Saudi Arabia is planning to buy patrol boats from Germany, according to a German newspaper. The government appears to have given approval to the sale, despite widespread public criticism.
The sale will total around 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion), the Bild am Sonntag reported Sunday. Germany's federal security council, which includes Chancellor Angela Merkel, has according to the newspaper already approved the sale request, issued by the Bremen-based Lürssen shipyard.
The council must approve such deals in Germany but the decisions are not made public.
Saudi Arabia will receive the boats, worth between 10 and 25 million euros each, within two years after the contract has been signed, the paper said.
Criticism over sale
The government's reported agreement of the sale to a country with controversial human rights record has sparked criticism eight months ahead of Germany's national election.
"The government apparently wants to totally arm Saudi Arabia and has not learned anything from the public protests against weapons deliveries to this country," said Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary floor leader for the opposition Social Democrats.
In December, Bild am Sonntag reported that Germany was close to completing a 100-million-euro arms deal with Saudi Arabia for "Dingo" armored vehicles, and Der Spiegel magazine reported that the Gulf country also wanted to buy several hundred BOXER armored fighting vehicles.
"It's time to stop all the weapons exports to Saudi Arabia," said the Left party's Jan van Aken, adding that his party would make that demand in parliament.
The global watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Saudi Arabia for its recent crackdown on government dissidents.
HRW's Deputy Middle East Director, Eric Goldstein, said last month that "the Saudi government has gone to considerable lengths to punish, intimidate and harass those who express opinions that deviate from the official line. These efforts have fueled rather than silenced the growing domestic calls for greater freedoms."
Arms exports are a sensitive issue in Germany, especially given the country's Nazi past and the role arms makers have played in fueling numerous wars in the 19th and 20th centuries.
After World War II, the West German and later unified German governments put in place tough restrictions on arms exports, especially to regions where there are armed conflicts or where human rights are poorly respected.
A government report studying requests from different countries found that Germany approved arms exports of 5.4 billion euros in 2011, a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Of those arms, 42 percent went to countries outside the European Union and NATO.
According to the report, Saudi Arabia was the 12th largest recipient of German arms exports in 2011.
dr/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)