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MBS in France, Seeks «Strategic Partner»

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The crown prince of Saudi Arabia arrived in Paris on Sunday, a day ahead of his first official visit to France, which is hoping to profit from his shake-up of the conservative kingdom to forge a new kind of commercial relationship.

MBS arrives in Paris

Mohammed bin Salman, who also heads the Saudi armed forces, dined with President Emmanuel Macron at Louvre museum on Monday, and was scheduled to meet with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

During the short visit, a "strategic partnership" is to be announced Tuesday with President Macron.

Activists planned to hold protests during the visit overshadowed by lavish weapons sales by the world's third biggest arms exporter to the kingdom, which has been attacking Yemen for more than three years now.

The Saudi invasion, which seeks to restore Yemen's former government of Abd Rabbuh Hadi, has cost thousands of lives, turning Yemen into the scene of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Macron faces seething criticism over French weapon exports to Saudi Arabia, including Caesar artillery guns, sniper rifles and armored vehicles used in the war on Yemen.

Major French arms producers, including Dassault and Thales, have sizable contracts with Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Riyadh has bought French tanks, armored vehicles, munitions, artillery, and navy ships.

French daily Les Echos wrote on Friday that another deal could be signed for the kingdom to purchase navy patrol boats from a French producers, while Le Telegramme reported a possible deal for French Caesar artillery cannons.

According to a recent poll by the YouGov data analytics firm, 75 percent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to countries involved in the war on Yemen, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The visit comes after a tumultuous period at home that saw a major military shake-up and a royal purge as the crown prince consolidates power to a degree well beyond that wielded by previous rulers.

It follows a weeks-long tour of the United States, Britain and Egypt where he courted a host of multimillion dollar military and other deals.

For human rights organizations, changes being wrought by the crown prince, often referred to as MBS, are cosmetic.

Demonstrators planned protests over the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes in Yemen. Ten human rights organizations have asked Macron to demand that Saudi Arabia end the airstrikes and lift a blockade aggravating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth advised the French president in a tweet Sunday to "keep his distance -- from MBS's war crimes in Yemen and his ongoing repression of women and dissidents at home."

The Gulf dispute with Qatar - isolated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt - is not likely to be high among topics covered, if at all, the official suggested. The four countries cut off Qatar's land, sea and air routes in June.

A ranking Qatari official said during a recent visit to Paris that his country would welcome French mediation. He spoke about the sensitive topic on condition of anonymity.

Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team

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