Comoros leader stirs anger by questioning outcry over Khashoggi killing

MORONI (Reuters) - Comoros President Azali Assoumani has provoked anger by saying the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was an internal Saudi matter that did not warrant the international outrage it had triggered.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

“What’s wrong when a Saudi is assassinated in an embassy of Saudi Arabia?” Assoumani said in reference to Khashoggi during a speech at a function on Thursday to launch the construction of a Saudi-funded road in the Indian Ocean island nation.

“I request that you transfer this (matter) to (Saudi) King Salman and tell him not to worry. Every day hundreds and hundreds of people die in the world and no one condemns it.”

The Saudi ambassador to Comoros, Hamad Ben Muhammad Alhajiri, was present at the function and made no comment on Assoumani’s remarks.

However, the Comoros branch of the international francophone press association said it was dismayed by the comments.

“Comorian journalists solemnly ask the head of state to retract these remarks, which have shocked not only journalists but public opinion,” UPF-Comores said in a statement.

“We wonder what awaits us in our country when our president publicly shows disdain towards the assassination of a Saudi journalist who was critical of the regime of his country.”

In 2018 media freedom group Reporters Without Borders ranked Comoros 49th out of 180 countries on its global press freedom index, but Comorian journalists complain they have been working under increasing restrictions in recent years.

Saudi Arabia is a significant source of financial support for the impoverished Comoros, which cut ties with the Saudis’ arch-adversary Iran in 2016 and with Riyadh’s other regional rival Qatar in 2017.

Last year Saudi Arabia signed an accord with Comoros, an archipelago of some 800,000 people, providing $22 million to help finance water and road infrastructure works there.

Khashoggi, a longtime Saudi royal insider who had become a critic of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed on Oct. 2 in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. A global outcry ensued and led to U.S. Treasury sanctions on 17 Saudi individuals and a Senate resolution blaming Prince Mohammed.

A CIA assessment blamed the crown prince for ordering Khashoggi’s killing, which Saudi officials deny. At least 21 Saudis are under investigation with five facing the death penalty over the murder.

Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Mark Heinrich