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Germany will re-examine arms exports to Saudi Arabia after weekend executions

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany may look harder at its arms exports to Saudi Arabia after the Gulf kingdom carried out its biggest mass execution for decades on Saturday, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (L) speaks to refugees attending a workshop to receive new professional skills, organized by the Arrivo Berlin initiative in Berlin, Germany, December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Berlin is not planning to impose sanctions on Riyadh after the executions, a foreign ministry spokesman said. But Gabriel’s ministry has in the past rejected some arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia and can withhold the required export licences.

“We can see that it was right to neither deliver tanks nor G36 assault rifles to Saudi Arabia,” Gabriel said in a statement issued by the economy ministry. “Now we have to review whether we also need to evaluate defensive armaments more critically in the future.”

The Federal Office for Economics and Export Control (Bafa), a subsidiary of the economy ministry, is responsible for licensing arms export deals, and in 2014, Gabriel promised a much more cautious approach to permitting such exports to unstable regions like the Middle East.

“The bottom line is that the minister has frequently made it clear that arms exports are an instrument of foreign and security policy and not an economic instrument,” an economy ministry spokesman said told regular news conference, calling the executions “worrisome”.

In the first six months of 2015, Germany permitted the export of arms worth over 178 million euros ($192.56 million) to Saudi Arabia, according to a report by the economy ministry in October 2015.

Both opposition parties in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, the Greens and the hard-left Linke, demanded an immediate halt to arms exports to Saudi Arabia following the execution of 47 people, among them a prominent Shi’ite cleric.

The executions led to widespread protests in the Middle East, especially in predominately Sh’ite Iran, which culminated with protesters storming the Saudi embassy in Tehran. In retaliation, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran.

Even some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), who have previously emphasised the kingdom’s important role as a strategic partner in the region, called for a reassessment of relations.

“A moratorium on arms exports would be the right signal now - business as usual is not an option,” CDU politician Michael Hennrich, who is head of the German-Arabic parliamentarian group, told the Rheinische Post newspaper on Monday.

Reporting by Tina Bellon, editing by Larry King