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(CNN Business) —  

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.

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.