AFP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya were all attending the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on Friday. DOHA, Dec 1, 2006 (AFP) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya were all attending the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on Friday.
Ahmadinejad, who this week launched a scathing attack on President George W. Bush’s policies, was scheduled to meet Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, a key US ally, during his flying one-day visit.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was also attending the festivities as well as meeting Qatari leaders as part of his first foreign tour since taking office.
President Bashar al-Assad was also on the VIP list for the 15th Games as were other Middle East figures including Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmad al-Sabah, reported the Qatar News Agency (QNA).
Ahmadinejad marked his arrival by stealing the thunder of the Japanese delegation chief as he toured the athletes village.
Ahmadinejad arrived amid tight security just as Tsutomu Hayashi, vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, was to take part in the Asiad torch relay there ahead of the evening ceremony.
A dozen Japanese photographers and reporters were prevented from entering the village to witness the 69-year-old chef de mission run with the torch in light rain.
Haniya, head of the Western-boycotted Hamas-lead government, was seen attending prayers in a Doha mosque and meeting with top officials.
Before leaving Gaza, his officials said his tour would seek to “deepen relations between the Palestinians and Arab and Islamic countries, and to uphold support for the Palestinian people under the blockade”.
Israel and the West have boycotted the Hamas administration since it took office in March owing to the radical Islamist movement’s refusal to recognise the Jewish state, past peace agreements and to formally renounce violence.
The opening ceremony gets underway at 1600 GMT at the 50,000-seat Khalifa Stadium.