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Saudi to ease visa restrictions

August 16, 2005 13:58 IST

Saudi Arabia is planning to issue tourist visas to all visitors from early next year regardless of their religion as it implements a liberalised visa regime to gain entry into the World Trade Organisation.

The move is also part of the oil-rich Kingdom's efforts to boost tourist inflow. The Saudi Arabian foreign ministry plans to issue tourist visas to Muslims as well as non-Muslims from February 2006.

Muslim tourists will get visas to visit both religious places and tourist spots, a media report said on Tuesday.

Muslim women visiting the country must have a legal companion while non-Muslim women should have a sponsor in order to get visas, the Arab News reported.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, secretary-general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism, said the tourist visa project was in the final stages and would come into effect in a few months.

The Kingdom has set up a committee comprising representatives of various government departments to work out mechanisms for issuing business and tourist visas at airports, it said.

Abdul Rahman Al-Jeraisy, chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, hoped that the panel would make recommendations to enable businessmen and tourists to get visas at airports.

The foreign ministry issued 5,537 tourist visas this year to Americans, Europeans and Africans under the Saudi Arabian Airlines' 'Discover Saudi Arabia' package.

More than 5,000 Americans, Europeans and Japanese have visited the Kingdom since the programme was first introduced in 1996, Atiyya said.

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