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Tuesday, 29 February, 2000, 12:18 GMT
Life sentences for Qatari coup plotters

The Emir's palace in Doha: Scene of coup and counter-coup
The cousin of the Emir of Qatar and 32 others have been jailed for life for planning a foiled 1996 coup.

A panel of three judges told the court that former economy minister and police chief Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Hamad al-Thani was found guilty of masterminding the plot to overthrow his cousin, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

The court acquitted another 85 defendants on charges ranging from conspiracy to treason and armed rebellion with the help of foreign elements.

A number of the defendants - including nine of those found guilty - were tried in absentia.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Hamad al-Thani returned from Beirut to face the charges in what some sources say was a virtual kidnapping.

He said he only returned to Qatar on the understanding that he would not be charged.

Appeal

Defence lawyers say that they plan to appeal against the life sentences within the required 15 days.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty.

Many of those sentenced said they hoped the Emir would pardon them and Qatari officials said such a pardon was possible during a forthcoming Islamic holiday in March.

"We expect relief from His Highness," said Saleh Mubarek Salim Dirham, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.

A visibly shocked Sheikh Hamad told reporters after the sentences were read out: "Leave me alone."

The defendants, mostly ex-military and police officials, had been charged with participating in the February 1996 attempt to overthrow the emir, who himself toppled his father in a bloodless coup in June 1995.

The ousted emir, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, is alleged to have instigated the failed counter-coup.

Bahrain link

Witnesses, including Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, alleged in court that the suspects had foreign backing for the 1996 bid, pointing a finger of blame at Bahrain and saying Saudi Arabia was aware of the plot.

Relations between Gulf neighbours Bahrain and Qatar, which have a longstanding territorial dispute, have improved since a December visit to Manama by the Qatari emir.

Father and son have since been reconciled after settling a multi-billion-dollar financial dispute.

Qatar had accused the father, Sheikh Khalifa, and a top aide of transferring state funds to private accounts overseas.

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26 Sep 99 |  Middle East
Qatar royal trial adjourned
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