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Activists try to stop Saudi ship loading French arms at port of Cherbourg

Militants of several humanitarian associations including "Amnesty International" lay on the ground at Cherbourg harbor, to prevent a Saudi ship accused of transporting weapons for the conflict in Yemen, from docking, February 6, 2020
Militants of several humanitarian associations including "Amnesty International" lay on the ground at Cherbourg harbor, to prevent a Saudi ship accused of transporting weapons for the conflict in Yemen, from docking, February 6, 2020 LOU BENOIST / AFP
2 min

Dozens of human rights activists have protested at a port in the English Channel against the arrival of a Saudi cargo ship meant to stock up on weapons suspected of fueling Yemen's conflict.

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The Bahri Yanbu ship was due to dock at Cherbourg port on France's northern coast late on Thursday afternoon.

It was met with a frosty welcome.

About 100 people from human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, turned out in protest against its presence with signs reading ‘War crimes in Yemen' and 'Made in France.'

The day before, a group of 17 NGOs wrote a letter to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressing their concern about the ship's arrival.

They called on France to identify what would be loaded onto the Bahri Yanbu, which they say has an exclusive contract with the Saudi defence ministry.

No guarantees

If they are weapons, the NGOs demand "guarantees" from France that the weapons "will not be used illegally against civilians" in Yemen's conflict.

There has been no official comment on the nature of the shipment from the French government.

France has been under fire for maintaining arms sales to the Saudi government despite its offensive against Huthi rebels, supported by Iran.

French authorities have insisted there is no proof that civilians are being targeted by Riyadh, one of the biggest purchasers of French military equipment in the Middle East.

Last May, President Emmanuel Macron defended the sales to Saudi Arabia, which he called a key ally in the fight against terrorism.

Saudi ship stopped

Days later however, the government was forced to halt a planned stopover of the same Bahri Yanbu ship after activists complained.

Earlier this week, activists in Belgium succeeded in stopping the Saudi ship from docking in the port of Antwerp.

After France, the ship is due to stop in Sheerness, Britain and in Genoa, Italy.

More than 100,000 people have lost their lives in the war in Yemen, now in its fifth year. The Saudi naval blockade has left more than 17 million people on the brink of famine with the UN calling it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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