Macron defies rights criticism to host Saudi strongman

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday was to host Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks in Paris, defying criticism the invitation is deeply inappropriate barely four years after the murder by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The meeting will be seen as the latest step in the readmission of the de-facto ruler of the kingdom into the international fold, after US President Joe Biden met the man universally known as MBS earlier this month.

The talks are set to get under way at 8:30 pm (1830 GMT), and include a working dinner at the Elysee Palace. 

“I feel profoundly troubled by the visit, because of what it means for our world and what it means for Jamal (Khashoggi) and people like him,” Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told AFP, describing MBS as a man who “does not tolerate any dissent”.

MBS’ “reintegration into international relations cannot take place at the expense of truth and justice”, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary general Christophe Deloire said in a statement.

MBS stayed overnight at his Louis XIV chateau in Louveciennes west of Paris which MBS acquired in 2015, according to a source who asked not to be named.

– ‘Open investigation’ –

He was lured into the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018, strangled and dismembered, reportedly with a bonesaw.

His reception by world leaders is “all the more shocking given many of them at the time expressed disgust (over the killing) and a commitment not to bring MBS back into the international community”, she added.

“French authorities should immediately open a criminal investigation against” MBS, said Sarah Leah Whiston, executive director of DAWN.

RSF meanwhile said at least 27 journalists remain imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.

– ‘Political leverage’ –

There has also been criticism within France, with the Greens presidential candidate Yannick Jadot asking “will Khashoggi’s dismembered body be on the menu? Climate? Human rights? 

The French president had already travelled to the kingdom in December 2021 for talks with MBS, a visit that raised some eyebrows at the time.

The red carpet welcome for both leaders dismayed activists. 


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