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>> An international chess tournament in Saudi Arabia, starting Tuesday, has become the latest test of the Kingdom's new reforms and the region's old rivalries. In 2016, the top Saudi cleric had said the sport was prohibited by Islam. But Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman pushed ahead with the game of kings and pawns.
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The 32 yearold heir to the throne has lifted a ban on women driving, allowed concerts and movies, and eased rules on gender segregation. The reforms are part of his wide efforts to adapt his ultra-conservative country into a modern state that is no longer dependent on oil. He is also encouraging Saudis to play and host more sports.
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The competition called the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, includes around 240 players from 70 countries. But regional politics is now getting in the way. Seven Israeli players say they were denied visas to participate in the tournament and registered a protest with the World Chess Federation.
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Israel and Saudi Arabia have no formal diplomatic relations. Players from Qatar blacked out after Saudis proposed they not display the Qatari flag. So far it appears contestants from Iran, Saudi's biggest regional opponent will compete. The world's top three chess players from Norway, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are participating. The Kingdom is also hosting a women's chess tournament, running alongside the championship.