Istanbul, Oct 24 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia must identify those who ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and turn over the suspects for trial, the Turkish president said Tuesday in remarks that carefully ratcheted up pressure on a country that is a source of investment for Turkey, but also a rival for influence in the Middle East.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a sharp rebuttal of Saudi Arabia's widely criticized account that the writer for The Washington Post died accidentally in a brawl, saying Saudi officials had planned the killing for days.
Some analysts believe Turkey is also calculating whether it can capitalize on outrage over the killing to extract political capital from the world's largest oil exporter without alienating it altogether.
Addressing ruling party lawmakers in parliament, Erdogan used the word "murder" 15 times to describe Khashoggi's death after the writer entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 for paperwork related to his marriage plans.
Erdogan also cast Turkey in the role of global statesman, echoing calls for full Saudi accountability from Western allies whose relationships with the Turkish government have often been edgy in the past.
"To blame such an incident on a handful of security and intelligence members would not satisfy us or the international community," he said. Earlier, Turkey's foreign minister said it would cooperate with any international or U.N. probe into the killing, a nod to transparency that only seemed to accentuate an emerging pariah status for Saudi Arabia.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stood by his earlier call for an independent and transparent investigation, said Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesman for the world body. Haq reiterated that Guterres can initiate a probe if key parties request it or if there is a legislative mandate from a U.N. body.
"Turkey is playing the long game. And today's speech is part of a very careful — in my opinion — escalation strategy," said Ahmet Kasim Han, an international relations analyst at Altinbas University in Istanbul.
"Turkish authorities seem to be concentrated on turning this into a multilateral issue" because they don't want "to be left alone with Saudi Arabia on all of this," he said.
Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, speculated that Saudi Arabia could now be vulnerable to pressure, including from the U.S., to end a boycott of Turkey-backed Qatar.
"As far as Erdogan is concerned, he will use this incident to try and get as much mileage and concessions out of it, to the advantage of Turkey, as he possibly can," Yahya said.
Erdogan focused on the investigation in his speech, saying he wants the 18 suspects detained by Saudi Arabia in the killing to face trial in Turkish courts, a demand the kingdom will probably resist. Saudi Arabia has said it will punish those involved and has described the suspects as rogue operators, even though officials linked to Saudi Arabia's assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been implicated.
Although he didn't mention Prince Mohammed, Erdogan likely knows that the kingdom's major decisions always require the approval of those at the top of the ruling Al Saud family.
"As of now, we expect of them to openly bring to light those responsible — from the highest ranked to the lowest — and to bring them to justice," the Turkish president said.
Han, the Istanbul analyst, said Erdogan is moving cautiously, wary that Prince Mohammed might stay in control despite the scandal or could succumb to pressure over the Khashoggi killing and relinquish power. The latter outcome would benefit Turkey because the crown prince "is consciously and continuously pursuing strategies that work against Turkey," Han said.
Modern tensions between the two countries date to the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. Turkey supported some political Islamists who rose to power, but Saudi Arabia and its ally, the United Arab Emirates, viewed the pan-Arab Sunni movement as a threat to their hereditarily ruled nations.
Another opportunity emerging from the fallout over Khashoggi's death could be an improvement in ties with the U.S. after Washington imposed sanctions on Ankara over the jailing of a U.S. pastor, said Marc Pierini, a former European Union diplomat to Turkey.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump said Khashoggi's killing was one of the "worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups," and that the entire operation was badly conceived and "carried out poorly."
Shortly after Trump's remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. was revoking the visas of some Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi's death. The revocations are the Trump administration's first punitive measures against the Saudis, who are seen as a key allies in U.S. efforts to isolate Iran, since Khashoggi disappeared.
At an event hosted by The Washington Post, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence declined to say whether he had seen any intelligence linking the crown prince to the killing, though he noted CIA Director Gina Haspel was in Turkey, and added: "I know that when the CIA director returns, she will be briefing the president, myself and our entire team on what the Turks have assembled."
The foreign ministers of the G7 group of nations said Saudi Arabia should conduct a credible investigation, "in full collaboration with the Turkish authorities."
Confirming reports and leaks from anonymous officials in past days, Erdogan said 15 Saudi officials arrived in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi's death and that a man, apparently dressed in the writer's clothes, acted as a possible decoy by walking out of the consulate on the day of the disappearance.
"Why did these 15 people all with links to the event gather in Istanbul on the day of the murder? We are seeking answers. Who did these people get their orders from to go there? We are seeking answers," Erdogan said. "When the murder is so clear, why were so many inconsistent statements made? Why is the body of a person who has officially been accepted as killed still not around?"
Turkish investigators, meanwhile, inspected a car belonging to the consulate and found three suitcases, a laptop computer and clothes inside, state television TRT reported. Authorities discovered the car at an underground garage on Monday.
In Riyadh on Tuesday, King Salman and Prince Mohammed received Khashoggi's son, Salah, and his brother, Sahel, at the Yamama Palace, where the royals expressed their condolences. A friend of the Khashoggi family told The Associated Press that Salah has been under a travel ban since last year. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal.
At a Cabinet meeting, King Salman again stressed those responsible for Khashoggi's slaying would be held "accountable," according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
Also Tuesday, the crown prince attended an investment forum alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan. Prince Mohammed sat in on an afternoon session and looked at some promotional booths outside the main hall as an excited crowd of mostly young Saudi men recorded the encounter on their phones.
Many Western executives and officials skipped the conference because of the killing.
At its opening, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih described Khashoggi's slaying as "abhorrent."
"As we all know, these are difficult days for us in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said. "Nobody in the kingdom can justify it or explain it. From the leadership on down, we're very upset of what has happened."
Mexico, Oct 24 (AP/UNB) — Hurricane Willa swept onto Mexico's Pacific mainland with 120 mph (195 kph) winds Tuesday night, hitting an area of beach towns, fishing villages and farms after roaring over an offshore penal colony.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the dangerous Category 3 storm hit near Isla del Bosque in Sinaloa state. Federal officials said there were early reports of power blackouts in some places and damage to flimsy structures with tin roofs.
The storm was moving inland at 10 mph (17 kph) and was forecast to quickly begin losing power.
Willa came ashore about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Mazatlan, a resort city that is home to high-rise hotels and about 500,000 people, including many U.S. and Canadian expatriates.
Although hotels, restaurants and stores were boarded over, people ventured onto Mazatlan's coastal boulevard to watch a spectacular sunset as the hurricane obscured the sky to the south.
Alberto Hernandez, a hotel worker in the town of Teacapan, close to where the storm made landfall, expressed confidence before it hit that the building would hold up. He and his son, who also works at the hotel, were staying on the job, though the rest of his family had left the area.
"We've had rain all day. There is nobody in the streets. Everything is closed," Hernandez said. "But not everyone wanted to leave, even though authorities made it clear that he who stays does so at his own peril."
Torrential rains began in the afternoon, and emergency officials said they evacuated more than 4,250 people in coastal towns and set up 58 shelters ahead of the dangerous storm.
The storm also battered the Islas Marias, a group of Mexican islands about 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the mainland that include a nature preserve and a federal prison. Federal authorities declined to comment on precautions that were taken at the prison, citing security concerns, but said the safety of prisoners was a priority.
As Willa closed in, the beach in Mazatlan almost disappeared, with waves slamming against the coastal boulevard under looming black clouds. A few surfers took advantage of the high waves even as workers boarded up windows on hotels, shops and homes. Schools were closed and the streets nearly empty.
Some families went to a Mazatlan convention center, which opened its doors as a shelter. They spread out blankets along the walls and waited for the storm.
"The house we're living in is not well built," said Sergio Ernesto Meri Franco, who rents a studio apartment.
The federal government issued a decree of "extraordinary emergency" for 19 municipalities in Nayarit and Sinaloa states.
Bob Swanson, who is from Saskatchewan, Canada, and spends two to six months of the year in his house in the Cerritos neighborhood near the shore in Mazatlan, said he filled his washing machine with water, topped up his home fuel tank and gassed up his car in case he needs to head into the mountains for safety.
"I'm kind of waiting with bated breath," he said over the phone, adding that he was sitting on his porch and smoking a cigarette.
Forecasters said the hurricane could bring 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain — with up to 18 inches (45 centimeters) in some places — to parts of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa states, with flash flooding and landslides possible in mountainous areas.
Farther to the south, the remnants of Tropical Storm Vicente brought heavy rain that caused deadly flooding and mudslides. Federal disaster agency chief Luis Felipe Puente said 11 people had died as a result of Vicente. Local officials earlier put the figure at 12.
South Korea, Oct 24 (AP/UNB) — South Korea's liberal president on Tuesday formally confirmed his recent reconciliation deals with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, triggering immediate backlash from conservatives who called him "self-righteous" and "subservient" to the North.
Some experts say President Moon Jae-in's move is largely symbolic, but others say it shows his determination to carry out the September deals despite growing skepticism about whether his engagement policy will eventually lead to North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
Moon "ratified" the deals on Tuesday afternoon, hours after his Cabinet approved them during a regular meeting, his office said in a statement.
The back-to-back endorsements came with no prior parliamentary endorsement. In South Korea, a president is allowed by law to ratify some agreements with North Korea without consent from lawmakers.
At the start of the Cabinet meeting, Moon said in televised remarks that the ratification would help further improve ties with North Korea and accelerate global efforts to achieve the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
The main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon's action, saying the deals would only undermine national security and waste taxpayers' money.
"We deplore the fact that the Moon Jae-in government is weighted toward its subservient North Korea policy and is consistently being self-righteous and lacking communication" with parliament, said party spokesman Yoon Young-seok.
Moon, who took office last year, has said that greater reconciliation with North Korea would help resolve the international standoff over the North's nuclear ambitions. Moon has met with Kim three times this year, and he shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to help arrange a series of high-level talks between the countries, including a June summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore.
Since entering nuclear talks earlier this year, Kim has taken some steps like dismantling his nuclear testing site and releasing American detainees. The United States responded by suspending some of its annual military drills with South Korea but is reluctant to provide the North with major political or economic rewards unless the country takes significant disarmament steps.
Moon's September deals with Kim were largely associated with the broader agreements struck during their first summit in April. Under the latest deals, the two Koreas are to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on a project to reconnect cross-border railways and roads and push to resume stalled economic cooperation projects. The two sides also agreed to disarm their shared border village, establish buffer zones along the border and withdraw some of their front-line guard posts.
Moon has previously pushed to get parliamentary approval on the April agreements. But conservative lawmakers objected, saying the deals, which had Kim's vague commitment to denuclearization, would only help the North buy time and prefect weapons systems in the face of international sanctions.
Tuesday's ratification follows a contentious ruling by Moon's ministry of government legislation that allowed him to skip parliamentary endorsement on the North Korea accords before ratifying them.
According to the ministry, Moon can unilaterally ratify the deals because they are largely meant to implement the earlier April accords that it says are in the process of getting parliamentary approval. It also cited a law clause that a president can ratify deals with North Korea without lawmakers' approval if they don't cause unspecified "significant" financial burdens to the public or require related legislation.
The opposition party disagreed, saying inter-Korean projects stipulated in the September accords would eventually require "tremendous" taxpayers' money. It also said the deals' mutual reductions of conventional military strength would weaken the South's war readiness and its alliance with the United States because the North's nuclear capability remains intact.
Moon knows how important public support is for his North Korea overture. Most of the detente projects mentioned in his summit deals with Kim were what his liberal predecessors had pursued during a 1998-2008 "Sunshine Era." Those projects were stalled after conservatives took power in South Korea. Moon now cannot unilaterally revive those projects because of U.S.-led international sanctions.
Berlin, Oct 24 (AP/UNB) — Scientists in Austria say they've detected tiny bits of plastic in people's stool for the first time, but experts caution the study is too small and premature to draw any credible conclusion.
Presenting their findings at a congress in Vienna on Tuesday, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria said their pilot study detected nine types of so-called microplastic in all samples taken from eight volunteers living in Europe, Russia and Japan.
While the study's authors don't know how the plastic got there, food diaries kept by the volunteers show they had all consumed food wrapped in plastic or drunk from plastic bottles during the week before the samples were taken, and six of them had consumed sea fish.
Microplastics — defined as pieces smaller than 5 millimeters — have previously been found in water, animals and food, but so far studies haven't proved they pose a risk to human health.
Still, there is growing public concern about their apparent ubiquitous presence in the environment, and the head of Germany's Green party said the Austrian study was "a further alarm signal."
Robert Habeck told the Funke media group that microplastics should be banned from cosmetic products and the use of plastic packaging should be greatly reduced.
However, experts say it's not surprising that microplastics would be found in human samples too, and that the Austrian study raises many questions.
"It's small scale and not at all representative," said Martin Wagner, a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He noted that the study wasn't reviewed by independent scientists and the authors didn't provide details about which measures were taken to prevent samples from becoming contaminated.
"In the worst case, all the plastic they found is from the lab," Wagner told The Associated Press.
Even if microplastics are found in stool, this doesn't mean they have entered the human body, he said. Unlike other substances we eat, microplastics are too large to be absorbed by cells in the gut and simply pass through.
His concerns were echoed by Mark Browne, an expert on microplastics at the University of New South Wales, Australia, who said the study lacked crucial details.
"Poor quality observations of contamination do not represent well the scientific method and therefore in my humble opinion do not help us understand impacts on humans or manage them," Browne told the AP by email.
The Austrian authors acknowledged that "further studies are necessary to assess the potential risk of microplastic for humans." They plan to submit a detailed study for independent review in the coming months.
Washington, Oct 24 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday described the killing of a Saudi journalist as a botched operation and a "bad original concept" as his administration took its first, careful steps toward punishing the Saudis by moving to revoke the visas of the suspects.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said the entire operation was a fiasco.
"They had a very bad original concept," Trump said. "It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups. Somebody really messed up, and they had the worst cover-up ever."
Even in the face of ugly details of Jamal Khashoggi's slaying, Trump has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis to be vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
Members of Congress have demanded that sanctions be imposed on Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi, who lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. and wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The writer, who was a contributor to The Washington Post, vanished Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey, where he went to pick up documents for his marriage to his Turkish fiancee.
Turkish officials say that a Saudi team of 15 men tortured, killed and dismembered the writer and that Saudi officials had planned the killing for days. Saudi officials — after weeks of denials — now concede that he died, but they say it happened accidentally in a fight at the consulate.
"It was a total fiasco," Trump said. "The process was no good. The execution was no good. And the cover-up, if you want to call it that, was certainly no good."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move to revoke visas was just a first step.
Visa records are confidential and Pompeo was not more specific about who the revocations would affect, but the State Department later said 21 "Saudi suspects" would have visas revoked or would be declared ineligible to enter the U.S.
"These penalties will not be the last word on this matter," Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.
The administration "will continue to hold those responsible accountable. We're making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, with violence," he said. "Neither the president or I am happy with this situation."
Still, Pompeo stressed the strategic importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
"We continue to view as achievable the twin imperative of protecting America and holding accountable those responsible for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi," Pompeo said.