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British PM arrives in Saudi Arabia on mission to boost ties

British PM arrives in Saudi Arabia on mission to boost ties

"We've been working with their armed forces, helping with training for some time now and we will be enhancing that", she said.

Mrs May said: "These new partnerships, on defence and security, trade and the economy, education, healthcare, culture and sport, evidence the breadth and depth of the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia".

The Prime Minister has faced repeated calls to suspend arms sales following claims of breaches of worldwide law in Yemen under the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign. Saudi Arabia is the biggest nation in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which is believed to be very keen to sign a free trade deal with the United Kingdom immediately after Brexit.

The prime minister visited Jordan in 2012 in her capacity as Home Secretary.

May stepped off a plane in the Saudi capital of Riyadh Tuesday morning without the headscarf the kingdom favors for women.

May has said that economic issues were a priority on her trip, but maintains she will not shy away from addressing "hard issues" on foreign visits.

An even deeper partnership with these countries, and greater knowledge and understanding of one another, will increase our ability to address the issues that concern us, including the promotion of global standards and norms.

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"We are concerned about the humanitarian situation, that's why the United Kingdom previous year was the fourth largest donor to the Yemen in terms of humanitarian aid - £103m".

Saudi Arabia is Britain s largest trading partner in the Middle East, with exports of more than £6.5 billion in British goods and services to the country in 2015.

The Saudis back the war-torn country's internationally recognised government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. "We will be continuing with that", she told the BBC.

Those exports include arms sales, which have drawn criticism from activists who say May should do more to pressure Saudi Arabia on its human rights record.

But the kingdom remains determined to prevail in the war next door, where at least 10,000 people have been killed according to United Nations figures, and previous year exempted active soldiers from cuts to annual leave and bonuses.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the PM to put the issue of human rights at the centre of her talks with Saudi leaders, saying "unless the Prime Minister challenges the Saudi regime over its abuses this week, it will be clear she is ready to sacrifice human rights and security on the altar of the arms trade".

"Torture, grossly unfair trials and the use of the death penalty are rampant in Saudi Arabia, while reckless Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen are causing endless death and destruction", said Allan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs for Amnesty International UK.

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