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Germany says bars 18 Saudis over Khashoggi murder

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Brussels (AFP)

Germany will bar 18 Saudis from entering its territory and Europe's Schengen passport-free zone over their alleged links to the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Monday.

Maas said the move was "coordinated very closely with" France and Britain and the broader EU as they seek more information in Khashoggi's death last month in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Berlin has "decided that Germany should impose an entry ban on 18 Saudi citizens, who are presumed to be connected with this deed, in the Schengen information system," Maas told reporters.

"We are in close coordination on this issue within the European Union," he said, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels.

"Over the weekend, we stated that we expected further steps to be taken to clarify the situation."

The murder and Riyadh's explanations have angered its Western partners and raised tensions between United States and Saudi Arabia, a key oil supplier and US regional ally against Iran.

The United States last week sanctioned 17 Saudis for the crime.

The Schengen zone is composed of 22 EU nations and four non-EU countries. EU member Britain is not part of the passport-free zone, but shares intelligence through Shengen Information System (SIS) for law enforcement purposes.

Maas said Berlin was following Britain's example last month to bar Saudi suspects in the Khashoggi murder, including revoking British visas for those who already have them.

Maas did not rule out a decision by all EU member states to impose travel bans on Saudis linked to the murder and left open the possibility of further action.

- Call to suspend arms sales -

In October, Germany called for EU countries to follow its lead and suspend arms sales for the moment to Saudi Arabia, prompting a dismissive response from French President Emmanuel Macron.

France is the kingdom's second-biggest customer after India.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who was critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed after going to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee.

According to Turkish officials, an audio recording proves that Khashoggi was deliberately killed and dismembered soon after entering the consulate.

Saudi Arabia has offered shifting accounts of what happened, initially saying Khashoggi left the embassy after receiving his documents and later that he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight.

In the latest version, the Saudi prosecutor said a 15-member team went to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to the kingdom but killed him instead in a rogue operation.

The prosecutor exonerated the crown prince, after indicting 11 Saudis and sacking five officials, including two members of Prince Mohammed's inner circle.

US sanctions earlier this month targeted several top aides to the crown prince by freezing assets under US jurisdiction and forbidding US companies from doing business with them.

"We support the US action and are clear, we need to see proper accountability for those responsible," a British government spokesman told AFP.

"Sanctions are implemented in concert with others. We are exploring with EU partners the potential for an EU global human rights sanctions regime, which could address such brutal human rights violations."

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