By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The high-profile visit of the Gulf monarch got off to a bumpy start after clouds of smoke threatened to scutter the official dinner held in honour of the Emir of Qatar in Skopje’s Aleksandar Palace hotel.
Macedonia was embarrassed by a fire that broke out on Monday in the hotel where the VIP is staying in Skopje.
Media reported that smoke started pouring out of the ceiling as a result of faults in the lighting system. Although the problem was swiftly dealt with, it has added to concerns about whether it was advisable to put such a high-profile visitor in the hotel to begin with.
Great expectations surrounded the two-day visit of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
According to eyewitnesses, molten material started pouring into the lobby from the burning ceiling. The incident marred the start of a gala dinner thrown by Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov in honour of the Gulf monarch.
When hotel staff tried to put out the fire, the daily Utrinski Vesnik reported, the fire extinguishers created a layer of fog throughout the lobby.
It was only after the fire had been thoroughly doused that the Emir’s guards allowed their chief to be escorted to the dining hall where the dinner proceeded as planned.
The hotel management says media exaggerated the incident
The daily newspaper said some observers noted an expression of “shock and anger… on the Emir’s face as he attended the dinner”, and that “although his security did not say a word, it was obvious that they were reconsidering the Emir’s stay in the hotel”.
Shamed officials will be hoping that the blaze does not derail the long-awaited visit.
The Emir arrived in Skopje with a large suite of over 100 people, including 12 ministers, assorted businessmen and journalists. He is the first Arab head of state to visit Macedonia in its 20 years of independence.
A number of bilateral agreements in the field of culture, education, health and economy have been signed already.
Macedonia hopes to capitalize from the visit of the leader one of the richest oil producing countries in the world, luring Qatari investment to the country and making a breakthrough in the sale of its own products to the Gulf state.
The hotel where the Emir was staying is Skopje’s most luxurious. It has been used on numerous occasions in the past to accommodate statesmen and high officials and has hosted several high-profile international events.