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Main opposition leader slams Erdoğan over Saudi visit after Khashoggi murder

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Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s first visit to Saudi Arabia since the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying he went for “an embrace with the killer,” in reference to the crown prince.

Erdoğan met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday to “develop” relations, in his first visit since the murder of Khashoggi drove a wedge between the Sunni powers.

Saudi state news agency SPA published images of the Turkish leader embracing Salman, the de facto ruler who US intelligence officials determined approved the plot against Khashoggi — something Riyadh denies.

“He has innocent people given a life sentence and defends it at the airport. Then, he gets off the plane and runs to embrace the killer. He bows before the one who dismembered a person in his own country, his eyes smiling at him with love. That’s what you are, Erdoğan,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in a tweet.

The CHP leader’s tweet also slammed Erdoğan for having prominent businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala sentenced to aggravated life on charges related to the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and then defending the move at the airport before heading for Saudi Arabia.

An İstanbul court on Monday sentenced Kavala, who had been behind bars for over four years without conviction, to aggravated life on charges of “attempting to topple the government” while sentencing seven other defendants to 18 years each on charges of aiding the attempt.

The conviction of the rights advocates has attracted condemnation and anger from within and without Turkey and sparked nationwide protests in the country.

The protests in 2013 erupted over government plans to demolish Gezi Park in Taksim. They quickly turned into mass anti-government demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the government, leading to the death of 11 protestors due to the use of disproportionate force by the police.

Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Washington Post contributor and an insider turned critic, in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate general on Oct. 2, 2018, in a gruesome murder that shocked the world. The journalist’s remains have never been found.

Turkey infuriated the Saudis by pressing ahead with an investigation into the murder of Khashoggi, which Erdoğan said was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia responded by unofficially putting pressure on Turkey’s economy through a boycott of key Turkish imports.

But trade between the two has been gradually improving, and in January Erdoğan said he was planning a visit to Saudi Arabia.

In a move that attracted international condemnation and dashed hopes about the possibility of justice for Khashoggi, an İstanbul court earlier this month halted the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects linked to his death, transferring the case to Riyadh.

The Turkish decision infuriated human rights campaigners and Khashoggi’s widow Hatice Cengiz, who vowed to appeal it at a higher court.

Erdoğan’s trip to Saudi Arabia came as Turkey, facing an economic crisis fueled by the collapse of its currency and soaring inflation, tries to drum up financial support from energy-rich Gulf countries.

Turkey has an annual inflation rate topping 60 percent and saw a wave of winter street protests, that have hurt Erdoğan’s popularity ahead of a general election next year.

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