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Turkey accuses Saudi Arabia of concealing coronavirus cases, allowing Turkish pilgrims to spread it Open in fullscreen

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Turkey accuses Saudi Arabia of concealing coronavirus cases, allowing Turkish pilgrims to spread it

Turkish citizens returning from umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia were placed in quarantine [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 26 March, 2020

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Turkey's interior minister accused Saudi Arabia of covering up coronavirus cases.
Turkey has accused Saudi Arabia of not reporting the transmission of coronavirus between pilgrims at Islam's holiest sites.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said cases of COVID-19 were detected in pilgrims who had returned to Turkey after performing the umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, Turkey's Anadolu Agency reported.

Soylu said Turkey's Ministry of Health took immediate measures after coronavirus was found among returnees from Saudi Arabia.

"Saudi Arabia has not informed us even with a single case of corona," Soylu said, according to a video posted on Twitter.

"If a country can hide [corona cases] and does not share them, the only thing we can do is act on official information."

Turkey has recorded 59 coronavirus-related deaths and 2,433 cases. Authorities have introduced a raft of measures, from shutting schools and universities to banning mass prayers.

Turkey quarantined thousands of pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia last week, Reuters reported.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have worsened since the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday charged 20 suspects including two former top aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the brutal 2018 murder of Riyadh critic Khashoggi.

Turkish prosecutors accuse Saudi Arabia's deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court's media tsar Saud al-Qahtani of leading the operation against Khashoggi and giving orders to a Saudi hit team. 

Turkey carried out its own investigation after being unhappy with Saudi Arabia's explanations. 

The Istanbul prosecutor's office said in a statement that Assiri and Qahtani were charged with "instigating the deliberate and monstrous killing, causing torment".

The murder caused relations between Ankara and Riyadh -  longstanding rivals - to worsen.

Saudis, who enjoy investing and holidaying in Turkey, were urged to boycott the country last year.

Read more: Mohammed bin Salman: The rise to power of Saudi Arabia's Machiavellian prince

Turkey meanwhile is a key backer of Qatar, especially after a Riyadh-led economic blockade began against the Gulf state in 2017, and is accused of supporting groups including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi Arabia views the Brotherhood as an existential threat.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed Ankara will not give up the case.

"This happened in my country, how am I not going to follow up on that? Of course I'm going to follow up. This is our responsibility," Erdogan told Fox News last year.

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