Radio Says Ruler Abdicates, but Dubai Says He Was Ousted
SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ State radio said Wednesday that Sharjah’s ruler had abdicated because of ″financial difficulties,″ but reports in neighboring sheikdoms said he was ousted in a palace coup.
Sheik Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qassimi, 48, was in London at the time.
Sharjah radio broadcast an abdication statement, purportedly on Sultan’s behalf, saying he was transferring power to Sheik Abdel-Aziz, 50, who is his brother and the military commander.
The United Arab Emirates Supreme Council voted to ″nullify″ the abdication statement in an emergency meeting and would ″remain in open-ended session until the necessary decision is taken,″ the Emirates’ official news agency reported.
Members of the national guard deployed in Sharjah, which has a population of about 210,000 and is the richest and third largest of the seven United Arab Emirates sheikdoms at the southern end of the Persian Gulf.
Oil was discovered in Sharjah in 1972. Its shipments of about 60,000 barrels a day of gas condensate make up about 50 percent of the federation’s total exports.
The grouping, formed in December 1971, consists of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain and Ras al-Khaimah. Abu Dhabi is the seat of the federated government.
Arab diplomatic sources and airport officials in Dubai, 9 miles away, said later that Sultan had arrived there by air from the British capital but was unable to proceed to Sharjah because its airport was closed.
Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, convened the seven-man Supreme Council’s emergency meeting at his Al-Maqam palace in Abu Dhabi.
Soldiers took up positions at Sharjah’s squares and key intersections.
″That fact that guardsmen loyal to Abdel-Aziz were stationed at important places shows that Sultan was overthrown,″ an Arab diplomat in Abu Dhabi said privately.
Troopers cordoned off Government Square, the royal palace and nearby government buildings.
Witnesses said soldiers seized the offices of Sharjah’s radical newspaper al-Khaleej newspaper, ordered its editor and reporters out and told them the paper would be closed indefinitely.
″About 40 guardsmen with submachine guns, led by a colonel, entered our offices and ordered us out,″ a reporter said.
Shortly before sundown, the official Emirates news agency WAM distributed a statement saying Sultan cited ″financial problems″ and ″accumulating debts″ in abdicating after 15 years of ruling his tiny state.
State-run radio and television stations in all seven sheikdoms interrupted programs to broadcast the WAM statement, but Dubai’s broadcasters added that Sultan’s fall from power ″is an unacceptable move to take over government by force.″
Dubai’s radio said ″Sultan is the legitimate ruler″ of Sharjah and its leaders urged the federation government to intervene immediately.
″Security of the federation is indivisible, and basic procedures of succession is of concern to all.″ it said. ″The situation should be handled with decisiveness and firmness.″
A later dispatch from the Emirates’ official news agency said notables of Sharjah’s ruling Al-Qassimi clan had met and sworn allegiance to Abdel-Aziz.
Arab diplomats in Abu Dhabi said the political crisis is a test for the federation’s survival because Abu Dhabi appeared to support Abdel-Aziz and Dubai backed Sultan.
Western diplomats in Abu Dhabi said Sultan has been criticized for economic mismanagement and frequent trips abroad.
Last year’s fall in oil prices hit Sharjah heavily and forced it to borrow an estimated $1 billion.
Sultan’s purported abdication statement quoted him as saying: ″My inclination for time-consuming higher scholastic studies has left me with little time to pursue daily pressing responsibilities.″