February 19, 2011 in News
Britain under fire for selling arms to Bahrain (Independent.co.uk):
The British Government has been heavily criticised for allowing arms sales to a number of Arab governments that have cracked down on pro-democracy protests in recent weeks, killing scores of people and injuring thousands more in demonstrations across the region.
Since it came into office the Government has granted permission for weapons sales to countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including a licence for weapon-makers to sell tear gas to the Bahrain administration. The Government also sanctioned sales of crowd control ammunition to Libya, combat helicopters to Algeria and armoured personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia.
A Department for Business report on weapons exports, published in the third quarter of last year, gave the green light to British arms manufacturers to sell a number of crowd control products to the Bahrain government, including “CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunderflashes”.
The approval came during elections in Bahrain, which were mired by a crackdown on Shia opposition groups.
In the past two days, at least four people have been killed and 231 injured in protests aimed at overthrowing the deeply unpopular administration in the tiny Gulf state. Asked an emergency question in the House of Commons on the subject yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague urged restraint in Bahrain and urged Britons to stay away. He expressed the government’s ‘great concern’ at events there but did not directly address former Labour Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane’s question, which asked whether the government would ban weapon sales to Bahrain and other countries in the region.
Responding to the criticism last night, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said that the government “closely considers” allegations of human rights abuses. He added: “We will not authorise any exports which, we assess, might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, which might be used to facilitate internal repression, or which would in any other way be contrary to the [British Government's] criteria.”
But that defence was met with short shrift from the government’s critics. Pressure groups accusing ministers of propping up authoritarian regimes across the Arab world. “Government ministers claim they wish to support open and democratic societies in the Middle East but at the same time are aiding authoritarian regimes and providing the tools for repression,” said Sarah Waldron, campaigns coordinator at the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). “They don’t just approve the sale of this equipment -- they actively promote it. There should be an immediate arms embargo -- but more importantly we should be asking why these exports were ever licensed in the first place.”
Defence firms are hit by Bahrain ban (Daily Mail):
Some of Britain’s biggest defence firms are bracing themselves for a financial hit as the Government prepares to revoke arms exports licences to Bahrain.
The fierce military crackdown unleashed against protesters in the Gulf kingdom has prompted the Foreign Office to urgently review its licences which could affect firms such as BAE Systems, Cobham and Rolls-Royce.
In the first quarter of 2010 the Government issued 17 licences to UK firms worth £2.1million and 25 licences with a value of £3.1million in the second quarter.
This included sub-machine guns, rifles and shotguns, as well as tear gas and irritant ammunition.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt confirmed that hundreds of cartridges of tear gas and other riot control equipment have been licensed for export to Bahrain over the past nine months.
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