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Ministers face questions over Arab arms sales


Two Cabinet ministers will be challenged today over fears that British-made weapons have been used to suppress dissidents in Bahrain and Egypt.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, are to be tackled by MPs over arms sales worth more than £12m to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in just three months.

Ahead of their session with the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls, Mr Cable will announce moves to make defence contracts more transparent – and to impose temporary embargos to countries hit by internal strife.

However, MPs will seize on figures indicating that the arms trade with Middle Eastern regimes is flourishing, despite the Government's promise last year to suspend sales to trouble-spots.

Between July and September 2011, Britain sold weapons worth £2.2m to Bahrain, of which £1.3m was specifically for military use. At least 35 people died as the Gulf state's monarchy crushed the so-called Pearl Revolution last year. It called in help from its ally Saudi Arabia, which sent troops and armoured vehicles across the causeway linking the countries. Over the same period £8.9m-worth of arms were sold to Saudi Arabia, of which £4.5m was for military use.

As well as the suspicion that the UK could have indirectly helped to put down the Bahraini uprising, MPs will also raise concerns over Saudi Arabia's human rights record.