Turkey’s opposition strikes blow to Erdogan with Istanbul mayoral win

Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), greets supporters at a rally of in Beylikduzu district, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s opposition has dealt President Tayyip Erdogan a stinging blow by winning control of Istanbul in a re-run mayoral election, breaking his aura of invincibility and delivering a message from voters unhappy over his ever tighter grip on power.

Ekrem Imamoglu of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 54.21% of votes, the head of the High Election Board announced on Monday – a far wider victory margin than his narrow win three months ago.

The previous result was annulled after protests from Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which said there had been widespread voting irregularities. The decision to re-run the vote was criticized by Western allies and caused uproar among domestic opponents who said Turkey’s democracy was under threat.

On Sunday and in the early hours Monday, tens of thousands of Imamoglu supporters celebrated in the streets of Istanbul after the former businessman triumphed over Erdogan’s handpicked candidate by almost 800,000 votes.

“In this city today, you have fixed democracy. Thank you Istanbul,” Imamoglu told supporters who made heart signs with their hands, in an expression of the inclusive election rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his campaigning.

“We came to embrace everyone,” he said. “We will build democracy in this city, we will build justice. In this beautiful city, I promise, we will build the future.”

Erdogan congratulated him for the victory and Imamoglu’s rival, Binali Yildirim of the ruling AK Party (AKP), wished him luck as mayor barely two hours after polls closed.

WANING SUPPORT

Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, becoming the country’s most dominant politician since its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, nearly a century ago.

His AKP has strong support among pious and conservative Turks and its stewardship of Turkey’s economy through a decade and a half of construction-fuelled growth helped Erdogan win more than a dozen national and local elections.

But economic recession and a financial crisis have eroded that support and Erdogan’s ever-tighter control over government has alarmed some voters.

Turkey’s lira tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down 8% this year, in part on election jitters.

But assets rallied on Monday as investors welcomed the removal of one source of political uncertainty. The lira firmed 1% against the dollar, shares rose nearly 2% and bond yields fell.

Imamoglu won support even in traditionally pious Istanbul districts, once known as AK Party strongholds, ending the 25-year-long Islamist rule in the country’s largest city.

“This re-run (election) was one to put an end to the dictatorship,” said Gulcan Demirkaya, a 48-year-old housewife in Istanbul’s AKP-leaning Kagithane district. “God willing, I would like to see him as the president in five years’ time. The one-man rule should come to an end.”

FALLOUT IN ANKARA

The results are likely to trigger a new chapter in Turkish politics, now that the country’s top three cities now held by the opposition. Cracks could also emerge within Erdogan’s AKP, bringing the economic troubles more to the fore.

“This is definitely going to have an impact on the future of Turkish politics given the margin of victory. It’s alarming sign for the AKP establishment,” said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and former Turkish diplomat.

Analysts say the loss could set off a Cabinet reshuffle in Ankara and adjustments to foreign policy. The leader of the AKP’s nationalist ally played down the prospect that the loss could even trigger a national election earlier 2023, when the next polls are scheduled.

“The election process should close,” MHP party leader Devlet Bahceli said. “Talking of an early election would be among the worst things that can be done to our country.”

The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul and potential delays in broader economic reforms have kept financial markets on edge. Threats of sanctions by the United States if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses have also weighed on the markets.

A Council of Europe delegation said its observers were given a “less than friendly reception” in some places and had “too many unnecessarily aggressive and argumentative encounters to ignore,” but that the election was conducted competently.

“The citizens of Istanbul elected a new mayor in a well-organized and transparent vote, albeit in tense circumstances,” delegation head Andrew Dawson said in a statement.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Ali Kucukgocmen and Daren Butler; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Turkey detains 127 people in Istanbul on May Day

Police detain a protester after marching on Taksim Square to celebrate May Day in Istanbul, Turkey May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Istanbul police said they detained 127 people on Wednesday for attempting to hold illegal demonstrations in various parts of the city to celebrate May Day.

Police had cordoned off Istanbul’s central Taksim square, but small groups of demonstrators converged on it anyway.

“Squares belong to the people, they cannot be closed off. Long live May 1,” protesters yelled there, as police hauled them away, covering their mouths to stop them chanting.

Protests for May Day, the international workers’ holiday, are an annual occurrence in Turkey and have in the past been characterized by police action against demonstrators. Protests have often centered on Taksim square where 34 people were killed during demonstrations on May 1, 1977.

Earlier in the day, police had allowed a ceremony by union leaders to be held at Taksim Square, and another group laid carnations on a street nearby.

Authorities allowed celebrations to be held in the Bakirkoy district, which is located some distance from the city center.

By 1300 GMT, Istanbul police said they had detained 127 demonstrators in various parts of the city, including the central districts of Besiktas, Sisli and Beyoglu.

In Besiktas a small group of protesters spontaneously began shouting slogans and waving red flags of the leftist People’s Libration Party (HKP). Footage from the scene showed police scuffling with protesters, rounding some of them up and putting them in police vans.

Ozgur Karabulut, general manager of Dev Yapi-Is Union, said the celebrations were continuing smoothly in Bakirkoy, with participants from all parts of society.

(Reporting by Murad Sezer, Ali Kucukgocmen and Bulent Usta; Editing by Peter Graff)

Erdogan’s AK Party challenges Istanbul, Ankara election results

Supporters of Ekrem Imamoglu, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate for mayor of Istanbul, wait for him to visit Anitkabir, the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Ankara, Turkey, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party has submitted objections to local election results in all districts of Istanbul and Ankara, party officials said on Tuesday, after results showed the opposition earned narrow victories in both cities.

The AK Party is on track to lose control of what are Turkey’s two biggest cities, its commercial hub of Istanbul and the capital Ankara, in a surprise election setback that may complicate Erdogan’s plans to combat recession.

In Istanbul, the mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem Imamoglu, and his AKP rival, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, both said on Monday Imamoglu was around 25,000 votes ahead. Istanbul has an estimated total population of 15 million.

The AKP had previously said it would use its right to object to the results where there were voting irregularities, adding that the errors at the ballots had affected the outcome.

On Tuesday, Bayram Senocak, the AKP’s Istanbul head said that objections had been submitted by the 3 p.m. (1200 GMT) deadline for appeals, and added that legal action would be taken against electoral officials who made the errors.

“We have submitted all our appeals to the district electoral councils,” Senocak said, as he waved ballot records in which he said vote count irregularities could be seen.

An AKP deputy chairman later said the difference between Imamoglu and Yildirim was down to 20,509 votes and would keep falling as a result of their appeals. He said the elections were “the biggest blemish in Turkish democratic history.”

The CHP’s Istanbul head Canan Kaftancioglu said her party submitted objections in 22 districts, adding they expected to receive 4,960 more votes after the appeals were resolved.

“They are trying to steal the will of the people as it was reflected in the ballots,” she told reporters in Istanbul.

The CHP’s Imamoglu said on Tuesday he was saddened by the AKP failure to congratulate him after the election board count put him ahead.

“I’m watching Mr Binali Yildirim with regret. You were a minister of this nation, the parliament speaker and a prime minister,” Imamoglu said in Istanbul. “What could be more noble than congratulating?”

“The world is watching us with shame right now. We are ready to manage the big city of Istanbul. Let go and congratulate us with honor, so we can do our job,” he said.

“MOMENT OF BEGINNING”

Ahead of the elections, the CHP had formed an electoral alliance with the Iyi (Good) Party to rival that of the AKP and their nationalist MHP partners. The alliances nominated joint candidates in certain cities, including Ankara and Istanbul.

Imamoglu, who laid a wreath at the mausoleum of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Ankara, later went to CHP headquarters to meet Mansur Yavas, the opposition’s candidate in the capital. Speaking at the CHP building, Imamoglu said the elections marked a “moment of beginning” for Turkey.

In Ankara, Yavas received 50.9 percent of votes, ahead of his AKP rival and former minister Mehmet Ozhaseki in Sunday’s local elections by nearly 4 percentage points. The AKP said it had also submitted objections to results across Ankara.

Defeats in Ankara and Istanbul would be a significant setback for Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years. He had campaigned relentlessly ahead of the vote, describing it as a “matter of survival” for the country.

Erdogan’s political success has rested on years of stellar economic growth in Turkey, but an economic recession that has brought surging inflation and unemployment and a plunging lira currency have taken their toll on his popularity.

Uncertainty generated by the local elections has added to pressure on the lira, which weakened sharply last week as a lack of confidence in the currency among Turks led them to snap up record holdings of dollars and gold.

On Tuesday the lira weakened more than 2 percent against the dollar on concerns about tensions with the United States after it halted delivery to Turkey of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans. Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

Saudi rights official dismisses Khashoggi inquiry as foreign interference

FILE PHOTO: Turkish police forensic experts and plainclothes police officers stand at the entrance of a villa in the Samanli village of the Termal district in the northwestern province of Yalova, Turkey, November 26, 2018, as police search inside in relation to the investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of the state-backed Saudi human rights commission dismissed an international investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as interference on Thursday, and said everyone accused was already facing justice in the kingdom.

Bandar bin Mohammed al-Aiban made the comments as Turkey’s Justice Ministry said Interpol had issued red notices – asking police worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition – for 20 people regarding Khashoggi’s death.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, provoking an international outcry.

In his remarks, the first substantive comments on the case by Saudi Arabia at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Aiban said those on trial for what he described both as an “unfortunate accident” and a “heinous crime” had attended three hearings so far with their lawyers present. He gave no names or other details.

Three dozen Western countries, including all 28 European Union members, called on the kingdom last week to cooperate with a U.N.-led investigation.

But Aiban said Saudi Arabia would not accept what he termed as foreign interference in its domestic affairs and judicial system.

“Justice in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia operates pursuant to international law and it does so in all transparency,” Aiban told the Geneva forum during a review of Saudi Arabia’s rights record.

“We are indeed horrified by what has happened pursuant to this unfortunate accident and we have taken those measures required for us to resolve this heinous crime,” added Aiban, who headed the official Saudi delegation at the hearing.

The Turkish Justice Ministry said it had requested Interpol red notices for 18 people on Nov. 15 and for two more on Dec. 21 without identifying the individuals. The notices were issued on March 1, it said.

Interpol declined to comment.

Ankara has repeatedly pressed Riyadh to reveal more details of the killing. It said earlier on Thursday that Saudi authorities should disclose the names of defendants and the charges they face if it wanted to avoid questions over the “sincerity of judicial proceedings in the kingdom”.

It also criticized Aiban’s rejection of any foreign investigation. “We find it difficult to understand why an official working in the area of human rights would possibly be unsettled by efforts to shed light on all aspects of the Khashoggi murder,” the Turkish presidency said.

Riyadh has rejected accusations by the CIA and some Western countries that the crown prince ordered the killing.

After making numerous contradictory statements, it said Khashoggi was killed after negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed – and later that 11 Saudis had been indicted and referred for trial over the case, without identifying them.

The public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five of them.

The killing has severely strained ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, although Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has good ties with the Saudi monarch, King Salman.

(Reporting by Tom Miles, Stephanie Nebehay and Orhan Coskun, Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)

Turkish prosecutor seeks extradition of NBA’s Kanter over Gulen links: Anadolu

FILE PHOTO: Dec 29, 2018; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New York Knicks center Enes Kanter (00) warms up prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish prosecutors are seeking the extradition of New York Knicks center Enes Kanter over his links to the U.S.-based cleric accused of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

Kanter, a vocal critic of President Tayyip Erdogan, was indicted by a Turkish court last year over alleged membership of an “armed terrorist group” after being contacted repeatedly by people close to Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

The Istanbul prosecutors’ office was not immediately available to comment on the report on Wednesday.

Anadolu said on Tuesday prosecutors had sought the issue of a “red notice” for Kanter, an Interpol request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition.

It said the extradition request includes social media comments made about Gulen by Kanter, who has often declared his support for the cleric.

Kanter took to Twitter to deny any wrongdoing.

“The Turkish Government can NOT present any single piece of evidence of my wrongdoing,” he said. “I don’t even have a parking ticket in the U.S. (True)

“I have always been a law-abiding resident.”

He later added: “The only thing I terrorize is the rim.”

Turkey previously revoked Kanter’s passport and declared him a fugitive for his support of Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of being behind the attempted putsch of July 2016 – an accusation Gulen denies.

In May 2017, Kanter was refused entry into Romania because of the cancellation of his Turkish passport.

Earlier this month, Kanter said he would not go to London for a game with his NBA team because he fears he could be assassinated for criticizing Erdogan.

“If it’s for his own safety I don’t want to see a guy get harmed,” Washington Wizards Sam Dekker, who will be up against the Knicks in London, told Reuters.

“Hopefully it will get worked out with him but it’s a tough situation. It’s never a good thing to see a guy not playing for personal reasons.”

Since the putsch attempt, some 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial and 150,000 state employees including teachers, judges and soldiers have been suspended or dismissed in a crackdown on alleged supporters of Gulen.

Kanter holds a U.S. green card that allows him to live and work in the country on a permanent basis.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Martyn Herman, Editing by David Dolan, William Maclean)

Berlin imposes entry ban, arms freeze over Khashoggi killing

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany banned Saudi citizens suspected of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from much of Europe on Monday and moved to halt all arms sales to the kingdom in a firming of its stance towards Riyadh.

The entry bans, targeting 18 Saudis suspected of playing a role in the killing of Khashoggi in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate, bind all members of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone, suggesting that Germany is willing to use its influence as the EU’s largest country to push for a tougher line.

“We have coordinated closely with our French and British friends and decided, as Germany, to put an entry ban beside their names in the Schengen system database,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger told a regular news conference.

A spokesman later added that the government would further cut down on arms exports by pressuring arms manufacturers with valid export licenses to stop shipments that had already been authorized.

The moves represent a sharpening of the position of Germany, which last month imposed a ban on the issuing of future export weapons export licenses to Saudi Arabia until the circumstances of Khashoggi’s killing have been fully cleared up.

Any member of the 26-country Schengen area can unilaterally impose a binding entry ban on anyone it deems a security risk, although it unusual for a country to impose such a large number of bans at once in such a politically sensitive case.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels the decision was closely coordinated with France, which is part of the Schengen zone, and Britain, which is not. He said EU states expressed “great support” for the decision when he briefed them in Brussels on Monday.

“We also had a joint statement on the issue this weekend, which indicates we are not satisfied with the results of the investigation thus far … and that we retain the right to take further steps,” he said.

Burger said the members of the 15-strong squad accused of carrying out the killing of the critic of Saudi policy, and a further three who are suspected of organizing it, had been given entry bans. He declined to name the individuals.

Asked if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen by U.S. intelligence as having ordered the killing, was among their number, Burger declined to comment.

Saudi prosecutors said last week that the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered, removed from the building and handed over to an unidentified “local cooperator”.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the ban would apply even if any of those sanctioned held diplomatic passports, which normally offer immunity to members of the Saudi royal family and key diplomats.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Riham Alkousaa and Andrea Shalal, Editing by Michelle Martin and Alison Williams, William Maclean)

Loved ones mourn Khashoggi after Riyadh seeks to execute five suspects

People attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

By Stephen Kalin and Sarah Dadouch

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Family and friends of Jamal Khashoggi said funeral prayers in Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Friday for the Saudi journalist killed by agents of his own government, in a case that has sparked a global outcry and mired the kingdom in crisis.

The Saudi public prosecutor said on Thursday it would seek the death penalty for five suspects in the murder inside the country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2. They did not provide names but at least two are senior officials closely associated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

People holding pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

People holding pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

In an unusual measure against an important security and economic partner, the U.S. Treasury imposed economic sanctions on 17 Saudis, including Saud al-Qahtani, the crown prince’s former top adviser.

Riyadh maintains that Prince Mohammed had nothing to do with the murder, even as Turkey and some Western allies, including U.S. President Donald Trump, have said ultimate responsibility lies with him as the country’s de facto ruler. Changing Saudi accounts of the murder, including initial denials, have been met with skepticism abroad.

Tens of thousands of worshippers at Mecca’s Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Khashoggi’s hometown, joined in prayers for the deceased, though the imams did not name him.

In Istanbul, mourners raised their hands in prayer outside Fatih Mosque. An imam recited Koranic verses under a tent set up to protect against the rain, and Khashoggi’s friends eulogized him.

“What we heard yesterday from the Saudi public prosecutor is not the justice we were expecting or waiting for, but represents injustice itself,” said Ayman Nour, a liberal Egyptian politician.

An adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for Prince Mohammed to distance himself from the legal proceedings.

“There is no chance to have a court proceeding that is independent from the crown prince in Saudi Arabia,” said Yasin Aktay.

For weeks, Khashoggi’s family has urged Saudi and Turkish authorities to find his remains and hand them over for burial, but the Saudi prosecutor said their whereabouts are unknown.

Islamic tradition places immense importance on the proper handling of the dead, mandating quick burial. The revelation that the body was dismembered has thus been particularly disturbing.

The decision to hold prayer services in the absence of a body suggests the family does not expect it to be recovered.

Khashoggi’s son, Salah, met the king and crown prince in Riyadh last month to receive condolences along with other relatives. He then departed for Washington after a travel ban was lifted and told CNN on Nov. 5 that he wanted to bury his father in Medina with the rest of the family.

“We just need to make sure that he rests in peace,” Salah said. “Until now, I still can’t believe that he’s dead. It’s not sinking in with me emotionally.”

NEW LIFE

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish researcher who had waited outside the Istanbul consulate for hours on the day he was killed and alerted the authorities and the media when he never left the building, called last week for Muslims around the world to perform the funeral prayer for him.

On Thursday, she tweeted a selfie of Khashoggi outside the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina mosque, writing: “Dear Jamal.. rest in peace. We will meet in heaven inshallah (God willing)..!”

Cengiz and Khashoggi met at a conference in Istanbul in May and soon decided to wed. He had entered the consulate that day to obtain documents proving an earlier marriage had ended.

The pair purchased an apartment in Istanbul and Khashoggi was planning to live between there and Washington, where he moved 18 months earlier fearing reprisals for his views. He obtained U.S. residency and wrote for the Washington Post, becoming familiar to many American policymakers.

“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison,” he wrote in Sept. 2017, referring to intellectuals, activists and clerics arrested under Prince Mohammed.

His murder has provoked the biggest political crisis in a generation for Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a supporter of Washington’s plans to contain Iranian influence across the Middle East.

It has also tarnished the image of Prince Mohammed, who has pushed social and economic reforms while cracking down on dissent, upending the delicate balance inside the ruling family, and leading the country into messy conflicts in Yemen and Qatar.

(Additional Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, writing by Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

Turkey presses Saudi to say who sent Khashoggi killers: Erdogan

Saudi public prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb leaves from Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) – The Turkish lawyer looking into the death of Jamal Khashoggi has asked Saudi Arabia’s prosecutor to disclose who sent the team involved in the journalist’s killing, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Saudi prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb held talks with Istanbul’s prosecutor on Monday and Tuesday about Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which has escalated into a crisis for the world’s top oil exporter.

Riyadh at first denied any knowledge of or role in, his disappearance four weeks ago but Mojeb has contradicted those statements, saying the killing of Khashoggi, a critic of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was premeditated.

The case has put into focus the West’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia – a major arms buyer and lynchpin of Washington’s regional plans to contain Iran – given the widespread skepticism over its initial response.

Turkey has kept up the pressure on the Saudis, demanding a full explanation and releasing a steady flow of evidence which undermined Riyadh’s early denials.

Saudi Arabia says that 18 suspects in the case will face justice in the kingdom, despite repeated calls from Ankara for them to be extradited for trial in Turkey.

“Yesterday, our prosecutor told the Saudi prosecutor that the prosecution could be carried out in Turkey since the location of the crime is Istanbul,” Erdogan told reporters at Turkey’s parliament.

Saudi officials also needed to disclose who had sent a 15-strong team to Istanbul to carry out the operation targeting Khashoggi, as well as the identity of a local agent said to have helped dispose of his body.

“Our prosecutor asked who sent the group that came here and said that this needed to be looked at,” Erdogan said. “Saudi officials need to reveal the local cooperators. Let us know whoever this person is and we will find them.

“We cannot leave this issue unsolved, we need to solve it now. There is no point in procrastinating or trying to save some people from under this.”

Saudi prosecutor Mojeb held talks with Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, Irfan Fidan, at Istanbul’s main courthouse for a second time on Tuesday before heading for the consulate where Khashoggi was killed, Turkish broadcaster NTV reported.

On Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Riyadh to conclude the investigation as soon as possible.

“The whole truth must be revealed,” he said. “We believe (Mujeb’s) visit is important for these truths to come out.”

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans, Richard Balmforth)

Khashoggi fiancee: Riyadh responsible for his murder, must explain

Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is seen during an interview with Reuters in London, Britain, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – The fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has said Saudi authorities are responsible for his murder, and the kingdom should give more details so that those responsible can be brought to justice.

The death of Khashoggi – a Washington Post columnist and a critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – sparked global outrage and pitched the world’s top oil exporter into crisis.

When asked who was ultimately responsible for the killing, his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, told Reuters in Turkish: “This took place inside a Saudi diplomatic mission … In such circumstances, the Saudi Arabian authorities are responsible for this.”

FILE PHOTO: Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London Britain, September 29, 2018. Middle East Monitor/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London Britain, September 29, 2018. Middle East Monitor/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

“This incident, this assassination, took place in the Saudi consulate,” she said, speaking through a translator. “So the Saudi authorities probably know how such a murder took place.”

“They need to explain what happened.”

Khashoggi, 59, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to obtain paperwork necessary for his upcoming marriage to Cengiz, a Turkish national. He did not walk out of the consulate. Cengiz first raised the alarm.

Asked if she held Crown Prince Mohammed or the Saudi royal family responsible, she said:

“I and my government would like all those responsible, from the person who gave this order to those who carried it out, to be brought to justice and punished under international law,” she said.

Cengiz said she had not been contacted by Prince Mohammed or the Saudi royal family, nor offered any condolences by them.

Saudi Arabia initially denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance but a Saudi official eventually attributed his death to a botched attempt to return him to the kingdom.

Later, Riyadh said the killing was premeditated and Prince Mohammed has vowed that the killers would be brought to justice.

Saudi Arabia has detained 18 people and dismissed five senior government officials as part of the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder. Some were members of a 15-man hit team, many of them Saudi intelligence operatives, who flew into Istanbul hours before Khashoggi’s death, Turkish security sources say.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has urged Riyadh to disclose who ordered the murder and prosecutors have prepared an extradition request for 18 suspects from Saudi Arabia.

“The explanations given so far by Saudi Arabia are not sufficient,” Cengiz said. “I want to know the details of who is responsible.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean)

How the man behind Khashoggi murder ran the killing via Skype

A still image taken from CCTV video and obtained by TRT World claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, highlighted in a red circle by the source, as he arrives at Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 2, 2018. Courtesy TRT World/Handout via Reuters REUTERS

(Reuters) – He ran social media for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. He masterminded the arrest of hundreds of his country’s elite. He detained a Lebanese prime minister. And, according to two intelligence sources, he ran journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by giving orders over Skype.

Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is one of the fall guys as Riyadh tries to stem international outrage at Khashoggi’s death. On Saturday, Saudi state media said King Salman had sacked Qahtani and four other officials over the killing carried out by a 15-man hit team.

But Qahtani’s influence in the crown prince’s entourage has been so vast over the past three years – his own rise tracking that of his boss – that it will be hard for Saudi officials to paint Qahtani as the mastermind of the murder without also raising questions about the involvement of Prince Mohammed, according to several sources with links to the royal court.

“This episode won’t topple MbS, but it has hit his image which will take a long time to be repaired if it ever does. The king is protecting him,” one of the sources with ties to the royal court said.

Qahtani himself once said he would never do anything without his boss’ approval.

“Do you think I make decisions without guidance? I am an employee and a faithful executor of the orders of my lord the king and my lord the faithful crown prince,” Qahtani tweeted last summer.

Qahtani did not respond to questions from Reuters. His biography on Twitter changed in recent days from royal adviser to chairman of the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, a role he had held before.

Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death and “certainly did not order a kidnapping or murder of anybody”, a Saudi official said on Saturday. Officials in Riyadh could not be reached for further comment.

As the crisis has grown over the past three weeks, Saudi Arabia has changed its tune on Khashoggi’s fate, first denying his death, then saying he died during a brawl at the consulate, and now attributing the death to a chokehold.

A senior Saudi official told Reuters that the killers had tried to cover up what happened, contending that the truth was only now emerging. The Turks reject that version of the story, saying they have audio recordings of what happened.

The kingdom has survived other crises in the past year, including the fallout of the crown prince’s short-lived kidnapping of Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri in 2017. Hariri, too, was verbally humiliated and beaten, according to eight Saudi, Arab and Western diplomatic sources. The man leading that interrogation: Saud al-Qahtani.

France intervened to free Hariri, but Western capitals did not take Riyadh to task for detaining a head of government – and Prince Mohammed emerged emboldened, according to these Saudi sources.

This time is different, with some Western capitals increasingly critical of the murder and the Saudi explanation.

Germany has announced it will stop arms sales, while Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement asking for an “urgent … clarification of exactly what happened Oct 2.”

President Donald Trump has swung between saying he is unhappy with the Saudi investigation but also that he does not want to jeopardize U.S. arms sales to the country.

SKYPE CALL

To stem the fallout of the Khashoggi killing, the crown prince, commonly known by his initials MbS, allowed Qahtani to take the fall, according to one source close to the Saudi royal court.

A second senior Saudi official said Qahtani had been detained following his sacking by royal decree, but he continued to tweet afterwards. The sources with links to the royal court said he was not believed to be under arrest.

In the Khashoggi killing, Qahtani was present as he has been in other key moments of MbS’s administration. This time, though, his presence was virtual.

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Saudi journalist often critical of Saudi Arabia and its leadership, walked into the Istanbul consulate at around 1 pm on Oct 2, to pick up some documents that would allow him to marry.

Turkish security sources say he was immediately seized inside the consulate by 15 Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets just hours before.

According to one high-ranking Arab source with access to intelligence and links to members of Saudi Arabia’s royal court, Qahtani was beamed into a room of the Saudi consulate via Skype.

He began to hurl insults at Khashoggi over the phone. According to the Arab and Turkish sources, Khashoggi answered Qahtani’s insults with his own. But he was no match for the squad, which included top security and intelligence operatives, some with direct links to the royal court.

A Turkish intelligence source relayed that at one point Qahtani told his men to dispose of Khashoggi. “Bring me the head of the dog”, the Turkish intelligence source says Qahtani instructed.

It is not clear if Qahtani watched the entire proceedings, which the high-ranking Arab source described as a “bungled and botched operation”.

The Arab source and the Turkish intelligence source said the audio of the Skype call is now in the possession of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. The sources say he is refusing to release it to the Americans.

Erdogan said on Sunday he would release information about the Turkish investigation during a weekly speech on Tuesday. Three Turkish officials reached by Reuters declined to comment ahead of that speech.

The senior Saudi official who laid out the official version of events – that Khashoggi had got into a fight – said he had not heard about Qahtani appearing via Skype, but that the Saudi investigation was ongoing.

QAHTANI’S RISE

Qahtani, 40, has earned a reputation at home as both a violent enforcer of princely whims and as a strident nationalist. In blogs and on social media, some liberal Saudi journalists and activists dubbed him the Saudi Steve Bannon for his aggressive manipulation of the news media and behind-the-scenes strategizing.

Qahtani wrote odes on Twitter to the royal family under the pen name Dari, which means predator in Arabic. Some of his opponents on social media call him Dalim, a figure in Arabic folklore who rose from being a lowly servant to much greater heights.

According to his biography on his Twitter account, Qahtani studied law and made the rank of captain in the Saudi air force. After launching a blog, he caught the eye of Khaled al-Tuwaijri, the former head of the royal court, who hired him in the early 2000s to run an electronic media army tasked with protecting Saudi Arabia’s image , according to a source with ties to the royal court.

Tuwaijri is under house arrest and could not be reached for comment.

Qahtani rose to further prominence after latching onto Prince Mohammed, who was part of his father Salman’s court as Riyadh governor, then crown prince and finally king in 2015

Tasked with countering alleged Qatari influence on social media, Qahtani used Twitter to attack criticism of the kingdom in general and Prince Mohammed in particular. He also ran a WhatsApp group with local newspaper editors and prominent journalists, dictating the royal court’s line.

When Riyadh led an economic boycott against Qatar in June 2017, Qahtani ramped up his attacks on the small Gulf state. Online, he urged Saudis to tweet the names of anyone showing sympathy with Qatar under the Arabic hashtag “The Black List”.

The high-ranking Arab official and Saudi sources with ties to the royal court said Qahtani was MbS’s “bad cop” late last year when 200 people, including Saudi princes, ministers and business tycoons, were detained and put under house arrest at the Ritz Carlton in an anti-corruption sweep. Qahtani oversaw some of the interrogations, the Arab official said.

A KIDNAPPING

The extent of Qahtani’s power is perhaps best illustrated by the kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri last year, several of the Saudi and Arab diplomatic sources said.

The Saudis were incensed at the inability of Hariri, a Sunni Muslim and a Saudi client, to stand up to their regional rival Iran and Hezbollah, the Shi’ite paramilitary movement that acts as Tehran’s spearhead in the region. Hariri belonged to the same multi-party coalition government as Hezbollah.

The Saudis were particularly dismayed that Hariri had failed to deliver a message to a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to stop interfering in Lebanon and Yemen. Hariri claimed he had delivered the Saudi message, but an informer, planted by Qahtani in Hariri’s circle, gave the Saudis the minutes of the meeting which showed that he had not done so.

The Saudis lured Hariri to Riyadh for a meeting with MbS. Upon his arrival on Nov. 3, 2017, there was no line-up of Saudi princes or officials, as would typically greet a prime minister on an official visit. Hariri later received a call that the meeting with the crown prince would take place the next day at a royal compound.

When Hariri arrived, he was ushered into a room where Qahtani was waiting for him with a security team, according to three Arab sources familiar with the incident. The security team beat Hariri; Qahtani cursed at him and then forced him to resign as prime minister in a statement that was broadcast by a Saudi-owned TV channel.

“He (Qahtani) told him you have no choice but to resign and read this statement,” said one of the sources. “Qahtani oversaw the interrogation and ill-treatment of Hariri.”

Another source said it was the intervention of French President Emmanuel Macron that secured his release following an international outcry.

Macron claimed credit in May for ending the crisis, saying an unscheduled stopover in Riyadh to convince MbS, followed by an invitation to Hariri to come to France, had been the catalyst to resolving it. Lebanese officials confirmed to Reuters that Macron’s quick intervention secured Hariri’s return.

Saudi officials could not be reached for comment about the sequence of events or Qahtani’s involvement. French officials declined to comment when asked about Qahtani’s role.

AN OFFER TO RETURN HOME

At least three friends of Khashoggi told Reuters that in the months after the journalist moved to Washington a year ago he received multiple phone calls from MbS’s right-hand man urging him to return to Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi had balked, they said, fearing reprisals for his Washington Post columns and outspoken views.

Qahtani had tried to reassure the former newspaper editor that he was still well respected and had offered the journalist a job as a consultant at the royal court, the friends said.

Khashoggi said that while he found Qahtani gentle and polite during those conversations, he did not trust him, one close friend told Reuters. “Jamal told me afterwards, ‘he thinks that I will go back so that he can throw me in jail?”

The second senior Saudi official confirmed that Qahtani had spoken to Khashoggi about returning home. The ambush in Istanbul seems to have been another way to get him home.

How much did the crown prince know about his trusted aide’s plan to abduct Khashoggi?

Most of the 15 hit-man team identified by Turkish and Saudi authorities worked for the kingdom’s security and intelligence services, military, government ministries, royal court security and air force. One of them, General Maher Mutreb, a senior intelligence officer, who is part of the security team of Prince Mohammed, appeared in photographs with him on official visits earlier this year to the United States and Europe.

The high-ranking Arab official and the Turkish intelligence source said it was Mutreb’s phone that was used to dial in Qahtani while Khashoggi was being interrogated.

Reuters tried to contact members of 15-man team but their phones were either switched off, on voicemail or no longer in service.

The Saudi official said Deputy Intelligence Chief General Ahmed al-Asiri put together the 15-man squad from the intelligence and security forces. Asiri was one of the five officials dismissed on Saturday.

Another key figure was Dr. Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic expert specialized in autopsies attached to the Saudi Ministry of Interior. His presence – equipped with a bone-saw Turkish sources say was used to dismember the journalist – is hard to explain in an operation Saudi officials now say was aimed at persuading Khashoggi to return home.

It is hard to imagine that the crown prince could have not known about such a delicate operation, the Saudi sources with ties to the royal court say.

The Saudi official who spoke on Saturday said an existing standing order provided authorization to “negotiate” with dissidents to return home without requiring approval, but that the team involved with Khashoggi exceeded that authorization.

Another Saudi official close to the investigation said that Qahtani decided on his own to organize Khashoggi’s kidnapping and that he asked Asiri to get a team together, but that their plans had gone wrong.

Qahtani’s final act may be to serve his boss by assuming the responsibility for the crisis that has hit Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s murder. The Saudi king has sacked Qahtani and ordered a restructuring of the general intelligence agency.

To head it, he named MbS.

(Editing by Alessandra Galloni and Simon Robinson)