Saudi king to resume domestic tour amid Khashoggi fallout

Riyadh: Saudi King Salman will resume an unprecedented domestic tour next week, the royal court said Tuesday, as the kingdom grapples with an international crisis over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The 82-year-old monarch visited central Qassim province and the neighbouring region of Hail last week in what observers call a “listening tour”, his first since ascending to the most powerful throne in the Middle East in 2015.

The king is now set to visit the “northern regions of the kingdom” next week to “inspect the condition of citizens and inaugurate a number of development projects”, the official Saudi Press Agency said citing the royal court.

It added that the industrial city of Waad al-Shamal would be among the stops to inaugurate “mining and industrial projects”.

SPA said the king is also set to address the Shura Council, a top advisory body, on Monday, in his first public comments since the murder of insider-turned-critic Khashoggi on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The king, who was accompanied by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his tour last week, appears to be on a drive to shore up support domestically, including within the royal family, as Saudi Arabia faces international outrage over the murder.

King Salman has pardoned some “insolvent prisoners” and last month ordered the resumption of annual bonus payments to all government workers from the beginning of next year. The bonuses had been suspended under austerity measures in 2016 amid low oil prices.

The fallout over Khashoggi’s murder is widely seen as the worst diplomatic crisis facing the kingdom since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

After first insisting Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, Saudi authorities said he was killed in an argument that degenerated into a brawl before finally accepting what Turkey had said virtually from the start — that he was killed in a premeditated hit.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government.

The global fallout over the murder has tainted the image of 33-year-old Prince Mohammed — the de facto ruler and heir apparent — even though the kingdom strongly denies he was involved.

But it so far has not threatened to unseat the prince, especially after his domestic crackdown on dissent, effectively neutering his political rivals, and his tightening grip on military and security agencies.

It was unclear whether the crown prince will accompany the king next week.

[source_without_link]Agence France-Presse[/source_without_link]