Awkward reality for royal visit
BRITAIN has given Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince the royal treatment during a three-day visit overshadowed by some very awkward realities.
Mohammed bin Salman met with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of York at Buckingham Palace for lunch on Wednesday and is due to dine with Prince Charles and Prince William during his stay.
He will also meet with Prime Minister Theresa May at her rural retreat, Chequers, and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to discuss terrorism and military co-operation.
However the visit comes amid protests over British arms sales to the Saudi government that have been used against civilians, including children, in the war in Yemen.
It's also prompted comparisons to the official welcome offered to US President Donald Trump that he has not yet been taken up and is set to be downgraded to a "working visit" in light of expected protests when he enters the UK.
As the Crown Prince touched down on UK soil Green party leader Caroline Lucas asked: "Isn't it time we stop giving the red carpet treatment to despots and dictators?"
"Behind the smiles and handshakes on show tomorrow, and despite Prince Mohammed bin Salman's attempts to be a poster boy for progress, there are some uncomfortable truths about his repressive government that must not be forgotten," she wrote in an editorial for The Independent.
Broadcaster Piers Morgan, a friend of Trump's who recently interviewed him at the World Economic Forum, asked: "Where is the massive Women's March in Britain protesting against today's state visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia? A country that treats women worse than any place on Earth ..."
"Oh wait, he's not called 'Trump' - so he gets a pass, right?"
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pressed the PM on whether she would raise the "shocking abuse of human rights" in the kingdom, halt arms supplies and demand a ceasefire in Yemen.
Downing Street defended ties with the authoritarian state and hailed the Crown Prince as a modernising force who has allowed women to drive, attend stadiums and developed the Vision 2030 project to open up the economy.
Mrs May she would raise the issue of human rights but has also defended Britain's role in supplying arms and training military forces. She made no mention of the 200 elites he ordered detained in the Ritz Carlton hotel in a purported corruption crackdown.
"The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country," May said in parliament ahead of their meeting.
Outside Downing Street protesters organised by the Campaign Against Arms Trade are expected to gather. Representative Andrew Smith wrote in Ceasefire magazine selling arms to Saudi Arabia is a "long and inglorious tradition" with no checks on their use.
"Since the devastating war in Yemen began, the UK government has licensed almost £5 billion (A$8.88 billion) worth of arms to the Saudi military," he said.
"The arms being pushed by Downing Street this week could be used in atrocities for years to come. There are no controls over how these weapons will be used once they have left the UK, or who they will be used against.
"Arms sales may have been promoted by successive governments, but poll after poll has shown they are opposed by the vast majority of people in the UK."
Human rights watchdog Reprieve said the number of executions has doubled since bin Salman took power and Saudi Arabia "has been one of the world's top five executing countries" for more than a decade."
"The doubling of executions under the new Crown Prince reveals that, beneath his glossy public image, Mohammed bin Salman is one of the most brutal leaders in the Kingdom's recent history," director, Maya Foa, said.
"When she meets the Crown Prince, Theresa May should urge him to commute the sentences of all child protesters facing execution."