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Saudi Arabia accused of blocking human rights criticism

The Swedish foreign minister had been invited to speak at an Arab League meeting, but says 'a country' blocked her participation
'It's a shame that a country has blocked my participation,' said Swedish Foreign minister Margot Wallstrom on Monday (AFP)

The Swedish foreign minister accused Saudi Arabia of blocking her speech at an Arab League meeting Monday due to her stance on human rights in the region, Swedish media reported.

"The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights and that is why they do not want me to speak," Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem told news agency TT in Cairo.

"It's a shame that a country has blocked my participation."

An Arab diplomat confirmed to AFP that Riyadh had stopped the Swede from making her opening speech.

Wallstroem had been invited as an honorary guest to the Arab ministers' meeting in praise of her government's decision to recognise Palestine in October.

Her cancelled opening speech - published by the Swedish foreign ministry mentioned neither Saudi Arabia nor Wallstroem's feminist foreign policy agenda, but stressed women's and human rights.

"Freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are not only fundamental rights and important tools in the creation of vibrant societies," reads a copy of the speech which notes that "women's rights do not only benefit women, but society as a whole."

Wallstroem has rarely commented on Saudi Arabia, but in January she slammed the kingdom's treatment of blogger Raef Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.

"One must protest against what are nearly mediaeval methods" of punishment, Wallstroem told TT.

Yet her country has a decade-long arms-trading deal with Riyadh which is due for renewal for another five years in May.

The deal has come under fire within Wallstroem's Social Democrats, while their Green Party coalition partners oppose it categorically.