khashoggi’s death. No one should expect sweeping changes: the head of the reform committee is none other Crown Prince Mohammed himself. 



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Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman to meet Emmanuel Macron in France

Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman to meet Emmanuel Macron in FranceSaudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is due to arrive in France on Sunday, where his host President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure to halt lucrative weapons sales to the oil-rich kingdom because of its bombing campaign in Yemen. The two-day official visit comes after the prince’s weeks-long tour of the United States, Britain and Egypt, where the prince has courted business leaders and signed a host of multimillion dollar deals. The prince's agenda for the visit to France has not been made public – apart from his dinner with Mr Macron on Tuesday – and there was speculation as to whether he would stay in a chateau he owns that has been dubbed the “world’s most expensive home.” The property contains 10 bedroom suites, a grand reception room with a 52ft-high frescoed dome ceiling, a library, a wine cellar with space for 3,000 bottles, and a “meditation room” under the moat circled by an aquarium with huge sturgeon inside. The buyer was not identified at the time, but the New York Times  reported last December that the purchaser was the Crown Prince Mohammed – known colloquially as MBS.  The report was seen as an embarrassment for the 32-year-old prince who is preaching fiscal austerity at home while leading a major crackdown on corruption by the kingdom’s elite. Crown Prince Mohammed is considered the de facto Saudi leader and has recently led a modernising drive in the strictly religious kingdom, which includes allowing cinemas to open and women to drive, The French president treads a delicate line as he hosts the Saudi king-in-waiting during the visit that is expected to focus on cultural ties and investments, as well as the long-running war in Yemen, which has killed 10,000 people and left the country on the brink of famine. Mr Macron faces fierce criticism over the export of arms to the kingdom, which has been bombing Yemen since 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened to fight Houthi rebels backed by Iran, the Saudis’ arch-enemy. "Emmanuel Macron should put Yemen at the centre of his discussions with Mohammed bin Salman as he hosts him in France," said a statement issued this week by ten international rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They called for "the end of bombing targeting civilians and respect for international humanitarian law" as well as the "unconditional and permanent lifting on restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial goods to Yemen". A YouGov opinion poll last month showed that three out of four French believe it was "unacceptable" to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia because of the kingdom’s actions in Yemen.



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Who Is Mohammed Bin Salman?

Who Is Mohammed Bin Salman?Saudi Arabia's new Crown Prince has earned a reputation at home as a reformer and has called for a loosening of some conservative social restrictions.



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