Hollande in Qatar for talks on Syria, economy

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French President Francois Hollande arrived on Saturday in Qatar for talks on the deadly Syrian conflict and economic ties with the gas-rich Gulf state.

Hollande landed in Qatar as a “Friend of Syria” meeting in Doha earlier Saturday agreed to offer military aid to rebels in the war-hit country.

Ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the talks.

They agreed to “provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people.”

Yet even as they prepared to step up their own involvement in a war that has killed nearly 100,000 people, they demanded that Iran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah stop supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Britain and France have recently pushed for providing weapons to Syrian rebels but have underscored that this must be done in a responsible manner to avoid the kind of anarchy that took place in Libya after the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

During his talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Hollande will highlight the “need for trust, clarity and coordination” in backing the rebels as Qatar is accused of “supporting Syrian opposition groups it does not know,” according to a French diplomatic source.

The visit is also important economically, as a large delegation of business executives from major French companies are accompanying Hollande who will speak at the Franco-Qatari Economic Forum in Doha on Sunday.

But the matter of “strategic importance” to France, according to the president’s entourage, is its Rafale fighter jets which it is trying to sell to Qatar.

The emir of Qatar is preparing to hand control of the gas-rich Gulf state to his son Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, according to Qatari diplomats and officials.

Hollande will dine with Sheikh Hamad and the crown prince on Saturday evening and on Sunday he travels to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.

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