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LONDON (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been suspended by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) indefinitely over horse welfare and rule infringements in endurance events, the sport's governing body said on Thursday.
Under the ban UAE riders will not be allowed to compete for their country in any international events, although they will be allowed to compete under an FEI flag in non-endurance disciplines outside of the Emirates.
There has been growing concern over the treatment of endurance horses in the UAE and the world body recently stepped in to remove two endurance events in UAE from the winter season.
FEI president Ingmar de Vos said the FIA's Bureau had been unanimous in suspending the UAE federation.
"The decision to suspend a National Federation is not something that is taken lightly and we only should do this if no other remedy can be found," he said in a statement.
"Sadly this was the only option left, but we have to take our responsibility and must never be afraid of tackling major issues head-on. Where horse welfare is concerned the FEI has to show leadership and solve problems in a structural way without making any concessions."
De Vos said the FEI had hoped strict enforcement of new rules brought in on Aug 1 last year would reduce the numbers of "catastrophic injuries" and fatalities in the UAE.
"Regretfully this has not been the case," he added. "In the end we had no other choice than taking this drastic measure to deal with an unacceptable situation."
Endurance races in the Middle East can be brutal with distances of 100 miles a day, covered at high speed, common.
Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper published photographs last month of a horse breaking both forelegs in a race at Al Reef, Abu Dhabi.
Allegations of horse identity fraud have also been investigated by the FEI, according to the paper.
The ban could raise doubts over Dubai's suitability to host the world championships in 2016 wih the Swiss and Belgium equestrian federations threatening a boycott.
The UAE Federation' place in the next year's Summer Olympics in Brazil could also be in jeopardy.
It has 30 days to appeal against the suspension.
Writing by Martyn Herman, editing by Alan Baldwin