Saudi Arabia’s state airline will suspend its Canadian operations

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The move followed the Kingdom's announcement yesterday that it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa's vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists.

The news dominated the worldwide headlines and social media, especially in Saudi Arabia, where Saudis launched an Arabic hashtag "السعوديه_تطرد_السفير_الكندي" that literally translates to: "Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador".

Local media also reported that Saudi Arabia had been instructed not to transfer its patients to Canada for medical treatment.

The decision to freeze new trade agreements could threaten Canada's $15-billion arms deal that includes providing armoured vehicles to the kingdom, but Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was "premature" to comment on its status.

"We are always going to speak up for human rights, we are always going to speak up for women's rights and that is not going to change", Freeland said.

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The diplomatic row erupted after Canada tweeted about a recent arrest in Saudi Arabia.

We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours, ' the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted early Monday.

Amnesty International noted Ms Badawi has been repeatedly targeted and interrogated by Saudi security forces for her human rights activist.

Travel to the country will affected in light of an announcement from Saudia Airlines on Tuesday that it will suspend flights to and from Canada starting August 13. "We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists".

The diplomatic dispute between Canada and Saudi Arabia escalated extremely quickly and could take an intervention by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cool down, former foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay says.

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Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar has been granted asylum by Canada, where she is raising their three children.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that at least 15 human rights defenders and women's rights activists critical of the Saudi government had been arrested or detained arbitrarily since 15 May.

Riyadh's singling out of Canada appears to be aimed at strongly discouraging other Western governments from criticising its human rights violations.

The report also said all Saudi Arabian students now studying in Canada will be transferred to other countries.

Bilateral trade amounts to CAN $3-4 billion (US $2.3-3.1 billion) a year, according to Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

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When asked about the contract, Freeland said the government "looks forward" to hearing from Riyadh about the future of the deal.

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