Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates | AFP | The United Arab Emirates warned Qatar Friday that it faces “divorce” from its Gulf neighbours unless it takes seriously a list of demands including the closure of Al-Jazeera television.
The Qatar-based broadcaster, a long-standing source of conflict between Doha and neighbouring countries who accuse it of fomenting regional strife, denounced the move as an attack on media freedom.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s state minister for foreign affairs, issued the warning more than two weeks into the oil-rich region’s worst diplomatic crisis in years.
The affair has also drawn in the United States, whose Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for Gulf unity.
Qatar is the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hosts the biggest American airbase in the Middle East.
Gargash accused Qatar of leaking a document containing the demands by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which have cut diplomatic ties and accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism.
Qatar strongly denies such charges.
The demands have not been officially unveiled but Doha-based Al-Jazeera news channel said overnight Thursday they were handed to Qatar by Kuwait, which is mediating the dispute.
According to the document posted on social media, the four countries demand that Qatar closes Al-Jazeera, downgrades diplomatic ties with Iran and shuts a Turkish military base in the emirate.
Al-Jazeera, one of the largest news organisations in the world, said that it “deplores” calls for it to be taken off air.
“We in the network believe that any call for closing down Al-Jazeera is nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people’s right to information,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
Al-Jazeera English’s managing director, Giles Trendle, said it was like “Germany demanding Britain to close down the BBC”, in a video posted on social media.