Saudi crown prince deplores 'painful' Khashoggi murder in first comments

Saudi Arabia's crown prince on Wednesday
denounced the "painful" murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and vowed
justice would prevail, in his first public comments on the case, without
addressing US accusations of a monumental cover-up.

After phoning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the
October 2 killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which triggered a
diplomatic crisis, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also pledged there
would be "no rupture" in ties with Ankara.

"The incident was very painful for all Saudis, it's a repulsive incident
and no one can justify it," Prince Mohammed said during an address to
the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh.

"Those responsible will be held accountable... in the end justice will
prevail," the heir apparent to the Saudi throne said in Arabic.

The prince, faced with mounting international censure, appeared relaxed
and occasionally joked as he shared the stage with Lebanon's prime
minister-designate Saad Hariri and Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin

Three weeks since Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen living in self-imposed
exile, disappeared after walking into the consulate to obtain marriage
documents, the crisis shows no sign of abating.

Washington, a long-time ally of Riyadh, moved late Tuesday to revoke the
visas of several Saudis. Britain followed suit on Wednesday.

Saudi leaders have denied involvement in Khashoggi's murder, pushing responsibility down the chain of command.

- 'No rift' -

But Ankara has been holding its own investigation and Erdogan said the
killing was meticulously planned, calling for 18 Saudis detained by
Saudi authorities to be tried in Turkey.

Erdogan spoke with Prince Mohammed in their first telephone conversation
since the killing, a Turkish presidential source and Saudi state media

The two discussed "the issue of joint efforts and the steps that need to
be taken in order to shed light on the Jamal Khashoggi murder in all
its aspects," the Turkish source added.

Speaking at the investment forum, Prince Mohammed said: "Many are trying
to exploit the Khashoggi affair to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia
and Turkey".

But, he said, "they will not succeed as long as there is a king named Salman and a crown prince named Mohammed bin Salman."

Since becoming heir apparent last year, Prince Mohammed has won plaudits
for reforms, including ending a decades-long ban on women drivers.

But his image has been tarnished by Khashoggi's murder, despite repeated denials he had any involvement.

Riyadh's changing narrative has met with deep scepticism abroad.

"He showed a keenness to tell the world that he believes in due process
and justice," a British business delegate at the conference told AFP.

"The question is whether justice will really be done."

- 'Worst cover-up' -

US President Donald Trump said the Saudis had a "very bad original
concept" in killing the 59-year-old Saudi insider-turned-critic.

"It was carried out poorly and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups."

Trump for the first time also appeared to indicate Prince Mohammed may
have had a role in the Khashoggi case, telling the Wall Street Journal:
"Well, the prince is running things over there... so if anybody were
going to be, it would be him."

The investment conference, nicknamed "Davos in the desert" and aimed at
drumming up funds to help Riyadh diversify its oil-reliant economy, has
been overshadowed by the outcry over Khashoggi's murder.

A string of big names withdrew from the event after the crisis broke out.

Faced with calls from US lawmakers across the political spectrum for
tough measures, the State Department said it had identified 21 Saudis
either whose visas would be revoked or who would be ineligible for
future visas.

"We are making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this
kind of action to silence Mr Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence,"
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

British Prime Minister Teresa May said Britain was "taking action
against all suspects to prevent them entering the UK. If these
individuals currently have visas, those visas will be revoked today".

France also weighed in, saying it would take "punitive measures" if Saudi Arabia was "proven" to be behind the murder.

- 'Savage murder' -

Turkish pro-government media reported Wednesday that Turkish
intelligence had shared "all the evidence" from its probe with the CIA.

The evidence included video and audio recordings from the consulate and
the consul's residence and were shared with visiting CIA chief Gina
Haspel, Sabah newspaper reported.

The location of Khashoggi's corpse is still unknown.

State media in Turkey said Wednesday that Saudi authorities had denied
permission to Turkish police to search a well in the consulate's garden.

Erdogan vowed Turkey would not allow the culprits to get away with their "savage murder".

"It is not over yet," he said. "We are unravelling, dismantling (the case) and the world is closely following."

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