David Barclay, the secretive British billionaire whose portfolio included The Daily Telegraph newspaper and The Ritz hotel, has died aged 86 after a short illness, his newspaper reported Wednesday.
Barclay and his twin Frederick, described by the daily as “identical in appearance, lifestyle and often even in dress”, built a vast business empire from shipping to retail.
“The Barclay brothers operated as one throughout their active business career while doing their utmost to avoid personal publicity and discourage media scrutiny,” the broadsheet added.
Among those paying tribute to David Barclay was a former employee, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who made his name on the newspaper as a Brussels-bashing Europe correspondent, and later a columnist.
“Farewell with respect and admiration to Sir David Barclay who rescued a great newspaper created many thousands of jobs across the UK and who believed passionately in the independence of this country and what it could achieve,” Johnson tweeted.
The Barclay brothers entered the media industry in 1992 when they bought The European, a weekly newspaper launched two years earlier by the media magnate Robert Maxwell.
They later bought The Scotsman daily before finally realising their ambition of owning Conservative bastion The Daily Telegraph in 2004.
The brothers, long advocates of small government and low taxes, were strong supporters of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, putting her up in their plush Ritz in London during her final days.
They were born into a large working-class Scottish family in London in 1934 and left school at 14 to pursue their joint business ambitions, making their names initially in the property market.
“They are very effective stealth buyers,” one financier told the Telegraph. “They come out of nowhere and move quickly.”
The brothers, based on the Channel Island of Sark, became embroiled in a rare public row last year over the sale of The Ritz to a brother-in-law of the ruler of Qatar, which ended up in court.
They were knighted in 2000, kneeling side by side before Queen Elizabeth II in the first double knighthood ceremony in the modern era.
David Barclay, who died on Sunday, was married twice and leaves behind four sons.
Qatar’s foreign minister said on Friday that there had been some progress to resolve the Gulf crisis which has pitted a regional group of nations against his country.
Saudi led its allies — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt — to cut ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of backing radical Islamist movements and Iran, charges Doha denies.
They subsequently forced out Qataris residing in their countries, closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft, and sealed their borders and ports, separating some mixed-nationality families.
“We have achieved certain progress at a certain point of time more than a year ago, and then things have slowed,” Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said at the Mediterranean Dialogues forum in Rome.
“Right now, there are some movements that we hope will put an end (to) this crisis,” he said without giving details.
“We believe that Gulf unity is very important for the security of the region. This needless crisis needs to end based on mutual respect.”
US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is reported to have raised the Gulf crisis and pushed for progress towards ending the spat during a visit to Qatar Wednesday.
Few details have been made public about Kushner’s trip, which could have been his last chance to press diplomatic issues in the region that has been a focal point for the outgoing Trump administration.
Saudi Arabia’s closure of its airspace has forced Qatar Airways aircraft to fly over Iran, Riyadh’s arch-rival and long-time adversary of Washington, paying significant overflight fees to Tehran in the process.
The New York Times has reported that Qatar pays $100 million annually to fly over the Islamic republic, citing diplomatic sources.
US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in November that allowing Qatari planes to fly over Saudi Arabia via an “air bridge” was a priority for the outgoing Trump administration.
Qatar has repeatedly said it is open to talks without preconditions, though has not signalled publicly it would compromise on the 13 demands of the boycotting countries.
Past mediation efforts led by Kuwait have yielded no results.
Qatar’s ruler said Tuesday that a long-delayed vote for the country’s policy reviewing chamber will be held in October 2021, marking the Gulf emirate’s first national election.
The currently un-elected Shura Council advises the absolute ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, on draft laws but does not create its own legislation and can be overruled by a simple decree.
October’s vote would be Qatar’s first national election although Sheikh Tamim did not give details on who would be permitted to vote or who would be able to stand.
Qataris have previously been able to cast ballots on constitutional reforms and in elections to a nationwide municipal council.
“The Shura Council elections will be held in October of next year to strengthen the traditions of the Qatari shura, with wider participation by citizens,” the emir said in a speech to open the 49th session of the council.
Elections to the council, required under the country’s 2004 constitution, have been postponed repeatedly and the body’s members have instead been directly appointed by the emir.
Qatar has undergone cautious reform on issues including democracy, worker rights and representation of women since Sheikh Tamim came to power in 2013.
“We are taking an important step in strengthening the Qatari consultative traditions and developing the legislative process with the participation of a wider range of citizens,” Sheikh Tamim said.
“We have our solid system rooted in the structure of our society and… it is not a multi-party system, but rather an emirate system based on established traditions of fair and rational governance.”
Australia revealed Wednesday that female passengers on 10 planes flying out of Doha were forced to endure “appalling” physical examinations, as Qatar expressed regret for the distress caused to the women.
The Gulf emirate had already been facing a huge hit to its reputation after reports emerged that women were removed from a Sydney-bound Qatar Airways flight and forced to undergo vaginal inspections on October 2.
The searches were carried after a newborn baby had been abandoned at Doha airport. Qatar’s government said Wednesday in its first account of the events that the baby had been wrapped in plastic and left to die in a rubbish bin.
But Australia continued to pile pressure on Qatar, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne announcing that the number of planes targeted was much greater than a single flight.
She told a Senate committee that women on “10 aircraft in total” had been subject to the searches, including 18 women — including 13 Australians — on the flight to Sydney.
AFP understands one French woman on the Sydney-bound plane was also among them.
Payne did not detail the destinations of the other flights, adding she was unaware if any Australian women were on those planes.
Payne had already described the incidents as “grossly disturbing” and “offensive”.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also weighed into the controversy on Wednesday, describing the treatment of the women as “appalling” and “unacceptable”.
“As a father of a daughter, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that,” he said.
Qatar is a conservative Muslim monarchy, where sex and childbirth out of wedlock are punishable by jail.
Ahead of its hosting of football’s World Cup in 2022, it has struggled to reassure critics that its promises on women’s rights, labour relations, and democracy are credible.
– ‘Distress’ –
Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage, Qatar’s government released a statement Wednesday to explain its version of events while promising to ensure the future “safety, security and comfort” of passengers.
“While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action,” the statement.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani had ordered an investigation and the results would be shared with international partners, it added.
However, the statement did not specifically detail that women had been forcibly examined, only referring to a “search for the parents”.
The statement said the newborn baby was a girl and had been “concealed” in a plastic bag and buried under garbage in the bin.
“The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her. The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha,” it said.
Human Rights Watch called Wednesday for the airport incident to trigger much greater reforms to protect women.
“In Qatar and across the Gulf region, sexual relations outside of wedlock are criminalised, meaning a pregnant woman who is not married, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape, may end up facing arrest and prosecution,” the watchdog said in a statement.
“Qatar should prohibit forced gynaecological exams and investigate and bring to account any individuals who authorised any demeaning treatment. It should also decriminalise sex outside of wedlock.”
Qatar Airways is one of the few airlines that has maintained flights to Australia since the country closed its international border early in the pandemic and restricted the return of its own citizens.
Qatar’s Football Association fined former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez and several other top-flight players and staff $2,700 each for breaching coronavirus rules, it said in a statement on Thursday.
Xavi, head coach of Qatari side Al-Sadd, revealed at the end of July that he had contracted the virus but just days later he said he had returned home and to work.
The penalty, which included an official warning from the league, was because of “non-compliance with the Ministry of Public Health’s safety protocols including breaching a home quarantine pledge signed by him”, the statement said.
Al-Sadd players Hammam al-Amin and Abdul Karim Hassan also faced fines of 10,000 riyals ($2,700) and warnings from the QFA’s disciplinary committee, as did players and staff from several other Qatari teams.
It is not clear if the sanctions related to the two-week mandatory quarantine period that Qatari authorities applied to those returning to the country at the height of the pandemic.
The quarantine period has since been reduced to one week for those returning to Qatar from countries deemed “low-risk”.
The Qatar Stars League resumed competition on July 24 with strict social distancing rules, routine testing of players and staff and a blanket ban on media attendance.
Matches were halted in March to stem the spread of COVID-19.
More than 4 percent of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have had coronavirus, with 112,092 cases reported since the start of the pandemic giving the tiny Gulf state one of the highest per capita total infection rates.
However the gas-rich country has posted just 178 deaths meaning it has one of the world’s lowest virus death rates and 108,831 people have recovered from COVID-19, according to official statistics.
Qatar will seek to host the 2032 Olympic Games, it said on Monday, joining a crowded field and raising questions about scorching summer temperatures and underwhelming attendances at past events.
India, Australia’s Queensland state, the Chinese city of Shanghai and a potential joint bid between South and North Korea are also being touted for the 2032 summer games.
Under changes put forward in 2014, interested countries submit a request to join the non-committal “continuous dialogue”, which Qatar confirmed to AFP it had done via a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne.
“Today’s announcement marks the beginning of a meaningful dialogue with the IOC’s Future Host Commission to explore our interest further and identify how the Olympic Games can support Qatar’s long-term development goals,” Qatar Olympic Committee president Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani told AFP in a statement.
Qatar unsuccessfully bid to host the 2016 and 2020 games, having proposed to host the former in October without first clearing it with the IOC.
It won a waiver to propose hosting the 2020 games, a joint bid with Baku, Azerbaijan, between September 20 and October 20, but failed to make the shortlist.
The 2020 games, postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, were awarded to Japan, which also experiences searing summer temperatures, leading officials to schedule events early in the morning when conditions are coolest.
“Qatar has earned the reputation of a world-class destination for major sporting events,” added Sheikh Joaan, brother of Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
“It is this proven track-record and wealth of experience, along with our desire to use sport to promote peace and cultural exchange, that will form the basis of our discussions with the Commission.”
Summer temperatures can reach 50 degrees celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the nation which abuts the Arabian desert. Heat and humidity were major issues during the road races at last year’s World Athletics Championships held in Doha.
The event was shifted to late September and October over concerns about the gas-rich state’s climate and marathons and race walks were held at midnight.
Even so, humidity hovered around 73 percent and the temperature was 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) for much of the women’s marathon and images of the runners collapsing and gasping for air led to questions over Qatar’s suitability to host outdoor events outside the cooler winter months.
Perhaps the most stinging off-track criticism of the 10-day World Athletics event was sparked by the spectacle of a near-empty stadium during the opening days, raising fears for World Cup attendances in 2022 and at other sporting events.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe said he was more worried about conditions at the Tokyo Olympics, where summer temperatures have pushed organisers to schedule events for the early morning.
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup after a bid process that has been attacked by some European nations and media outlets as corrupt, although Doha insists it won fairly.
Discriminatory labour practices and human rights issues facing the migrant labourers building infrastructure for 2022 have been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism since Qatar won the bid in 2010.
“We in the International Olympic Committee are happy with the huge interest in the 2032 Summer Olympics, 12 years before the launch of the games. We are in a great position,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview with Qatar-based broadcaster BeIN on Friday.
“We made sure that our new approach to this kind of intentions works well. We launched a dialogue between the interested national Olympic committees and a special commission in the IOC. Naturally, we welcome Qatar to join this dialogue.”
If Qatar were successful, it would be the first time the event had been held in the Middle East.
Former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez signed on as head coach of Qatari club Al-Sadd for one more year Sunday, putting to bed rumours of an imminent move back to the Spanish side.
There had been media speculation in recent days that World Cup winner Xavi, 40, was being lined up to replace Quique Setien at Barcelona at the end of the season.
Hernandez turned down an approach in January after Barca sacked Ernesto Valverde, which led to the surprise appointment of Setien.
“I am happy to continue with Al-Sadd, and the team’s goal will always be to compete for all titles,” he said in a statement on the club’s website which added that his contract had been renewed for a second season.
“(My) complete focus in this current period is to fully equip the players for the upcoming domestic and Asian competitions.”
The relationship between Barcelona’s board, led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and the players has proved tense, with Lionel Messi’s public criticism of technical secretary Eric Abidal among a number of off-field controversies.
“I am clear that I want to return to Barca, I am very excited,” Xavi said in March when asked if a change of board would be needed for it to happen.
“In the dressing room there can’t be a negative or toxic atmosphere.”
Xavi came through the Barcelona academy before breaking the record for most appearances for the senior side, winning four Champions League trophies and eight La Liga titles.
He joined Al-Sadd as a player in 2015 before being appointed coach last July.
World Cup organisers in Qatar reported the first coronavirus death of a worker involved in construction of 2022 tournament venues on Thursday.
A source close to the Qatari tournament organisers told AFP that 1,102 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among workers at tournament projects with 121 infections still active.
First reported by the newly relaunched Doha News, a site popular among expatriates in Qatar, the victim was an engineer in his fifties who had no underlying medical conditions.
Qatar has one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world with 3.3 percent of its 2.75 million population having tested positive.
Most have since recovered with only 17,591 active cases reported in the latest official statistics alongside 104 deaths.
“Sadly, on June 11, 2020, a 51-year-old specialist engineer employed by the contractor Conspel, tragically died after contracting COVID-19,” the Qatari organisation responsible for organising the 2022 tournament said in a statement.
“He had worked on Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy projects since October 2019 and had no underlying health issues. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
His nationality was not disclosed.
The Qatari organisers reported the first infections among its workforce on April 15 with five cases across three stadium projects.
Work continues at 2022 sites but has slowed to allow virus containment measures including screening and social distancing to be observed with Qatari officials saying preparations are nevertheless more than 80 percent complete.
Organisers have removed all high-risk workers from projects on full pay, undertake temperature checks on workers twice daily, and imposed distancing rules in dining halls and staff transport to limit the virus’ spread.
Construction at infrastructure to stage the tournament continued through the crisis even as Qatar halted non-essential retail and mosques, parks and restaurants closed.
Qatar has begun a cautious reopening programme with socially distanced worship permitted in some Mosques and non-essential retail permitted.
Cafes and restaurants are due to reopen subject to strict controls from July 1.
The timings of the competition, due to be held in November and December of 2022, remain unchanged by the coronavirus pandemic which has already forced the postponement of the European football championships and the Tokyo Olympics.
Privacy concerns over Qatar’s coronavirus contact tracing app, a tool that is mandatory on pain of prison, have prompted a rare backlash and forced officials to offer reassurance and concessions.
Like other governments around the world, Qatar has turned to mobile phones to trace people’s movements and track who they come into contact with, allowing officials to monitor coronavirus infections and alert people at risk of contagion.
The apps use Bluetooth radio signals to “ping” nearby devices, which can be contacted subsequently if a user they have been near develops symptoms or tests positive, but the resultant unprecedented access to users’ location data has prompted fears about state surveillance.
Qatar’s version goes considerably further — it forces Android users to permit access to their picture and video galleries, while also allowing the app to make unprompted calls.
“I can’t understand why it needs all these permissions,” wrote Ala’a on a Facebook group popular with Doha’s large expat community — one of several such forums peppered with concerns over the app.
Justin Martin, a journalism professor based in Qatar, warned authorities in a tweet not to “erode” trust by enforcing “an app with such alarming permissions”.
The government launched the “Ehteraz” app, meaning “precaution”, in April and on Friday it became mandatory for all citizens and legal residents to install it on their phones.
Non-compliance is punishable by up to three years in jail — the same term as for failing to wear a mask in public — in a state battling one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates.
– ‘Highly invasive’ –
Almost 44,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have tested positive for the respiratory disease — 1.6 percent of the population — and 23 people have died.
Security forces manned checkpoints across Qatar on Sunday to ensure use of the app, local media reported, alongside checking for use of masks.
Criticism of the government is rare in Qatar and laws prohibit disrespect towards officials.
However, officials have said that the law on the app will be enforced with “understanding”.
The app’s simple interface displays coloured bar-codes containing the user’s ID number — green for healthy, red for COVID-19 positive and yellow for quarantined cases. Grey indicates suspected cases or those who have come into contact with infected individuals.
Mohamed bin Hamad Al-Thani, a director at Qatar’s health ministry, said that data gathered is “completely confidential”.
“There will be an update for the Ehteraz app to address the issues of concern and further improve its efficiency,” he added in an interview on state television on Thursday.
A new version of the software was duly released for Apple and Android on Sunday, promising “minor bug fixes”, but without indicating that the invasive aspects had been removed.
The app was introduced just as authorities across the Muslim world warned that gatherings during Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the end of the holy fasting month could lead to a surge of infections.
– ‘Burner’ phones –
“There are two key concerns… with the app,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Hiba Zayadin.
It “is highly invasive, with a range of permissions allowing the government access to things that are not needed for the purpose of contact tracing, permissions that are unnecessary and present a concerning invasion of privacy.”
But also “many migrant workers in the country don’t have compatible phones that would allow them to download the app and comply”.
Online reviews have also complained that the app drains battery power and cannot be installed on older iPhone handsets.
Some have looked for ways around the policy.
“People are spending money and waiting in queues just to get burner phones to protect their privacy,” wrote expat engineer Janko on one forum, referring to cheap handsets that could subsequently be disposed of.
There have been reports of a few users being wrongly classified as “quarantined” or “suspected cases”.
“There’s no need for photo access and other things. But it could be a good tool. It is a good way to prioritise whom to test,” technology lawyer Rahul Matthan told AFP.
But “to work, they need a large number of people to use it. If people are dissuaded because of the app’s overreach, then that would be a worry.”
Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world’s toughest penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for failing to wear masks in public, as it battles one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates.
More than 30,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country — 1.1 percent of the 2.75 million population — although just 15 people have died.
Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican had higher per capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Violators of Qatar’s new rules will face up to three years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.
Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but several expats told AFP that police were stopping cars at checkpoints to warn them of the new rules before they came into force.
Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.
Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).
Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.
Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar’s National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was “a huge risk in gatherings of families” for Ramadan meals.
“(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris,” he said.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.
– Labourers at risk –
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease’s spread.
But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.
Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.
Tens of thousands of migrant labourers were quarantined in Doha’s gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.
Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.
Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers’ cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
Work on Qatar’s World Cup stadiums and mega-projects linked to the tournament have continued apace despite tough social distancing rules to stem the spread of coronavirus among the largely migrant workforce.
Dozens of labourers with covered faces and sporting near-identical blue overalls clamoured across the vast exoskeleton of Lusail Stadium, an arena set to host the final of the 2022 tournament, AFP correspondents saw on Thursday.
Dozens of vehicles including buses, diggers and water tankers criss-crossed the complex of new parks, apartment blocks and tram stops around the stadium, which will become Qatar’s largest with a capacity of 80,000.
The number of confirmed infections among those involved in construction for 2022 facilities stands at eight across three stadium projects, but organisers have not given an updated toll since Friday.
Qatari authorities have declared 7,764 confirmed infections nationwide, 10 deaths and 750 recoveries.
The supreme committee responsible for delivering the tournament said it “is reviewing the situation on a continuous basis and will take the necessary measures to protect the health and safety of all construction workers and direct staff”.
Those measures “may include temporary suspension of work as and when required,” it added in a statement.
Building work for the stadiums and infrastructure to stage the tournament has continued through the crisis even as non-essential retail has been halted and mosques, parks and restaurants have closed.
Work on roads, the airport and other infrastructure has continued during the health emergency.
From Sunday onwards, it will be compulsory for all construction workers in Qatar to wear masks.
Previously crowded buses ferrying labourers between their accommodation and work sites have been ordered to only allow one passenger for every two seats, in order to limit the transmission risk.
The labour ministry said last week it had issued a penalty to a contractor for failing to operate its worker transport buses at 50 percent capacity.
Rights groups have raised concerns that cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared sanitary facilities commonly found in labourer accommodation could exacerbate the spread of the virus and compromise social distancing measures.