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Qatar flights using Somali airspace



DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on the dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors (all times local):

10 p.m.

A Somali civil aviation official says at least 15 Qatar Airways flights have used Somalia’s airspace since Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations moved to sever links with the Gulf nation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said that before the Gulf diplomatic crisis erupted Monday, just one or two Qatar Airways planes flew over Somalia each day.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and have moved to isolate the country by shutting down land, sea and air links, accusing it of supporting terror groups in the region. Qatar has denied the allegations.

The Qatari capital, Doha, is a major international transport hub.

— Abdi Guled

9 p.m.

A Turkish official says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “actively involved” in efforts to resolve the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbors and has spoken by telephone with Gulf leaders.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters after a Cabinet meeting Monday that the government hopes Erdogan’s initiative will help overcome tensions.

He did not provide details on Erdogan’s calls but said Turkey views the crisis as a “serious” one that needed to be solved before it escalates.

Kurtulmus said “the Middle East is not at a point where it can endure a new crisis.”

Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations severed ties with Qatar Monday and moved to block land, sea and air routes to the tiny Gulf nation, which they accuse of supporting terrorist groups. Qatar denies the allegations.

Both Qatar and Turkey back Islamist groups that are outlawed by other countries in the region.

8:50 p.m.

The U.S. military’s Central Command says it has “no plans to change our posture in Qatar” amid a Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway told The Associated Press in a statement Monday that U.S. military aircraft continue to fly missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria despite the rift.

The major said: “We encourage all our partners in the region to reduce tensions and work towards common solutions that enable regional security.”

Qatar is home to the vast Al-Udeid Air Base that holds the forward headquarters of Central Command and hosts some 10,000 American troops.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced early Monday they would sever diplomatic ties to Qatar, calling into question whether that would affect U.S. military operations.

8:30 p.m.

The Kremlin has voiced hope that the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors will not hurt international anti-terror efforts.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Monday that Russia hopes the tensions “will not affect the general determination to fight terrorism,” adding that the latest terror attack in London again underlined its importance.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on Monday severed ties with Qatar and moved to block land, sea and air routes to the tiny energy-rich Gulf nation, which they accuse of supporting terror groups, charges denied by Qatar.

Peskov declined to comment on the accusations leveled against Qatar.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meanwhile expressed “serious concern about a new wave of tensions within the Arab world” in a phone call with his Qatari counterpart.

The ministry said Lavrov “called for emerging differences to be resolved at the negotiating table, through mutually respectful dialogue in the face of unprecedented challenges, primarily the threat of terrorism.”

8 p.m.

The head of Germany’s soccer federation says that “political solutions must have priority over threats of boycotts” in the five years ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

Reinhard Grindel was asked in an interview posted on the federation’s website Monday if there are questions over whether the 2022 tournament can be played in the Gulf state.

He said that, independently of the current situation, “the soccer community worldwide should agree in principle that big tournaments can’t be played in countries that actively support terror.”

Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed ties to Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting regional terror groups. Qatar has denied the allegations.

Grindel said “we take note very attentively and with concern of the current, serious accusations.”

Grindel is a member of FIFA’s ruling council.

7:45 p.m.

Saudi Arabia has closed the offices of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news network after severing ties with the energy-rich Gulf nation, which it accuses of supporting terrorist groups.

In a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency on Monday, the Culture and Media Ministry said it withdrew the famed network’s license.

The ministry said the move came in response to Al-Jazeera’s “promotion of the terrorist organizations’ plots” and its alleged support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the target of a two-year-old Saudi-led military intervention.

It also accused the network of attempting to “split the Saudi ranks,” without elaborating.

7:15 p.m.

Egypt’s aviation authorities say all flights to and from Qatar will be suspended starting Tuesday.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation decree on Monday came hours after Cairo severed relations with Qatar, accusing it of harboring terrorism.

The move led to confusion at Cairo International Airport. One Doha-bound flight was delayed for hours before it was allowed to take off.

The aviation ministry said Egyptian airspace will be closed to Qatari flights starting Tuesday at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) Cairo time.

5 p.m.

An Iranian official says his country can export food to Qatar by sea, as Saudi Arabia and three other nations move to isolate the gas-rich nation after severing diplomatic ties and accusing it of supporting terrorism.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Reza Nourani, chairman of the union of exporters of agricultural products, as saying Monday that food shipments sent from Iran can reach Qatar in 12 hours.

Qatar relies on food trucked in from Saudi Arabia across its sole land border. Al-Jazeera reported that trucks carrying food for Qatar are now lining up across the border, unable to enter the country.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional rivals who back opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

4:30 p.m.

Iran says rising tensions among its Arab Gulf neighbors threaten the interests of everyone in the region and has called for “political and peaceful methods” to resolve the crisis.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Egypt, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing the gas-rich nation of supporting regional terrorist groups. The four nations also moved to cut off Qatar’s land, sea and air routes to the outside world.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted on the ministry’s website as calling for a “clear and explicit dialogue” among the feuding nations.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, discussed the recent developments in a phone conversation.

4:15 p.m.

Maldives has announced it is severing diplomatic ties with Qatar over its alleged support for Islamist groups.

It joined Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday and began withdrawing its diplomatic staff.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that Maldives has pursued a policy of promoting peace and stability in the Middle East, and the decision was made because of its firm opposition to activities that encourage terrorism and extremism.

Diplomatic relations between Maldives and Qatar began in 1984.

Maldives, a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation with 341,000 people, also grapples with extremism. It reportedly has one of the highest per capital rates of people going to fight in foreign wars.

4:10 p.m.

Egypt’s foreign ministry says it has given the Qatari ambassador in Cairo 48 hours to leave the country and ordered its own envoy in Doha to return home, also within two days.

Monday’s announcement came just hours after Egypt joined three of its Gulf Arab allies — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — in severing ties with Qatar over its relations with Iran and support for militant Islamic groups.

An earlier statement by the Egyptian ministry said Egypt was also suspending air and sea links to Qatar and, citing national security, closing its airspace to Qatari aircraft.

Egypt’s relations with Qatar have been fraught with tension since the ouster in 2013 by the military of an Islamist president allied with Doha. It also accuses the tiny but energy-rich Gulf nation of supporting militant Islamic groups and meddling in its domestic affairs.

3:50 p.m.

Following suit, one of Libya’s three rival governments has announced cutting diplomatic relations with Qatar, after four Arab countries severed ties.

Mohammed al-Deri, the Libyan foreign minister of the interim Libyan government, accused Qatar of “harboring terrorism” according to a Libyan official agency LANA.

The Interim government is affiliated with the internationally recognized House of Representatives and is based in eastern Libya. Another internationally recognized Government of National Accord is seated in Tripoli and brokered by the United Nations. A third rival government is also based in Tripoli.

The eastern Libyan power players have always accused Qatar and Turkey of backing Islamists in Libya, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Libya sank into lawlessness after the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

3:40 p.m.

Turkey has voiced its “sadness” over the Gulf Arab states dispute with Qatar and said it was willing to work to normalize ties.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday called on all sides of the dispute to press ahead with dialogue and overcome differences in a “peaceful way.”

Turkey has developed close ties with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia in recent years.

Cavusoglu said: “We are saddened by the existing picture. We will provide every kind of support for the situation to be normalized.”

1:15 p.m.

The head of Iran’s influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy says the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region

The official IRNA news agency on Monday cited Alaeddin Boroujerdi as saying that because of the signing of a major arms deal between the Saudis and the U.S. during Trump’s trip: “It is not unlikely that we would witness more negative incidents in the region.”

Boroujerdi says Washington has always made it a policy to establish a rift among Muslim countries. He says: “Intervention of foreign countries, especially the United States, cannot be the solution to regional problems.”

2:30 p.m.

Al-Jazeera is reporting that trucks carrying food for Qatar are now lining up across the border in Saudi Arabia, unable to enter the country amid a diplomatic row between it and Arab nations.

Saudi Arabia announced Monday it would close its land border to Qatar, part of it cutting diplomatic ties to the country along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

That could mean significant trouble for Qatar, which relies on food trucked in from Saudi Arabia.

Doha News, a local news website in Qatar, reported some citizens and residents of the energy rich country already had begun swarming grocery stores. It said some stores had begun seeing their shelves empty over fears that the crisis could see groceries run out of products.

2:20 p.m.

International soccer’s governing body says it remains in “regular contact with Qatar” amid a growing diplomatic crisis between it and other Arab countries.

FIFA issued a short statement Monday saying it spoke with “the Qatar 2022 Local Organizing Committee and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy handling matters relating to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

It said: “We have no further comments for the time being.”

The statement comes after Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

2:15 p.m.

A low-cost airline based in the United Arab Emirates says it is suspending flights to Qatar along with other Emirati airlines over a growing diplomatic crisis.

Air Arabia says it flights will be suspended from Tuesday “until further notice.”

It is joining Emirates, Etihad and FlyDubai in halting flights to the Qatari capital of Doha. Saudi Arabian Airlines also stopped its flights to Qatar.

The airlines’ decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

1:10 p.m.

Saudi Arabian Airlines says it is suspending flights to Qatar, joining other airlines stopping service amid a growing diplomatic rift.

The airline, also known as Saudia, posted on Twitter on Monday afternoon that it would be halting flights, without elaborating.

It is joining Emirates, Etihad and FlyDubai in halting flights to the Qatari capital of Doha.

The airlines’ decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

12:05 p.m.

Dubai’s budget carrier FlyDubai says it has canceled its flights to Qatar amid a diplomatic dispute between it and other Arab countries.

The carrier said Monday that all flights starting Tuesday would be suspended. It offered no other details.

FlyDubai’s decision follows that of Emirates and Etihad in canceling flights to Doha.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties earlier Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

11:45 a.m.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has cut relations with Qatar and says it supports the decision by the Saudi-led coalition to end Qatar’s participation in the war on the Houthis there.

Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning over its support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

Qatar had participated in the coalition since March 2015.

The government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi says it severed ties with Qatar in part over its support of extremist groups in Yemen “in contradiction with the goals announced by the countries supporting the legitimate government.”

11:20 a.m.

The Dubai-based airline Emirates says it is suspending flights to Qatar amid a growing diplomatic rift.

Emirates said on its website Monday flights would be suspended until further notice starting Tuesday.

The airline’s decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.


10:55 a.m.

Qatar says there is “no legitimate justification” for four Arab nations cutting diplomatic ties to it.

Qatar also says the decision is a “violation of its sovereignty,” vowing to its citizens it won’t affect them.

Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry made the statement Monday, hours after Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced it would be cutting ties to the peninsular nation.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

9:35 a.m.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad says it is suspending flights to Qatar amid a growing diplomatic rift.

Etihad said on its website Monday its last flights “until further notice” would leave early Tuesday morning.

Etihad gave no reason for the decision. It is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates.

The airline’s decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

Qatar has yet to comment on the growing crisis.

7:10 a.m.

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties to Qatar.

The two countries have joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in cutting ties to Qatar amid a growing Arab diplomatic dispute with the small, gas-rich nation.

Both the UAE and Egypt made the announcement on their state-run news agencies within minutes of each other.

Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

7 a.m.

Saudi Arabia says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar and it has pulled all Qatari troops from the ongoing war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia made the announcement via its state-run Saudi Press Agency early Monday. It appeared to be timed in concert with an earlier announcement by Bahrain similarly cutting ties.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

6:50 a.m.

Bahrain says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar amid a deepening rift between Gulf Arab nations.

Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement early Monday saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital of Doha within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.

The ministry’s statement said Qatari citizens needed to leave Bahrain within two weeks and that air and sea traffic between the two countries would be halted. It wasn’t immediately clear how that would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.

Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

Middle East

Saudi billionaire Alwaleed to walk free ‘within days’



AL JAZEERA — Prominent Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, says he expects to soon be released after two months of detention on allegations of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed, who was arrested among dozens of other royal family members, ministers, and top businessmen, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency on Saturday that he expected to be cleared of charges and released from custody within the next few days.

“There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” the 62-year-old said.

“I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”

He and his counterparts were arrested in early November during the kingdom’s “anti-corruption purge”, and were held collectively in the country’s Ritz Carton hotel.

In his interview, Prince Alwaleed said he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities. He also said he expected to remain in full control of his global investment firm, without being required to give up assets to the government.
During a previous interview with Reuters, a Saudi official said charges against the billionaire prince included money laundering, bribery and extorting of officials.

Also speaking to officials in the kingdom, the Reuters news agency said Saudi authorities were asking detainees to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

The deals involve separating cash from assets, such as property and shares, and looking at bank accounts to assess cash values, one source told Reuters.

Prince Alwaleed appeared frail in comparison to his last public appearance in a televised interview last October, but confirmed that he was being treated well, dismissing rumors that had said otherwise.

Showing off his private office, dining room and kitchen in his hotel suite, Prince Alwaleed said he agreed to the interview mainly to prove that such rumours were false.

The release of Prince Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17bn, may reassure investors in his business empire. Directly or indirectly through his firm, Kingdom Holding, he holds stakes in companies such as Twitter Inc and Citigroup Inc,

He has also invested in top hotels around the world, including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York City.

Saudi authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise some $100bn for the government this way.

In recent days, there have been signs the purge is winding down; several other prominent businessmen, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, have reached financial settlements with authorities, an official source told Reuters on Friday, though terms were not revealed.

Prince Alwaleed said his own case was taking longer to conclude because he was determined to clear his name completely, but he believed the case was now 95 percent complete.

“There’s a misunderstanding, and it’s being cleared. So I’d like to stay here until this thing is over completely and get out and life goes on,” he said, adding that he plans to live in the kingdom after his release.

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Middle East

A bitter rivalry between Arab states is spilling into Africa



THE rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on one side and the Gulf state of Qatar on the other is spilling poison into the Horn of Africa, embittering animosities between half a dozen countries in the region. Several of them have seized an opportunity to benefit from instability in the Arabian peninsula by offering bases. But if Arab conflicts spread, countries in the Horn could be dragged into the fray.

Broadly speaking, the regional imbroglio pits two camps of Muslims. One is a more vigorously Islamist lot, including Qatar and Turkey, which have been friendly towards the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement spanning many countries, and seek better relations with Iran. The other is an alliance led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, whose governments all loathe the Brothers and proclaim themselves as moderate Sunnis particularly hostile to the Shia version of Islam promoted by Iran.

But peripheral countries are being affected, too. According to one recent report, not confirmed by independent sources, Egypt has deployed troops in Eritrea near the latter’s border with Sudan. This followed a bout of bad blood in which Egypt’s government accused Sudan’s of boosting the Brotherhood, which ruled Egypt for a year from 2012 until overthrown by General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, now Egypt’s president. On January 15th Eritrea’s long-serving president, Issaias Afwerki, furiously denied the report, saying that “outright lies” had been “repeated ad nauseam by an assortment of Eritrea’s detractors” led by Qatar and its influential broadcaster, Al Jazeera.

The civil war just across the Red Sea in Yemen, where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are fighting a Gulf coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is further increasing regional tension. The countries of the Horn of Africa have been called on to take sides; many officially espouse neutrality, yet offer naval and military facilities.

A merry-go-round of island-swapping and port-lending is taking place. Even before the Yemen conflict erupted, Djibouti had earned billions of dollars by providing France (its former colonial master), America and China with military bases. Until a recent row it also hosted the UAE, which now uses a base in the Eritrean port of Assab, close to Djibouti, as a key spot from which to attack Houthi positions in Yemen. Sudan, which has deployed troops as part of the Gulf coalition against the Houthis, has been making friendly noises to Qatar, and has recently enraged Egypt by letting Turkey develop an old Ottoman port at Suakin, on the Red Sea. Egypt, for its part, last year delighted Saudi Arabia by ratifying an agreement that two small uninhabited islands near the Gulf of Aqaba belonged to the kingdom.

Somalia has been particularly friendly to Turkey and leans towards the Islamist camp. But Somaliland, the internationally unrecognised breakaway statelet on the Red Sea coast, which functions far better than the supposed mother country, has done a big deal with the UAE. The Emirates are building another base there and paying for a new road to connect Somaliland’s port of Berbera with landlocked Ethiopia. To confuse matters more, some of Somalia’s federal states, displaying their own quasi-independence, have made deals that seem to flout the foreign policy of the federal capital, Mogadishu. For instance, Somalia’s north-eastern statelet of Puntland last year signed a deal with the UAE to develop its port, Bosaso, to the annoyance of the government in Mogadishu. A hashtag called #HandsOffSomalia has become popular among Somalis prickly about what they see as infringements of their sovereignty.

Ethiopia tries to keep out of the regional spat, though it is still at loggerheads with Egypt over the nearly completed Great Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, which Egypt says will drastically curb the flow of the Nile river. The Ethiopians are cosy with Turkey, a big investor, but have also put out friendly feelers to the UAE. Recently, by way of balance, they let Al Jazeera open an office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

In any event, Ethiopia is likely to oppose anything Eritrea supports: the two countries’ armies still glower at each other across a disputed border, though full-scale fighting ceased in 2000. Meanwhile Eritrea has seized the chance to boost its depleted coffers. Not only has it let the UAE build its base at Assab, by the mouth of the Red Sea. Eritrea is also said to let Israel, which has quietly provided intelligence to Saudi Arabia on Yemen, have discreet use of facilities in the Dahlak archipelago, along with a listening station on an Eritrean mountain. The Houthis in Yemen accuse the Saudis of cosying up to the Israelis—a most heinous crime in some Islamist circles.

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Middle East

Prize camels keep tradition alive in changing Saudi, but please no Botox!



The dromedaries paraded down a dusty racetrack as judges rated the size of their lips, cheeks, heads and knees. Crowds of men watched from the bleachers, hooting when the beasts representing their own tribe loped down the track.

A dozen beasts have been disqualified from this year’s Saudi “camel beauty contest” because their handlers used Botox to make them more handsome.

“The camel,” explained the chief judge of the show, Fawzan al-Madi, “is a symbol of Saudi Arabia. We used to preserve it out of necessity, now we preserve it as a pastime.”

Much is changing in Saudi Arabia: the country is getting its first movie theaters. Soon women will be permitted to drive. The authorities eventually hope to diversify the economy away from the oil that has been its lifeblood for decades.

But as they seek to transform the conservative kingdom, the Saudi authorities are trying to smooth the path for reform by emphasizing traditional aspects of their culture. And for the Bedouin of Arabia, nothing is more essential than the camel, used for centuries for food, transport, as a war machine and companion.

So, the authorities have ramped up the country’s annual month-long camel festival, which was relocated last year from the remote desert to the outskirts of the capital. On a rocky desert plateau, the government has erected a permanent venue to host the headline events: races and show competitions with combined purses of 213 million riyals. ($57 million)

The pavilion features an auction where top camels can fetch millions of riyals.

There are food stalls and souvenir shops, a petting zoo featuring the world’s tallest and shortest camels, a museum with life-size sand sculptures of camels, tents for tasting camel’s milk and viewing camel-hair textiles, and a planetarium showing how Arabs rode camels through the desert guided by the stars.
Organizers say this “heritage village” will expand in coming years as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is heir to the throne, defense minister and head of oil and economic policy – takes the reins through a newly-created official Camel Club established by royal decree last year.

Halfway through this year’s festival, attendance is up about a third from last year, with about 300,000 people making the 1-1/2 hour trip from Riyadh so far, said Fahd al-Semmari, a Camel Club board member.

“The vision is for the (festival) to become a global, pioneering forum for all classes of people to come for entertainment, knowledge and competition.”

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