Castro arrives in Qatar on last leg of four-nation tour
By ANWAR FARUQI
Associated Press Writer
DOHA, Qatar -- (AP) -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro arrived in Qatar today, the last stop on a four-nation tour to bolster relations with economic powerhouses in the Arab world and Asia.
The three-day visit, the first to a Gulf nation by the communist leader, will cover bilateral relations, especially in economic, health, athletic and scientific fields, according to Qatari newspapers and diplomats.
Unlike his reception in Algeria, Iran and Malaysia, Castro's arrival in Qatar was without much fanfare, and amid the tightest security seen on this tour.
Qatar is a staunch ally of the United States, which maintains a small military base in this tiny but wealthy Gulf nation. There have been several assassination attempts on Castro during his 42-year rule, for which Cuba blames the United States.
The Cuban leader's travel schedule rarely is announced in advance due to security reasons. His schedule for visits to Algeria, Iran and Malaysia was announced only days before his arrival. The only sign that he was due in Qatar were welcome boards in Arabic and Spanish. Cuban and Qatari flags went up Saturday in the capital's main streets, including an 8-kilometer (5-mile) stretch of Doha's seaside boulevard.
Hours before Castro's arrival, police patrols began roaming the street from the airport to the city, not allowing cars to park. Foreign journalists were not allowed at the airport or the palace where Castro and his delegation were to be welcomed.
For at least part of his visit, Castro will be without his host, Qatar's emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who will be attending a one-day regional summit in nearby Bahrain of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Castro is expected to hold his first round of talks with Sheik
Hamad early Monday, then visit the giant Ras Laffan gas complex. Qatar
has one of the world's largest
reserves of natural gas.
Castro has chosen countries with strategic importance for his
visit: Iran, Algeria and Qatar are rich in energy reserves, and Malaysia's
Petronas is a leading regional
player in oil-industry technology.
Access to energy is a leading economic and domestic issue for
Cuba, which once relied heavily on the former Soviet ally for fossil fuels.
In recent years, Cuba has
increased its oil and gas production for domestic consumption, but it remains dependent on fuel imports.
In addition, Iran currently heads the G-77, a grouping of developing countries, and Qatar heads the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Castro, 74, is bolstering relations with old and new allies in the Arab world and Asia, part of his drive to form political and financial partnerships with developing nations since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Qatar and Cuba established diplomatic relations in 1994. Cuba opened its embassy in Doha the same year; the officials said Qatar is planning to do so in Havana in two to three months. Qatar's emir visited Cuba in September.