Saudis step up pressure over Masari

Deportation row: Britain warned that failure to act may jeopardise contracts
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The Government is under renewed pressure from Saudi Arabia to deport the dissident Mohammed al-Masari.

The Saudi Arabian Ambassador to London, Dr Ghazi Algosaibi, warns the Government in an interview on BBC Television's Panorama programme tonight that it will lose millions of pounds in contracts unless it expels the long-term critic of the Saudi regime.

Dr Algosaibi says: "If you are so insistent that I am going to tell you that the continued presence here will harm British relations and threaten British relations, I'm going to tell you that, yes." But he denied the demands amounted to blackmail saying: "No, that's not blackmail. That's friends discussing a problem that is affecting both of them. It's not blackmail; blackmail is when you do something illegal . . . We are a sovereign country. We can buy wherever else we want."

Lord Avebury, Liberal Democrat chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, called on the Government to ignore the warning. He said the threats were idle and repeated his call for the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, to grant Mr Masari asylum. If the Government gave in to the demands it would effectively be giving a green light to others.

Last month, the Chief Immigration Adjudicator found that Mr Howard had no right to refuse to consider Mr Masari's application and recommended that Mr Howard do so within a month. A Home Office spokesman said he was still considering his response.

The Government had arranged for Mr Masari to be taken in by Dominica, but the adjudicator said there was some force in the argument that Dominica lacked the resources to provide proper protection.

The former Defence Secretary Tom King tells Panorama that asylum seekers are welcome provided they do not abuse the system or disadvantage the nation's interests. "If we are going to preserve the principle of asylum, it has got to carry with it some sense of responsibility by the people who receive such benefit and advantage."

Sir Ivan Lawrence, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, says Mr Masari has abused his rights and cannot expect to stay.

"I would hope that no quarter is given to this illegal immigrant to whom this country owes no obligation other than to see that he is not harmed and who has the impertinence to assume that he has the right to put the jobs of tens of thousands of British subjects at risk."

If he is not happy with Dominica as a destination, Sir Ivan says, he could choose to go a fundamentalist Arab state.