STOCKHOLM (AP) — Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Sweden, widening a diplomatic rift between two countries with sharply contrasting views on everything from women's rights to criminal justice.
The move comes after Sweden refused to renew a 10-year-old weapons deal with Saudi Arabia and the Saudis blocked the Swedish foreign minister from giving a speech to the Arab League.
Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabriel Wernstedt said Wednesday that the Saudis were recalling their ambassador because of "Sweden's criticism regarding human rights and democracy" in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the Saudi Foreign Ministry recalled its diplomat because it considered remarks by Sweden's foreign minister about the kingdom as "blatant interference it its internal affairs."
Sweden, one of Europe's most egalitarian and secular countries, has little in common with deeply religious Saudi Arabia. Yet the countries have previously had friendly relations and Saudi Arabia has been one of the Middle East's biggest buyers of Swedish arms exports.
However, relations started to fray after a left-wing government took office in Stockholm in October, vowing to pursue a "feminist" foreign policy around the world.
Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was among the loudest critics of the recent flogging of a Saudi blogger convicted of insulting Islam and breaking the nation's Internet law. She has also criticized the women's rights situation in Saudi Arabia, whose religious hardliners insist Islam prohibits women from driving. None of its conservative Gulf neighbors or any other nation in the world bans women from driving.
Saudi Ambassador Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim didn't return calls seeking comment on Wednesday. Some Saudi media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali as saying that the country's Islamic Shariah law doesn't need the approval of Sweden nor any other nation.
Wallstrom said Monday she was blocked from addressing an Arab League meeting in Cairo due to Saudi protests. A day later Sweden announced it would not renew a 2005 weapons deal with Saudi Arabia.
The Foreign Ministry said Sweden wasn't planning to reciprocate the Saudi move to recall the ambassador.
Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.