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Turkey searches Saudi consulate again, as ministers cancel Riyadh trip

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Turkish forensic police officers arrive at the Saudi Arabian consulate during a second investigation in Istanbul, early on Thursday.

Istanbul

TURKEY searched the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for a second time overnight as part of a probe into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, while the British, French and Dutch ministers pulled out of a Riyadh investment summit amid global criticism of the kingdom.

US President Donald Trump said he was awaiting a full report on what had happened to Mr Khashoggi from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the envoy met Saudi and Turkish leaders, and said he did not want to abandon his Saudi ally.

Turkish officials say they believe Mr Khashoggi - a US resident and Washington Post columnist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 and his body removed.

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Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in Mr Khashoggi's disappearance. Mr Trump has speculated without providing evidence that "rogue killers" could be responsible.

How Western allies deal with Riyadh will hinge on the extent to which they believe responsibility for the affair lies with Prince Mohammed and the Saudi authorities.

Mr Trump, who has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and the 33-year-old crown prince in an effort to counter Iranian influence in the region, has appeared unwilling to distance himself too much from Riyadh. He has cited tens of billions of dollars in potential arms deals.

Other Western nations have expressed concern about Mr Khashoggi's disappearance, but face a similarly delicate situation in their dealings with the world's top oil exporter.

British trade minister Liam Fox has decided not to attend the investment summit in Riyadh while French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday he had cancelled his attendance, telling Public Senat TV: "The conditions are not right."

Dutch Finance Minister Wopka Hoekstra has also scrapped plans to attend, news agency ANP reported, while the Dutch government cancelled a trade mission to Saudi Arabia next month.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his plans to attend the Riyadh conference would be revisited on Thursday after US officials have a chance to consult Mr Pompeo.

Turkish crime scene investigators left the Saudi consulate early on Thursday after searching the building and consular vehicles, a Reuters witness said. They used bright lights to illuminate the garden.

Earlier, the investigators spent nearly nine hours in the Saudi consul's residence, as did Saudi investigators. The Turkish team's search included the roof and garage and the use of a drone.

Turkish sources have told Reuters the authorities have an audio recording indicating Mr Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Mr Trump said the US has asked Turkey for any audio or video evidence.

Turkey's pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper published on Wednesday what it said were details from audio recordings that purported to document Mr Khashoggi's torture and interrogation.

The newspaper said Mr Khashoggi's torturers severed his fingers during the interrogation and later beheaded and dismembered him. A New York Times report cited a senior Turkish official confirming those details.

Turkey has not shared with the US government or European allies graphic audio or video evidence, seven US and European security officials have told Reuters.

Turkish pro-government newspaper Sabah published preliminary evidence last week from investigators who it said had identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team that arrived in Istanbul on diplomatic passports hours before Mr Khashoggi disappeared.

One name matches a LinkedIn profile for a forensic expert who has worked at the interior ministry for 20 years. Another is identified in a diplomatic directory from 2007 as a first secretary at the Saudi Embassy in London. Other names and photos of the 15 resemble officers in the Saudi Army and Air Force, as identified by previous Saudi media reports and in one case a Facebook profile.

A New York Times report, citing witnesses and other records, linked four suspects to Prince Mohammed's security detail.

Mr Khashoggi never shied away from criticising Saudi policies.

The Washington Post published a column it received from his assistant after he was reported missing in which Mr Khashoggi condemns the crackdown on journalists by Arab governments and the failure of the international community to respond.

"As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate," he wrote. REUTERS