Qatar offers visa-free entry to 80 countries including India

  • As Venezuela’s new assembly creates ‘truth commission’

Qatar, isolated by its neighbours in a diplomatic crisis, on Wednesday introduced a visa-free entry programme for 80 nationalities to stimulate air transport and tourism.

“The visa exemption scheme will make Qatar the most open country in the region,” tourism department official Hassan al-Ibrahim told a news conference in Doha.

Interior ministry official Mohamed Rashed al-Mazrouei said that nationals of 80 countries would only need to present a valid passport for entry to the energy-rich Gulf state which is to host football`s 2022 World Cup.

The waiver programme, which came into immediate effect, affects countries of the European Union`s Schengen zone, other Western states, Latin American and Asian nations.

Lebanon is the only Arab country in the list published at the end of the news conference, although the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council of which Qatar is a member already allows freedom of movement by its nationals.

Nationals of 33 countries will now be authorised to reside in Qatar for 180 days and the other 47 states listed for up to 30 days, periods which are renewable a single time.

Mazrouei said the countries were selected on the basis of security and economic considerations, or for the buying power of their nationals.

Qatar Airways chief Akbar al-Baker said his carrier, which this year plans to extend its network to 62 new destinations, would be a primary beneficiary.

“This historic announcement comes at time of historic significance while some countries in the region have decided to close their skies and their borders, Qatar has instead opened its borders,” he said.

Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have since June 5 imposed a boycott on Qatar, accusing the emirate of fostering Islamist extremist groups and of close ties to Iran.

Doha has denied the allegations.

The four Gulf nations have closed their land and sea borders to Qatar and imposed economic and air traffic restrictions.

On August 3, Qatar created a new permanent residents status for certain groups of foreigners, including those who have worked for the benefit of the emirate, a first for the Gulf.

Under the new rules, children with a Qatari mother and a foreign father can benefit from the new status, along with foreign residents who have “given service to Qatar” or have “skills that can benefit the country”.

Those deemed eligible for the new status will be afforded the same access as Qataris to free public services, such as health and education.

Qatar has a population of 2.4 million people, 90 percent of whom are foreigners, including many from south Asia working in construction.

In the meantime, Venezuela’s controversial constituent assembly has passed a law creating a “truth commission”.

The head of the assembly said the law was a “powerful instrument to stifle violence, hatred and intolerance”.

More than 120 people have been killed in the violence since anti-government protests began sweeping through the country on 1 April.

The government blames right-wing “terrorists” but the UN suggests dozens were killed by the security forces.

The law was passed unanimously by the constituent assembly, a body convened by President Nicolás Maduro.

The assembly has deeply divided Venezuelans, many of whom see it as a way for the president to expand his power and sideline the opposition-controlled legislative.

It has also been condemned by international leaders and by the Pope, who urged President Maduro not to inaugurate it.

President Maduro said the constituent assembly would promote peace by bringing different sectors of society together to rewrite the constitution.

But since its 545 members were sworn in on Saturday, the political situation has swiftly deteriorated.

While it was ostensibly created to rewrite the constitution, the new body has taken a series of decisions unrelated to the constitution.

One of its first moves was to sack chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who in recent months has become a vocal critic of the government.

It also passed a decree prohibiting the opposition-controlled legislative from taking any action that would interfere with laws passed by the new constituent assembly.

The decisions were taken unanimously, bolstering the opposition’s claim that the constituent assembly is made up entirely of government loyalists.

Zee with additional report from BBC