Friday 18 October 2019

Dutch king, foreign minister in Saudi Arabia to pay respects (update)

King Willem-Alexander and foreign minister Bert Koenders are in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to take pay their respects following the death of king Abdullah last week.

The Dutch government sent its condolences to the Saudi government on Friday. The king died on Thursday night at the age of 90 from a lung infection and was buried in a simple ceremony on Friday.

Several MPs have criticised Willem-Alexander for going to Saudia Arabia, given its human rights record.

‘Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship known for its systematic and serious abuse of human rights,’ said GroenLinks leader Bram van Ojik, as quoted by news agency ANP. ‘We are all Charlie, apart from when it comes to oil interests.’

He went on to refer to the king’s controversial meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin during last year’s Winter Olympics.

‘First it was a beer with Putin. Now it’s a funeral in Saudi Arabia,’ he said. ‘The cabinet would do well to suggest to the king that he keeps away from meetings with notorious human rights abusers.’

Nonsense

Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam PVV slammed the decision to send a high level delegation to Riyad, describing it as nonsense. ‘Honour for a dead dictator in a barbaric country,’ he said using the microblogging service Twitter.

Alexander Pechtold, leader of the Liberal democratic party D66, said it is a shame the king had not taken a day off ‘because of the snow’. While this comment was meant ‘with a wink’, it would have been sufficient for Koenders to go alone, Pechtold told news agency ANP.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International said it understood the reasoning behind the king and foreign minister’s visit, broadcaster Nos said. A spokesman said he hoped the Dutch delegates would be able to talk to the Saudis about human rights issues.

Amnesty has been running a high-profile campaign in support of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for criticising the Saudi regime.

Prime minister

The prime minister’s office later defended the decision to send a high-level delegation to Riyad.

The visit had to be seen in the context of the broad relationship between the two countries, a spokesman for Mark Rutte said on Saturday.

This relationship enabled difficult subjects to be raised, such as efforts to combat IS and the human rights dialogue, the spokesman said. ‘Countries such as Belgium, France and the US are also represented at the highest level.’

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