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Boycotts plague Saudi 'Davos in the Desert' forum launch

Empty chairs at the Davos in the Desert conference [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 October, 2018

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Major Western businesses, political leaders and media have dropped out of the glitzy conference as fallout from Riyadh's murder of Jamal Khashoggi widens.
Saudi Arabia's "Davos in the Desert" conference began on Tuesday in Riyadh, a brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that has seen major boycotts over the kingdom's murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

The Future Investment Initiative aimed at drawing more foreign investment as part of the kingdom's efforts to wean its economy off oil, but it has been overshadowed by Khashoggi's killing.

MbS will not be speaking at the forum, according to the official conference schedule released Tuesday.

Dozens of executives - from bankers JP Morgan to carmaker Ford and ride-hailing app Uber - have scrapped plans to attend the event.

Major Western media outlets including BloombergCNN, the Financial Times and The Economist also pulled out. 

Last year, the forum proved to be a glitzy affair that drew more international business attention to the kingdom. But the kingdom and MbS' standing has been marred by Turkish media reports that the crown prince was involved in the murder plot.

Saudi authorities admitted on Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom's Istanbul diplomatic compound following a "brawl".

Their admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive.

Turkish media reports and officials maintain that a 15-member Saudi team flew to Istanbul on 2 October, knowing Khashoggi would enter the consulate to obtain a document he needed to get married. Once he was inside, the Saudis allegedly accosted Khashoggi, cut off his fingers, killed and dismembered the 59-year-old writer.

Ahead of Tuesday's conference, the Davos in the Desert website was hacked and an image of MbS preparing to execute Khashoggi was uploaded on the main landing page.

The conference is being held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, which previously served as a makeshift jail during a purported anti-corruption probe that critics say was used to consolidate the crown prince's rule.

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