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UK accused of using ‘secretive’ deals to sell arms to Saudi Arabia



The number of open licences for weapons given to Saudi Arabia has increased considerably since Theresa May became Prime Minister, according to government figures analysed by Sky News.

The country has been leading a coalition of nine Arab countries in airstrikes against Yemeni rebels and their allies since 2015 – and more than 10,000 people are thought to have died.

Between July 2016 and September 2017, 50 open licences have been issued – compared with the 32 issued in the 15 months before Mrs May entered Downing Street. This is an increase of 56%.

Open weapon sale licences have been described as “secretive” by campaign groups because they allow an uncapped number of items to be sent to another country for five years.

There is no requirement to declare who the end user of the military items are, the licence’s value cannot be provided until the end of the five-year period, and campaigners claim there is no obligation for the Government to publish the total afterwards.

Saudi Arabia, who continues to bomb towns and villages, announced a £1.06bn humanitarian package for Yemen
Saudi Arabia continues to bomb towns and villages in Yemen

The spike in deals done through open licences has coincided with a decrease in the use of standard licences, where the value of a sale is known from the outset.

A licence must be issued in order for the UK to supply weapons to a foreign body.

Although the reported sales of weapons under Mrs May are less than her predecessor David Cameron, they could be significantly higher because the value of sales through open licences during her premiership is not known.

Analysis from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) found 257 items were traded in 2016 – rising by 175% to 707 in the first nine months of 2017.

Andrew Smith, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “By arming and supporting the Saudi regime the UK Government is complicit in the abuse of Saudi people and the terrible atrocities taking place in Yemen.

“When the Government uses open licences it makes a secretive industry even less transparent. We don’t know how many arms are being sold in secret, or how much money is really being spent.

“The fact that these licences are becoming even more common is definitely a cause for concern. It is impossible for the government to stand up for human rights and democracy at the same time as it is promoting arms sales to human rights abusers and dictatorships.”

Theresa May
Theresa May visited Saudi Arabia in November

The news comes on the eve of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, visiting the UK. During the trip, he will meet Mrs May and senior members of the Royal Family.

More than a third of Britons are opposed to his visit, according to a Populus poll commissioned by CAAT – and protests are due to take place on Wednesday evening.

Human rights groups are critical of the Crown Prince for his role in the conflict in Yemen, which has plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis.

In the year before the conflict began, the number of standard licences for UK arms exports rose by a third – from 124 in 2014 to 165 in 2015. Over that period, spending by Saudi Arabia soared from £80m to £2.84bn.

Yemen conflict victim

World’s worst humanitarian crisis

A Department for International Trade spokesperson told Sky News: “The UK Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.

“We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, with risks around human rights abuses being a key part of our licensing assessment.

“We will not grant a licence if doing so would be inconsistent with these criteria and have suspended or revoked licences when the level of risk changes.”

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Tokyo Olympics: Opening ceremony was ‘respectful, hopeful but sombre night’ | World News



Olympic opening ceremonies are something of a unique art form. Playing to a global audience but with the host nation wanting to make the night their own.

Japan chose sombre. It was a respectful, hopeful but above all sombre night. They didn’t want to show off when everyone has lived through such hardship – and while so many people continue to do so.

Their display using 1,824 flying drones combining like a swarm of giant worker bees to create a giant globe stood out.

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the Olympic cauldron
Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the cauldron

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There were no Team GB fans at the 2021 summer olympic opening ceremony in Tokyo due to COVID-19 but Japan put on a stunning visual show regardless

So too Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka who was given the honour of firing up the hydrogen-fuelled Olympic cauldron.

But it was their courteous bow towards the pain of the pandemic that defined the evening.

Video montages of empty cities during lockdowns, and athletes cobbling together training regimes in their back gardens – it all made for an understated opening ceremony.

Outside, the protests in the streets continued among those still vehemently against the Games taking place while Tokyo remains in a state of COVID emergency.

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There were also people outside who just felt drawn to the Olympic stadium – to come and wave to the very select numbers of VIPs and media going inside. It was as close as they could get to the Games that they had waited almost a decade for.

While these Olympics will feel unusual there were reminders too of the magic they can create.

There was a towering Tongan taekwondo player who strode into the stadium with his bare oiled chest puffed out as he carried his island nation’s flag like a warrior on a mission.

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Protests held outside Olympic stadium

The Olympics can still produce special moments like that and there will be plenty more over the coming weeks.

There will be more COVID-19 disruption too but the Games of 2020 are finally open, just one year late.

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Business leaders have ‘obligation to speak up’, ex-Unilever boss says amid Ben & Jerry’s row | Business News



Unilever’s ex-boss has said business leaders have an “obligation to speak up” after his former company became embroiled in a row with Israel over its Ben & Jerry’s business.

Paul Polman mounted a defence of the need to “fight for what is right” in remarks to Sky News after the ice cream brand said it would stop selling its products in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ben & Jerry’s is owned by consumer goods giant Unilever – whose array of brands ranges from Marmite spread to Dove soap – but has an independent board to take such decisions.

Alan Jope, Unilever chief executive
Current boss Alan Jope has spoken to Israel’s prime minister about the matter

Its announcement is one of the strongest steps taken by a well-known company over Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen as illegal by the international community.

The move drew condemnation from the Israeli government, whose new prime minister Naftali Bennett said this week that Israel would “use the tools at its disposal – including legal – on this issue” and that those taking such action “need to know that there will be a price to pay”.

Mr Polman, speaking to Sky’s Ian King Live, said it would be inappropriate to say how he would have handled the issue had he still been in charge of Unilever.

But he added: “What is very important is if we want humanity to function for the long term we need to be sure that we fight for the basic values, the basic values of dignity, respect, equity, compassion.

“If we see these values being violated anywhere in the world I think we have an obligation to speak up.

“What we’ve seen in the US in the last few years – too few people, also from the business side, spoke up against things that then bit by bit moved the boundaries and put us in a very difficult situation.

Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said there would be a “price to pay”

“So, fight for what is right and one of the few things we should fight for always is, these basic human rights.”

Mr Polman was speaking a day after current Unilever boss Alan Jope, in a conference call to discuss latest results, said the company remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel but gave no indication that Unilever would press Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the decision.

Mr Jope, who has spoken to Mr Bennett on the phone to discuss the matter, said that it was a “complex and sensitive matter”.

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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdraws to avoid facing Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul | World News



An Algerian judo competitor has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics after learning he could have faced an Israeli opponent.

Fethi Nourine said his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible to compete against Tohar Butbul.

He told Algerian TV he would not “get his hands dirty” and his “decision was final”.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder”, he added.

Tohar Butbul of Israel
Tohar Butbul of Israel

The 30-year-old was drawn against Sudan’s Mohamed Asdalrasool on Monday for his first match in the men’s 73kg class. If he had won that match, he would have faced Butbul, who has a first-round bye, in the next round.

Nourine also withdrew from the world championships in 2019 for the same reason.

At the time, his coach Amar Ben Yaklif was quoted in Algerian media saying: “We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”

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Tensions between Israel and Palestinians flared in Jerusalem earlier this year causing the worst violence in the region since 2014.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Judo - Training Sessions - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - July 22, 2021. Technicians work on the mat in Nippon Budokan Arena, during training sessions. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Judo training sessions take place at the Tokyo Games

The conflict between the two sides has been going on for decades and has seen athletes from Iran and Egypt also previously refuse to compete against Israeli opponents.

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The opening ceremony for this year’s Olympic games took place on Friday, with fans not allowed in the national stadium for the event due to COVID-19 concerns.

Instead, around 1,000 dignitaries and members of the media were allowed the witness the spectacular event.

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