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Saudi Arabia's national carrier Saudia has suspended flights to and fro Toronto as a diplomatic row between the Middle Eastern kingdom and Canada continued.

Harbash added that they are capable of transferring all Saudi students from Canada to countries with cultural missions in the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia, all of which are considered countries with top education institutions, and have good relations with Saudi Arabia.

Ottawa did not give any ground over the shock expulsion of the envoy, Dennis Horak, with Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland saying Canada would continue to defend human rights around the world.

"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women's rights, and freedom of expression around the world", a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, stressing that Canada was "seeking greater clarity" from the Saudi government. Both the Saudi and Canadian ambassadors were away on leave at the time.

The Twitter account belonging to infographic_KSA, who describe themselves as "a voluntary non-profit project managed by a group of Saudi youth who are interested in technology and social media", but widely seen as a pro- Saudi government, initially posted the threatening photo with the words: "Sticking one's nose where it doesn't belong!"

Among the arrested is Samar Badawi, an award-winning women's-rights activist who sought to abolish the country's male-guardianship laws.

The dispute ostensibly arose because of a tweet issued by Canada's Global Affairs ministry decrying the arrest and detention of two female bloggers and activists.

In recent months Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on women driving, but it has also arrested activists, including more than a dozen high-profile campaigners for women's rights. "Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this hard time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi".

But Riyadh's singling out of Canada is aimed at strongly discouraging other critical Western governments from speaking out, observers say.

When asked about the contract, Freeland said the government "looks forward" to hearing from Riyadh about the future of the deal.

Amnesty International noted Ms Badawi has been repeatedly targeted and interrogated by Saudi security forces for her human rights activist.

There are believed to be more than 12,000 Saudi students studying in Canada.