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NYC mayor skips Saudi Arabia summit, citing rights concerns

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

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(AP) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he is withdrawing from a virtual summit of world cities scheduled to be hosted by Saudi Arabia because of human rights concerns.

The Urban 20 summit is scheduled to run from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 ahead of the Group of 20 summit of the world’s most powerful industrialized nations. Human rights activists had urged de Blasio and several other city leaders to boycott the meeting, pointing out that Oct. 2 is the anniversary of the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how crucial it is for cities across the world to work together while standing up for what’s right. We cannot lead the world without speaking out against injustices," de Blasio said in a statement. “We must stand united for combating climate change, advancing peace and protecting human rights. I urge my colleagues in other global cities to join me in withdrawing from this year’s U20 summit and demanding progress.”

Western intelligence agencies have said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bears ultimate responsibility for Khashoggi's killing and that the operation that led to his death could not have happened without the prince's knowledge. The 35-year-old prince has denied any knowledge and condemned the killing.

A Saudi court announced prison sentences for eight men in the killing earlier this month.

The first U20 summit was held in 2018. It takes place in the country that is hosting the annual G20 summit.

An email seeking comment was sent to the U20 organizers.