Saudi Arabia freezes Swedish business visas as row deepens

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Saudi Arabia has stopped issuing business visas to Swedish citizens, the Swedish foreign ministry said Thursday amid a deepening diplomatic row between the Nordic country and the Gulf.

Sweden "has been informed" by Riyadh of the development, a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.

"This is of course not a good situation. We don't want this situation with Saudi Arabia," Swedish news agency TT quoted Prime Minister Stefan Loefven as saying in Brussels.

Sweden last week cut military ties with Saudi Arabia after Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem accused Riyadh of blocking her from making a speech about human rights to the Arab League.

In response, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador, citing Ms Wallstroem's criticism of its human rights and democracy record.

On Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates also recalled its ambassador from Sweden, in solidarity with its Gulf neighbour.

Sweden's relations with Saudi Arabia hit an all-time low last month after Ms Wallstroem described the Gulf state as a "dictatorship" that violates women's rights and whips bloggers.

She later came under fire from the Arab League's members for her criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record in the Swedish parliament, which they viewed as an affront to Sharia law.

The Swedish government held urgent talks with business leaders on Thursday to discuss concerns over trade with Gulf countries following the cancellation of military ties and the visa freeze.

Swedish business leaders had warned the government that ending its 10-year-long military cooperation with Saudi Arabia - Sweden's third largest non-Western destination for arms sales - could have far-reaching consequences.