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Saudi crown prince visits Turkey for first time since Khashoggi murder

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By AP  with Euronews
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Mohammed bin Salman and Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara.
Mohammed bin Salman and Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has arrived in Turkey for his first visit to the country since the killing of dissident columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The trip is aimed at repairing ties between Ankara and Riyadh that were strained following the murder in 2018.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said talks with Prince Mohammed -- commonly referred to as MBS -- would focus on advancing Turkish-Saudi relations to a “much higher degree.”

Efforts to improve their ties also come as Turkey faces its worst economic crisis in two decades and is trying to draw investments from wealthy Gulf Arab states.

Turkey has also taken steps to strengthen relations with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel.

Erdogan had visited Saudi Arabia for a one-on-one meeting with MBS in April, for the first time since 2017.

The gruesome killing of Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate marked a low point in a nine-year rift between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The murder sparked global outrage and put pressure on Prince Mohammed, who was said to have approved the operation, according to US intelligence. The Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejected the report's findings.

Erdogan has also said the operation that killed Khashoggi was ordered by the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia had launched an unofficial embargo on Turkish exports, and even temporarily barred wildly popular Turkish soap operas.

Turkey meanwhile opened a trial in absentia against 26 Saudis suspected in Khashoggi’s killing. But the court earlier this year ruled to halt the proceedings and transfer the case to Saudi Arabia, paving the way for the countries’ rapprochement.

Ankara has denied that the transfer was political.

"[MBS'] visit to our country doesn't change the fact that he is responsible for a murder," said Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee.

"The political legitimacy he earns through the visits he makes to a different country every day doesn't change the fact that he is a murderer," she wrote on Twitter.

Riyadh has been trying to broaden its alliances at a time of strained relations between Riyadh and Washington and Prince Mohammed’s Middle East trip comes before US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit the region next month.