Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince appeared Tuesday at a glitzy investment forum boycotted by a host of global business leaders, as the petro-state admitted it is facing a "crisis" after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiled and took selfies with cheering delegates during his 15-minute appearance on the opening day of the three-day Future Investment Initiative (FII), which is aiming to project the historically insular Gulf kingdom as a lucrative business destination.
The conference, nicknamed "Davos in the desert", has been overshadowed by the outcry over the murder of Khashoggi inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, with a string of leading international investors pulling out over the case.
But Saudi organisers sought to portray it was business as usual, announcing 12 "mega deals" worth more than $50 billion in oil, gas, infrastructure and other sectors.
They sought to rally around Prince Mohammed, the king's powerful son whose reform credentials have been tarnished by the scandal despite repeated denials he had any involvement in the killing.
After his brief appearance on the opening day, Saudi media said the crown prince would take part in a panel at the conference on Wednesday.
But Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih acknowledged "these are difficult days".
"We are going through a crisis," Falih said in his speech.
Falih said the murder of Khashoggi was regrettable, adding that "nobody in the kingdom can justify it".
In further efforts to diffuse the crisis, Saudi Arabia's cabinet said his killers would be held accountable "no matter who they may be".
The comments came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded to know who gave the order for Khashoggi's killing in his country and the whereabouts of the slain journalist's corpse.