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Main opposition leader slams Erdoğan due to change of stance on Khashoggi case

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Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan due to the transfer of the trial concerning the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, recalling his former remarks about the impossibility of such a move, Turkish media outlets reported.

In a move that attracted international condemnation and dashed hopes about the possibility of justice for Khashoggi, a Turkish court last week confirmed a halt of the trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the murder of Khashoggi and its transfer to Riyadh.

The 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi Consulate General in İstanbul on Oct. 2, 2018 in a gruesome murder that shocked the world.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Tuesday recalled remarks by Erdoğan, who said in 2018 that Turkey was not a “fool,” as thought by Riyadh, that would transfer the murder case to Saudi Arabia as Turkey the Saudis would destroy evidence related the murder and would not hold a fair trial.

Erdoğan said at the time that since the crime was committed in İstanbul, an İstanbul court should try the suspects and that Saudi Arabia should hand over the suspects it had arrested to Turkey.

A Saudi court sentenced eight lower-level operatives found responsible for the murder to prison terms of seven to 20 years in a trial that lacked transparency.

The Saudi authorities failed to arrest the most senior officials accused of involvement in the plot to target Khashoggi, including the former royal court adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, and the deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, merely announcing their resignations.

Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan of damaging the prestige of the Turkish state by handing the Khashoggi murder trial over to Saudi Arabia.

“He [Erdoğan] transferred the rights and prestige of Turkish courts to Saudi Arabia over a murder that was committed in Turkey. … It has now become clear who the fool is,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, claiming that Erdoğan agreed to the transfer of the Khashoggi trial in exchange for money from Saudi Arabia.

Ankara’s move is interpreted by many as an attempt to put relations with Saudi Arabia back on track at a time when Turkey is desperate for investment to help pull it out of an economic crisis.

In the meantime, Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Monday, amid mounting criticism about the transfer of the Khashoggi trial to Riyadh, that the transfer of the case was in compliance with the law.

To Riyadh’s dismay, Turkey pressed ahead with the Khashoggi case and Erdoğan had, at the time, said the order to kill him came from the “highest levels” of government.

Subsequently, Saudi Arabia sought unofficially to put pressure on Turkey’s economy, with a boycott on Turkish imports.

Last year Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Riyadh to mend fences with the kingdom.

Transferring the case to Riyadh removes the last obstacle to a normalization of ties.

Erdoğan has sought to improve ties with regional rivals including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in the face of increasing diplomatic isolation that has caused foreign investment to dry up — particularly from the West.

In January he said he was planning a trip to Saudi Arabia as the economy was going through a turbulent period.

Turkey’s annual inflation has soared to 61.1 percent, according to official data last week.

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