Emir of Qatar welcomed to Britain with state banquet

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Queen Elizabeth II hosted a lavish state banquet to welcome the emir of Qatar to Britain on Tuesday, as the leader of the Gulf state and the British premier vowed to strengthen trade links.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani was the guest of honour for the banquet in regal surroundings at Windsor Castle, which was also attended by senior figures from the British royal family and Prime Minister David Cameron.

The 58-year-old emir earlier arrived in Windsor, west of London, where he shook hands with the British monarch at the start of the three-day state visit aimed at boosting growing trade and both countries' bids for the World Cup.

Speaking at the banquet, the queen said: "This visit is a chance for us to celebrate the breadth and depth of our partnership.

"I am confident that, in the years to come, it will bring significant social, economic and political benefits to both our countries."

The Qatar ruler and Sheikha Mozah, one of his three wives, were joined at the banquet by many of his country's ministers.

Among other guests were Prince Charles, the 61-year-old heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

Charles recently courted controversy when it was revealed that he had lobbied the emir to change a major London building development plan, sparking accusations of abuse of power.

The emir earlier Tuesday held talks with Cameron and the pair pledged to "build a new and dynamic partnership for the future," in a joint statement issued by the British government after the meeting.

They vowed to deepen ties on a range of issues and focused on trade as a "vital component of the relationship," saying they planned to establish a new trade and investment forum for further progress in this area.

The oil- and gas-rich Gulf emirate has a growing influence in Britain, having acquired the landmark Harrods department store in London in May for a reported 1.5 billion pounds (2.4 billion dollars, 1.7 billion euros).

Qatar also has a 6.8 percent stake in British banking giant Barclays and a 25.9 percent share in the Sainsbury's supermarket chain.

On the emir's arrival, a military gun salute sounded to welcome him before he travelled with the queen through Windsor in a horse-drawn carriage.

The emir was dressed in traditional Arab clothing but remained unmoved by the driving rain and chilly temperatures.

The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards provided the guard of honour as the emir and the queen's husband Prince Philip inspected the troops.

On Wednesday, the emir is to visit the stadium for the 2012 London Olympics and, with Qatar bidding to host the 2022 football World Cup, he will hold discussions with officials on England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

© 2010 AFP

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