Saudi Arabia expels Canadian envoy, recalls its own over 'interference'

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"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia briefed the Canadian Foreign Minister and the Canadian Embassy in the Kingdom on what they called civil society activists who were arrested in the Kingdom".

"The kingdom announces that it is recalling its Canada for consultation", it added.

The ministry also announced "the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action".

Saudi Arabia halted new trade and investment dealings with Canada and suspended diplomatic ties in a dramatic escalation of a dispute over the kingdom's arrest of a women's rights activist.

Amnesty International Canada secretary general Alex Neve said what has happened is a "clear indication that Saudi Arabia remains determined to rebuff and ignore any efforts to improve and address human rights concerns in the country".

"Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian Domestic affairs", the statement reads.

In a statement released to the official Saudi Press Agency Sunday, the ministry "expressed disbelief by this negative unfounded comment, which was not based in any accurate or true information". More than a dozen women's rights activists have been targeted since May.

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The move follows vigorous calls by Canada for the immediate release of activists that have been detained.

Tanks, armored vehicles and parts and motor vehicles accounted for about 45 percent of Canada's 2016 exports to the kingdom, while crude oil and copper ores comprised about 98 percent of imports, according to a government report.

Samar Badawi is a prominent women's rights advocate, and her brother Raif has been in a Saudi jail since 2012 for his criticism of the regime and was lashed 50 times in 2015.

The Canadian embassy in Riyadh had said it was "gravely concerned" about a new wave of detentions of human-rights campaigners in the kingdom, including Samar Badawi, an award-winning gender rights activist.

Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.

An English version of the Saudi government's statement said Ms. Freeland and the Canadian government are wrong to criticize the kingdom. "The legitimate rights (of those arrested) have not been denied and they were provided with all guarantees during the investigation and trial stages", the statement said.