Germany’s Merkel presses Saudi Arabia on refugees and rights

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his successors in her first visit to the kingdom in seven years, saying she pressed them on women’s rights, the war in Yemen and other sensitive issues.

After her meetings in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, she told German journalists traveling with her that she raised human rights concerns with Saudi leaders, including the rights of women.

She said Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen also was discussed. For more than two years, the kingdom has been bombing Yemeni rebels aligned with Saudi Arabia’s regional Shiite rival, Iran. The conflict there has driven the Arab world’s poorest countries to the brink of famine, with 27 million people needing humanitarian or protection assistance.

“We don’t believe there can be a military solution to the conflict,” Merkel said.

Saudi Arabia and Iran also back opposite sides of the conflict in Syria, and Germany was one of six international powers that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran to which Saudi Arabia objected.

As is customary, Saudi officials did not comment on the details of the meetings.

After her meeting with the Saudi king, Merkel held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who oversees security forces and counterterrorism, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has a vast portfolio overseeing defense and the economy.

During the meetings, Merkel said, she specifically discussed the kingdom’s death penalty. Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest execution rates and executes people for non-lethal offenses such as drug smuggling.

She also raised the case of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger whose public lashing drew international condemnation from even the kingdom’s closest Western allies. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence for blog posts critical of the country’s powerful religious establishment.

Having scheduled a meeting with Saudi businesswomen during her two-day visit, Merkel acknowledged there have been…

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