March 7 (UPI) — British Prime Minister Theresa May defended her meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday as activists protested Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
The crown prince dined with British Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace before making his way to 10 Downing Street for a bilateral meeting with May. His visit was marked by vocal opposition from the Labour Party, which called on the prime minister to halt sales of arms to Riyadh while the country leads a largely Arab coalition fighting Houthi rebels on behalf of the Yemeni government.
The war, between forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Shiite Houthi rebels, has killed at least 10,000 people since 2015 and led to one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, U.N. officials say. More than 22.2 million there require food aid.
May should “make clear Britain’s strong opposition to widespread human and civil rights abuses in Saudi Arabia,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade, which is protesting Mohammed’s visit, said Britain has sold $6.4 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since the start of Yemen’s war.
But May touted the relationship between Britain and Saudi Arabia, saying it’s critical for anti-terrorism concerns.
Saudi Arabia’s “involvement in Yemen came at the request of the legitimate government of the Yemen, it is backed by the U.N. Security Council and as such we support it,” she said Wednesday.
May said she planned to raise humanitarian concerns with Mohammed at the meeting, which was expected to continue Thursday at her country estate.
“We are all concerned about the appalling humanitarian situation in Yemen and the effect that it is having on people, particularly women and children,” she told Parliament.
Sky News reported anti-Saudi protests were expected to take place on Downing Street Wednesday night.
Coinciding with the crown prince’s visit to Britain, the Saudi-British Joint Business Council announced initiatives to grow two-way trade in technology, cybersecurity and investment.