Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will not attend the Gulf summit in Riyadh, state media reported Tuesday, dampening hopes of a reconciliation between Doha and a Saudi-led bloc.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations it backs radical Islamists and seeks closer ties with Saudi arch rival Tehran.
Qatar vehemently denies the allegations.
The emir named Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani to lead the Qatari delegation to Tuesday’s summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the official QNA said.
Hopes of reconciliation were high after signs of a thaw between Qatar and its former allies.
Following Saudi King Salman’s invitation to the emir, Qatar’s foreign minister said there had been “some progress” in talks with Riyadh.
Some observers had said that the summit could pave the way for a “reconciliation conference”.
Others remained sceptical, saying he was only following protocol and had invited the Qatari leader to last year’s summit as well.
Qatar’s prime minister attended a series of talks in Saudi Arabia in May, one of the first high-level contacts of the two-year boycott.
Even before the Saudi-led blockade, relations had been rocky, in part because of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera’s critical coverage of the region’s affairs and Doha’s support for the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
The rift has seen the two sides trade barbs on everything from access to the Muslim holy city of Mecca to alleged Twitter hacking.
Qatar announced Tuesday a major expansion of its Hamad international airport, almost doubling the number of visitors it can receive as the Gulf state prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
Work on the first phase of the expansion is scheduled to start next year and be completed two years later, expanding capacity from 35 million to 53 million passengers annually.
The second phase is due to be completed after 2022 and will enable the airport, inaugurated in 2014, to handle up to 60 million passengers per year.
The decision to revamp the only international airport in gas-rich Qatar comes despite a fall in the number of tourists visiting the emirate as a result of a two-year boycott mounted by neighbouring countries.
“The expansion… is a vital part of the future success of the Qatar Airways group, and of course of the country’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup and beyond,” said the carrier’s CEO Akbar al-Baker.
The cost of the expansion project was not revealed.
Qatar has been under a land, air and sea embargo since June 2017 by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, over its alleged support of radical groups.
Doha has categorically denied the accusations.
London-based Capital Economics said last month that the number of visitors to Qatar had dropped by 20 percent from pre-boycott levels “reflecting weak arrivals from the rest of the Gulf”.
In the first year of the blockade, flights to Doha dived 25 percent and Qatar Airways flights sank 20 percent, according to Capital Economics.
Qatar Airways reported last month that it posted $639 million in losses in the fiscal year ending in March, attributing the loss to closure of some major destinations.
To ward off the impact of the boycott, Qatar implemented an economic diversification plan and opened Hamad Port last year to boost trade and facilitate export-import services.
Also on Tuesday, Qatar opened a new temporary passenger terminal at Doha Port, as it works to increase the number of cruise ships making calls in the Gulf state.
Authorities said the terminal will serve until the completion of a port expansion plan due in 2022.
Projects related to the World Cup, estimated at dozens of billions of dollars, have not been affected by the boycott.
Qatar expects to host some 1.5 million visitors during world football’s premier event.
Qatar will inaugurate the third of its eight World Cup stadiums when the Education City ground hosts the Club World Cup semi-final tie on December 18, FIFA said on Monday.
The 40,000-seat venue seven kilometres (four miles) outside central Doha will also host the third-place play-off and the final of the tournament which gets underway on December 11.
The inaugural game will see Liverpool, as European champions, face either CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey, Al Sadd of Qatar or minnows Hienghene Sport of New Caledonia who are Oceania champions.
The 2022 hosts have so far inaugurated the newly-built al-Janoub stadium in May, as well as the Khalifa International stadium which opened in 1976 and was relaunched in 2017 after a full refurbishment.
“With all three venues located a maximum of 12 kilometres from central Doha, the FIFA Club World Cup 2019 will provide a glimpse of Qatar’s compact nature ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022,” FIFA said in a statement.
“Taking place around the same time of the year and with matches kicking off from 17:00 local time (1400 GMT), this year’s tournament will also give teams and fans alike the chance to experience Qatar’s mild winter.”
Average temperatures are expected to range between 15 and 24 celsius (59 to 75 Fahrenheit), it added.
Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said following Al-Janoub’s opening in May that two further new stadiums would be ready “by the end of this year (or) first quarter” 2020.
The exact date would depend on the timing of events to launch the two venues, he added.
“By 2021 all our stadiums will be ready,” he said.
Qatar accused the United Arab Emirates Wednesday of a “campaign of violence and hatred” against its citizens, urging the International Court of Justice to quash a case brought by Abu Dhabi.
The Gulf states are locked in a battle at the UN’s top court, where the UAE on Tuesday asked judges to stop Qatar “severely aggravating” a two-year-old crisis between Doha and other countries in the oil-rich region.
Qatar’s lawyers, however, hit back, saying, in fact, it was Abu Dhabi who continued with “discriminatory policies that severely impacted Qatari citizens.”
“It is the Qatari people who are the true victims in the racial discrimination case, not the government of the UAE,” Qatar’s representative Mohammed Abdulaziz Al-Khulaifi said.
This included Abu Dhabi’s move to gag the Doha-based and state-funded Al Jazeera global news network, which was accused of spreading “propaganda”, the lawyer told the Hague-based tribunal.
“The silencing of… media voices is part-and-parcel of the UAE’s campaign to incite violence and hatred against Qataris,” Khulaifi said.
“Qatar has long been engaged in the fight against global terrorism and it continues to be.”
Qatar has faced an economic and diplomatic boycott since June 2017 by Gulf rivals who accused Doha of backing terrorism and being too close to regional rival Iran.
Doha has repeatedly denied the claims, accusing its rivals of seeking regime change and alleging the UAE broke the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Last June, in a case brought by Qatar, the ICJ ruled that the UAE must allow families which include Qatari members to be reunited and that Qatari students must be given the chance to complete their education in the Emirates.
But Abu Dhabi on Tuesday went back to court, accusing Doha of blocking its own citizens from accessing Emirati websites to ease travel issues, and therefore failing to honour last year’s judgment.
Khulaifi parried those claims on Wednesday, saying that Qatar found a “high-risk security breach” on the UAE’s website including so-called “malware” designed to infiltrate Qatar’s information systems.
He said Doha told Abu Dhabi about the breach but the UAE was “yet to take steps.”
Senator Bukola Saraki has asked the Government of Qatar to look into the issue of visiting visas not being granted to Nigerians wishing to visit Qatar.
The Senate President made the plea during a meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of Qatar, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, in Doha.
Saraki who led a National Assembly delegation to the 140th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) taking place in Doha, lamented that the visa ban is negatively affecting Nigerians as it prevents them from visiting Qatar.
PICTURES: Today, the President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar @BukolaSaraki, visited the Embassy of Nigeria in Doha, Qatar. There, he was received by the Charge D’Affaires, Auwalu Namadina and other Nigerian Foreign Service Officers. pic.twitter.com/LKGOLpxdzG
At the meeting with the Prime Minister of Qatar, I raised the issue of visiting visas not being granted to Nigerians wishing to visit Qatar. He promised to look into this issue. pic.twitter.com/CVkcY75dlJ
The Senate President on Saturday morning arrived Doha, Qatar, as leader of the National Assembly’s delegation to the 140th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting that commenced on 5th April, and to end on 8th April 2019.
Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuff Lasun Suleimon is the deputy leader of the delegation. Other lawmakers on the trip include Senators Duro Faseyi and Ibrahim Rafiu Adebayo.
Hon. Ikon Samuel Okon, Hon. Igbokwe Raphael Nnanna, Hon. Fulata Abubakar Hassan, Hon. Goodhead Boma and Hon. Dasuki Abdussammad, are also part of the delegation.
National Assembly officials on the trip include the Clerk to the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh, Director, General Duties, Ms. Navati Illiya, Director (H/R), Mr. Atiku Ibrahim, Director, Secretary to the Delegation, Shehu Umar and Clerk, Inter-Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Bernard Okoh, among others.
“He will undertake a complete assessment after six weeks of his injury. He will be accompanied by a medical team from PSG.”
The 27-year-old damaged the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in a French Cup win over Strasbourg on January 23 and was ruled out for 10 weeks.
PSG were hoping he would be healed enough to get back on the pitch in time for a potential Champions League quarter-final in April, but the French side suffered a humiliating exit as United sensationally overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit.
Doha exploded in noisy celebration on Tuesday as jubilant Qataris flooded the streets and roads after their national team’s victory over bitter sporting and political rivals, United Arab Emirates.
Traffic along one of the city’s main highways, the Corniche, was jammed bumper-to-bumper with exultant fans celebrating the thumping 4-0 Asian Cup semi-final victory, many honking horns or waving Qatari flags from car roofs, and others showing four fingers to emphasise the emphatic victory.
“I am so happy, of course, because now we will play in the final,” Abdul, 24, smoking a cigarette on the side of the road and watching the celebrations.
“But for us, this match is better than the final, it’s revenge for everything bad they (the Emiratis) have said.
“They say we are not good people, we are terrorists. All Qataris are very happy.”
His Syrian friend Hattim agreed.
“This is history. Qatar has God with it. Qatar always acts the right way,” he said.
Another Qatari celebrating on the roof of a nearby car said the result was much “sweeter” because of the opposition.
Eager Indian sellers were quick to cash in on the celebrations, charging 100 Qatari Riyals ($28, 24 Euros) on the Corniche for giant flags.
Nearby, those who accidentally got caught up in the noisy celebrations held their hands over their ears as so many drivers blew their horns.
‘Qataris deserve it’
The political overtones of the last four match were impossible to ignore.
The game took place against the backdrop of the continuing, Gulf Crisis, which has pitched Qatar against a group of neighbouring former allies, including UAE.
That group of countries has boycotted Qatar for the past 19 months, accusing it of supporting terrorism, among other allegations, a charge which the 2022 World Cup host denies.
Immediately after the victory, Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister took to Twitter to celebrate.
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the foreign minister and one of the leading figures during the crisis, pointedly called the victory a “wonderful performance… with high sports ethics”, after the partisan UAE crowd pelted Qatar with shoes and booed the national anthem during the match.
The semi-final was watched by big crowds throughout Doha, including at a packed and noisy Souq Waqif, in central Doha, where a giant screen showed the match live.
There, Qataris, alongside hundreds of fans from other countries including Egypt, France, Jordan and Algeria, watched the match intently.
At first, the crowd were nervously quiet but as Qatar’s dominance became apparent, fans become much noisier.
Qataris danced through the half-time break with their team 2-0 in front, and in the second half cheered every block and tackle as “Al-Annabi (The Maroons)” fought to hold onto their lead.
There were special cheers every time cameras showed despondent Emirati fans and especially when UAE’s Ismail Ahmed was sent off.
The final whistle saw the start of wild celebrations in the Souq, with more music and dance.
“Congratulations! Congratulations! They deserve it,” said one unnamed jubilant Qatari immediately after. “The Qatari people and the residents deserve it.
“We’ve hit them with four goals.”
He added that the victory was for the country’s leaders, including the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Nearby, an excited Algerian, Karim, said Qatar should now beat Japan in Friday’s final.
“It’s very fair, they gave a great performance, they deserve it,
Rui Faria, an assistant to Jose Mourinho at a number of Europe’s biggest teams, has become head coach at Qatari league side Al Duhail, the club announced on Friday.
It is the 43-year-old’s first job since leaving Manchester United, as Mourinho’s number two, last year.
Duhail said it made an agreement with Faria “to be the coach of the team in the upcoming period”.
“The club will present its new coach to the media in a major press conference that will be announced in the upcoming two days,” the club said on its website.
Faria has been assistant for Mourinho — who is alo in Qatar at the moment working as a pundit for beIN Sports — at a host of top clubs including Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Manchester United spanning 17 years.
He surprisingly called time on their partnership last year at Old Trafford after working with Mourinho.
At the time he said he wanted to “spend much more quality time” with his family before taking a new job.
Mourinho’s troubled spell as Manchester United boss ended last month.
It is the second noticeable coach appointment made by a Qatari club in recent weeks, after former Iceland boss Heimir Hallgrimsson was unveiled as Al-Arabi’s boss in December.
Duhail currently stand second in the Qatar Stars League, behind Al Sadd, who could be coached by Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez from next season.
They are the current Qatari league champions and Faria will replace Nabil Maaloul, who was the coach of the Tunisian national side at the World Cup last year in Russia.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has warned Qatar that the first World Cup in the Middle East – which begins in four years on November 21 – has to be better than Russia.
“The Russian World Cup was the best ever, and the World Cup in 2022 has to be even better,” said Infantino in a joint statement issued with Qatar’s tournament organisers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
The statement reveals that Qatar is spending $6.5 billion on building or refurbishing eight stadiums for the tournament.
Qatar has said it is spending around $500 million a week on preparations for the World Cup.
The Gulf state is set to host the first tournament in November and December, after FIFA agreed to move the tournament amid concerns over the desert country’s fierce summer heat, where temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
“It will be a momentous occasion for the teams participating, the fans watching, and for the whole Arab world, which is eagerly anticipating hosting the showpiece event of the most popular sport in the world for the first time ever,” said Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the Supreme Committee.
FIFA has floated the idea of 48 teams at the 2022 World Cup but is likely to be contested by 32 sides only.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino all but wrote off the chances of an expanded 48-team competition at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday.
Last month Infantino told the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur that increasing the number of teams from the 32 that made up the tournament in Russia this year was “feasible”.
However, he appeared to backtrack on that during an interview with AFP and other media in Zurich.
“I haven’t changed my mind,” said Infantino.
“I was positive about it from the beginning because I think if we can increase the number of teams it is good for football. That is why we are going to do it for the 2026 World Cup.
“Can we do it for 2022? It is a difficult challenge.”
Accommodating another 16 teams would vastly complicate Qatar’s task in preparing for the World Cup, which was awarded to the tiny desert state in 2010.
“We are in discussion with Qatar,” said Infantino, who said the tournament would need to spread to neighbouring countries.
“It will be a very, very difficult challenge to do it only in Qatar.
“So personally, as president of FIFA, I would be very happy if some matches could be shared with some countries in the region.”
The question of regional cooperation has been complicated by Qatar’s stand-off with neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, who have cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the resource-rich country, accusing it of endorsing terror activities.
“In the light of current circumstances in the region I would be even happier if it could happen,” he said.
“Football unites, builds bridges, that could be a concrete result.
“What are the chances? Certainly small but what is wrong in discussing it?” said Infantino.
A final decision will be made in March at the next FIFA Council in Miami before the draws for qualifying are made.