Saudi crown prince leaves for tour of Arab states amid Khashoggi controversy


FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting with U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations in New York on March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Levy/File Photo

CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman left the kingdom on Thursday to visit a number of Arab countries, the Saudi Press Agency reported, his first trip abroad since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that caused a global outcry.

The prince, the country’s de facto ruler, is also expected to participate in a G20 meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of the month which will be attended by leaders from the United States, Turkey and European countries.

The killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of the crown prince, at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul six weeks ago has strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with the West and battered Prince Mohammed’s image abroad.

King Salman asked his chosen heir to conduct the tour “based on his keenness to deepen the kingdom’s ties regionally and internationally”, the agency said.

Al-Arabiya TV said the prince would start his regional trip with a visit to the neighboring United Arab Emirates, a Gulf ally. Tunisian newspaper, Business News, said he is expected to visit Tunisia on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder of the prominent Saudi journalist. After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh said last week Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has said the killing was ordered by the highest level of Saudi leadership but probably not from King Salman, putting the spotlight instead on the 33-year-old crown prince.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday Washington would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia despite saying that Prince Mohammed may have known about the plan to murder Khashoggi.

Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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