Oman issues statement on Saudi-Canada stand-off

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Saudi Arabia, enraged by what it said was meddling in its internal affairs, asked the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh to leave the country within 24 hours and recalled its envoy to Ottawa. Media reports also suggest Saudi Arabia may cancel thousands of scholarships for students attending school in Canada.

"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women's rights and freedom of expression around the world", she said.

The sudden and unexpected dispute bore the hallmarks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old future leader, whose recent foreign policy exploits include the war in Yemen, the boycott of Qatar and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's surprise resignation broadcast during a visit to the kingdom.

A Saudi Arabian organisation has apologised for tweeting a digitally-altered image that showed a plane flying towards Toronto's CN Tower - in an apparent reference to a 9/11-style attack - amid an escalating row over Canada's call for the release of detained human rights activists in the kingdom.

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Samar's brother, blogger Raif Badawi, was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for "insulting Islam" in a case that sparked an global outcry.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Chrystia Freeland called for the release of Samar Badawi and her brother Raif Why were the women's rights activists arrested in the first place?

"For Saudi Arabia to punish Canada, it's fairly easy because we're not an important country for them, either are they for us", he said.

"The Embassy of Canada to Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, continues its regular operations, including consular services", the statement added. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.

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Gunfire was heard downtown throughout the afternoon, including near the ruling party headquarters where protesters had gathered. Three people were killed in Zimbabwe's capital Harare after troops opened fire on rioting opposition supporters, police say.

The arrests last week brought criticism from the Canadian government.

Canada's economic relationship with Saudi Arabia is not particularly significant to Riyadh, unlike the U.S. or other Western partner governments, which experts say makes Ottawa an easier target.

Bilateral trade amounts to CAN $3-4 billion (US $2.3-3.1 billion) a year, according to Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. Officials said on state television that there are more than 12,000 Saudi students and family members in Canada, and that many will be transferred to other countries, including the United States.

Garry Keller, who was chief of staff to ex-Conservative Foreign Minister John Baird, said the government needed to look at how it could help businesses that might be affected.

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