French minister pulls out of Saudi conference over missing journalist
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French minister pulls out of Saudi conference over missing journalist

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire joins growing list of no-shows after Riyadh’s suspected killing of critic Jamal Khashoggi

In this photo taken on December 15, 2014, Jamal Khashoggi looks on at a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP/Mohammed Al-Shaikh)
In this photo taken on December 15, 2014, Jamal Khashoggi looks on at a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP/Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

PARIS, France — 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 Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he will decide on Thursday whether to attend.

Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra also pulled out of the conference Thursday.

“The disappearance of #Khashoggi is a very serious matter. Saudi Arabia has not yet been able to provide any clarification,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said as he announced the decision on Twitter.

“That is why we decided @WBHoekstra will not travel to Riyadh today. The Netherlands stands for press freedom, worldwide.”

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.

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