August 09, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Qatar announced on Wednesday it was scrapping visa requirements for visitors from 80 countries as it weathers a boycott by four Arab states and gears up to host the World Cup in 2022.

Under the new policy announced by Qatar Airways and authorities, citizens of 33 mostly European countries can enter without a visa for 90 days in single or multiple trips during a 180-day period. Americans, Britons, Canadians and citizens of 44 other countries can enter visa-free for an initial 30 days on single or multiple trips, and can extend that for a further 30 days.

Energy-rich Qatar's economy has taken a hit since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain moved to isolate it two months ago over allegations it supports extremists.

The quartet of Arab nations is particularly irked by Qatar's ties with Iran and its support of Islamist opposition groups. Qatar denies it backs terror groups and says the allegations against Doha are politically motivated.

The four countries cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, and barred Qatar from using their airspace and shipping lanes.

In a related development, the UAE and Bahrain on Wednesday sought to clarify a statement made the day before by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which said both countries had agreed to open up some of their airspace, including new ''temporary or contingency'' routes, for Qatar Airways.

The two, in statements carried on the UAE's and Bahrain's state-run news agencies, said that they had not agreed to open up their airspace in full to Qatari flights - but to only allow Qatari aircraft to use their airspace located above international waters.

Last month, the four Arab countries aligned against Doha opened up air routes that Qatari planes can use in case of emergency.

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