British minister demands Germany lifts block on Saudi arms sales

The first Austrian military jet fighter "Eurofighter Typhoon" lands on the military airport in the small Styrian village of Zeltweg July 12, 2007. (Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2019
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British minister demands Germany lifts block on Saudi arms sales

  • Jeremy Hunt says Berlin’s halt in arms sales to KSA will hit UK defense industry
  • Requests major European defense projects like the Eurofighter be removed from embargo

LONDON: Britain’s top diplomat has demanded that Germany lifts its effective block on major European arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying the move stands to hurt the UK’s defense industry.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to Heiko Maas, his German counterpart, requesting that Berlin exclude the likes of the Euroflighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet from its embargo.

Parts of those jets are made in Germany, meaning that their sale to Saudi Arabia is essentially blocked even though the deals might be struck by defense companies headquartered elsewhere.

Hunt expressed concern about the effect of Germany’s halt in exports to Saudi Arabia on both the British and wider European defense industry, Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday.

“I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defense industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its NATO commitments,” Hunt wrote in the letter to Maas, according to Der Spiegel.

“It is imperative that you immediately remove major European defense projects such as the Eurofighter and the Tornado from the arms embargo,” he wrote in the letter dated Feb. 7. Otherwise, Berlin risks “a loss of confidence in the credibility of Germany as a partner.”

Hunt said British defense firms would not be able to fulfil several contracts with Saudi Arabia such as the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Eurofighter is built by a consortium of four founding countries — Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain — and is represented by France’s Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which Hunt heads, declined to comment on the letter, although said the UK takes criteria for arms exports seriously.

“We will not comment on the contents of a private letter. The UK’s priority is to find a sustainable political solution to the Yemen conflict, which is at a critical juncture. We continue to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts, supporting the UN to bring together key Yemeni and international actors to deliver a peaceful solution,” the spokesperson told Arab News.

“The UK is committed to a strong and collaborative European defence industry. We take our arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously and all export licence applications for Saudi Arabia are assessed rigorously against UK and EU Arms Export Licencing Criteria.”

An official from Airbus last week said Germany’s halt in exports to Saudi Arabia is preventing Britain from completing the sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoons to Riyadh, and has delayed potential sales of other weapons.

Airbus Defense and Space chief Dirk Hoke told Reuters that uncertainty about the issue had undermined Germany’s credibility, and could threaten future Franco-German defense projects.

“This is a serious problem,” Hoke was reported as saying. “We’re facing constraints in many projects, and many problems have been put on ice.”

Germany imposed the embargo in November, saying it would reject future export licenses to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals, which would entitle companies to compensation, but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now, Reuters reported.


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 18 min 49 sec ago
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.