French Protesters Cause Saudi Ship To Leave France w/Out Weapons Purchased

Amid protests, Saudi ship leaves France without arms cargo

Saudi vessel that was due to load arms sets sail without them amid protests over use of French-made weapons in Yemen.

A French patrol boat sails next to the Bahri-Yanbu, a Saudi Arabian cargo ship waiting to enter the port of Le Havre [Benoit Tessier/Reuters]
A French patrol boat sails next to the Bahri-Yanbu, a Saudi Arabian cargo ship waiting to enter the port of Le Havre [Benoit Tessier/Reuters]

A Saudi vessel that was due to load weapons at a northern French port has set sail without them and headed towards Spain on Friday, a day after a rights group tried to block the cargo on humanitarian grounds.

The Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) sought to block the loading of weapons onto the ship through a legal filing on Thursday, arguing the cargo contravened an international arms treaty.

A French judge threw out their complaint but the Bahri-Yanbu moved off the coast of Le Havre shortly after.

It was not immediately clear what had caused the change of plan.

“The boat has left and without its cargo,” Laurence Greig, a lawyer representing ACAT told Reuters news agency.

“It is extremely embarrassing for the executive because we thought that we could stop this only with a legal recourse. But while we got a very terse decision against us, pressure from individuals and NGOs led to a positive result.”

The legal move by ACAT came weeks after an online investigative site published leaked French military intelligence that showed weapons sold to the kingdom, including tanks and laser-guided missile systems, were being used against civilians in Yemen’s war.

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Saudi Arabia leads the pro-government military coalition in the four-year civil war that has devastated Yemen, killed tens of thousands and left much of the population on the brink of famine.

France is one of Saudi Arabia’s main arms’ suppliers, delivering some $1.5bn of weapons to Riyadh in 2017.

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron defended the arms sales, describing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as allies in the fight against “terrorism” and saying Paris had received guarantees they would not be used against civilians.

‘Not enough’

However, Aymeric Elluin, advocacy officer at Amnesty International France, dismissed Macron’s assurances.

“It’s not enough to say ‘I have guarantees’, we need to be shown them. And at the same time, we would like to be told clearly how Saudi Arabia is fighting against terror in Yemen,” Elluin told Al Jazeera.

At least 100 demonstrators protested near La Havre on Thursday in a bid to prevent the Saudi ship from docking at the port.

“If we French citizens do not act, if we don’t try to stop arms sales, we will end up as accessories to this business. We do not want this. We don’t want to be in this situation,” said Jean-Paul Lecoq, member of France’s National Assembly.

Government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, citing tracking websites, said the Bahri-Yanbu, which had been anchored 30km from the French port since Wednesday evening, set sail just before 10:00 GMT on Friday.

“But the question now: Has the shipment been cancelled or is French government going simply send it via another route?”

Brennan said France is one of many European countries facing pressure from activists not to arm Saudi Arabia.

In countries like Britain and France, arms deliveries to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi – regarded as close allies – are seen as critically important for keeping military influence and also preserving potentially thousands of jobs.

“There are three Scandinavian countries who have suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia specifically because of the Saudi-led coalition’s prosecution of the war in Yemen and the rising number of civilian casualties,” Brennan said.

“Germany has also extended a moratorium that it has imposed on selling any weapons to Saudi Arabia.

“Other countries have taken a far more lenient view. Britain and Spain are continuing to supply weapons to Saudi Arabia,” he added.

JOHN BOLTON, PYROMANIAC

JOHN BOLTON, PYROMANIAC

Imagine for a minute that your town needs to hire a new fire chief, and after an extensive search, they decide to hire a pyromaniac.

But it’s not just that this new fire chief likes fires, he loves them, and he happens to be really, really good at starting them. And it’s not like people didn’t know this before he got the job. He had spent years talking and writing about how much he loves fires. He talked about it on TV, he wrote books about it, and he was paid to give speeches talking about his love for starting fires — all because he had these odd theories about how burning down buildings is the best way to save the people inside.

But it wasn’t just talk. He also had a long history of starting fires. He started big fires, small fires, ones that erupt right away and ones that have smoldered so long that they’re still just starting to burn now that he’s the fire chief. Everybody knows this. They’ve watched him start the fires, and thought ‘ya know, that guy really likes fires.’ And now he’s the guy in charge of putting out fires in your town.

I think we can all agree that hiring an arsonist as the town fire prevention chief would be batshit nuts. But it turns out that’s exactly what Donald Trump has done with our nation’s foreign policy when he hired pyromaniac turned fire chief, John Bolton as his National Security Advisor.

THE MAN WHO ONCE WROTE “TO STOP IRAN’S BOMB, BOMB IRAN,” JUST AS THE US AND WORLD POWERS WERE INKING A DEAL TO REIN IN IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM, IS DOING EVERYTHING HE CAN TO PUT HIS WORDS INTO PRACTICE.

You may remember John Bolton as the mustached buffoon who occasionally appeared on right-wing news, explaining why we should be bombing this or that country to bring them peace. After Trump worked his way through his first two National Security Advisors, he got over his dislike of Bolton’s mustache and put him in one of the few positions of real power in the Executive Branch that, for some reason, does not require Senate confirmation, something Bolton has proven utterly incapable of securing.

Now firmly ensconced atop America’s national security state, Bolton has set about his favorite activity, starting fires — all at once, all over the world.

The man who once wrote “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran,” just as the US and world powers were inking a deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, is doing everything he can to put his words into practice. Having helped pull the US out of the successful Iran nuclear agreement, Bolton has reportedly, single-handedly pushed the Pentagon to draw up war plans for Iran. Someone no one elected, that the Senate didn’t confirm, is instructing the United States military to draw up plans to start a war so bad one general famously quipped “if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.”

Short of getting his direct attack on Iran, he’s willing to settle for a proxy war. Bolton has worked behind the scenes to undermine his boss’ stated intention to withdraw from Syria to fulfill his prophecy that “we’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.” He’s been part of the administration chorus erroneously saying that the situation in Yemen is all Iran’s fault, seeking justification to continued unauthorized US military involvement there. He seems willing to settle for a war with Iran anywhere he can start one.

But one important point about Bolton is that like any good pyromaniac, he’s not satisfied trying to start just one fire. It should come as no surprise that Bolton’s latest attempted inferno is Venezuela. The Washington Post brings us all into the room of Bolton’s latest National Security Council meeting in which his aides routinely and hostilely interrupted the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because they wanted to solely focus on “military options,” a euphemistic term for ways to make war.

That’s the thing about pyromaniacs and their cronies, they don’t like it when you don’t let them start fires.

His track record is clear. John Bolton never met a challenge he didn’t want to turn into a crisis. He never met a crisis he didn’t want to make into a war. And he never met a war that he thinks should be ended. If there was a hall of fame for pyromaniacs, John Bolton should be ranked first.

Of course, Bolton isn’t the President, he only works for him. So where is his boss in all this? Trump is playing the back nine with his favorite autocrat of the day while the world turns into an inferno. Perhaps Trump is simply hoping to arrange a retirement home beyond the reach of those pesky federal prosecutors awaiting his post-Presidency. Maybe he’s thinking about whether he’d like to open Trump Tower Riyadh or Moscow first. Either way, the guy who said “great nations do not fight endless wars” is sitting idly by while his National Security Advisor attempts to start and continue the United States’ endless wars.

The simple truth is that John Bolton is hoping that we’ll all forget that somehow we let a pyromaniac become fire chief. We can’t let that happen. We need to keep the spotlight firmly on the guy lighting fires around the world. Sooner or later those fires are going to get bigger, and when that happens, Bolton’s game plan has always been to pretend he had nothing to do with it.

We know what’s going to happen and what he’s going to do. The only question left is what we’ll do in response.