Qatar's Crown Prince Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani ousted his father in a bloodless palace coup, but the deposed emir declared defiantly Tuesday from Geneva that he would return as ruler of the Gulf state.
"I am not happy with what has happened but it had to be done and I had to do it," Sheik Hamad said in a television speech hours after taking over the small, oil-producing state that sits on one of the world's largest natural gas reserves.The coup followed several weeks of a power struggle in which Sheik Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, 63, apparently tried to claw back powers he had passed on to his 45-year-old eldest son, who had been running the day-to-day affairs of the small Gulf oil state for the past three years.
Under the guidance of Sheik Hamad, Qatar befriended radical Iran across the Gulf, restored ties with Gulf War foe Iraq, signed a defense pact with the United States and has gone further than other Gulf states in normalizing ties with Israel.
These are policies largely at odds with those of Saudi Arabia, the dominant Gulf Arab state and Qatar's only land neighbor.
Saudi officials have privately blamed Sheikh Hamad for tense Qatari-Saudi ties, especially since a border clash three years ago.
A member of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar has offered military facilities to Washington at a time when Saudi Arabia continues to refuse the United States permanent bases on its territory.
Washington is building a base near the oil town of Dukhan on Qatar's western shore about 50 miles from Doha. It will "pre-position" equipment for one armored brigade as part of a U.S. strategy to meet emergencies such as Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Diplomats in the capital Doha said the forceful Sheik Hamad had since 1992 tightened his grip on the state of about 500,000 people.
In Doha, the bloodless coup appeared to go smoothly and to have the backing of the ruling al-Thani family, whose members pledged allegiance to Sheik Hamad.
But the father, in a statement calling his heir an "ignorant man," said he would return to Qatar "whatever the cost."
"I am still their legitimate emir, whether it is for the royal family, for the people or for the army, and I will return home whatever it costs," Sheik Khalifa said in a statement read in Arabic to reporters in Geneva, where he went last week after state visits to Egypt and Tunisia.
The deposed emir said he had contacted leaders of the five other states in the GCC - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
He said they and other Arab leaders "all expressed their total support for the legitimate rule and they denounced what has happened."
Sheik Hamad told an emergency Cabinet meeting his action had been dictated by what he called the country's situation, although he gave no further details.