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Saudi Arabia's expulsion of Canada ambassador sends pointed message

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Saudi Airlines issued a tweet early Tuesday saying flights to and from Canada would be suspended starting August 13.

"Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi, " the tweet said.

On Friday, the Canadian government sent out a tweet condemning the arrests of women's rights activists, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed dissident Raif Badawi.

In response, Saudi Arabia - which has received $89 billion in arms from the United States in the past decade - expelled the Canadian ambassador and vowed to shut down all trade with the largest English-speaking country on earth.

"I don't think it will worsen the situation because very often when we make evident unjust imprisonments, like the case of Samar Badawi, that increases their protection and increases pressure on the government", she said in an interview Monday.

The Saudi government plans to move them immediately to other schools in countries like the USA and United Kingdom.

Ensaf Haidar, Raif Badawi's wife, who lives in Quebec with her three children, said Monday she was surprised when she heard about the two new arrests.

The sudden and unexpected dispute bore the hallmarks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old future leader, whose recent foreign policy exploits include the war in Yemen, the boycott of Qatar and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's surprise resignation broadcast during a visit to the kingdom.

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"Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs, " the Saudi government said.

The accounts, which are followed by a number of Saudi diplomatic figures, are verified and largely share government announcements and pro-Riyadh messages.

Canada and Saudi Arabia's bilateral trade relationship was worth more than $4 billion in 2017, according to numbers posted on the Global Affairs Canada website.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the US raises such issues privately with Saudi Arabia - and that it is up to the Saudis and Canadians to work this out, but she declined to condemn the activist's arrest.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday the Canadian government will continue to raise its voice and defend human rights.

Spokesperson Heather Nauert added during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday that the USA has raised similar issues with Saudi Arabia. It has expelled the Canadian ambassador and recalled its envoy from Ottawa.

"It would be a shame for those students if they are deprived of the opportunity to study here", Freeland told reporters.

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