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FEBRUARY 13, 2003


The Saudi Arabian government refused to allow the Qatar-based, Arabic-language satellite station Al-Jazeera to cover the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the hajj.

According to a source at the station, the nine-member crew slated to cover the pilgrimage had applied for visas to Saudi Arabia several months prior to the hajj. Saudi authorities never responded to Al-Jazeera's request. Although the Saudi government made no formal statement regarding the visa applications, authorities have been angered by Al-Jazeera's coverage of the country, and in September 2002, Saudi officials recalled their ambassador from Qatar's capital, Doha, where Al-Jazeera is based.

Without visas, the same Al-Jazeera crew could not cover a meeting of defense and foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council beginning on February 7, in the western city of Jeddah, as it had planned. The Gulf Cooperation Council comprises six Gulf Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.

Al-Jazeera has been authorized to cover the pilgrimage for the last three years. "Last year, we had no trouble," said the station source. This year, many other stations, including U.S.-based CNN and United Arab Emirates' Abu Dhabi TV, were allowed to broadcast from Mecca.