Khashoggi family forgive killers, clearing way to legal reprieve

RIYADH (Reuters) – The family of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said on Friday that they had forgiven the men who murdered their father, paving the way for a legal reprieve for five defendants sentenced to death for the October 2018 killing.

“If a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah,” Khashoggi’s son Salah tweeted. “Therefore, we the sons of the martyr Jamal Khashoggi announce that we pardon those who killed our father”.

In Saudi Arabia, which lacks a codified legal system and follows Islamic law, forgiveness from a victim’s family in cases of murder can allow for a formal pardon.

The Saudi court which issued the five death sentences in December said the killing was not premeditated, a ruling which backed assertions by Saudi officials but which contradicted the findings of a U.N.-led inquiry into Khashoggi’s killing.

However, Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz said on Friday that no one could pardon his killers. “Nobody has the right to pardon the killers. We will not pardon the killers nor those who ordered the killing,” she said in a tweet.

Khashoggi was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found.

The murder caused a global uproar and tarnished the image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Some Western governments, as well as the CIA, said they believed he had ordered the killing.

Saudi officials denied he played a role, though in September 2019 the prince indicated some personal accountability, saying “it happened under my watch”.

Eleven suspects in all were put on trial in secretive proceedings in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Three were jailed and another three had the charges against them dismissed.

The trial was condemned by the United Nations and rights groups. Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, accused Saudi Arabia of making a “mockery” of justice by allowing the masterminds of the 2018 killing to go free.

Khashoggi’s son Salah said at the time of the December verdict that “it has been fair to us and that justice has been achieved.”

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Saudi Arabia faces coronavirus crisis from position of strength – minister

CAIRO, April 17 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is facing the current global crisis from a position of strength, given its strong financial position and reserves, with relatively low government debt, its finance minister said, referring to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mohammed al-Jadaan said in the virtual meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee, held on Thursday, that the Saudi government’s priorities are necessary resources for health care system, financial and economic support to those affected by coronavirus while taking into account the re-prioritization of spending under the current circumstances, Saudi state news agency SPA reported on early Friday.

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Saudi Arabia extends coronavirus curfew, UAE warns on worker repatriation

RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia extended a nationwide curfew until further notice due to the coronavirus, the interior ministry said on Sunday, after the kingdom reported more than 300 new infections on each of the last five days.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates warned of possible action against countries refusing to allow migrant workers to be repatriated.

Saudi Arabia placed its capital Riyadh and other big cities under a 24-hour curfew last week, locking down much of the population. Residents are allowed to leave their houses only for essential needs inside their residential area. Elsewhere, the curfew which began on March 23 runs from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The country has recorded 4,462 infections with 59 deaths, the highest among the six Gulf Arab states where the total surpassed 14,000 with 96 deaths.

Saudi Arabia has halted international flights, suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage, and closed most public places.

Other Gulf Arab states have taken similar precautions and seen the virus spread among low-wage foreign workers, many living in overcrowded accommodation. Millions of migrant labourers, mainly from Asian countries, including Nepal, India and the Philippines, are among the region’s large expatriate population.

Bahrain said 45 of 47 new cases reported on Sunday were foreign workers.

The United Arab Emirates, the region’s tourism and business hub, has the second highest regional load at 3,736 cases and 20 deaths.

It warned it would review labour ties with countries refusing to take back citizens, including those who lost their jobs or were put on leave, and said it was considering strict quotas for work visas issued to nationals of those states.

“Several countries have not been responsive about allowing back their citizens who have applied to return home under the current circumstances,” the Human Resources and Emiratisation Ministry said, without specifying which countries.

India’s ambassador to the UAE on Saturday said India cannot repatriate large numbers of nationals while trying to combat the virus at home.

“Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their hometowns and their families,” Pavan Kapoor told the Gulf News daily.

Pakistan’s ambassador said the embassy was waiting for permission from Islamabad for repatriation flights and was hoping for “positive news soon”.

“We are very keen to bring Pakistanis back but we need to finalise our treatment and quarantine facilities,” Ghulam Dastgir told Reuters.

Aiming to contain the spread among foreign workers, Qatar has locked down a large section of an industrial area, Dubai sealed off two commercial districts and Oman closed off its Muscat governorate, which includes the capital.

Kuwait said late on Saturday airlines could operate outbound flights to repatriate foreigners.

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Saudi-led coalition announces ceasefire in five-year Yemen war

DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said on Wednesday it was halting military operations nationwide in support of U.N. efforts to end a five-year war that has killed over 100,000 people and spread hunger and disease.

The move aims to facilitate talks sponsored by U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths for a permanent ceasefire, and was decided in part to avoid a potential outbreak of the new coronavirus, though no cases have been reported so far, military coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.

The ceasefire will go into effect at midday on Thursday for two weeks and is open to extension, he said in a statement.

The announcement is the first major breakthrough since the United Nations convened the warring parties in late 2018 in Sweden, where they signed a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

But it is unclear if the armed Houthi movement will follow suit. Spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said they had sent the United Nations a comprehensive vision that includes an end to the war and to “the blockade” imposed on Yemen.

“(Our proposal) will lay the foundations for a political dialogue and a transitional period,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

Hours after the coalition announcement, Yemen’s information minister said the Houthis had targeted Hodeidah and the central city of Marib with missiles, while Houthi media said coalition strikes hit Hajja and Saada provinces.

Last week, U.N. envoy Griffiths sent a proposal to the internationally-recognised government, the Saudi-led coalition that supports it, and the Houthis – who control the capital Sanaa and most of northern Yemen.

Griffiths welcomed the ceasefire and called on warring parties to “utilize this opportunity and cease immediately all hostilities with the utmost urgency, and make progress towards comprehensive and sustainable peace.”

CORONAVIRUS THREAT

The adversaries are expected to convene via video conference to discuss the proposal, which calls for halting all air, ground and naval hostilities.

A senior Saudi official, speaking to reporters in Washington, said Riyadh hoped during the next two weeks that the U.N. Security Council would help pressure the Houthis “to stop the hostilities”, join the ceasefire “and also to be serious in such engagement with the Yemeni government”.

The U.N. and Western allies have pointed to the threat of the coronavirus to push Yemen’s combatants to agree to fresh talks to end a war that has left millions vulnerable to disease. The United States and Britain have provided the coalition with arms, intelligence and logistics support.

Yemen had witnessed a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis began back-channel talks late last year. But a recent spike in violence, including ballistic missiles fired towards Riyadh last month and retaliatory coalition air strikes, threatens fragile peace deals in vital port cities.

Yemen, already the Arab world’s poorest country, has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted the government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.

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The conflict, largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and regional arch-foe Iran, has unleashed an urgent humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions to the verge of famine, forced millions more to seek shelter in displacement camps and sparked outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria.

Saudi vice defence minister Prince Khalid bin Salman tweeted that the kingdom would contribute $500 million to the U.N. humanitarian response plan for Yemen in 2020 and another $25 million to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The United Nations appealed for more than $4 billion in 2019 for the humanitarian crisis and is expected to ask again for several billion dollars in 2020.

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Trump says oil-cut deal with Saudi, Russia to halt price rout

DUBAI/MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had brokered a deal with top crude producers Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut output and arrest an oil price rout amid the global coronavirus pandemic, though details of how the cut would work were unclear.

Trump said the two nations could cut output by 10 to 15 million barrels per day (bpd) – an unprecedented amount representing 10% to 15% of global supply, and one that could necessitate the participation of nations outside of OPEC and its allies.

A senior U.S. administration official familiar with the matter said Trump would not formally ask U.S. oil companies to contribute to the production cuts, a move which is forbidden by U.S. antitrust legislation. [nL1N2BQ1MS]

Russia and Saudi Arabia have been at odds since early March, when the two nations failed to agree on a deal curbing output as the coronavirus spread around the globe. The pandemic has worsened since, freezing economic activity and sending oil prices into a tailspin as producers confronted the prospect of a dramatic fall in demand with a flood of unwanted oil supply.

Saudi Arabia, the de facto head of OPEC, called on Thursday for an emergency meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, an informal grouping known as OPEC+, state media reported, saying it aimed to reach a fair agreement to stabilize oil markets. Trump is separately set to meet with U.S. oil industry executives on Friday.

Global oil demand is expected to fall by about 30 million bpd in April, or about one-third of daily consumption, as some 3 billion people have been put in lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened nearly 1 million people worldwide and killed nearly 50,000.

The immense decline in demand sent oil prices to their lowest levels since 2002, close to $20 per barrel, hitting budgets of oil producing nations and dealing a huge blow to the U.S. shale oil industry, which cannot compete at low prices.

The downward pressure has been exacerbated by the battle for market share between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Russia rejected the Saudi proposal to take supply off the market in part because it has cut its own output for years while U.S. production grew to a record 13 million bpd, gobbling up more market share.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday that Moscow was no longer planning to raise output and said it was ready to cooperate with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers to stabilize the market.

It was not clear when Saudi Arabia’s proposed emergency OPEC meeting could be held.

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“This invitation comes within the framework of the kingdom’s constant efforts to support the global economy in this exceptional circumstance, and in appreciation of the U.S. president’s request and the U.S. friends’ request,” the state news agency SPA reported.

A meeting could represent a thaw in Saudi-Russia tensions. A senior Gulf source familiar with Saudi thinking told Reuters that Russia’s opposition to its proposal to deepen output cuts was the cause of market turmoil.

At the time of the deal’s collapse, OPEC and its allies were collectively cutting output by about 1.7 million bpd – making a 10-to-15 million-bpd cut a big hurdle unless it brought in other major worldwide producers outside of the cartel.

Market observers were shocked by the swift movements by Saudi Arabia when the three-year-deal collapsed, as it quickly ramped up production, cut its official selling prices for its crude, and chartered tankers to deliver shipments worldwide.

“This is terrifically damaging to them all. I think to the extent that the Saudis can get some cooperation, I think they would be willing to lead the way,” said John Kilduff, a partner at hedge fund Again Capital in New York.

OUTPUT CUTS

The downturn in demand is forcing producers to curtail drilling and well completion activities. That is expected to accelerate as refiners are faced with gasoline and jet fuel barrels going unsold, and storage rapidly fills worldwide.

“I don’t think this does anything in the near term. Our pipelines have told us they don’t have room for our barrels,” said Bob Watson, chief executive of U.S. shale producer Abraxas Petroleum, based in San Antonio, Texas. Within eight weeks there will be major issues as production outstrips storage capacity, he said.

Major global oil producers, including Chevron Corp (CVX.N), Brazil’s Petrobras and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), have announced plans to sharply scale back production.

The free-fall in prices has spurred regulators in the U.S. state of Texas, the heart of that country’s oil production, to consider regulating output for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Brent oil prices stood 18% higher at $29.22 per barrel at 2:12 p.m. ET (1812 GMT), having earlier risen to as high as $36.29. U.S. benchmark WTI crude was 16% higher at $23.53.

Even with Thursday’s surge, Brent is still less than half its $66 closing level at the end of 2019.

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