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Canada, Saudi Arabia restore ties 5 years after spat over women's rights activists

TORONTO (AP) — Canada and Saudi Arabia agreed Wednesday to restore full diplomatic relations and appoint new ambassadors, five years after a dispute over women’s rights activists damaged relations and trade between the two countries.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s foreign ministry, Global Affairs Canada, tweeted support for women’s right activists who had been arrested, but who have since been released. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

The foreign ministries of the two countries issued statements saying Wednesday's decision stemmed from discussions between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.

Canada's ministry said there is “desire for both sides to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries on the basis of mutual respect and common interests.”

Canada has appointed a new ambassador, Jean-Philippe Linteau.

The dispute centered around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” detained women’s rights activists. Among those arrested at the time was Samar Badawi, whose writer brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging.

His case long has been raised by international human rights groups and Western diplomats, including Canadians, who have called on Saudi Arabia to free him. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and received Canadian citizenship.

The Saudis’ have been on a diplomatic push in recent months. Saudi Arabia has restored diplomatic ties with Iran, moved to end the kingdom’s years-long war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen and led the push for Syria’s return to the 22-member Arab League.