MUSCAT // A thousand horsemen and foot soldiers yesterday escorted Queen Elizabeth II's motorcade on a 10-kilometre journey to Oman's Alam palace flanked by well wishers beating drums and waving Union flags.
The Queen, wearing a knee-length pink dress, stepped up on the royal podium with her host, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. She was honoured by a 21-gun salute while the British national anthem played in the background. The Queen, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague, then stepped down from the podium to greet members of the Omani royal family, cabinet ministers and local British dignitaries before proceeding for the state luncheon on the second day of her visit.
The four-day visit began on Thursday with the British monarch touring the Grand Mosque in Muscat.
Among the well-wishers who thronged the sea-front road leading to the Sultan's second palace in the historical area of Muscat were British residents, cheering the royal procession.
"I am glad I was there to see it all. It was a lifetime opportunity," said Anne Brown, a catering manager.
To ordinary residents, the visit was a memorable occasion, but to British businessmen the Queen's presence may lead to lucrative trade deals at a time when Oman plans to announce a record budget of US$20 billion (Dh73bn) in 2011.
Oman is planning to build new airports, ports, free-trade zones, roads, power stations and oil installations. The projects, to be implemented over the next three years, are estimated to cost more than $55bn, according to the finance ministry.
Although Britain has substantial investments in Oman through companies such as BP, Carillion, WS Atkins, Mott MacDonald and Shell, it still lags behind the United States, South Korean and Indian companies in winning contracts for civil projects. The visit will also reinforce Britain's strong defence and security relations with Oman. Nearly 100 British military personnel work in the Omani Armed Forces in defence training. BAE systems and Thales have been major providers of military equipment to Oman for many years, according to the representatives of the two companies in Muscat.
The Queen was to attend a concert by the Oman Symphony Orchestra last night. Today, she will visit the British Council to meet Omani students who graduated from British universities. In the afternoon, the monarch is scheduled to watch horse and camel races at the royal stables.