UK welcomes Qatari action on invasive searches of women

London (AFP) –


Britain's foreign ministry said on Saturday it welcomed Qatar's announcement that it would charge those behind "illegal" gynaecological searches performed on female travellers at the Gulf state's main airport.

Women on 10 flights out of Doha, including two British women, were subject to the examinations as authorities searched for the mother of a newborn child abandoned in an airport bathroom on October 2.

Qatar, which has faced international condemnation over the incident, said on Friday that those responsible had been referred for prosecution over the "violations".

"The preliminary investigation has shown that illegal actions took place, and it is an important step that those responsible have been referred to the public prosecutor's office," a spokesman for Britain's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement.

"This was a deeply distressing incident for the women involved, and it is important we continue to respect their privacy," the spokesman added, noting that Britain's Middle East Minister James Cleverly had spoken to his Qatari opposite number about the issue.

The incident only came to light in the last week after affected Australian passengers spoke out.

Australia has since said 13 of its citizens had to endure the "appalling" examinations, while Britain said it is providing support for two women.

New Zealand has also revealed that one of its citizens was among the women subjected to the examinations, and AFP has learned a French woman was also affected.

Qatar said the abandoned baby girl -- who survived -- was wrapped in plastic and left to die in a bathroom rubbish bin, prompting what sources said was a lockdown of Hamad International Airport.

Women were then led from aircraft to ambulances on the tarmac where they were subject to invasive examinations to see if they had recently given birth.

Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage, Qatar has repeatedly vowed to guarantee the future "safety and security" of passengers.

Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani, who in his dual role as interior minister is also responsible for the security services, tweeted Friday that "we regret the unacceptable treatment of the female passengers".