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Saudi crown prince on official visit to France next week

Saudi crown prince on official visit to France next week

Paris: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will pay an official visit next week to France, expected to focus on investment but also the war in Yemen, French officials confirmed Thursday.

The 32-year-old de-facto Saudi leader is expected to arrive Sunday for a two-day official visit starting Monday — the latest stop in an international tour that has already taken him to the US and Britain.

On Tuesday, he will have dinner with President Emmanuel Macron to discuss “a new strategic partnership”, with a particular focus on investment in renewable energy and the digital economy, Macron’s office said.

“We want a new kind of cooperation, less focused on one-off contracts and more on forward-looking investments, namely in the digital economy and renewable energy, with a shared vision,” the presidency added in a statement.

The two leaders will also discuss Middle East conflicts, including the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out a bombing campaign since 2015 to try to rout Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels.

France is a major arms vendor to Saudi Arabia and several rights groups have accused the country of doing too little to ensure that its weapons are not used in Yemen, where the war has killed nearly 10,000 people.

French officials said France was not expected to sign any major deals during Prince Salman’s visit.

It is unclear where the Saudi royal will be staying.

The New York Times reported in December that he was the owner of the opulent Chateau Louis XIV near Louveciennes, to the west of Paris — and not far from the palace at Versailles — which was purchased in 2015.

The prince has already travelled to several Western capitals since his appointment as heir apparent last June, which has ushered in a sweeping reform drive aimed at liberalising the highly conservative kingdom.

But pressure has also been rising over Riyadh’s role in Yemen.

Rights groups called on Macron this week to urge Prince Salman to halt the bombing campaign and lift the blockade on the country, to try end what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Agence France-Presse