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Turkey will not drop trial of Saudi suspects in Khashoggi murder, officials say

Despite Turkish efforts to repair ties with Riyadh, Ankara won't disrupt the trial in absentia of 20 Saudi nationals indicted over the killing
A demonstrator dressed as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with blood on his hands protests outside the Saudi embassy in Washington DC on 10 October 2018 (AFP/File photo)
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Istanbul

Turkey will not intervene in the trial against the Saudi operatives who are accused of murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish officials told Middle East Eye.

Officials told MEE on Wednesday that there was no change in Turkey's position on the Khashoggi murder. "Justice will prevail," one of the officials said. "There won't be any disruption in Turkey's own legal process."

The comments came as Saudi authorities permanently closed eight Turkish state-run schools in the kingdom, further straining ties.

The trial in absentia of 20 Saudi suspects indicted over Khashoggi's gruesome murder, including two former aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), began in Istanbul last July.

Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 after he entered the premises to obtain paperwork for his planned marriage to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. His remains are yet to be found.

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Last year, the Istanbul prosecutor filed an indictment that accused Ahmed al-Asiri, the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia's general intelligence service, and a former royal court adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, as having "instigated premeditated murder with monstrous intent".

A Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three others to jail over the journalist's murder, but dismissed charges against the senior officials connected to MBS.

However, the trial in Turkey itself is seen by some as a mostly symbolic step. Experts have said the trial cannot meaningfully continue without the presence of the defendants because it involves murder.

Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two regional powerhouses, have been at a low point since the murder of Khashoggi, whose killing is believed by the CIA to have been ordered by MBS himself.

Saudi businesses have endorsed an unofficial boycott of Turkish goods, resulting in a more than 90 percent drop in Turkish exports to the kingdom. Late last month, Turkey raised concerns regarding boycott to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

On Wednesday, Turkey's education ministry said it has been informed by the Saudi authorities that the eight schools will have to close at the end of the current school year.

The establishments targeted have a total 2,256 pupils, it added. Last month, the education ministry said there were 26 Turkish schools in Saudi Arabia.

Ankara has tried to correct the relationship, with officials from both countries meeting last year after a personal intervention by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called Saudi King Salman to repair ties.

Erdogan's chief foreign policy adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, said earlier this week that Turkey would seek ways to repair its fractured relationship with the kingdom with a more positive agenda. 

"We will seek ways to repair the relationship with a more positive agenda with Saudi Arabia as well," Kalin said, adding that he hoped the boycott could be lifted.