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Bahraini diamonds not a girl's best friend

The Sunday Telegraph | 2012-01-09 09:04:09.0
Shiny bright diamond. File photo.
Image by: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

For Sophie, Britain's Countess of Wessex, the brief visit to Bahrain with her husband Prince Edward shortly before Christmas was a mere official trip, with official gifts.

And that is where the trouble began.

Her gifts included two lavish "suites" of gems from King Hamad al-Khalifa and Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, and a silver and pearl cup from the crown prince. Her husband was presented with a silk rug.

The problem was that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, Bahrain's brutal treatment of pro-democracy activists has raised concern. More than 50 people have been killed and 3000 detained and tortured.

Buckingham Palace is facing growing calls to return the jewels or sell them and donate the proceeds to victims of the regime.

Denis MacShane, a former foreign minister, said: "Buckingham Palace should send back this gift or sell it and donate the proceeds to the victims of Bahraini repression. I'm sure the royal family have got enough jewellery to be getting on with. It's not Sophie's fault that she has been placed in this embarrassing situation but the sooner this is dealt with the better.

"I'm afraid that, when it comes to international relations, diamonds are not a girl's best friend."

Buckingham Palace refused to reveal details or the value of the gems. But when Prince Charles's wife, Camilla, was given jewellery by the Saudi royal family in 2007 they were estimated to be worth more than £2-million.

Sophie's acceptance of the gift, revealed in a list of presents published by the palace, has again cast the spotlight on relations between Britain's royal family and some of the Middle East's hard-line regimes.

Buckingham Palace has said that official gifts, including jewels, are not the personal property of the royal family. Sophie can wear the jewels at functions but they are the property of the royal collection.

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