LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s grand welcome for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will begin on Wednesday with a lunch with Queen Elizabeth, as the two countries seek to widen longstanding defence ties into a far-reaching partnership.
Both sense an opportunity to broaden their existing relationship: Britain is looking for trading partners as it exits the European Union, and Saudi Arabia needs to convince sceptical investors about its domestic reforms.
But as Prince Mohammed and Prime Minister Theresa May meet, demonstrators will protest both countries’ roles in Yemen where war has killed an estimated 10,000 people and where 8.3 million people depend on food aid and 400,000 children have life-threatening levels of malnutrition.
Inside May’s Downing Street offices the two leaders will launch a “UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council” – an initiative to encourage Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms and foster more cooperation on issues such as education and culture, as well as defence and security.
“It will usher in a new era of bilateral relations, focused on a partnership that delivers wide-ranging benefits for both of us,” May’s spokesman told reporters.
Britain is vying to land the stock market listing of state oil firm Saudi Aramco, but no decision is expected this week.
Later this month Prince Mohammed visits the United States, which also wants the lucrative listing, although sources said both countries may miss out.
British officials were privately delighted at the decision by Prince Mohammed, 32, to choose Britain as the major western destination on his first foreign trip since becoming heir to the Saudi throne last year.
The British government is keen to transform its historic defence relationship into two-way trade and investment, eyeing both an expanded market in Saudi Arabia for service sector exports, and attracting Saudi cash to finance domestic projects.
Business deals are possible with British defence group BAE Systems and European weapons maker MBDA, and initial agreements could be concluded on gas exploration, petrochemicals and other industries, according to British and Saudi sources.
The three-day visit will include two audiences with the British Royal family, a briefing with national security officials, and a prestigious visit to the prime minister’s country residence.
May intends to use the private dinner at Chequers, a 16th-century manor house 40 miles (60 km) northwest of London, to bring up concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, her spokesman said.
A Saudi-led military coalition is fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen, generating what the United Nation said in January was the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Demonstrators drive a van with a large protest poster on it during a protest against the visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in central London, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
“You can expect them to discuss Yemen, and the prime minister to raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation,” May’s spokesman said. “She will also reiterate how seriously we take allegations of violations against international humanitarian law.”
Speaking to reporters in London on Monday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country had failed to effectively communicate the reasons behind its involvement in Yemen, but that they had not chosen to start the war.
Protestors are planning to target the Saudi officials over Yemen and other human rights issues, and Britain for licensing 4.6 billion pounds of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.
Buses have spent two days touring London with banners accusing Prince Mohammed of war crimes, with more planned for Wednesday ahead of the main rally.
“It is vital that people show up to the protest tomorrow outside Downing Street to make clear that the UK government’s complicity in the war on Yemen is not supported by the public and that we demand a peaceful and humane foreign policy,” said Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition.
Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri named young people’s laureate for London
THE GUARDIAN — The 24-year-old Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, who has been chosen as the new young people’s laureate for London, is hoping to spend her year in the role convincing young people “to see poetry as part of their every day, rather than in some dusty tome, or academic niche interest”.
Mehri, who has a background in biochemical science and wrote the poetry chapbook sugah. lump. prayer, has been shortlisted for this year’s Brunel African poetry prize and won last year’s Out-Spoken Page poetry prize. As laureate, Mehri hopes to encourage young people to voice their concerns and experiences through poetry.
The poet, from Kilburn in north-west London, was selected for the role by a panel of arts organisations and poets, and is, according to Spread the Word’s chair of trustees Rishi Dastidar, “an inspired choice” and a “poet to watch”.
“For young people to have an artist who is an ambassador for them, who brings their concerns, struggles and joys to those in authority, and the wider world, is vital,” Dastidar said. “Her poetry is precise and powerful, and rich with images that are haunting. She is not afraid to tackle the biggest of subjects, which, combined with her talent, is going to give the role a renewed sense of purpose and visibility.”
Mehri said she was exposed to oral forms of poetry by her family when growing up, but only began writing for publication around four years ago. “Over time I honed, or found, my voice, and that allowed me to feel comfortable, finding the poetic voice I felt was most suited to me. Obviously at the beginning you’re very much inspired by your influences,” she said. “I think the poetry I write is interested in questions or ideas around disruption or movement, whether it’s movement of people or places, movement between different ideas, between how things change over different generations, and in themes of migration and urban spaces.”
During her time in the role, Mehri will be looking to amplify the voices of Londoners aged between 13 and 25, “to let them lead conversations, to be as inspired by them as hopefully they can be inspired by me”. She will work with writer-development agency Spread the Word on youth-focused residencies across London, head a tour to six outer London boroughs, and co-host a special project for young London poets called The Young People’s Poetry Lab.
According to research from the National Literacy Trust, 84% of teachers who participated in a poetry programme for disadvantaged children in London schools over a five-year period said their writing skills had improved.
Outgoing young people’s laureate for London, Caleb Femi, said that “poetry has the potential to play a vital part in self-expression and artistic enjoyment in the lives of young people”.
“We need a dedicated person who can assist in integrating the joys of poetry into the everydayness of young Londoners,” he added. “We are extremely lucky to have a talented and dedicated poet such as Momtaza Mehri appointed as the new young people’s laureate for London. Her tenure is sure to be an extraordinary one.”
Mehri said that she wanted to: “Reach everybody, to allow people to see poetry as part of everyday living in London, and all the different poetry traditions that people bring to London.”
“I am very much aware of the fact that I came out of a very different poetic tradition, and what that’s brought to my writing of the English language. So I want to be aware of the fact that people are carrying different poetic influences, whether they consider themselves poets or not,” she said.
Bristol’s Somali Kitchen: Empowering women through cooking
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London lawyer acquitted of forcing daughter to undergo female genital mutilation
LONDON, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A London solicitor accused of forcing his daughter to undergo female genital mutilation was acquitted on Thursday, increasing pressure on police and prosecutors who have yet to secure a conviction for FGM more than 30 years after it was outlawed.
The prosecution was only the second to be brought under FGM legislation introduced in 1985.
During a nine-day trial at London’s Central Criminal Court, the prosecution alleged that the defendant had twice arranged for someone to come to the family home to cut his daughter as a form of punishment when she was around nine years old.
But the defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said in an emotional testimony that the allegations were fabrications arising from a very acrimonious divorce.
He said his wife had repeatedly threatened to destroy him and had turned their children against him.
“I didn’t cut my daughter. I would never hurt my daughter,” he told the jury. “I would give my life for my children.”
A medical expert confirmed the girl’s genitalia had been cut but said the scars were unusual and could not say when the injuries occurred.
The 50-year-old lawyer, who comes from West Africa, said FGM was not practiced in his community and he had no idea who had cut his daughter. He was also cleared of three counts of child cruelty.
Police and prosecutors have faced mounting pressure in recent years to secure a conviction for FGM as part of broader efforts to eradicate the practice, which usually involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, which affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.
Politicians and campaigners, who believe thousands of girls in Britain are at risk of FGM, have said a successful prosecution would act as a deterrent.
Prosecutors were criticised over the first FGM trial in 2015 when a doctor was accused of performing FGM while treating a woman who had given birth. He was acquitted.
A leading obstetrician branded the trial a “ludicrous” travesty of justice which would leave doctors on labour wards terrified of touching women who had been subjected to FGM.
A second trial involving FGM – but brought under child cruelty laws – collapsed last month. (Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)