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DUBAI, July 16 (Reuters) - Emirates is to start flights to Mexico with a stopover in Spain, a so-called fifth freedom flight that could anger critics and rival airlines in the United States and Europe.
The Dubai state-owned carrier said on Tuesday it would start daily flights to Mexico City International Airport via Barcelona on Dec. 9, the airline's first service to Mexico.
"Due to the high altitude of Mexico City airport, it is not possible to operate a non-stop flight from Dubai, and Barcelona was a natural choice for a stopover, Emirates President Tim Clark said in a statement.
He said the Mexico City-Barcelona route had long been neglected by other airlines and remained underserved despite the strong customer demand.
Aeromexico operates direct flights between the two cities.
Emirates' use of fifth freedom rights that allow an airline to fly between foreign countries as a part of services to and from its home country has drawn criticism in the past.
Mexico's tourism minister Miguel Torruco Marqués said the country supported the Emirates service.
U.S. and European competitors have accused Emirates and other Gulf carriers of having an unfair advantage through state subsidies. The Gulf carriers deny the accusations.
The United Arab Emirates, where Emirates is based, and Qatar last year resolved disputes with the U.S. government related to allegations their airlines were subsidised.
The U.S. government has since scrutinised state-owned Qatar Airways' minority ownership of Air Italy over allegations the investment breaches agreements between Qatar and the U.S.. Qatar Airways says the stake is compliant.
Emirates' launch of the Mexico City service follows a 2016 attempt to start direct services to Panama in what would have been the world's longest non-stop flight.
The airline shelved the plans after it failed to secure code-share agreements that it said were needed to make the service viable.
Emirates launched flights to Chile via Brazil last year. (Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)