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UK floats Johnson visit to Saudi Arabia as Russia sanctions bite

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UK floats Johnson visit to Saudi Arabia as Russia sanctions bite

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Britain on Sunday defended lobbying Saudi Arabia to up its oil output as energy sanctions on Russia start inflicting a painful toll, after the Gulf kingdom executed a record number of prisoners.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove did not deny a report in The Times on Saturday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to visit Riyadh this week.

It said Johnson will lobby Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to help offset the impact of the Ukraine-linked sanctions, after Britain and the United States said they were ending imports of Russian oil.

"We have to rely on oil from a number of countries, many of whose human rights records we don't approve of," Gove told Sky News, after Saudi Arabia said it had executed a record 81 people in one day.

"Saudi Arabia is a security partner of the United Kingdom. I think that there are human rights concerns. We're clear about those," he said.

Also read: Iran suspends talks with Saudi Arabia

"But we also recognise that at a time when the world is in a fragile situation, that diplomacy alongside clarity on human rights is important."

Contacted by AFP, a Downing Street spokesperson declined to elaborate on any travel plans by Johnson this week. He is due to host a defence summit with leaders of northern European countries on Tuesday.

Fallout from the sanctions on Russia has sent prices of petrol and diesel in Britain to record highs, adding to a cost-of-living crisis as household heating bills also rocket.

Johnson Thursday said Britain and its allies were moving away from dependence on Russian oil and gas, so that they were no longer "blackmailed" by President Vladimir Putin.

The White House on Wednesday was forced to deny a Wall Street Journal report that the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had refused to accept calls by US President Joe Biden.

The Times said Johnson was better placed to lobby Mohammad bin Salman, having stayed in contact with the Saudi ruler via WhatsApp messages.

But rights group Amnesty International said Johnson, if he does go, should challenge the crown prince over the mass executions and a 10-year travel ban slapped on blogging rights activist Raif Badawi.

Amnesty UK rights adviser Polly Truscott said also that "Saudi Arabia mustn't be allowed a free pass over the civilians being killed by Saudi coalition airstrikes in Yemen".

Russia is the world's largest producer of gas and second-largest oil producer, behind Saudi Arabia.

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