The sale of British "anti-riot" machine guns, assault rifles and other weapons to to oppressive regimes in the Middle east and Africa must be stopped, human rights groups said today.
Government figures show that in the last 12 months Britain sold millions of pounds of arms to Bahrain and Libya, whose regimes are involved in the brutal suppression of democratic protests.
The British government has approved the sale of tear gas and crowd control ammunition to Bahrain within the last nine months.
The sales were actively promoted by the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation.
Equipment approved for export to Bahrain in 2010 included tear gas and crowd control ammunition, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns.
Equipment approved for export to Libya included crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition and tear gas.
Campaign Against Arms Trade spokeswoman Sarah Waldron said: "Government ministers claim they wish to support open and democratic societies in the Middle East but at the same time are aiding authoritarian regimes and providing the tools for repression.
"They don't just approve the sale of this equipment - they actively promote it."
"There should be an immediate arms embargo - but more importantly we should be asking why these exports were ever licensed in the first place."
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has now said that Britain is urgently reviewing its arms export licences to Bahrain after five anti-government protesters were killed in a military crackdown, bringing the total death toll to seven.
More than 200 people were injured as riot police attacked demonstrators and tanks were sent on to the streets.
Mr Burt said: "In the last nine months we have approved a range of licences for Bahrain.
"These include two single export licences for 250 tear gas cartridges to the Bahrain Defence Force and National Security Agency that were for trial or evaluation purposes."
He added that a number of open individual export licences had also been approved, including one for "equipment that can be used for riot control."
Amnesty International Arms Programme director Oliver Sprague said: “The government’s own figures clearly show the UK has recently licensed crowd control equipment to Bahrain including tear gas, assault rifles and machine guns.
“We need to see an immediate suspension of any further shipments of equipment that could end up being used to violently suppress peaceful protests in Bahrain, or for that matter in countries like Libya, Yemen or Jordan.”
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