BUENOS AIRES – Legions of protesters who demonstrated at the leaders' summit unveiled a host of normal signs ranging from "No to Imperialism" to "Yankees Go Home." But a new rallying cry also appeared on some homemade posters.
"Mohammed bin Salman, Assassin!"
For the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the summit of the Group of 20 leaders in Buenos Aires was a litmus test: his first participation in a major international event since the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi who frequently criticized the de facto leader of the kingdom.
"The CIA thinks it's the one who ordered Khashoggi's assassination," said Cristian Pirovano, a 40-year-old teacher in Buenos Aires, citing US intelligence reports that the Crown Prince almost certainly orchestrated the assassination of Khashoggi, a Washington Post. contributor columnist, at the consulate of his country in Turkey.
"We do not want him here, because of the journalist's murder, because of what the Saudis are doing in Yemen, because of all this death," Pirovano said.
Muhammad arrived at the top, a pariah to some leaders. He was in the last row of the annual "family photo" with leaders present on Saturday, and leaders including Germany's Angela Merkel had said before the summit that they would not see Mahomet in Argentina. The Crown Prince has also been hiding in the fortified Saudi Arabian Embassy far from the rest of the Saudi delegation after his arrival here, while Argentine prosecutors had taken steps in order to prevent the death penalty. investigate complaints of human rights violations filed against him.
But Mohammed was also assured that President Trump had already said that the crown prince's guilt, if any, would not break the relationship between the United States and Riyadh.
This guarantee helped convince Mohammed that he could make the trip on behalf of his country, which is expected to hold the same G-20 rally in 2020. And Muhammad found solace in some quarters here, a high five of the smiling Russian president. Vladimir Putin and a brief but symbolic televised exchange with Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The White House said Trump had simply "exchanged jokes."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also photographed smiling alongside Mohammed at their private meeting on Friday, and British Prime Minister Theresa May defended her plan to also meet the young Saudi.
But the man who had once sought to masquerade as the younger, freshest face of the Saudi leadership has also come to see himself as corrupt, turned into a global symbol of brutal tyranny. In what was supposed to be a triumphal demonstration of his power-building at home, Mohammed was instead pursued by trying to bring him to justice in Argentina for foreign crimes, targeted by protesters and reprimanded by European leaders.
"It is obvious that his reputation has been seriously damaged," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch. "I think he was convinced that he could walk on the water without paying any fees. . . . But this case will follow him every time he leaves Saudi Arabia, probably for the rest of his days. "
Mohammed was not necessarily a persona non grata. At a press conference held on Thursday, Argentine President Mauricio Macri justified the presence of the prince at the summit.
"Saudi Arabia is a member of the G-20, so the prince must come," said Macri, who met Mohammed Saturday. Macri told the press conference that his role in the killing of Khashoggi was a topic that "has touched the world and can be discussed at general or bilateral meetings, but he is part of that community and is now in the country to participate tomorrow. "
Yet he was also attacked. In a conversation with the Crown Prince on Friday, Frenchman Emmanuel Macron called on international investigators to join in the investigation into the assassination of Khashoggi and stressed "the need for a political solution" to the war in Yemen backed by the Saudis.
"The Khashoggi case is serious and I think we have to look for the truth. I hope the investigations in Turkey and Saudi Arabia will continue to clarify the situation to the family and the international community, "Macron said Friday.
Also on Friday, a seemingly private – and animated – conversation between Macron and Mohammed was recorded in the microphone. "I'm worried. I'm worried. I told you, said Macron.
"Yes, you told me, thank you very much," said the prince.
"You never listen to me," says Macron.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the G-20 as a platform to reprimand the Saudis for their contradictory statements and lack of cooperation with Turkish investigators investigating the assassination, which took place at the Saudi consulate Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. "This is not just a problem for Turkey, but for the whole world," he said.
"Our judicial and administrative bodies have unfortunately not received the required support from the Saudi authorities," Erdogan told reporters Saturday in Buenos Aires. "The Crown Prince has said that we can not blame anyone if the crime is not proven. Well, we know that 15 people arrived in Istanbul aboard two separate aircraft and that they participated in a planned operation, as they themselves had admitted. But now we see that they decided to deny that too. A spokeswoman for the Saudi delegation declined to comment.
In her personal interview with Mohammed, May declined to discuss key economic issues, such as bilateral trade. Instead, a government spokesman said that she had referred to Khashoggi 's assassination, saying that Saudi Arabia should "act to build confidence in the fact that" he said. such a deplorable incident could not happen again, "according to the Guardian.
Khashoggi's death was suspended during the Crown Prince's trip to Buenos Aires from the beginning.
The 747 carrying Mohammad and a delegation of 400 Saudis landed Wednesday in Buenos Aires, with cameras capturing the Crown Prince down a flight of stairs, resplendent in a loose dress. The Argentinean newspaper La Nación reported that the Saudis had reserved rooms for the delegation at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel in Buenos Aires – but the plans of the Crown Prince suddenly seemed to change.
Human Rights Watch on Monday lodged a complaint with Argentine prosecutors asking them to review Mohammed's alleged responsibility for the torture of Saudi citizens, the atrocities in Yemen and the assassination of Khashoggi. Universal jurisdiction applies in Argentina, allowing crimes committed abroad by any national to be investigated here.
On Wednesday, Prince's landing day, a federal prosecutor opened an investigation and forwarded the case to an investigating judge.
Instead of withdrawing to the Four Seasons, Mohammed – under fire from Argentine TV cameras – remained at the Saudi Embassy, apparently not leaving until the official start of the summit on Friday morning.
Argentine officials said his diplomatic immunity, as well as the time required for any investigation, had virtually ruled out any immediate action against Mohammed during the summit. But his seeming caution suggested worry and the risk that his future travel plans would be spoiled by similar legal maneuvers.
"You can be sure that other cases will be filed when Mohammed travels," Vivanco said. "Wherever he goes, he will be under surveillance."
Silvina Frydelweski contributed to this report.