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Opposition parties condemn German defence plan with Saudi Arabia

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Opposition parties condemn German defence plan with Saudi Arabia
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen with her Saudi Arabian counterpart, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, in Riyadh. Photo: DPA.
17:24 CET+01:00
The German Defence Minister was in Saudi Arabia on Thursday aiming to conclude a training deal for Saudi military officers, eliciting sharp criticism from German left-leaning parties.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen held talks with her Saudi counterpart, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, on boosting the "excellent bilateral relations" between the two countries, the German embassy said.

"In addition to that, the visit aims to finalise the talks on enhanced cooperation in the training sector. Beginning from next year, the German Defence College will host several young officers and staff from the Saudi military," the embassy said in a statement.

Von der Leyen is the latest German official to visit Saudi Arabia this year, reflecting "a period of intensified exchange" between the two states, ambassador Dieter Haller said.

But German opposition parties were quick to condemn the training deal.

“Since the Saudi Arabians support Islamists and jihadists, they cannot at the same time also combat these things, and care about stability and peace in the Middle East,” said Die Linke (Left Party) defence expert Alexander Neu.

Green party defence expert Agnieszka Brugger said previously that steps taken to form a closer military bond with Saudi Arabia sent the wrong signal.

“It cannot be that this brutal regime is still being courted, German weapons are being delivered, and then the defence minister can also stroll their red carpet without making any strong statements,” Brugger said.

The defence minister, who leaves the kingdom on Friday, belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, which governs in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).

Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD chief who is also vice-chancellor, in January warned that Berlin could review military exports to Saudi Arabia.

The caution followed the mass execution in Saudi Arabia of 47 people convicted of terrorism, including Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Germany has refrained from selling the Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle and other offensive military weapons to Saudi Arabia but has shipped millions of euros worth of so-called defensive military gear.

Exports last year included patrol boats, all-terrain vehicles, aerial refuelling equipment, drones and parts for combat aircraft and armoured vehicles, according to DPA.

Von der Leyen emphasized on Thursday that during her visit, she was not confronted with demands for more weapons deliveries to Saudi Arabia.

“There is now clarity between our two countries on the topic of restrictive arms exports. And that is good so that there are no false expectations,” she said.

Saudi Arabia, the world's third-biggest defence spender, has been condemned by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for its massive human rights violations, as well as for its air force's bombardment of Yemen in the fight against Houthi rebels.

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