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Thu 30 Nov 2017 12:29 PM

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British PM urges Saudi leaders to ease Yemen blockade

Theresa May holds talks with both King Salman and powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

British PM urges Saudi leaders to ease Yemen blockade
British Prime Minister Theresa May. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has implored Saudi leaders to ease a blockade on Yemen to "avert a humanitarian catastrophe", her office said on Thursday, echoing urgent appeals from the United Nations.

May met both King Salman and powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a brief visit to Riyadh late on Wednesday, with a worsening crisis in Yemen topping her agenda.

May had promised to raise concerns over Yemen where a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia has only partially lifted a crippling aid blockade.

"The prime minister made clear that the flow of commercial supplies... must be resumed if we are to avert a humanitarian catastrophe," May's office said.

"They agreed that steps needed to be taken as a matter of urgency  to address this."

Saudi Arabia is Britain's largest trading partner in the Middle East, and London has signed off on more than £3.3 billion ($4.4 billion/3.7 billion euros) worth of arms sales to Riyadh since March 2015.

That was the month that Riyadh launched its intervention against Yemeni rebels who still control the capital Sanaa and much of the north of the country.

The war has since killed some 8,600 people, while a further 2,000 have died of cholera.

The United Nations on Monday urged the Saudi-led coalition to do "much more" to ease the blockade impeding shipments of aid and fully reopen the key rebel-held port of Hodeida.

UN officials have warned that Yemen faces the risk of the "world's worst famine in many decades".