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Government criticised for U-turn over sale of precision missiles to Saudi Arabia

Workers at the shipbuilding plant in Cadiz protest at threat of lost contracts.
Workers at the shipbuilding plant in Cadiz protest at threat of lost contracts. / EFE
  • The threat of losing a contract for five warships caused protests by workers at Cadiz shipbuilders

Pedro Sánchez's Socialist-led government came up against criticism from all sides last week when it made a U-turn over its halting of a shipment of precision bombs to Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month the Defence Ministry halted the delivery of 400 laser-guided missiles and started proceedings to cancel the contract and return the 9.2 million euros paid for the weapons.

The ministry argued that the bombs could have been used against civilians in Yemen, and said that all similar "sensitive" contracts would be reviewed.

Just days later, however, the government announced that the contract would be honoured and the missiles delivered as planned. The reasons given were that there were no irregularities in the contract and that it was satisfied that there was no danger to civilians due to the nature of the weapons. "The bombs are high precision and so they are not going to kill Yemenis by mistake," said cabinet spokesperson Isabel Celaá last Friday.

The Sánchez government's initial announcement of the review of contracts caused outrage among workers at the Navantia shipyard in Cadiz, about to start work on a 1.8-million-euro order from Saudi Arabia for five corvette warships.

The Socialist leader of Andalucía, Susana Díaz, headed calls for her party in Madrid to honour the contract and not make decisions that would put the jobs of 6,000 people in Cadiz, a province already hard hit by unemployment, at risk.

The government's U-turn was heavily criticised by political groups on all sides as well as NGOs. This week it emerged that the government received a report from the UN in 2017 confirming that 292 Yemeni civilians had been killed by the so-called "intelligent" precision bombs used in ten Saudi air strikes.