Qatar emir, seeking new markets, starts West Africa tour


Dakar (AFP)

Qatar's emir landed in Senegal on Wednesday at the start of a six-nation tour of West Africa as Doha seeks out new markets after Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries cut ties with the wealthy emirate.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani's is expected to visit Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Senegal, according to foreign ministry spokeswoman Lulwa al-Khater.

The visit is part of Doha's drive to open up new markets and diversify its economy amid an ongoing blockade by its neighbours, Khater said.

The emir landed in Senegal on Wednesday evening, while the Guinean presidency said in a statement he would arrive in Conakry on Thursday.

Karim Wade, the son of former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, lives in exile in Doha as part of a deal brokered with the emir to free the former minister from a prison sentence handed down for corruption.

A source close to the Malian presidency told AFP that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was also expecting Al-Thani on Thursday.

Khater said the six countries on the emir's itinerary had "strong economic potential and opportunities despite some security challenges in some of them".

The emir is to sign cooperation agreements in health, education, mining, energy and food security.

Khater said Qatar will also be providing $13.8 million to fund a cancer hospital in Burkina Faso.

Qatar has sought to establish new global trade links in an attempt to alleviate its regional isolation by powerful Saudi Arabia with which it shares its only land border.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and economic ties with gas-rich Qatar, accusing it of links to extremist groups and being too close to Shiite Iran, Riyadh's arch-rival.

Doha denies the charges.