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Qatar's emir hands power to son

Qatars emir hands power to son

Doha: The emir of gas-rich Qatar, a major actor on the world diplomatic stage and key backer of Arab Spring uprisings, abdicated in favour of his 33-year-old son Sheikh Tamim.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 61, hands over a Gulf state that under his 18-year rule has developed into a political and economic powerhouse with multi-billion-dollar investments across the world.

Sheikh Hamad suffers from kidney problems but diplomats insist his motivation for stepping down was not health-related but rather a determination to bring a younger leadership to the fore.

"I address you today to announce that I am handing the rule over to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani," the emir told Qataris in a televised speech.

"Sons of Qatar, I hope I have succeeded in living up to my responsibility," said the monarch.

The decision marks the beginning of "a new era in which a young leadership will hold the banner that would place the hopes of the coming generation upon its priorities," he added.

After the speech, Al-Jazeera television aired footage of citizens arriving at the palace in Doha to swear allegiance to a tall, smiling Tamim, who stood next to his father to welcome the visitors.

"I am convinced that you will back him as you did with me," Sheikh Hamad said, referring to Tamim. "I am also convinced that Tamim will have his eyes set on the interests of his nation and people and the happiness of the Qatari national will always be his priority."

Sheikh Hamad, who used Qatar's immense gas wealth to drive its modernisation, came to power in a coup in which he overthrew his own father Sheikh Khalifa in June 1995.

His decision to abdicate sees Tamim propelled into the youngest sovereign of any of the Gulf Arab monarchies.

The occasion was marked by the declaration of Tuesday as a public holiday.

"Such a generational shift will make waves in the region, even though the Qataris informed other countries of their decision," said Doha-based analyst Salman Shaikh.

"This decision is consistent with Qatar's policy," he told AFP. "They have been preparing for change for some time, they want to move to the younger generation."

A diplomat said that by freely stepping down the emir would "score a first in the Arab world," where autocratic rulers held power uncontested for decades until the Arab Spring revolutions that toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Tamim, born in 1980, is the second son of the emir and his second wife Sheikha Mozah and has been groomed for years to take the helm of the super-rich Western ally.

The British-educated Tamim is deputy commander of the armed forces and head of the National Olympic Committee. He also chairs the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee in charge of hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Diplomats said that over the past three years the emir has increasingly transferred military and security responsibilities to Tamim, who like his father went to the British military academy Sandhurst.

He also went to Sherborne school in Dorset.

The tiny Gulf peninsula holds the world's third largest gas reserves and produces roughly 77 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas per year, making it the world's largest supplier.

Analyst Neil Partrick, an expert on the Gulf, ruled out major changes in Qatar.

"Tamim already has responsibilities for sensitive foreign portfolios among other matters," said Partrick.

"For Qatari foreign policy, none of this seems likely to produce major change. The young heir apparent Tamim is unlikely to effect major changes without consulting his father."

Under Sheikh Hamad, Qatar played a role in Middle East affairs massively out of proportion to its size, becoming a major backer of the Arab Spring uprisings in both Libya and Syria.

Just last weekend, the Qatari capital hosted a meeting of the Friends of Syria group of Arab and Western governments that back the opposition at which they agreed to boost support to the rebels.

Also under Hamad's rule, the Qatar Investment Authority, the emirate's sovereign wealth fund, invested billions of dollars in businesses ranging from Germany's Volkswagen to French energy giant Total and Britain's Sainsbury's supermarket chain and Barclays Bank.

The Gulf state also developed a powerful media empire through Al-Jazeera, the first pan-Arab satellite channel which also broadcasts in English, and is preparing the launch of Al-Jazeera America.

And Qatar put itself on the world sporting map with a successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.


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