QATAR WILLING TO SPEAK
REUTERS - The United Arab Emirates tightened the squeeze on fellow Gulf state Qatar on Wednesday, threatening anyone publishing expressions of sympathy towards Doha with up to 15 years in prison and barring entry to Qataris.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told Reuters there would be more curbs if necessary and said Qatar needed to make ironclad commitments to change what critics say is a policy on funding Islamist militants.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday over long-standing allegations that Doha is courting Iran, which they deem the region's biggest external threat, and supporting Islamist groups, seen as the biggest internal threat.
Qatar vehemently denies the allegations. It drew some apparent support on Wednesday with officials in Ankara saying Turkey's parliament would fast-track a draft bill allowing its troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar.
Iran, itself reeling from an attack by Islamic State militants that killed at least 12 people on Wednesday, has called for dialogue to solve the regional rupture.
But efforts to defuse the worst crisis among Gulf Arabs for two decades showed no immediate progress.
U.S. President Donald Trump took sides in the rift on Tuesday, praising the actions against Qatar, but later spoke by phone with Saudi King Salman and stressed the need for Gulf unity.
His defense secretary, James Mattis, also spoke to his Qatari counterpart to express commitment to the Gulf region's security. Qatar hosts 8,000 U.S. military personnel at al Udeid, the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East and a launchpad for U.S.-led strikes on Islamic State jihadists.
Kuwait's ruling emir has also been seeking to mediate, meeting the Saudi king on Tuesday.
Qataris, meanwhile, were loading up on supplies in supermarkets, fearing shortages. The sudden isolation has also led to Qatar holding talks with Turkey, Iran and others to secure food and water supplies, according to a Qatari official.
The official said there were enough grain supplies to last four weeks and Qatar also had large strategic food reserves.
The UAE-based newspaper Gulf News and pan-Arab channel Al-Arabiya reported the crackdown on expressions of sympathy with Qatar.
"Strict and firm action will be taken against anyone who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar, or against anyone who objects to the position of the United Arab Emirates, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form," Gulf News quoted UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif al-Shamsi as saying.
On top of a possible jail term, offenders could also be hit with a fine of at least 500,000 dirhams ($136,000), the newspaper said, citing a statement to Arabic-language media.
Slogans against and in support of Qatar have dominated Twitter in Arabic. Newspapers and television channels in the region have also been engaged in a war of words.
UAE airlines Etihad and Emirates said all travelers holding Qatari passports were currently prohibited from traveling to or transiting through the emirates.
They announced details of the restrictions after Australian carrier and Emirates partner Qantas Airways said it would not fly Qataris to Dubai because of the bans.
Foreigners residing in Qatar in possession of a Qatari residence visa would also not be eligible for visas on arrival in the UAE, an Etihad spokesman said in an email.
Gargash, the UAE minister, told Reuters in an interview it would be very complex to disentangle the "very diverse" business ties between Qatar and its neighbors but suggested this might be necessary.
"You cannot rule out further measures. We hope that cooler heads will prevail, that wiser heads will prevail and we will not get to that."
Qatar's stock index was down 1 percent after diving 8.7 percent over the last two days. The Qatari riyal fell to an 11-year low against the U.S. dollar in the spot market.
"Tensions are still high and mediation efforts by fellow Gulf Cooperation Council state Kuwait have yet to lead to a concrete solution, so investors will likely remain on edge," said one Dubai-based trader.
Oil prices dipped on renewed concerns about the efficacy of OPEC-led production cuts due to the Qatar tensions, and also over growing U.S. output.
Qatar has said it will not retaliate for the curbs.
"We are willing to sit and talk," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN late on Tuesday. He said his country was "protecting the world from potential terrorists".
A Qatari official, however, said the rift was pushing Doha in the direction of leaving the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council, founded in 1981, "with deep regret".
Bans on Doha's fleet using regional ports and anchorages are threatening to halt some of its exports and disrupt those of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Taiwan's Evergreen and Hong Kong's OOCL, two of the world's largest container-shipping companies, said they had suspended shipping services to Qatar because of port restrictions.
Traders on global markets worried that Riyadh's allies would refuse to accept LNG shipments from the Gulf state, the world's largest liquefied natural gas exporter, and that Egypt might even bar tankers carrying Qatari cargoes from using the Suez Canal.
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