Saudi Arabia freezes new trade with Canada for urging activists' release

 | Aziz El Yaakoubi and David Ljunggren 08/06/2018 10:07 AM MDT
Credit: President of Russia

RIYADH/OTTAWA, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment with Canada and expelled the Canadian ambassador, in a stern gesture of retaliation after Ottawa urged it to free arrested civil society activists.

The sudden sharp response to criticism shows the limits of reforms by Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs its day-to-day government. He has launched a campaign of social and economic change, but has not eased the absolute monarchy's total ban on political activism.

In recent months Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on women driving, but it has also arrested activists, including more than a dozen high profile campaigners for women's rights.

Riyadh recalled its own ambassador from Canada and gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave, a Saudi foreign ministry statement said late on Sunday. It retained "its rights to take further action", it added.