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GAVIN WILLIAMSON is being accused of fuelling “brutal repression” in the Gulf after he signed a “defence agreement” with Oman’s dictatorship.
The deal is believed to allow Britain’s Royal Navy to berth its new aircraft carrier at Duqm, Oman’s deep water port.
The Defence Secretary visited Oman yesterday to finalise the plan and said he was “delighted” to be there.
The country’s ruler Sultan Qaboos is the Middle East’s longest-serving autocrat, put on the throne by British troops in 1970.
Mr Williamson’s visit coincided with a joint Anglo-Omani military exercise in the country’s northernmost peninsula at Musandam.
The exercise, called Mountain Storm, took place near the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and Iran, through which much of the world’s oil is shipped.
Khalfan al-Badwawi, an Omani dissident who was tortured and imprisoned for “insulting the sultan,” slammed Mr Williamson’s trip.
Speaking from exile in London, he told the Morning Star: “Britain’s military is complicit in the brutal repression of people in the Gulf region.
“Parking the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier in Oman is a strategy designed to project Britain’s imperial power in the Gulf, where they are not welcome.”
British oil companies Shell and BP have major operations in Oman, and Mr Badwawi said the Royal Navy’s presence was aimed at “ensuring the profit flows straight to the City of London.”
He also criticised the cost of the new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which cost billions of pounds to build, at a time when “there are 14 million people in poverty in the UK.”
However, Mr Williamson said it was “a pleasure to sign this agreement [with Oman], bringing us even closer to one of our most important partners.”
The new ship was dogged by problems with its propeller shafts during sea trials.
Access to the Duqm port for repairs will make it easier for HMS Queen Elizabeth to sail on to the Pacific Ocean – an ambition Mr Williamson outlined last week.
This plan irritated China, which promptly cancelled a visit by the Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Mr Hammond rebuked his Cabinet colleague today in a BBC interview, saying that relations between London and Beijing were “complex” and “it hasn’t been made simpler by Chinese concerns about Royal Navy deployments in the South China Sea.”
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