Saudi crown prince begins European tour in Paris

The Crown Prince arrives in France on an official visit

The Crown Prince arrives in France on an official visit

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday pulled out of touring a mega-campus for tech startups in Paris, an official in the French prime minister's office said, a visit that was meant to highlight deepening Franco-Saudi tech ties.

His Royal Highness also made visits to Google's Mountain View headquarters, again to discuss the establishment of a training centre for Saudi youth, and met with Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Peter Thiel.

France nurtured closer ties with the kingdom under president Francois Hollande.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has begun investigations and opening arguments in the corruption cases of princes, top officials and businessmen who were detained late previous year, an official told pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat yesterday, as reported by Reuters.

France is hoping to profit from the prince's shake-up of the conservative kingdom to forge a new kind of commercial relationship.

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On the diplomatic front, the two countries share strategic regional interests notably against Qatar which they accuse of supporting extremists and of closeness with Iran, an arch enemy and regional rival to Riyadh.

He has already announced the lifting of a ban on women driving, the re-opening of cinemas for the first time in over three decades and new mixed-gender concerts despite opposition from religious hardliners.

Ahead of the trip to France, Saudi officials suggested relations were strong between Macron and the crown prince, both young leaders with reformist agendas.

In France, the visit will include business events and a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, a similarly young and ambitious leader keen on radical reforms.

But the trip follows a period of underlying tensions.

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Macron also faces seething criticism from over the export of arms to Saudi Arabia, including Caesar artillery guns, sniper rifles and armoured vehicles despite the kingdom's role in the Yemen crisis.

Three out of four French people believe it is "unacceptable" for France to continue selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to a poll last month by independent research group YouGov.

Saudi officials said separately that Prince Mohammed, who serves as defense minister and also controls economic and energy policy for the world's top oil exporter, would head to Spain later in the week.

Macron invited Hariri to Paris for talks and he later rescinded his resignation, a development that analysts say exposed the limits of the prince's authority.

The challenge for Mr. Macron is to convince the crown prince that "it is better to have the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran than no deal at all", Denis Bauchard, of the French Institute of International Relations, told AFP.

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Demonstrators will greet the prince with protests over the Saudi-led coalition's strikes in Yemen to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

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