By ADAM SCHRECK, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar's largest telecommunications provider said Monday its Tunisiana subsidiary has won licenses to operate fixed-line and 3G mobile services in Tunisia, boosting the Gulf state's influence in the North African nation.
Qatar Telecom will pay 205 million Tunisian dinars ($131 million) for the licenses, it said in a stock exchange filing.
The former Qatar state monopoly, which goes by the name QTel, said it will launch the 3G — or "third generation" — network in July. It plans to roll out the landline service early next year.
The licenses will allow QTel to offer a broader range of services to customers, Chief Executive Nasser Marafih said in the statement.
"It will also enable us to leverage our experience and knowledge base across the Qtel Group in the deployment of both the 3G and fixed-line networks, to help ensure that we maintain our market leading position in Tunisia," he said.
Tunisiana has a 56 percent share of Tunisia's mobile market, according to QTel.
QTel took control of Tunisiana in January 2011 after buying a stake previously owned by Egypt's Orascom Telecom, increasing its share in the Tunisian telecom to 75 percent.
Its partner in that deal was Princesse Holding, a company headed by Mohammed Sakher al-Materi, the son-in-law of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Assets of Ben Ali's family members were confiscated by the Tunisian government following the former autocrat's ouster last year.
Qatar is playing an increasingly active role in Tunisia in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. That worries many liberal Tunisians, who question their country's growing dependence on the conservative Gulf state and fear it is trying to make Tunisia more Islamic.
The natural gas-rich nation last month offered to give Tunisia a $1 billion low-interest loan to bolster its tourism-dependent economy, which has suffered since last year's unrest. It has also offered 20,000 jobs to Tunisia's many unemployed university graduates.
QTel is majority-owned by the Qatari government. It counts more than 84 million customers in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
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