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October 12, 2018

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Turkey, US step up pressure over Khashoggi

Turkey, US step up pressure over Khashoggi

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia to release footage of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and President Donald Trump demanded answers over his fate, as the kingdom faced growing pressure on Thursday to provide a convincing explanation for his disappearance.

The Washington Post, the daily to which Khashoggi was a contributor, added to the mystery by reporting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered an operation to "lure" the critical journalist back home.

Khashoggi has not been seen since October 2 when he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents for his upcoming marriage. Turkish officials quoted in media have said he was killed but Riyadh denies that.

The mystery has captivated the world but also threatens to harm brittle Turkish-Saudi relations and hurt efforts by the crown prince to improve the image of his country with a reform drive.

Erdogan challenged Saudi Arabia to provide CCTV images to back up its version that Khashoggi had left the consulate safely, indicating he did not find the current Saudi explanations sufficient.

"Is it possible there were no camera systems in a consulate, in an embassy? Is it possible that there was no Saudi camera system where this incident took place?" Erdogan told Turkish reporters in comments published in newspapers. "If a bird flew, or a fly or a mosquito appeared, the systems would capture this; they (Saudi Arabia) have the most cutting-edge systems," he was quoted as saying.

The consulate said CCTV cameras were not working that day and dismissed the murder claims as "baseless". The case is also threatening the strong relationship the Trump administration has built with Prince Mohammed, who wants to turn the oil-rich conservative kingdom into a hub for innovation and reform.

The two sides have worked together on challenging Iran despite growing concern over the prince’s campaign against dissidents, which critics say has shown up the true face of his rule. In a reversal from Washington’s initial low-key response, Trump demanded answers after he spoke to Saudi authorities "at the highest level".

"We’re demanding everything. We want to see what’s going on there," he said. Trump later told "Fox News at Night" that "it would not be a good thing at all" if Saudi involvement was proven.

Khashoggi is a former government adviser who fled Saudi Arabia in September 2017 and lived in the US fearing arrest back home. In his columns for the Washington Post and comments elsewhere, Khashoggi was critical of some policies of Mohammed bin Salman as well as Riyadh’s role in the war in Yemen.

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