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DOHA (Reuters) - Expatriates working for Qatar Petroleum and other organisations said on Thursday their employers had cancelled holidays and barred them from leaving Qatar in the wake of its rift with other Arab states.
A Qatari official said some leave had been cancelled in "essential government sectors" to keep staff on hand as authorities made plans to cope with the crisis, but did not mention travel restrictions or any focus on foreigners.
Expatriate executives and engineers at the energy group said the orders started a day after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed trade and transport links with Qatar this month accusing it of backing militants - a charge it dismisses.
Doctors from the government-run Hamad hospital made similar reports and others said the orders had affected hundreds of people.
There was no one immediately available to comment from Qatar Petroleum or the hospital.
"I was told not to travel. My exit permit and holiday was cancelled," said a British expatriate working for a subsidiary of state-owned Qatar Petroleum, the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
A work-sponsorship system widely enforced in the Gulf and known in Qatar as "kafala" requires foreign workers to get their employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country.
Expatriates from Europe and America usually acquire multiple-exit permits from their employers allowing them to travel more freely than migrant labourers from India and Nepal who make up the bulk of the 2.7 million-strong population.
"Certain government bodies cancelled leave so staff were present to help with vital planning such as chartering new shipping routes and getting food into the country," said the Qatari official who declined to be named under briefing rules.
Reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Andrew Heavens