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Mon 29 Oct 2007 01:42 PM

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Protesters gear up for state visit by Saudi king

King Abdullah faces protests in UK over alleged corruption and human rights abuses.

Saudi Arabia’s king faces intense protests on Monday over alleged arms trade corruption and human rights abuses upon his arrival in London on the first state visit to the country by a Saudi ruler in 20 years.

A group of demonstrators is set to stage protests outside the Saudi embassy against King Abdullah in a bid to highlight international concerns about the kingdom, UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph said on Monday.

Protestors will include the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which opposes Saudi Arabia’s role in corrupt arms trade deals, the newspaper said.

The UK shut down a two-year Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into allegations of corruption in the Al-Yamamah oil-for-arms deal last December.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the time pursuing the inquiry would have harmed national security and relations with Saudi Arabia, which he called crucial for counter-terrorism and Middle East peace.

However, a US Department of Justice investigation has since launched its own probe after it was discovered Saudis used US bank accounts in the transactions.

The Al-Yamamah deal was signed in 1989 by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and has resulted in UK arms manufacturer BAE supplying over 20 billion pounds ($40 billion) worth of weapons to the kingdom over the last 20 years.

Opposition MPs have also questioned whether a visit by the Saudi ruler is appropriate.

Vincent Cable, acting leader of opposition party the Liberal Democrat, said he will boycott the state banquet on Tuesday in protest.

"It is quite wrong for the government to have proposed a state visit at this time," the paper quoted Vincent Cable, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, as saying.

"I have introduced three debates in parliament this year expressing serious concerns over the Al-Yamamah contract and the corruption allegedly involved," he added.

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