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Saudi Arabia lifts travel restrictions to Turkey amid thaw in relations

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With Turkey and Saudi Arabia starting to repair their strained relationship, Saudi Arabia has lifted travel restrictions on its citizens traveling to Turkey, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

The Saudi Interior Ministry on Monday lifted the Covid-19 travel restrictions it had imposed on India, Ethiopia, Turkey and Vietnam.

Travel to Turkey and several other countries was prohibited for Saudi nationals during the Covid-19 health emergency, with the threat of a three-year ban on foreign travel for violators. The decision coincided with a period of particularly tense relations between the two regional powers.

The Saudi ministry’s decision comes ahead of a visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Turkey on June 22 as Ankara and Riyadh move on from the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It will be Prince Mohammed’s first visit to Turkey since the brutal killing of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in İstanbul, which shocked the world and dealt a heavy blow to ties between the regional rivals.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already paid a visit to Saudi Arabia in late April, where he met with the prince before traveling to Mecca.

Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, an insider turned critic, in the kingdom’s İstanbul consulate in October 2018. His remains have never been found.

Erdoğan previously said the “highest levels” of the Saudi government ordered the killing and Turkey angered the Saudis by vigorously pursuing the case, opening an investigation and briefing international media about the lurid details of the murder.

Turkey already had strained relations with Saudi Arabia because of its support for Qatar during the Riyadh-led blockade on the Gulf state, but relations were frozen for three years after Khashoggi’s killing.

Saudi Arabia responded at the time with an unofficial boycott of Turkish imports, putting pressure on Turkey’s economy.

Now with high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis a year before a presidential election, Erdoğan is seeking backing from Gulf countries.

Before Covid-19, Turkey was a favored tourism destination for many Saudis, who viewed it as a relatively affordable and culturally familiar vacation spot. Nearly 750,000 Saudis visited Turkey in 2018, despite the strained diplomatic relations, according to Bloomberg.

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