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World Saudi Arabia withdraws Francophonie bid amid growing pressure over missing journalist

Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its application to join the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie amid mounting pressure to provide an explanation for the disappearance of a Saudi journalist.

La Francophonie, the French-speaking equivalent of the Commonwealth, was set to study Saudi Arabia’s most recent bid to gain member status on Thursday, but the kingdom asked the 84-member organization to “postpone” its application in a letter.

While no reason was given for the postponement, concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record have risen in the past week since journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi policies, went missing after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. On Thursday, a United Nations human-rights watchdog also called on Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its deadly air strikes against civilian targets in Yemen and to prosecute officials responsible for child casualties due to unlawful attacks.

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Jocelyn Coulon, an expert on foreign relations at the University of Montreal’s Centre for International Research and Studies, said the withdrawal is good for la Francophonie, as the application faced strong opposition from the group’s member states, who have criticized Riyadh over human-rights violations.

In a speech on Thursday to open the Francophonie summit in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, French President Emmanuel Macron said the organization must review the way it accepts new members. While not directly mentioning Saudi Arabia, his comments were seen as an indirect criticism of the country’s bid. Saudi Arabia was never expected to be admitted as a full member of la Francophonie, but could have gotten “observer” status, which has no voting rights.

Mr. Coulon was involved in reviewing Saudi Arabia’s previous application for membership in 2016 when he was an adviser to former foreign-affairs minister Stéphane Dion. The 2016 bid was then backed by democratic countries France and Senegal. According to Mr. Coulon, those reviewing the files decided they needed to follow a stricter procedure for new members based on two criteria: that there is indeed French language spoken within the country, and that there is “respect of democracy and human rights.” The application was then tabled at the Francophonie summit so the heads of state could decide how to proceed. The 2016 application was found to be incomplete and required further research.

“Basically, Quebec and Canada were opposed to this membership because our understanding was that there was no francophones in Saudi Arabia, and democracy and human rights were not particularly their strongest policy, if I may say,” Mr. Coulon said.

“At the same time, people could say there are a lot of dictatorships or authoritarian governments in la Francophonie, which is true.”

Turkish media said Thursday that Saudi royal guards, intelligence officers, soldiers and an autopsy expert were part of a 15-member team from the kingdom that targeted Mr. Khashoggi.

With a report from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and The Canadian Press.

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