Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz says he is proud of kingdom's judiciary and public prosecution, but skips addressing murder of Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi, in annual Shura address.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud addresses the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 19, 2018.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud addresses the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 19, 2018. (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz heaped praise on the kingdom's judiciary on Monday, in his first public remarks since critic Jamal Khashoggi's killing tipped the country into one of its worst international crises.

The public prosecutor last week exonerated powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of involvement in the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, but the CIA reportedly concluded that he ordered the assassination.

The prosecutor called for the death penalty against five men as it announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with the killing.

"The kingdom was founded on Islamic principles of justice and equality, and we are proud of the efforts of the judiciary and the public prosecution and the performance of the job entrusted to them," the king said in his annual address to the Shura Council, a top advisory body.

No mention of Khashoggi murder

The 82-year-old monarch did not directly address the killing of the Washington Post columnist in his speech.

US President Donald Trump, who has praised Saudi Arabia as a "truly spectacular ally," has refrained from blaming Crown Prince Mohammed despite the CIA's reported assessment that he was behind the killing.

Saudi Arabia, which quickly dismissed the reported CIA findings, has offered shifting accounts of what happened, initially saying Khashoggi left the embassy after receiving his documents and later that he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight.

Pressure on Riyadh

In the latest version, the Saudi prosecutor said a 15-member team went to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to the kingdom "by means of persuasion," but killed him instead in a rogue operation.

The US has sanctioned 17 Saudis for the crime, including close aides of Crown Prince Mohammed, and is set to make final conclusions this week over the killing.

In a sign of further international pressure, Germany on Monday said it will bar 18 Saudis from entering its territory and Europe's Schengen passport-free zone over their alleged links to the murder.

On Iran and Yemen

King Salman urged the international community on Monday to halt Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, and reiterated the kingdom's support for UN efforts to end the war in Yemen.

"The Iranian regime has always intervened in the internal affairs of other countries, sponsored terrorism, created chaos and devastation in many countries in the region," the monarch said.

"The international community has to work to put an end to the Iranian nuclear programme and stop its activities that threaten security and stability."

The king said Riyadh supported UN efforts to end the conflict in Yemen.

"Our standing by Yemen was not an option but a duty to support the Yemeni people in confronting the aggression of Iranian-backed militias," he said.

Source: AFP