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Saudi Arabia's crown prince says his economic dream will survive

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pressing on with his ambitious plan to modernize Saudi Arabia's economy ...

Posted: Oct 25, 2018 11:18 AM
Updated: Oct 25, 2018 11:18 AM

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pressing on with his ambitious plan to modernize Saudi Arabia's economy despite a deep chill in relations with global business and investors over the killing of a critical journalist.

Bin Salman took the stage at an investor conference in Riyadh that has been overshadowed by the death of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Many of the biggest names in business and finance pulled out of the conference after members of bin Salman's inner circle were blamed for the killing.

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Making his first public comments on the case during a debate about how to "transform the Arab world into a global economic powerhouse," bin Salman called the killing a "heinous crime" and promised justice for the perpetrators.

To loud applause, he rejected any suggestion that his program of reform would be derailed.

"There are no challenges that you can put in front of this great Saudi nation," he said. "Our projects are ongoing, our reforms are ongoing, our war on extremism is ongoing and our war on terror is ongoing."

He said the Saudi budget for 2019 would be the biggest ever, and unemployment was on track to fall to 7% by 2030.

Saudi Arabia says Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed by rogue operatives during an interrogation gone wrong. Several US officials told CNN that any such operation could not have happened without bin Salman's direct knowledge.

The kingdom urgently needs to reverse a decline in foreign investment to diversify its economy and end its dependence on oil. Under his Vision 2030 plan, bin Salman wants to grow the private sector, boost tourism and reduce unemployment over the next decade.

The Future Investment Initiative conference, widely known as "Davos in the desert," was a way for the young prince to showcase his country as being "open for business" as it undergoes massive transformation to diversify the economy away from oil.

But the mood has been subdued this week in Riyadh despite Saudi Arabia announcing $50 billion worth of deals, mainly to develop its oil and chemicals industry.

SoftBank (SFTBF) founder Masayoshi Son, who has been give $45 billion of Saudi money to invest through his Vision Fund, pulled out of the event. Other top executives, including the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), BlackRock (BLK), Uber and Siemens (SIEGY), also canceled plans to attend.

Saudi Arabia's energy minister said the kingdom's reputation had been "tarnished" by the murder of Khashoggi.

"We are undertaking a hit but we are standing strong and we are moving forward," Khalid Al Falih told CNN Business' Emerging Markets Editor John Defterios. "I am sure we will come out of this stronger."

Some companies have sent less senior executives despite their CEOs pulling out.

"We can't ignore Saudi Arabia," a senior executive for an international bank told CNN Business at the event.

Regional governments, including the United Arab Emirates, dispatched delegations to the event, and bin Salman shared the stage Wednesday with the crown prince of Bahrain and the prime minister of Lebanon.

"There is loyalty, but the loyalty is is well deserved," said Mahmood Alkooheji, CEO of Mumtalakat, Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund. "Our presence here in the forum is really to look at the investment opportunities."

As for international investors, he said they "need time."

Vision 2030 had caught the imagination of many international players, including billionaire Richard Branson, who jumped on opportunities for two tourism projects and was in talks for a $1 billion investment in his space company.

But Branson was one of the first to suspend his links with Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi's disappearance.

"What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government," Branson said earlier this month.

Last year, bin Salman used the conference to introduce a $500 billion futuristic mega-city sitting alongside some of the world's top executives, including Son. The young prince told the audience that the city, NEOM, would be a place for "dreamers."

The announcement received loud cheers and applause from the energized crowd.

But at least six of NEOM's 18 international advisers — including Silicon Valley stars such as Sam Altman — have backed out temporarily or permanently.

The prince will have to do a lot more persuading to encourage some former business partners to return. And if it turns out he really did know about the operation against Khashoggi, his dream may yet fade.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 343505

Reported Deaths: 7543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23932444
DeSoto23229283
Harrison20527329
Rankin15411291
Jackson15232252
Madison10959227
Lee10719179
Jones9047169
Forrest8723159
Lauderdale7884244
Lowndes7054151
Lamar702989
Lafayette6548124
Washington5595139
Pearl River5196152
Bolivar4954134
Oktibbeha494398
Panola4771112
Warren4728128
Marshall4701106
Pontotoc447773
Union433279
Monroe4330137
Neshoba4281181
Hancock428088
Lincoln4176116
Pike3667113
Leflore3627125
Tate353388
Alcorn350974
Sunflower347694
Scott341176
Adams340988
Yazoo339376
Copiah324968
Simpson322891
Itawamba314680
Coahoma314085
Tippah306568
Prentiss298863
Covington293484
Leake285475
Marion284181
Wayne277543
George272251
Grenada269488
Newton262364
Tishomingo239770
Winston236784
Jasper230648
Stone229637
Attala226373
Chickasaw219060
Holmes200174
Clay197654
Clarke186880
Tallahatchie183742
Calhoun181332
Smith179235
Yalobusha171540
Walthall145748
Lawrence142826
Greene140134
Amite137543
Noxubee135235
Perry133538
Montgomery133044
Carroll126431
Webster121232
Jefferson Davis116734
Tunica114227
Benton106725
Claiborne105331
Kemper102429
Humphreys100133
Franklin87923
Quitman84719
Choctaw82619
Wilkinson78032
Jefferson71328
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 577463

Reported Deaths: 11510
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson841981589
Mobile47171860
Madison37047533
Tuscaloosa26915465
Shelby26873256
Montgomery25918625
Baldwin24499328
Lee16949181
Calhoun15252332
Morgan15017290
Etowah14778370
Marshall12933235
Houston11774292
Elmore10761217
St. Clair10617252
Limestone10574158
Cullman10363205
Lauderdale10083254
DeKalb9382191
Talladega8836188
Walker7681287
Autauga7479114
Jackson7317117
Blount7266139
Colbert6635142
Coffee6163132
Dale5453117
Russell470642
Chilton4682117
Covington4649125
Franklin450081
Tallapoosa4440156
Escambia427882
Chambers3898125
Dallas3717163
Clarke367763
Marion3427106
Pike327879
Lawrence3225101
Winston294973
Bibb284565
Geneva276383
Marengo259967
Barbour246261
Pickens240062
Butler238272
Hale232778
Fayette225264
Henry209245
Monroe197241
Randolph196744
Cherokee196348
Washington180139
Macon168752
Crenshaw165558
Clay163759
Cleburne160245
Lamar149938
Lowndes144854
Wilcox130531
Bullock126142
Conecuh119630
Coosa116929
Perry109928
Sumter109032
Greene98736
Choctaw64325
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