France demands ‘thorough investigation’ into Khashoggi case

Ozan Kose / AFP | Demonstrations outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Saturday demanded a "thorough and diligent investigation" into the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who, Riyadh finally admitted, was killed inside its Istanbul consulate.


“France condemns this murder in the strongest terms,” said Le Drian in a statement released by the French foreign ministry. “The confirmation of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi's death is a first step towards establishing the truth. Many questions remain unanswered. They require a thorough and diligent investigation to establish exactly who was responsible for the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi and to ensure that those who are guilty answer for the actions,” said the statement in French.

While offering condolences to Khashoggi’s family and loved ones, the statement also noted that, “the circumstances of his death underscore the need to protect journalists and all those whose freedom of expression contributes to public debate around the world. This is a priority of our foreign policy.”

France also expressed its “expectations” that Saudi authorities conduct an investigation and that, “these expectations are stronger because our two countries are linked by a strategic partnership that involves frankness, high standards and transparency.”

Saudi Arabia’s Gulf ally, the United Arab Emirates welcomed the Saudi disclosures, as did Egypt.

But calls for proper investigations have continued to flood in from all over the world.

German minister says ‘no reason’ to approve arms sales to Riyadh

Germany meanwhile called into question arms sales to Saudi Arabia until investigations into Khashoggi’s death had been completed.

In an interview with German public television's Tagesthemen programme on Saturday night, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there was no reason to approve sales while it was still unclear what had happened to Khashoggi, in an apparent reversal of last month's decision to authorise the sale of artillery systems to Riyadh.

"So long as investigations are underway, so long as we don't know what happened there, there is no reason to take positive decisions on arms exports to Saudi Arabia," he said.

The reactions followed Saudi Arabia’s acknowledgment, after more than two weeks of denials, that the former Washington Post columnist had been killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul following a “fistfight”.

Saudi state media earlier Saturday announced that King Salman had ordered the dismissal of two senior officials over the incident: Saud al-Qahtani, a royal court advisor seen as the right-hand man to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed Asiri, a statement on state media said.

'A good first step,' says Trump

Responding to the Saudi explanation, US President Donald Trump told reporters he thought it was "a good first step, it's a big step. It's a lot of people, a lot of people involved, and I think it's a great first step," told reporters on Saturday.

"Saudi Arabia has been a great ally. What happened is unacceptable."

Though Trump said Riyadh's explanation was credible, it drew doubts from many countries, including Turkey.

Analysis: ‘Surprised’ Trump believes Saudi account valid

Turkey will ‘never allow a cover-up’

Turkey will "never allow a cover-up" of the killing, a senior official in the country’s ruling AK Party said Saturday, reflecting international skepticism over the Saudi account of the dissident journalist's death.

The comment was one of many critical reactions to the Saudi Arabia's announcement, indicating the kingdom's efforts to defuse a scandal that has gripped the world were falling short.

Despite widespread outrage over Khashoggi’s killing, it is unclear to what extent the top leadership of Saudi Arabia -- a key US ally and powerful player in a volatile region -- would be held accountable for what human rights activists describe as an extrajudicial killing by Saudi agents.

Washington Post calls for international investigation

In an editorial published Saturday, the Washington Post called for an international investigation led by a UN-appointed panel.

Describing the Saudi explanation as “utterly devoid of credibility,” the editorial noted that, “The latest version asks us to believe that Mr. Khashoggi died after becoming engaged in a “brawl” with officials who had been sent to meet him. His body, Saudi officials told several journalists, was handed over to a “local collaborator” for disposal. That President Trump would pronounce this fable credible only underlines his shameful intent to assist in the attempt of the regime   and, in particular, the crown prince   to escape meaningful accountability.

Saudi Arabia said 18 Saudi suspects were in custody and intelligence officials had been fired. But critics believe the complex scheme that led to Khashoggi's death could not have occurred without the knowledge of the 33-year-old Saudi crown prince whose early promises of sweeping reform are being eclipsed by concerns that he is an impulsive, even sinister figure.

UN chief calls for transparent investigation

The Saudi narrative of Khashoggi's death contrasts sharply with Turkish pro-government media reports that a Saudi hit squad, including an autopsy expert, traveled to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi and dispose of his body, which has not yet been found.

"It's not possible for the Saudi administration to wiggle itself out of this crime if it's confirmed," said Numan Kurtulmus, deputy head of Turkey's AK Party. He also said Turkey would share its evidence of Khashoggi's killing with the world and that a "conclusive result" of the investigation is close.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also joined the chorus of calls for a credible investigation and stressed "the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi's death and full accountability for those responsible," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge of the disappearance of Khashoggi, who was not seen after entering the consulate on October 2.

‘May you rest in paradise’

The Saudi announcement acknowledging Khashoggi's death was met with condolence messages to his loved ones on Twitter.

"God have mercy on you my love Jamal, and may you rest in paradise," Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted Saturday.

In a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency early Saturday, the kingdom noted that, "Preliminary investigations conducted by the public prosecution showed that the suspects had traveled to Istanbul to meet with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi as there were indications of the possibility of his returning back to the country...Discussions took place with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the consulate of the kingdom in Istanbul by the suspects (that) did not go as required and developed in a negative way, leading to a fistfight. The brawl led to his death and their attempt to conceal and hide what happened."

The Saudi statements, which expressed regret and promised accountability, did not identify the 18 Saudis being held by authorities and did not explain how so many people could have been involved in a fistfight.

The kingdom at the same time announced the firing of four top intelligence officials, including Maj. Gen. Ahmed bin Hassan Assiri, a one-time spokesman for the Saudi military's campaign in Yemen who later became a confidant of Prince Mohammed.

Saud Qahtani, a powerful adviser to the prince, also was fired. Qahtani had led Saudi efforts to isolate Qatar amid a boycott of the country by the kingdom and three other Arab nations as part of a political dispute.

On Twitter, where Qahtani had launched vitriolic attacks against those he saw as the kingdom's enemies, he thanked the Saudi government for the opportunity to serve.

"I will remain a loyal servant to my country for all times," he wrote.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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