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Saudi Arabia suspends flights to Toronto as diplomatic spat escalates with Canada

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Saudi Arabia suspends flights to Toronto as diplomatic spat escalates with Canada

Samar Badawi pictured with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton
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Saudi Arabia's state airline has announced plans to suspend flights to and from Toronto as the diplomatic spat with Canada escalates.

The Kingdom expelled the Canadian Ambassador on Monday, recalling the Saudi ambassador from Ottawa. New business deals and investment prospects between the two countries were also frozen.

Canada had criticised the imprisonment of women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, many of whom had campaigned for the right to drive. While this right was granted by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, there was a clamp down on many who campaigned for the change.

Last week Canadian authorities tweeted grave concerns about the additional arrests of civil and women's rights activists, including Samar Badawi. In 2012 Badawi was presented with an award by Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton at the US Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Awards.

In response, the Saudi Foreign Ministry released a thread of tweets, accusing Canada of "overt and blatant interference" in the Kingdom's affairs.

The Ministry went on to say that continued attempts by Canada to interfere "means that we are allowed to interfere in #Canadas internal affairs".

Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement, "We are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador in response to Canadian statements in defence of human rights activists detained in the kingdom.

"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world. We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.

However, the diplomatic row has raised the ire among some Saudis, with a youth group posting a mocked photo of a plane crashing into the CN Tower in Toronto. Many on social media criticised the jab, saying it resembled the 9/11 attacks. The Twitter handle, Infographic_KSA, was later taken down, according to the Saudi Ministry of Media.

A series of trolls posing as Saudi users on Twitter have also ramped up their activity following Canada's comments.

A Saudi Twitter troll

The text of this message, copied verbatim by a number of other accounts, says "In Saudi Arabia we feel worried about Canada committing cultural genocide against Indigenous people. We also support the right of Quebec to become an independent nation".

Authentic users were quick to point out the coordinated activity and synchronised messaging of the trolls fuelled by the wider diplomatic row.