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Emir pays a friendly visit
Presidential library toured by Qatar’s ruler

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum already has attracted visitors young and old from across the country and around the globe.

Few of them, however, flew thousands of miles in their own jumbo jet just to take a peek at Springfield’s tourism jewel.

Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, emir of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, on Tuesday became the first head of a foreign country to visit the museum. He is, in fact, one of the few foreign leaders ever to travel to Springfield.

As such, he received a red-carpet welcome at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport as an Air National Guard band played “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Washington Post March.”

The emir’s Alpha 340 Airbus touched down from New York shortly after 6:15 p.m., about 45 minutes late. A delegation of 12 accompanied him, including Qatar’s first deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, greeted the contingent on the tarmac along with a 20-vehicle motorcade that included Springfield police, Illinois State Police and Secret Service vehicles.

The emir made no public comments while in Springfield. His interest in seeing the museum was described only as a “cultural visit.”

Security was tight as the motorcade traveled to the museum for a private tour. An evening reception was held at the presidential library, followed by dinner in the museum’s rotunda hosted by the Blagojeviches and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.

The museum was closed at 3 p.m. to prepare for the emir’s visit. He and his delegation left for Chicago after the dinner.

During the visit, Blagojevich and the emir signed an agreement to establish a shared understanding and friendship between Illinois and Qatar and to develop mutual economic and cultural cooperation, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The release also provided a quote from the deputy prime minister: “We’re pleased to visit such an impressive museum for a great man. This museum demonstrates that America does not forget a president united the country.”

An Arab state of more than 860,000 people, Qatar is a little smaller than Connecticut. It borders Saudi Arabia to the south and is surrounded mostly by water.

Qatar, a U.S. ally in the region and home of the Al-Jazeera television news station, has been ruled by the al-Thani family since the mid-19th century, according to the CIA World Factbook. Once a poor British protectorate, Qatar’s oil and natural gas revenues give it one of the world’s highest per-capita incomes.

The current emir, who was born in the early 1950s, overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995 after the former emir siphoned off petroleum revenues and crippled the country’s economy in the late 1980s and early ’90s, according to the World Factbook Web site.

In his press release, Blagojevich said he anticipates that the Lincoln museum will attract other heads of state and international leaders.

About 60 officers from local law enforcement agencies assisted in providing security for the emir.

“With any VIP state visit, we collaborate with the state police, the secretary of state’s police, the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department and the Secret Service,” said Springfield police Lt. Stephen Swetland. “... We make sure the visit happens and they accomplish everything they wanted to accomplish and nothing else happens.”

Airport police and the Springfield Fire Department also assisted, Swetlund said. The block around the museum was closed to vehicles Tuesday evening, and officers provided traffic control for the motorcade.

City police assigned several detectives to work with the Secret Service as intelligence and counter-surveillance officers. Several plainclothes officers worked inside the library and museum complex.

Swetland said the emir’s trip involved many of the same security measures called for during President Bush’s visit to the museum on April 19 but on a smaller scale.

He said Tuesday’s measures will cost the city at least $1,800 for overtime.

Capt. Bryan Miller, commander of the Air National Guard Band of the Midwest, said he was honored to help welcome the emir because of the positive implications for the United States and relations with others.

He said his band provides support and appropriate military honors for the governor’s office and the state public affairs department.

“The music lends the appropriate decorum and dignity to the event. Music is a universal language,” he said.

Amanda Reavy can be reached through the metro desk at 788-1517 or amanda.reavy@sj-r.com.

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