Rome, Jan 1: Dubai ended its 30 per cent tax on alcohol sales in the sheikhdom on Sunday and made its required liquor licenses free to obtain, ending a long-standing source of revenue for its ruling family to apparently further boost its tourism to the emirate.

The sudden New Year's Day announcement, made by Dubai's two state-linked alcohol retailers, came apparently from a government decree from its ruling Al Maktoum family. However, government officials did not immediately acknowledge the decision and did not respond to questions from The Associated Press.

But it follows years of loosening regulations over liquor in the sheikhdom, which now sells alcohol during daylight hours in Ramadan and began providing home delivery during the lockdowns at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Alcohol sales have long served as a major barometer of the economy of Dubai, a top travel destination in the UAE, home to the long-haul carrier Emirates. During the recent World Cup in nearby Qatar, Dubai's many bars drew commuting soccer fans.

Alcohol distributor Maritime and Mercantile International, which is part of the wider Emirates Group, made the announcement in a statement.

"Since we began our operations in Dubai over 100 years ago, the emirate's approach has remained dynamic, sensitive and inclusive for all," said Tyrone Reid of MMI. "These recently updated regulations are instrumental to continue ensuring the safe and responsible purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Dubai and the UAE."

MMI did not respond to a question over whether the decision was permanent. However, an ad put up by MMI urged customers to buy from its stores, saying "you no longer need to drive out to the other emirates."

Dubai residents long have driven into Umm al-Quwain and other emirates for bulk, tax-free alcohol purchases.

African & Eastern, the second alcohol retailer believed to be at least partially held by the state or affiliated firms, also announced the end of the municipality tax and license fees.

Under Dubai law, non-Muslims must be 21 or older to consume alcohol. Drinkers are supposed to carry plastic cards issued by the Dubai police that permit them to purchase, transport and consume beer, wine and liquor. Otherwise, they can face fines and arrest even though the sheikhdom's vast network of bars, nightclubs and lounges almost never ask to see the permit.

Still, relatively liberal Dubai is an outlier among others in the region. Sharjah, an emirate that borders Dubai to the north, outlaws alcohol, as do the nearby nations of Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the oil-rich UAE, ended its alcohol license system in September 2020.

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Mumbai, Feb 6: The Congress on Monday demanded the Centre seize the passport of Gautam Adani, who is battling allegations of stock manipulation, to prevent him from escaping the country as the opposition party held protests against Adani outside offices of LIC and SBI.

A Mumbai Congress leader said businessmen Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi could escape the country because the BJP government didn't confiscate their passports in time.

The Congress staged demonstrations outside the offices of the State Bank of India (SBI) and the Life Insurance Corporation as part of the party's nationwide protests over the Adani issue.

"The Centre should confiscate the passport of Gautam Adani so that he would not be able to escape the country. When scams by Harshad Mehta or Ketan Paresh were unearthed, the then Union government led by Congress had confiscated their passports preventing Mehta and Parekh from flying out of India," Mumbai Congress chief Bhai Jagtap told reporters.

He said industrialists Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, who are facing allegations of loan default and banking fraud, managed to run away from the country because their passports were not seized by the BJP government in time.

Adani Group stocks have taken a beating on the bourses after the US short-seller Hindenburg Research made a litany of allegations last fortnight in its report, including fraudulent transactions and share price manipulation at the Gautam Adani-led group, which has denied the charges.

The Congress party has organised nationwide agitations outside the offices of SBI and LIC claiming both the public sector institutions were forced by the government to increase their exposure in various Adani group companies.

"Today, we protested outside the offices of SBI and LIC in Mumbai. We will hold similar protests outside the offices of the Bombay Stock Exchange, National Stock Exchange, and the Securities and Exchange Board of India in the next 15 days," Jagtap added.

Similar protests were held in Pune.

Speaking on the occasion, Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole cited the Hindenburg Research report to say Rahul Gandhi stands vindicated "as it is proved that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is running the government for a handful of industrialists".

"Our leader Rahul Gandhi has been talking constantly that the Prime Minister is running this government for his friends and a handful of industrialists. Rahul proved right as per the Hindenburg report," he said.

Patole alleged the Adani Group obtained loans from LIC and other banks by furnishing bogus documents.

"Today, the common people (who have their money invested into LIC) are scared about the future of their investment," the Congress leader said and demanded PM Modi give a full "hisab" or account of (the LIC's investment exposure to Adani group) to the people.

"Narendra Modi is shielding his friends which means the work of siphoning off the money of common people is going on," he alleged.

Besides Patole, former chief ministers Ashok Chavan and Sushilkumar Shinde, and other local leaders were present during the protests.

The Congress has stepped up the offensive against the government over the Adani-Hindenburg issue and is seeking a discussion in Parliament.

The party has also demanded an impartial investigation under the supervision of the Supreme Court or a joint parliamentary committee to probe the charges raised in the Hindenburg report against the Adani Group.

The Congress is alleging that the issue involves crores of rupees of common people invested in the Adani Group, whose shares have seen a beating on the stock markets ever since the allegations of "financial malpractices and stock manipulation" came out in the Hindenburd research report.