Fox withdraws from Saudi conference amid concerns for journalist

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi   (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)
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International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is pulling out of an international investment conference in Saudi Arabia amid concerns over the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A government spokesman said Dr Fox had decided the “time is not right” for him to attend the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh later this month.

“The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance,” the spokesman said.

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US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also said yesterday he will not attend the conference, tweeting that his decision was taken after a White House meeting with president Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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Turkish government sources have claimed that Mr Khashoggi – a critic of the government in Riyadh – was murdered during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.

The UK government spokesman said: “We encourage Turkish-Saudi collaboration and look forward to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conducting a thorough, credible, transparent and prompt investigation, as announced.

“Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account.”

French finance minister ­Bruno Le Maire and his Dutch counterpart, Wopke Hoekstra, also announced they were pulling out of the event, which had been dubbed “Davos in the desert”. Mr Le Maire said the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi was a “serious” matter and needed to be explained by ­Saudi authorities.

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said a Dutch trade mission to Saudi Arabia planned for December was also now unlikely to go ahead.

A number of senior top business executives have already cancelled their plans to attend the conference, as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

Allan Hogarth of Amnesty International UK said the British government should now re-appraise its “overly-cosy” relationship with the Saudis in the light of their “appalling” human rights record.

He said: “Liam Fox’s cancellation appears to be a recognition of the fact that cheer-leading for business in Saudi Arabia when the country is accused of murdering a journalist is simply beyond the pale.”

The latest moves come amid growing international pressure on the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to explain what happened to Mr Khashoggi, who has has not been seen since entering the consulate on 2 October.

Saudi officials have dismissed allegations that he was tortured, murdered and then dismembered by a hit squad flown in from Riyadh as “baseless”.