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Khashoggi case: France pulls out of Saudi conference

media Saudi Crown prince Mohamed ben Salman at Dahran, 15 avril 2018 BANDAR AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace

France announced it would not attend a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia next week, as the investigation continues over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday he was pulling out of a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"I won't go to Riyadh next week," Le Maire told France's Public Senat TV channel, adding that "the current circumstances do not allow me to go to Riyadh".

The minister echoed President Emmanuel Macron's remarks last week on Khashoggi's disappearance, calling it a "very serious" matter.

"The important thing now is that the full truth of this affair be known," said Le Maire, who said he informed his Saudi counterpart on Wednesday of his decision.

Khashoggi, who was living in self-imposed exile in the United States where he contributed to the Washington Post, vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

He was critical of some of Saudi Arabia's policies.

Turkish officials claim he was killed and dismembered in the consulate by a hit squad which arrived from Riyadh -- claims denied by the Saudi government.

Le Maire's decision to pull out of the October 23-25 Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh -- dubbed the "Davos in the Desert" -- follows that of International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde.

The IMF said Wednesday that Lagarde had "deferred" her trip to the Middle East, without giving an explanation.

US hesitant about whether to attend

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he will decide on Thursday whether to attend.

Several Western business titans and media groups have already pulled out of the conference organized by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

Like other Western allies of the world's biggest oil exporter, France had embraced Saudi Arabia's powerful new de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as a reformer.

Macron hosted the 33-year-old prince for a private dinner at the Louvre museum when he visited Paris in April.

Saudi Arabia was the second-biggest purchaser of French weapons between 2008 and 2017, after India, signing deals for some 12 billion euros ($13.8 billion) in French weaponry.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he will decide later on Thursday whether to attend, after reviewing the outcome of a diplomatic dash by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The October 23-25 conference, dubbed "Davos in the Desert" after the the Swiss mountain resort that hosts the anuual World Economic Forum, is billed as a showcase for the economic reforms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But it has been thrown into confusion since Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident who was strongly critical of the crown prince, failed to emerge from a visit to the Istanbul consulate on October 2.

The conference's website previously featured a star-studded list of speakers. But that has been removed following the steady flow of defections.

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