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GCC leaders, British PM gather for post-Brexit talks

DUBAI: Top officials from six Gulf Arab nations gathered on Tuesday in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain for talks expected to focus on regional security and cooperation.

Joining the two-day summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council is British Prime Minister Theresa May, the first female leader to participate in the talks.

May addressed British sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean earlier in the day, highlighting her country’s commitment to the Persian Gulf region. The UK is building a new naval base in Bahrain.

That decision has drawn criticism from human rights advocates, who point to the jailing of several activists and opposition figures in recent years. During the summit, Britain is laying out plans to bolster aviation security with Gulf states and improve counter-terrorism cooperation, among other initiatives, according to the prime minister’s office.

The GCC bloc of Western-allied countries includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

French President Francois Hollande was the first leader from outside the region to attend a GCC summit, in May 2015. US President Barack Obama met with the bloc in Saudi Arabia in April of this year.May’s two-day visit comes as her government faces mounting domestic criticism that it has not done enough to avoid post-Brexit disruption to British trade, which is currently carried out under EU agreements.

“I will have the opportunity to talk to all six leaders about how we can develop our trade relationship, as well as cooperation on security and defence,” May said before her arrival in Manama late on Monday.

Her office said May will discuss the possibilities for post-Brexit free trade arrangements with the GCC states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“As the UK leaves the EU, we should seize the opportunity to forge a new trade arrangement between the UK and the Gulf,” the prime minister said.

Ahead of the summit opening later on Tuesday, May held talks with Bahraini officials that also focused on defence ties, the kingdom’s official BNA news agency reported. Amnesty International said that the summit gave May a “unique opportunity to raise concerns over a pattern of recurring human rights violations throughout the region”.

“In recent years across the Gulf we have seen human rights activists, peaceful political opponents and government critics systematically targeted in the name of security,” said Randa Habib, the London-based watchdog’s Middle East and North Africa director.

“It is high time for allies of the GCC to stop putting business and security cooperation before human rights, and Theresa May must not squander this opportunity to raise key rights issues,” she added.

Courtesy : Dawn News

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