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17 Sep, 2012

Seminar highlights health benefits of Islamic lifestyle

compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Muqbil

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 17 September 2012 (01 Dhul Qa’dah 1433). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



The Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix, Sepang International Circuit (SIC) has set an unprecedented target of 70,000 spectators on race day for the 22nd edition of the Malaysian Motorcycle GP from October 19 to 21. This is the 22nd edition of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix and Round 16 of the 2012 FIM MotoGP World Championship. Marking another first, Asia Motorsport Development and Sepang International Circuit have joined forces to host a Motorsport Business Forum on 18 October 2012. The purpose of the conference is to bring together the motorcycle business community with the two-wheel racing fraternity for delegates and attendees to hear from motorcycle businesses and motorcycle racing communities on the status of their current programs and to learn from industry experts about the overall status of the motorcycle industry. SIC, in yet another unprecedented move, will host three world-class concerts at its premises including one that would be a week before the commencement of the Malaysian GP race weekend. Giving another impetus to the package of activities, fans will get to enjoy the biggest ever and most happening off-track experience with the participation of some 60 trade and vending operators including all of the world’s major bike manufacturers displaying their popular and latest models. Ticketholders will also get an opportunity to meet all the MotoGP riders in person during the traditional autograph session on October 20. For more details about the various events, pls click here: http://www.malaysiangp.com.my/welcome

For more information about what makes Malaysia one of the most popular destinations in the Islamic world, as well as on planning your next holiday or MICE event in Malaysia, please click: http://www.tourism.gov.my/.

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/friendofmalaysia

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia


Islamic Banking to appeal to non-Muslims too: expert

Oman Daily Observer – 08 September, 2012 – Contrary to the notion that Islamic Banking is directly primarily at Muslims alone, a top expert believes that sharia-compliant banking products and services will appeal to non-Muslims as well. According to Khalid Yousaf, Director — Islamic Finance Advisory Services, KPMG Oman, there is significant international evidence of non-Muslims patronising sharia-based financial products because of the ‘ethical’ nature of Islamic banking.

“Islamic banking products and services are not targeted at Muslims only,” Yousaf explains. “Islamic banking products and services offer all features of ‘ethical’ banking plus more. Whereas ‘ethical’ banking shuns alcohol, adult entertainment, gambling, environment pollution and weapons of mass destruction, Islamic banking goes a step further in shunning conventional ‘riba-based’ banking and financial services as well. Non-Muslims seeking ethical banking products are therefore attracted to Islamic banking products and services.”

In Malaysia for instance, 35 per cent of end-users of Islamic banking products and services are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese seeking ethical products which meet their financial criteria, according to the expert. “Also, due to the nature of the sharia technique applied in housing, car or other loans, the terms and conditions may be more acceptable to non-Muslims seeking those peculiar terms,” he noted.

Two full-fledged Islamic Banks, as well as a host of conventional banks with Islamic Windows, are preparing to offer sharia-compliant financial services for the first time in the Sultanate, tentatively before the end of this year. In addition to Bank Nizwa and Bank Al Izz, which will serve as dedicated Islamic banks, conventional banks that are gearing up to launch Islamic Window operations are: bank muscat, National Bank of Oman, BankDhofar, Bank Sohar, ahlibank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Oman Arab Bank.

Yousaf also foresees a prominent role for Sharia Supervisory Boards in providing clarity to customers on the sharia principles underlying a specific bank’s products and services.

“Ordinary customers when buying a faith-based product would like to be satisfied that the Islamic product or service they’re purchasing is truly in compliance with Sharia’ edict and tenet and not ‘riba-based’ or ‘haram’ under Sharia’ principles. Since most people do not feel comfortable making a decision by themselves, they’re likely to consult others (including for example, the Imam of their local mosque).

The Imam or someone with knowledge of Sharia is likely to be guided by the ‘fatwas’ (edicts) issued by the bank’s Sharia’ Supervisory Board. It is very important therefore, for Islamic banks and windows to make ‘Fatwas’ issued by their Sharia Supervisory Board available to their branch staff and also train the customer-facing staff to be able to answer questions or objections raised by doubting customers,” Yousaf commented.

Besides looking at the Sharia-compliance aspect, the customers will also use their commercial sense to ensure that the Islamic products and services they are purchasing are priced competitively, as well as the features offered do not put them at a disadvantage relative to their conventional counterpart, he further explained.

According to the expert, sharia scholars do not permit use of any “haram” tactics in promoting Islamic banking products and services. “The usual ethical standards applicable to advertising and promotion apply to Islamic banks as well, e.g., no false representation of facts, no uncertainty involved in the features of products and services offered. Further, any aspect of gambling, speculation or unnecessary risk-taking is forbidden for use in promotional material of Islamic banking products and services.”

Importantly, the expert envisions “positive and bright” prospects for the long-term growth of Islamic banking in Oman. “In countries where Islamic Finance is supported by the government, its growth has been stronger and faster than in countries where Islamic Finance is only market or industry-driven. In the Sultanate of Oman, both the government support as well as market/industry demand exists. Islamic Finance may go through an initial gestation period during which the customers will get more educated and the institutions will mature in their offerings.

In fact, the share of Islamic banking assets could potentially overtake the conventional banking within 5-7 years, Yousaf predicts. “We may see more full-fledged Islamic banks opening, more foreign Islamic banks entering the market and most importantly, some conventional banks converting to full-fledged Islamic banks. In the years ahead, the Sultanate of Oman could in fact become the model for Islamic Finance through application of its organised, systematic and disciplined approach.”

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Al-Azhar University Sheikh demands global ban on attacks on Islam

Cairo, 29 Shawwal 1433/ 16 September 2012 (IINA) –Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, called for an international ban on all forms of attacks against Islam, after a provocative film sparked violent protests in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Sheikh of Al-Azhar underlined “the need for an international resolution (banning) any attack on Muslim religious symbols,” in a statement addressed to UN leader Ban Ki-moon and published by official news agency MENA. The resolution should “criminalize attacks on Islamic symbols and on those of other religions, after the violence against those who provoked challenges to world peace and international security,” said Tayyeb.

A low-budget film produced in the US incited a wave of bloody anti-US violence in several countries. The imam said it was the UN’s responsibility to “protect world peace from any threat or aggression,” so that “these dangerous events cannot recur.” He also called on “Egyptians in these trying times (to show) wisdom and restraint,” condemning the targeting of innocent people and underlining the need to protect foreign diplomatic missions.

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Afghanistan inks deal with Iran for access to seaport

Tehran Times – 08 September, 2012 – The Afghan government has signed an agreement with Iran that gives land-locked Afghanistan access to a key seaport in the neighboring country. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasool and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi inked the deal in Kabul on Wednesday. Rasool told reporters that the agreement guarantees Afghanistan access to the Iranian port of Chabahar on the Indian Ocean. Iran has been working to develop Chabahar as a regional economic hub. Rasool said that the deal will boost regional cooperation and reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on other regional seaports. Much of Afghanistan’s goods transit through Pakistan, its neighbor to the east.

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Pakistan singer duo performing in US under cultural diplomacy program

WASHINGTON, Sept 14 (APP): Famous Pakistani singer-songwriter duo Zeb & Haniya are traveling to communities across America under the State Department’s groundbreaking cultural diplomacy initiative, Center Stage through October 1, 2012. Center StageSM brings performing artists from Haiti, Indonesia, and Pakistan to the United States to engage American audiences in 60 medium and small-sized towns and cities, the State Department said.

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GCC to invest $1 trillion to develop infrastructure

Gulf Today – 12 September, 2012 – Governments across the GCC plan to invest $ 1 trillion to develop their infrastructure, according to a recent report by Deloitte. Of these countries, Nabil Salim, AAA Construction Equipment Director, emphatically states that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the two countries with the most opportunity to attain a favorable return on investment

The report by Deloitte highlights the investments made by the Saudi Arabian government including the estimated US$ 400 billion plans to build schools, houses, universities, new railway infrastructure, airport extensions and road improvements. Furthermore, with the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, projects planned and underway are estimated to be $ 230 billion, reports Deloitte.

The significant investments being made across the GCC provide both positive and negative trends in the demand and supply of heavy machinery in the region.

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Algeria’s National Railways To Invest 127 Bln Dinars On Rolling Stock

ALGIERS, Sept 10 (NNN-APS) — A budget of 127 billion DINARS (about 1.58 billion USD) has been allocated to Algeria’s National Railway Company (SNTF) to achieve an ambitious investment programme for the period 2012-2015, officials from SNTF say.

The head of the Equipment Development Department at SNTF, Fernane Hakim, told APS Sunday on the sidelines of a conference held in conjunction with the National Transport Show here that SNTF would use the amount for the renewal and development of rolling stock.

Fernane underlined in his speech entitled “SNTF investment programmes” that the new plan focused on two objectives — the rehabilitation and modernization of existing equipment and the purchase of new equipment.

SNTF intends to launch shortly a tender for the acquisition of 30 new diesel electric locomotives, announced Fernane. Four new locomotives are scheduled for delivery by2013, fifteen for 2014 and eleven for 2015.

Seventeen long-distance rail cars are to be bought by SNTF in order to ensure the transportation of travellers on the new lines under construction. The new three-year programme also provides for the acquisition of eight sets of railcars in 2014 and nine more in 2015. The transportation of rail passengers will be consolidated by the purchase of 20 long-distance electric locomotives and of thirty sleeping cars for night trains.

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Mashair train service ready to serve Hajjis

Arab News – 12 September, 2012 – Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs Prince Mansour bin Miteb will inspect the Mashair Railway project on Sunday, Al-Madinah reported yesterday. It was quoting undersecretary of the ministry Habib Zain Al-Abideen, who is supervisor of the central projects at the holy sites.

He said during the visit, the minister would check if the train is ready to transport pilgrims during the upcoming Haj season, tour the three main stations, and follow up the train’s operational plan during Haj. Zain Al-Abideen said the ministry was considering using buses to transport pilgrims from faraway camps to the train stations. The company that operates the train has already started experimental operation, which will continue until Oct. 1. During this period, the company will carry out maintenance work at the stations.

There are 20 trains of each 300 meters long and with a capacity of 3,500 pilgrims per trip. The trains will be transporting about 72,000 pilgrims in one hour, and over six hours they will be transporting 500,000 pilgrims from Makkah to Mina and then from Mina to Arafat. The company has started receiving applications from Saudi youths for seasonal jobs during the Haj season. There are about 4,000 job opportunities for them to work as security guards and administrators.

Director-General of the project Fahd Muhammad Abu Tarboush said the train is characterized by its fast speed and height above the ground. He said the train would cross the distance between Arafat and Mina in 13 minutes and between Arafat and Muzdalifah in seven minutes.

Undersecretary for Haj affairs and transport Sahal Al-Sabban said the ascent from Mina to Arafat and the return of pilgrims to Muzdalifah would be done according to a tight schedule that would ensure the easy and safe arrival of pilgrims to the holy sites. He said pilgrims living in camps 500 meters away from the main station would be brought by buses.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary of the Haj Ministry Isa bin Muhammad Rawwas has threatened Umrah service companies that they will not be granted visas for their pilgrims if the latter decide to overstay in the Kingdom. “The Umrah companies’ electronic systems for processing of visas will automatically be stopped if the company’s pilgrims do not leave the Kingdom on time,” he said. Rawwas said the maximum limit of overstaying should not exceed 1 percent or 500 pilgrims, after which the Umrah company will be subjected to punishment.

He said the ministry had asked all Umrah service providers to supply it with their operational plans consisting of the number of pilgrims they will be bringing in, their nationalities, and dates of their arrivals and departures. Rawwas described the latest Umrah season, which climaxed in Ramadan, to be the largest in the history of the Kingdom. “More than 5.3 million people came for Umrah during this season,” he recalled.

He said the largest number of Umrah visas were given to Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. According to Rawwas, 3.3 million pilgrims arrived via King Abdulaziz International Airport, while about a million of them came through Prince Muhammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah. He said until last week, about 120,000 pilgrims still remained in Madinah waiting to go back home.

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Southern Thailand Can Be Developed And Prosperous

BANGKOK, Sept 13 (NNN-Bernama) –- New development and prosperity can emerge in restive southern Thailand if the needs of the people there are addressed, said former Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He said today the majority of the Muslim community there wanted development.

“They would like to see opportunities for quality education, employment, and human capital development. As citizens of Thailand, they too want to be recognised and to be respected, and able to participate in the economic development and progress of their area,” he said when addressing the 1st Joint Seminar of the Thailand-Malaysia Think Tank and Scholar Network, here.

He said Malaysia stood ready and committed to assist in practical and constructive ways as the Thai government made efforts to resolve its problems in the south. “Let me just say this, if, by mutual efforts and endeavours, the south can be turned into a region that is prosperous and peaceful, I believe that it will become a showcase example for the international community on peaceful resolution of a longstanding problem,” he said.

Touching on the broader Thailand-Malaysia relationship, Abdullah said the two countries also needed to broaden the basis for sound cooperation, especially into the social, educational and cultural spheres, emphasizing people-to-people relations while continuing to deepen their economic and business linkages.

He said both countries need to create quality education opportunities for young people, develop human capital and provide employment opportunities to address issues of poverty, unemployment and development. “This can be done through an exchange of scholars between countries and encouraging student mobility where university students spend at least one semester in a university of a neighbouring country,” he said.

Malaysia and Thailand, he said, need to further enhance ties through careful research leading to greater understanding and produce outputs for mutual benefit. Developments from macro and micro levels though intertwined affect not just a country alone but also its neighbouring countries, he said.

The former premier said they need to recognise the potential and limits that they have and work towards widening and deepening dialogue. The seminar was jointly organized by Direk Jayanama Center, Faculty of Political Science of Thammasat University, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Thailand Research Fund and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) of Malaysia.

Malaysian scholars from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Malaya and Universiti Utara Malaysia presented papers at the one-day seminar.

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Yemen, KfW sign €20 mln agreement to build 20 new schools

Yemen News Agency – 13 September, 2012 – Yemen and KfW Bank signed here on Wednesday a €20 million agreement to provide infrastructure and build 20 new schools in the capital. The agreement was signed by Education Minister Abdul-Razzaq al-Ashwal and KfW director for Middle East and North Africa.

Al-Ashwal said that the agreement aims to reduce congestion happening in some schools in the capital, adding that building the schools will begin in the coming two months. He expressed his appreciation of the German government’s continued support for education projects in Yemen, stressing that the Ministry would provide all the required facilities and will overcome difficulties hindering the donors projects in educational areas.

The ministry will form a team of experts to manage and follow up the projects implementation and monitor the implementation level directly, the Minister said.

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Bangladesh: Three-Day Int’l Tourism Fair From Sept 27

DHAKA, Bangladesh Sept 10 (NNN-BSS) — A three-day international tourism fair will be held in the capital from September 27 to 29 aimed at attracting more regional tourists in the country. Bangladesh Foundation for Tourism Development (BFTD) with support of Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) organised the fair ‘Bangladesh International Tourism Fair-2012′ with participation of 12 Asian countries at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC) here.

BFTD organised the fair in celebration of the World Tourism Day denoted by United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The participating countries included India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bahrain, Quarter and host Bangladesh. Tourism authorities of the participating countries, airlines, tour operators, travel agents and hotels and resorts will showcase their products and services at 107 stalls at the show, revealed today at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters’ Unity (DRU) here.

BTB Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Akhtaruz Zaman Khan Kabir, BFTD Chairman HM Hakim Ali and Executive Director Rezaul Ekram spoke at the press conference, among others. Kabir said the government always encourages such kind of fairs for expansion of the country’s tourism industry. “We have to involve common people in tourism sector for building a sustainable tourism industry,” he said.

He said efforts from private sector side by side with the government initiatives are important for expansion of tourism industry. Kabir said the BTB as the national tourism organization (NTO) has chalked out massive programme including rally, discussions and photography exhibition centering the world tourism day on September 27.

Rezaul Ekram said they will also organize numbers of seminar to discuss on various issues related to this year’s world tourism day titled ‘Tourism and Sustainable Energy: Powering Sustainable Development’ during the fair. The fair will remain open from 10 am to 8 pm everyday.

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Emirates to increase daily flights to Jordan

Khaleej Times – 12 September, 2012 – Emirates announced that it will add on to its daily flights to Jordan from October 1, providing greater access to one of the most popular tourism destinations in the Middle East. Amman is one of Emirates’ longest established routes. The airline has been flying to the Jordanian capital since 1986, the year after Emirates was launched.

On September 1 last year, Emirates marked 25 years of flights to Jordan, a service that began with just three flights per week. Emirates currently flies to Amman with a combination of Boeing 777-200, Boeing 777-300 and Airbus A330-200 aircraft, offering a wide range of in-flight entertainment and the hospitality of highly-trained international cabin crew. The current 13 weekly flights to Amman will increase to 14 per week — an extra flight on Friday — from October 1.

The new flight, EK901, will leave Dubai at 7:25am each Friday and arrive in Amman at 9:20am. The Boeing 777-200 supporting the service and arranged in a two-class configuration will offer more than 600 channels of on-demand entertainment, deeply reclining seats in business class and room to relax in economy. The aircraft also carries Seatback SMS, e-mail, satellite phones and fresh gourmet dining options for all cabin classes.

The return flight, EK902, leaves Amman at 11:15am and lands in Dubai at 3:10pm. All times are local times.

“In Dubai, passengers can transfer through Emirates’ exclusive Terminal 3 onto flights to more than 120 destinations across the globe, many of which are served by the airline’s flagship Airbus A380, including Beijing, Shanghai and Sydney,” said Majid Al Mualla, Emirates’ senior vice-president for the Gulf, Middle East and Iran.

In 2010, total trade between the UAE and Jordan was reported to be over $ 700 million, according to a 2011 study by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Tourism represents approximately 10 per cent of Jordan’s GDP. The 14th flight will also enable Emirates SkyCargo to facilitate more international trade opportunities for Jordan’s importers and exporters.

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Dubai, Kazakhstan keen to boost economic ties

Khaleej Times – 12 September, 2012 – Investing in the promising markets of Central Asia will help enhance the competitiveness of Dubai business, Hamad Buamim, director-general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said during the country focus briefing on Kazakhstan.

Organised by the Dubai Chamber, it was held in association with the Consulate General of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Kazakhstan National Agency for Export and Investments, or Kaznex Invest, at the Dubai Chamber premises on Tuesday.

Buamim called upon Dubai-based companies to expand their business interests in the promising markets of Central Asia and the Caucasus that offer excellent investment opportunities in the areas of energy resources, construction, financial, logistics and transport sectors. He further emphasised that today’s competitive business environment demands traders to be innovative and not to hesitate to explore untapped markets of the world if they want to be ahead of the rest.

In his welcome address, Buamim said that as part of its new strategy, the Dubai Chamber will be opening first of its overseas representative offices by the end of this year, one of which is in neighbouring Azerbaijan, which will serve as a gateway to the region while offering business opportunities in several countries across Central Asia, including Kazakhstan.

Buamim reaffirmed the Dubai Chamber’s commitment to providing all the support to Kazakhstan businesses in establishing joint partnerships under the Dubai Chamber’s strategic objectives of creating a favourable business environment and promoting Dubai as an international business hub. He called upon Kazakhstan investors to benefit from the competitive investment potential offered by the emirate which he said is a gateway to the region as Kazakhstani companies look for a stable and prosperous base to expand into the Middle Eastern, African and Southeast Asian markets.

“Dubai is an excellent example of how a country can diversify its economy into a number of different industry sectors. Our economy has moved away from oil reliance and is now focused on trade, tourism, logistics and financial services which are the main drivers of the emirate’s economy and are lucrative areas for foreign direct investments,” said Buamim.

Kazakhstan is ranked 58th on the list of Dubai’s top trading partners as the emirate’s non-oil trade with the country last year valued more than Dh2.5 billion, of which imports were Dh763 million and exports and re-exports at Dh1.74 billion.

The briefing session had opening remarks by Askar Shokybayav, consul-general of Kazakhstan, and presentations by Ayan Yerenov, vice-president of Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and representatives of Kaznex Invest.

Shokybayav said that the trade volume between the two countries was very low and expressed his desire to see a substantial increase; to that effect, high-profile trade delegation from Kazakhstan, headed by the country’s Minister of Industry, will be visiting Dubai in the next two months.

Gafur Ikhsan, co-chairman of the Kazakhstan-UAE Business Council, lauded the role of Dubai which he said is a model city with world-class infrastructure, logistics and financial facilities and attracts investors from all over the world. “We are working with our Dubai colleagues to attract investors to establish businesses in Kazakhstan which is a very interesting business destination and open to offer all facilities to overseas investors who are more than welcome to our promising country,” he said.

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Qatar plans to invest in Egypt’s tourism, industrial projects

Gulf Today – 10 September, 2012 – Qatar plans major investment in tourism and industry projects along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast over the next five years, the latest pledge of support to an economy hammered by a year and a half of political turmoil. The projects include gas, power and iron and steel plants at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal and a giant tourist resort on the Mediterranean coast.

Egypt’s stock exchange closed at a 14-month high on Thursday on optimism that a new government with a clear popular mandate will secure investments and donor aid to stave off a balance of payments and budget crisis. Cairo last month formally asked the International Monetary Fund for $ 4.8 billion in emergency funding.

“We spoke with President Mohamed Mursi and agreed to invest in a power plant, natural gas and iron steel,” Qatar’s prime minister, said Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani recently. “This will be in a integrated complex in East Port Said.”

Sheikh Hamad was speaking at a joint news conference with Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil shortly after meeting President Mursi. He said the investments in the Port Said projects would extend over five years. Qatar announced three months after the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak that it was interested in investing near Port Said, but the plan had lain dormant since then.

In the last few months, Egypt has received more than $ 5 billion in loans and pledges, including $ 2 billion in direct budget support from Qatar and loans from Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Development Bank. Qatar deposited $ 500 million in direct budget support at the Egyptian central bank in August and said it would pay the remaining $ 1.5 billion over the coming three months.

“We agreed on the following dates. At the end of this month will be one portion, the end of October another portion and the end of November another portion,” Sheikh Hamad said. Meanwhile, Egypt’s central bank kept its benchmark overnight deposit and lending rates unchanged, as expected, saying it was still concerned that inflation might speed up and economic growth slow down.

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More Than 3 Mln Expected To Visit Maha 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 (NNN-Bernama) — The International Agriculture, Horticulture and Agro tourism Exhibition (MAHA) 2012, to be held at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (Maeps) from Nov 23 to Dec 2, is expected to attract more than three million visitors. MAHA 2012 Project Director Anas Ahmad Nasarudin said the expo themed ‘Agriculture Transformation through Innovation’ would feature products to showcase the success achieved in the agriculture and agro based sector, through local and foreign technology and innovation.

Anas, who is also the Chief Executive of Marditech Corporation Sdn Bhd, said MAHA 2012 would also be a platform for youths to venture into agriculture and agro based sector which offers lucrative returns. “MAHA this year would involve the participation of about 20 countries, including Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Singapore, Korea, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Pakistan,” said Anas during an interview on Bernama Radio24 Ala Carte Pagi programme. He added that MAHA 2012 would provide a suitable platform for the local business community to expand markets for their products at the international level.

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Contemporary Art Can Help Boost Tourism Industry – Muhyiddin

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 13 (NNN-Bernama) — Contemporary Malaysian art can play a major role in boosting the local tourism industry, said Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. He said initiatives to promote contemporary art was also one way to encourage and support the creative works of local painters.

“It is also in line with the theme ‘Malaysia Your New Tourism Destination’ and efforts to put the tourism sector as one the sectors under the National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs),” he said when opening the Tourism Ministry’s art gallery at the ministry’s building here. He lauded the setting up of the gallery as it could help spur veteran and new artists in the country to produce more high quality paintings.

“Malaysia has its fair share of talent in this field particularly among the younger generation and their work should rightly be promoted as a new tourism product,” he said. The gallery located on the ground floor of the building features paintings of veterans and young painters among them Suhaimi Fadzir and Ahmad Shukri besides those of students of fine arts of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

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Johor’s Legoland Set To Become An International Tourist Attraction

SINGAPORE, Sept 9 (NNN-Bernama) — Closely located to Singapore in the southern tip of Malaysia’s Iskandar region in Nusajaya, Johor turns Legoland into an international tourist attraction, says Legoland Malaysia general manager Siegfried Boerst. “Legoland Malaysia is really an exciting project for us as it is as an entertainment scoop opportunity we are looking for in Asia.

“Iskandar Malaysia supported us and we have great opportunity being close to Singapore and located in the southern tip of Malaysia here really make us an international tourist destination,” he told Bernama at the Legoland Malaysia Media Family Preview Day recently.

Boerst said the progress have been great (and) “we are very happy that we can have visitors ready in the park to train our staff to be ready for the public opening on Sept 15. He said the group has been selling annual pasess over the Internet to cover the Singaporean and Malaysian markets.

“We have sold day tickets as well to our travel partners and tour operators or on roadshows to invidual guests. “So we had roadshows in Singapore and Johor over the last few months.”

He said the sale of annual passes have been successful and Legoland would continue with the sale of such passes. “Over 35 per cent of the passes have been sold in Singapore, so we see Singapore really is our resident market together with Johor.

“We are so close with just 10 minutes from the Tuas Immigration Checkpoint. It is really easy to get here for Singaporeans,” he said. In terms of international tourists, Boerst said Legoland targets international tourists that already come to Malaysia or Singapore.

So being in the southern part of Malaysia, he said Legoland can profit from tourists coming to Singapore or to Kuala Lumpur especially in the future when the Senai Airport starts more direct international flights.

Asked on the target visitors, Boerst said:”In the begining we were targeting mainly people who are already coming to Malaysia from Asean countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines mainly.” But now, he said there are great potential to get visitors from India, China and Hong Kong as well.

“We have a lot of Facebook friends…for example Hong Kong is third largest numbers that have interest in the project (Legoland).

“So we can see there is a big potential for those markets as well especially with Legoland’s resort destination strategy to add a waterpark and a hotel next year,” he said.

Through the hotel and water park projects, he said “it would enable us to sell more to tourists who want to stay for several days and on a short break in Johor. “We are building the hotel and it should be completed and open to the public in the beginning of 2014,” he said.

Construction on the water park, to be located next to the theme park, will start this month and expected to be completed in the second half of 2013. He said the cost for the water park and theme park together with all the facilities is RM720 million.

In terms of visitors target, Boerst said: “For the first year, our target is over one million visitors, but seeing the response so far, we are very confident that we will get more. For Singaporeans who bought the annual passes, the use of Malaysia Automated Clearance System (MACS), will definitely be good as it will help them to facilitate the border crossing.

Boerst said Legoland has arranged special coaches to ferry Singaporean visitors to the theme park. “There is a yellow bus (Causway Link) from Jurong East which drives people to Malaysia, so that is the public transport which have a stop at Legoland as well. He said there is also a shuttle bus from the Singapore flyer where people can book for a return trip.

“They will be pick up at the Singapore flyer and drop at Legoland. So if people do not have the car there are still ways to come to Legoland.

The yellow bus will start this week and the service at the Singapore flyer will start in conjunction with the opening of Legoland to the public on Sept 15,” he added.

Operated by Merlin Entertainment Group, the world’s second largest visitor attraction operator, Legoland features seven themed areas with more than 40 rides, shows and attractions.

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Enhancing Malaysia’s Position As Medical Tourism Hub

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia’s prominence as a medical tourism hub will be given a boost through the transfer of knowledge and expertise within IHH Healthcare Bhd, the Malaysian-owned world’s second largest private hospital operator.

Expressing this optimism today, MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd Chief Economist Anthony Dass said Malaysia had what it takes to mature into a major medical tourism hub – facilities, space and talent. “What needs to be done is to pool all these to create quality and cost effectiveness in the industry,” he told Bernama.

Dass said IHH, which also operates hospitals in India, Turkey and Singapore through joint-venture partners, could undertake knowledge transfer in a two-way system where the locals could go on foreign attachments while foreign specialists could come and work in Malaysia.

One area that required focus was medical research and development (R&D), he said. “When you are talking about 2020, you are talking about high-income nation status and, eventually, we are talking about R&D. It is R&D that is going to ensure potential sustainability, develop productivity and create innovation. We bring in foreign expertise and transfer knowledge and move on from there. That’s the cutting edge we can have because we have the space,” Dass said.

He said that though Malaysia’s closest competitor in healthcare was Singapore, other countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia were also replicating the health business model, thus making it imperative for Malaysia to improve the quality and skills of its medical professionals.

Another positive side to IHH’s emergence was that support service providers in the country such as Faber, Radicare and others would now have to improve their standards and quality.

“When IHH brings in its top foreign talent and expertise, it will help standards in the country to move higher. As IHH moves higher, other private hospitals will also want to elevate their standards and in that process the support service providers will also have to improve their standards,” Dass said.

On this score, former Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican had said that prospects for Malaysia’s medical tourism would be “very good” provided Malaysians must did their part in ensuring that they remained professional and ethical at all times.

Dass said that between 2007 and 2011, Malaysia’s cumulative growth in medical tourism was about 19 per cent. Income-wise, Malaysia’s healthcare sector should aim for a revenue of RM50.5 billion by 2020 from the present RM13.2 billion, he said.

IHH, Asia’s biggest healthcare services provider, recently recorded a strong performance in the second quarter ended June 30 with a net profit of RM403.5 million. Revenue climbed by 137 per cent to RM3.97 billion from last year following greater demand for quality healthcare services in Asia, said its managing director Dr Lim Cheok Peng.

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Sudan, Qatar Sign Agreement For Co-Operation In Antiquities

DOHA, Sept 12 (NNN-SUNA) — An agreement for co-operation in the antiquities field has been signed here between Sudan and Qatar. At a press conference held after the signing of the agreement, the Executive Chairman of the Qatari Project for Antiquities Exploration, Abdalla Al-Najar, said the agreement was part of the joint Qatari-Sudanese antiquities exploration project and provided support to the antiquities activities in different area in Sudan, including Nahral-Neil and the Northern States.

He said the Sudanese-Qatari co-operation in the antiquities’ field comes in the context of the distinguished relations between the two countries in all domains.

Al-Najar said that the Sudanese-Qatari cooperation in the antiquities field began since the visit of Sheikha Al-Mayasa bint Hamad Al-Thani, the daughter of the Emir of Qatar, to Sudan in February 2011, accompanied by the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Qatar Museums Corporation, Sheikh Dr. Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al-Thani, and the Executive Chairman of the Qatari Antiquities’ Exploration Project, Abdalla Al-Najar.

The signing of the agreement was attended by the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Qatari Museums Corporation, Sheikh Dr. Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al-Thani, and chairman of the Sudanese part in the project, Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail.

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Algeria, Kuwait sign trade, tourism deals

Kuwait Times – 13 September, 2012 – Algeria and Kuwait signed here on Tuesday two cooperation agreements on trade and tourism. The agreements were signed by Algerian Finance Minister Karim Djoudi and Dr Nayef Al-Hajraf Finance Minister, and Acting Education Minister and Higher Education Minister at the conclusion of the joint committee meeting.

Both sides have set next April for a special committee meeting to take follow up action on investment cooperation file. The two sides also agreed to organize seminars and commercial-related meetings in Kuwait and Algeria to explore investment opportunities.

Algeria and Kuwait asserted importance or organizing exhibitions for products of both countries. Djoudi handed over to Al-Hajraf a draft agreement on cooperation and exchange of information between the Bank of Algeria and the Central Bank of Kuwait. Al-Hajraf said he would refer the draft deal to CB for study.

Both parties voiced satisfaction with Kuwait Projects Co’s (KIPCO) partnership with Algeria over the establishment of a pharmaceutical company, producing power generators, farming and creation of other firms. The Kuwaiti side briefed the Algerians over the water desalination experience.

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10 Indonesian cities to host APEC meetings

September 14 2012 Kuta, Bali (ANTARA News) – Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu has stated that 10 major Indonesian cities will host a series of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in October 2013.

“Besides the main event, we will have a series of international programmes and meetings, including music and art shows and seminars,” she said on the sidelines of a coordination meeting on the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia`s Economic Development (MP3EI) on Thursday night.

Mari added that the 10 major cities were Lombok, Medan, Palembang, Yogyakarta, Bandung, Jakarta, Manado, Makassar, Semarang, and Surabaya. Although the APEC Summit itself will take place in Bali, the idea behind holding the other meetings in major cities outside the province is to promote the potential of the country as a whole in order to boost the creative economy, she explained.

When asked about tourism potential of the 10 cities where the meetings are scheduled to be held, she said “it would be promoted at the venue of the meeting. When the APEC meeting will be held in Surabaya, for example, we will promote Mount Bromo and the Batu tourist resort, among other things,” Mari stated.

“We also have books and films ready to promote the 10 places during the APEC meetings,” she added.

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Pakistan’s strong economic indicators, attractive for foreign investment in power, oil sectors

TIANJIN, China, Sept 12 (APP): Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Wednesday, mentioning Pakistan’s strong economic indicators, said the country was an attractive zone for foreign investment, particularly in power, oil and gas exploration and infrastructure development sectors.

The Prime Minister expressed these views while leading a discussion of the Business Interaction Group on Pakistan at the Meijiang Convention Centre – the venue of ongoing World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of New Champions. Dilating upon Pakistan’s macro-economic stability and liberal investment policy, the Prime Minister said country’s economic consistency, openness and predictability in policies were vital factors in providing foreign businessmen an enabling environment for their investment.

He said his government was committed to facilitation of business, reforms and deregulation in pursuance of its economic philosophy. He mentioned Pakistan’s strategic location next to three important regions – South, Central and West Asia, that provided a shortest access to the energy-rich and fast developing Central and Western Asia.

He said for the economic world, the country could prove a bridge, linking to multiple corridors of cooperation in energy, trade, investment, transportation and tourism.

Prime Minister Ashraf said due to macro-economic stability, the country’s economy was expected to grow by over four percent this year. He said country’s banking sector had withstood the global financial crisis of 2008 with the help of its exports that grew by 30 percent in 2011.

On liberal investment policy, he said all sectors of economy were open to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In addition, there was no restriction on equity as foreigners were permitted hundred percent foreign equity, statutory protection, and high rates of return accrued to investment.

He said there were institutional safeguards provided in the system like Competitive Commission, the Security and Exchange Commission and Central Bank. He said Pakistan had a non-discriminatory investment policy for all countries.

The Prime Minister said Pakistan was a country of 180 million with a growing middle class and an increasing demand for goods and services. He mentioned that abundant and unexploited natural resources including coal, oil, gas, water and irrigation systems and minerals had great potential of exploration.

He said investment in power sector could be made in the areas of solar, wind, renewable energy, solar tubewells, hydro and thermal power generation. He said opportunities also existed in modernization and refurbishment of ports and railways. He informed the Business Group that a Korean company had shown interest in constructing a 300 mega watt solar power plant in Balochistan.

He said recently an upfront tariff had been determined for solar energy plants which would help the investors. To a question, the Prime Minister said Pakistan was working to have good relations with India including trade ties. He mentioned the recent visit of Indian External Affairs Minister S.M Krishna to Pakistan and the discussions carried out on easing the visa regime and cooperation in agriculture sector.

Regarding facilitating the overseas Pakistanis, Raja Ashraf said their confidence in the country was reflected through increase in remittances.

Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh said the middle class expatriates could benefit from investment in stock exchange. He said an investment fund was being set up for expatriates. He said housing schemes had been launched to attract investment from expatriates.

There were also a few questions about increasing cultural exchanges with India to which the Prime Minister mentioned a recent agreement. He said relations with India were being improved step-by-step in a positive way.


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Garuda Indonesia rated as best international airline: Survey

Tue, September 11 2012 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia has been rated as the Best International Airline from the period of August 2011 through July 2012, according to a survey conducted by Australian market research company Roy Morgan.

Garuda Indonesia Vice President for Corporate Communications Pujobroto stated on Monday that the research involved 4,530 respondents who were asked to give their opinions on the products and services provided by various global airlines.

“In the survey, Garuda Indonesia scored the highest, with 90 percent, along with Singapore Airlines. Our score was higher than those of other airline companies such as Air New Zealand, Emirates and Thai Airways,” he said. Earlier in July, Garuda Indonesia was named “The World`s Best Airline” and “The Best Regional Airline in Asia” by London-based airline rating agency Skytrax.

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Tourist numbers on rise: Egyptian statistical agency

Ahram Online, Wednesday 12 Sep 2012 – Egypt received one million tourists in July, 8.3 per cent more than the 936,000 it received the previous year, but still 300,000 less than in July 2010, largely as a result of the revolution early last year, government statistical agency CAPMAS reported on Wednesday.

Tourists came mainly from Western Europe, followed by Eastern Europe and then the Middle East, spending a total of 11.4 million nights in-country – 7.8 per cent more than in July of last year and 10.6 per cent less than in July 2010.

According to CAPMAS, Egypt welcomed 218,000 tourists from Arab countries in July 2012 – 0.4 per cent more than in July 2011, but less than the 306,000 that came in July 2010.

Arab tourists spent 3.3 million nights in Egypt in July of this year, 7.6 per cent less than in July of the previous year. The number of nights spent by Arab tourists in July 2010 stood at 3.2 million, slightly less than those seen in July of this year.

The average number of nights spent by Arab tourists in Egypt stood at 12.4 in July of this year, compared to 11.9 nights last year and 11.5 the year before last.

2012 appears promising for Egypt’s struggling tourism sector. The 16.12 per cent more tourists received in June 2012 compared to June 2011 represent a positive indicator of the country’s long-awaited recovery.

Former tourism minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour has predicted 12 million visitors to Egypt by year-end, representing a 23 per cent increase on the previous year.

In August, CAPMAS reported that the number of tourists coming to Egypt had reached 5.08 million during the first half of the year.

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New road connecting Egypt and Sudan to open on 20 Sept

Reuters, 9 Sep 2012 – A new road linking Egypt to its southern neighbour Sudan will be inaugurated on 20 September, significantly cutting transport costs between the two countries, a senior Egyptian official was cited by state news agency MENA as saying on Saturday. The road, which cost LE45 million ($7.4 million) to build, will connect the village of Qastal in southern Egypt to the northern Sudanese city of Halfa, said Ibrahim Amer, a senior transport official, according to MENA.

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Arab Festival of Caricature to kick off in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia

Ahram Online, 13 Sep 2012 – The first edition of the Arab Festival of Caricature (AFOC) will take place in three Arab Spring countries — Egypt, Tunisia and Libya — in December. Themed “Arab Spring Revolutions,” AFOC hopes to attract contributions from more than 1000 caricature artists from the three countries. The festival will run 3-7 days, during which time there will be cultural events, like symposia, round table discussions, and cartoon drawing workshops.

The festival will have a section for children (under 16s), aimed at understanding how the Arab Spring revolutions affected them psychologically.

Locations and detailed plans will be announced soon for each country participating in the festival. The festival will accept competition entries from artists globally, as organisers are interested to see what non-Arabs think about the Arab Spring too. Application details can be found on the festival’s website.

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Luxor Film Festival to highlight best of Egyptian and European cinema

AlAhram Online, 7 Sep 2012 – The first Luxor Egyptian and European Film Festival on 17-22 September is a collaboration between the Noon Foundation for Culture and Art, various governmental bodies and other supporters and sponsors from Egypt’s culture and tourism scene. “This is the result of two years work,” Gamal Zayda, secretary general of Noon Foundation, said at the festival’s press conference.

“The festival aims to foster cultural dialogue between Egypt and Europe,” Dr Mohamed El-Kaliouby, president of Noon Foundation, said. “We chose Luxor because it is the historic capital of the world, a city that has a magical element.”

“This festival is an opportunity for locals to discover other cultures in Europe that we are not familiar with,” Dr Magda Wassef, president of the Luxor Film Festival, stated. The festival features several Egyptian films in addition to films from the United Kingdom, Germany, Serbia, Greece, Finland, Estonia, Portugal, France, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Belgium, Russia, Holland, Ireland, Switzerland and Romania.

During the five-day festival a number of activities are on the horizon: a feature films competition, a short films competition, screenings of Egyptian films shot in Luxor, a special tribute to British cinema and several symposiums on cinema-related topics.

The Feature Films Competition includes After the Battle (Egypt), Barbara (Germany), Fish n’ Chips (Greece), Graveyard Keeper’s Daughter (Estonia), Journey to Portugal (Portugal), The Bear (Romania), The Box (Serbia), The Good Son (Finland), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (France) and Wilaya (Spain).

The jury for the competition includes a selection of Egyptian and European journalists, directors and producers. The awards are the gold, silver and bronze DJED pillars.

“The DJED pillar is the backbone of Osiris, which is a symbol of protection,” Dr Mohamed Ibrahim, antiquities minister, explained. “It is also a symbol resurrection to represent the new renaissance of Egyptian society after the revolution.”

The Ministry of Antiquities allowed the Temples of Luxor and Karnak to be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival. Not only that, but for the duration of the festival, local and international visitors can visit the Luxor antiquities for free.

The Feature Film Competition of the festival will kick off on 18 September with a screening of After the Battle by Yosry Nasrallah, the film that brought Egypt to the Cannes Film Festival this year. The Luxor Festival will mark its first screening to an Egyptian audience.

The festival is paying special tribute to British cinema. The festival will honour producer Paul Webster and his most recent film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, will be open the festival. The film includes a supporting role by Egyptian actor Amr Waked. Several other iconic recent British films will also be screened.

The festival will also be paying tribute to Egyptian actor Ahmed Helmy for his contribution to Egyptian comedy, along with author Bahaa Taher, a native of Luxor, who is the festival’s guest of honour.

Taher shared his excitement at Luxor becoming a cultural hub in light of the efforts to bring cinema, his childhood passion, to the city through this festival and the African Short Film Festival that took place in Luxor earlier this year.

One of the unique elements of the festival is the Open Air Programme. In an attempt to bring back the old cultural habit of open air cinema, which used to be the most common type of cinema hall in Egypt during the 50s and 60s, especially in the summer, the festival is having an open air programme which will be screening 35mm films that were shot in or are related to Luxor.

The films screened will be: Sera’ Fi El-Wadi (Struggle in the River) by Youssef Chahine, Gharab fi El-Karnak (Passion in the Karnak) by Ali Reda, Thalatha Ala El-Tariq (Three on the Road) by Mohamed Kamel El-Kaliouby, Waraqet Shafra (Paper Code) by Amir Ramsis and X-Large by Sherif Arafa.

The festival will also serve as a unique opportunity for many different artists, filmmakers and cinema lovers to meet, so it is only natural that part of the extensive programme is a series of symposiums. The roundtable discussions will revolve around the following topics: British cinema, literary adaptation in cinema, shooting in Luxor and Egypt, short film production, and the hottest topic on the table in Egyptian culture now: freedom of expression in Egypt.

The festival comes in the midst of ongoing criticism, insult and attack on Egyptian filmmakers and actors. Over the past months, there have been many cases of Islamist preachers, lawyers and religious figures who have taken a strong stance against artists. Some have called for limits on freedom of creative expression, calls that most artists do not want in post-revolution Egypt.

“Everyone taking part in the Luxor Film Festival is fighting for freedom of expression and creativity,” Taher confirmed, stressing that part of this is to keep working and giving more opportunities for people to be exposed to art.

Minister of Tourism Hesham Zaazou said tourism is directly related to culture, hence the ministry’s eagerness to support this project. “We need to present positive messages on the state of security in Egypt through these types of events, making a campaign to tell people Egypt is safer now,” the minister said.

The Ministry of Tourism supported the festival with LE600,000 despite its budget difficulties. The Ministry of Culture in turn supported the festival with LE650,000, along with printing all the materials and paying the accommodation of the filmmakers and actors. The Luxor Governorate also gave the festival a lot of support, according to the organisers, by offering venues, such as the Culture Palace, Youth Centre and Conference Hall, as screening spaces.

Collaboration between the difference sectors of the state will hopefully help bring cinema to more corners of Egypt. The opening and closing ceremonies will be aired live on Nile Cinema. Ahram Online will also be covering the festival through our correspondent in Luxor.

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Two-day International Poetry Festival kicks off in Rangpur, Bangladesh

RANGPUR, Sept 07, 2012 (BSS) – The two-day International Poetry Festival kicked off here from today amid huge enthusiasm and colourful ceremony at Town Hall auditorium. Over 300 poets of Bangladesh, India, Nepal and expatriate Bangladeshi poets in Australia are taking part in the festival arranged by Rangpur-based reputed literary newspaper the ‘Natun Shahittya Potrika.’

Director General of Bangla Academy Shamsuzzaman Khan formally inaugurated the festival as the chief guest with noted educationist and former Principal of Rangpur Carmichael College Professor Dr Rezaul Haq in the chair.

Convener of the festival and Editor of the ‘Natun Shahittya Potrika’ Poet Mahfil Haque delivered welcome address. The ceremony was moderated by noted cultural personalities Anwarul Islam Raju and Afifa Ishrat Chetona. Renowned literary personality Habibul Haque Sarker of Bangladesh, Poets Sukumar Das Gupta, Partho Raha, Pranji Basak and Alok Bandopaddhaya from West Bengal in India were present as special guests.

Noted Poet Ashish Sannyal from West Bengal, India, formally opened cover of the special edition of the ‘Natun Shahittya Potrika’ published on the occasion as the guest of honour in the inaugural ceremony.

With renowned educationist and literary personality professor Alim Uddin in the chair, noted literary personality Mostafizur Rahman attended the second session in the afternoon on the inaugural day as the chief guest.

President of Rangpur District Unit Command of Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangshad and President of Rangpur Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mosaddek Hossain Bablu and Poet Man Prasad Shoba from Nepal attended as special guests.

Speaking at the ceremony the speakers said poems are the sources of feelings, inspirations, expressions, love, affection, beauty, sadness, agony, hopes, cheers, and joys of human being, society and civilization as a whole.

Poets Kallyan Chattopaddhya, Ramesh Purokayostha, Sattyapriyo Mukhopaddhya, Debashish Chakraborty, Sajit Saha, Tonushree Paul, Probir Sheel, Dr Nurul Islam, Sunil Sarker, Rakesh Ranjan, Dibakar Dhakal, Abhiyug Adhikari, Ranju Giri, Arun Biswas and Sokhdum Azam Mashrafee recited their self-composed poems.

Hundreds of people of all ages including poets, writers, educationists, socio- cultural activists and professionals enjoyed poem recitations, discussions on poems and cultural functions.

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Bangladesh to make first ever education export abroad

DHAKA, Sept 7 (BSS) – Bangladesh is going to make debut as an exporter of knowledge and education to a foreign land after a private maritime institute got approval from Mauritius recently to open up a campus near Port Louis in order to train Mauritius students on shipbuilding and naval architecture, sector insiders and officials confirmed here today.

The Cambridge Maritime College (CMC), a British accredited institute, has partnered with Australia International Education to offer an initial six-month semester to 40 Mauritius and African students, who will have to complete their three- year Bachelor of Science (BsC) degree, with two-and-half years study in Dhaka.

“This is going to be a landmark development in education and maritime sectors in Bangladesh,” Rashed Khan Menon, chairman of parliamentary standing committee on Education, told BSS, when approached for comments over phone this afternoon.

“Earlier, Bangladesh institutes used to provide education to a number of students from many countries up to eighties, but things turned an opposite direction as education quality deteriorated quickly under military rules.”

Director of the pioneering CMC Khorshed Alam said he has been motivated and convinced enough to open up overseas campuses of his CMC maritime institute, which started its journey in 2008, in order to facilitate high-income overseas employment for Bangladesh nationals and re-brand Bangladesh in the area of knowledge and technology transfers.

According to United Nation’s maritime review 2011 report, the world maritime industry that involves shipbuilding, human resource development and cargo transportations was growing at a faster rate (28 per cent) than anytime before. Countries such as the Philippines, China, India, South Korea and Turkey have been dominating the maritime world, where Bangladesh has just stepped in.

“But compared to our presence as newcomer in maritime business, Bangladesh has made tremendous progress with ocean going vessels being built in local shipyards, while private institutes coming forward to cater skilled seafarers for domestic and internationals ship companies, shipyards, port authorities and management companies,” Khorshed said, adding Mauritius has already got positive impressions about the standard of education in Bangladesh.

Kishore Ramdayan, managing director of Australia International Education, said Bangladesh has been proved as one of the best destinations for Mauritius and African students to get maritime education, because of the cost effectiveness, practical shipyard training facilities, and an ever improving quality of education in Bangladesh private institutes. “Unfortunately Mauritius doesn’t have any facility for maritime education.”

“A Bs.C in shipbuilding or naval architecture requires $70,000 is Australia, while it would cost only $ 16,000-$20,000 with a Bangladesh institute,” Kishore said over phone from Port Louis, suggesting students from other countries to cheque with Bangladesh institutes that are approved by Edexcel, the largest education awarding body in the United Kingdom, which operates 25,000 educational institutes worldwide.

A senior government official said the government appreciated the initiatives taken by CMC and vowed to continue offer support from the government to spread Bangladesh education to rest of the world. He said thousands of students now go to foreign institutes for higher studies, while many local institutes have earned international standard to offer education. “The CMC initiative is the ‘very first’ Bangladesh initiative to export education to a foreign country.”

Bangladesh has around 60 shipyards, six of them now export ocean-going vessel to Europe and other countries, while its 4,323 marine offers, employed in merchant ships, alone earn around 14 percent of remittances. The country has only one institute in public sector, while 12 others in private sector, who together produce a small number of seafarers compared to its annual demand for 220,000 marine professionals.

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Indonesian visa eased for Bangladeshis

DHAKA, Sept 10, 2012 (BSS) – Bangladeshi national will not have to obtain prior approval for getting Indonesian visa as the country has decided to exclude Bangladesh from the list of countries requiring background check and prior approval to this end.

Outgoing Indonesian Ambassador to Bangladesh Jet Mirzal Jainuddin said this when he called on Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni at her office today.

The Indonesian ambassador informed the foreign minister that earlier Bangladeshi nationals had to go through a background check by the Indonesia Immigration and obtain prior approval for of visa from the embassy in Dhaka.

Considering the excellent bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Indonesia and the good track record of Bangladeshi nationals abroad, Indonesia has decided to exclude Bangladesh from the list of countries requiring background check and prior approval of getting visa, he said.

The outgoing ambassador also informed the foreign minister that Indonesia has decided to offer scholarship to Bangladeshi students for diploma, undergraduate and master’s programme.

The foreign minister of Bangladesh expressed happiness over the present state of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Indonesia and stressed on the further promotion of trade between the two countries.

She also requested the Indonesia ambassador to encourage Indonesian businessmen to import more products from Bangladesh.

Dr Dipu Moni thanked the outgoing Indonesian ambassador for his contributions in the promotion of bilateral relations.

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India to help preserve Bangladesh’ archaeological sites: Azad

NEW DELHI, Sept 11 (BSS)- Information and Cultural Affairs Minister Abul Kalam Azad said here today India would extend cooperation in preserving Bangladesh’s archaeological sites including the ancestral home of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Tungipara in Gopalganj district.

The Minister disclosed this to reporters after his talks with Indian Cultural Affairs Minister Kumari Selja at Hotel Taj Mansingh here.

“By this time, India has developed expertise in the field of archaeology. India has assured that it would extend cooperation in preservation of all the archaeological sites in Bangladesh including those at Mohasthangarh in Bogra, Mainamati in Comilla and Wari-Bateshwar in Narsingdi,” said Azad, who is on a four- day visit to India.

Besides, he said India has also assured that it would impart training to archaeologists of Bangladesh. Earlier, the Information and Cultural Affairs Minister of Bangladesh had talks with Information and Broadcasting Minister of India Ambika Soni at her office.

Emerging from the talks, Azad said they reviewed the progress in implementation of the decisions in the joint communique, in the field of information and cultural affairs signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s India visit and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s Bangladesh tour.

At the talks, he added that both the sides laid emphasis on expediting the implementation process of the unfinished tasks in this regard by resolving the problems at the earliest. Azad informed that there was extensive discussion on telecasting of Bangladesh television channels in India during his talks with Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister.

It was decided that a committee representing experts of both the close door neighbours in the field would soon be constituted to review the matter. Besides, the Minister said it was decided that the comparative facilities in the electronic and print media, laws and rules and regulations that now exist in both the countries would also be reviewed.

He said the two sides decided on increased cultural exchange programmes between Bangladesh and India and on the visit of cultural delegations between the two nations. Dhaka and New Delhi were of identical view that the joint celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Poet Rabindranath Tagore in Bangladesh and India was a grand success.

High-level dignitaries of both the countries attended the programmes on the occasion. Against the backdrop of the grand successes of Tagore’s birth anniversary celebration, the Minister will hand over replicas of ‘Padma Boat’ and ‘Chapola Boat’ the Nobel laureate used while producing his literary and creative works, to the authorities of Biswa Bharati in Shanti Niketan and Rabindra Bharati in Kolkata.

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International Seminar on Islamic Propagation in Era of Globalisation

Ishan Ibrahim (Borneo Bulletin Online) – The International Seminar on “Islamic Propagation in the Era of Globalisation” is scheduled to be held on October 3 and 4. Organised by the Faculty of Usuluddin, Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA), the two-day prestigious event will take place at the International Convention Centre in Berakas.

This was announced by Dr Hjh Rasinah bte Hj Ahim, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Usuluddin, during a press conference at the UNISSA on Monday. Amongst the seminar’s core objectives were to enhance the education and academic research in the field of Islamic propagation as well as its components; to give attention to problems regarding the training of Islamic preachers; to assess the role of Islamic propagation in the mass media; to identify the challenges faced by Islamic propagation, and the solutions; making Islamic propagation a reality in the era of globalisation, and to share experiences in propagation to find the best ways in the dissemination of Islamic laws.

Some 30 working papers will be deliberated in the Malay, Arab and English languages. Two of the working papers will be presented by Prof Dr Ali Jumaah, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and Al-Habib Omar bin Hafiz al-Hasyimi Al-Husayni from Yemen. The event is open to academicians – local and foreign, representatives from the government and private sector, students of higher education, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and individuals.

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Brunei Plans 2,000 tourism jobs by 2015

Azaraimy HH (Borneo Bulletin Online) – The country’s Tourism Masterplan set its strategic direction towards achieving 50 per cent increase in the number of visitors and tourism revenue. The implementation of the masterplan is also expected to create avenues to increase direct and indirect employment opportunities for more than 2,000 people by 2015.

Mariani Hj Sabtu, Acting Director of Tourism Development Department, said this during the opening ceremony of a workshop called “GAP Analysis on Implementation of Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Tourism Professionals and Feasibility Study for the Establishment of a Regional Secretariat for Asean Tourism Professionals”, yesterday.

“Looking at these impressive figures and forecasts (of the masterplan), I am sure it impressed upon all of us the need to prepare ourselves now to be able to host visitors to our country to make sure that they will take home wonderful memories and experiences vacationing here.

“We therefore need to ask ourselves whether we have the capacity to deliver consistent quality of services to international visitors and even our very own domestic and regional travellers. “More importantly, are our services consistent with the reasonable expectations of the average traveller?” she asked.

“Are our tourism service providers properly trained? And to what standards of competency should they be trained? And which standards are we going to follow or adopt?” she queried.

“I think these are the fundamental questions and issues that the Asean Mutual Recognition Agreement on Tourism, which was signed in 2009 by Asean Tourism Ministers in Hanoi, Vietnam, needs to be comfortable with. The same goes for Brunei Darussalam,” she said.

Speaking about the workshop, Mariani said both the GAP Analysis on Implementation of the Mutual Recognition Arrangement and the Feasibility Study for the establishment of a Regional Secretariat for Asean tourism professionals are follow-up programmes serving towards achieving those same goals set in the MRA implementation by identifying the required minimum industry standards pertaining to tourism professionals.

She said the MRA focuses in six major groups of travel services, namely: Housekeeping, Food Production, Food and Beverages Services, Travel Agents and Tour Operators. Since its adoption, Mariani said several projects have been completed, such as Asean Common Competency Standards for Tourism Professionals (ACCSTP), Common Asean Tourism Curriculum (CATC) and Regional Qualification Framework and Skills Recognition System (RQFSRS).

Mariani said Brunei places great importance in the development of high quality services, competency and professionalism in our tourism and hospitality service sectors.

“We have established collaboration and cooperation among government and private institutions,” she said. She also took the opportunity to express Brunei Tourism’s appreciation and gratitude to the Ministry of Education and institutions such as MTSSR and ITB for their strong support. “But I feel that we need to do more together,” she continued.

“I believe it is possible for us to leverage today’s workshop as an initial point of embarkation to identify our very own competency gaps and move towards addressing them, while contributing effectively to our commitment in this area to the Asean institution,” she stated.

During the workshop, Mr Jim Irwin, an Australian consultant facilitating the workshop acknowledged Brunei’s potential in the tourism industry. He said, like Australia, Brunei’s rich natural resources will continue to play a greater role in the economy, but the tourism industry has big potential not just in creating revenues but also jobs.

He also praised Brunei for holding international events, including sporting events, which have the potential to put the nation on the tourism map through “word of mouth”.

Speaking of the GAP analysis, it is believed that one can even sit down and use today’s info-communication technology to assess information, but it is not a proper way to do research, because nothing can replace face-to-face meetings such as what is being held during this workshop.

He said, Brunei, in terms of tourism, has a unique set up, unlike others who have been in the tourism game for so long. The country can start from a “fresh palette”, learn from others in designing events and so forth.

According to him, the tourism industry is something that has a lot of beginning but has no end.

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International peace conference underway in Sarajevo

Sarajevo, 23 Shawwal1433/ 10 September 2012 (IINA) – An International Peace Conference stressing the culture of living together began in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday. This is the first joint gathering of religious and state leaders from the Balkans since the conflicts in Bosnia in 1990s.

The Community of Sant’ Edigio and the Archdiocese of Vrhbosna in Sarajevo, in close cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic and Jewish Communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, have organized the three-day conference on the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo. The initiative is fully supported by the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities. Religious leaders of all faiths, from the Balkans and from other parts of the world, as well as cultural and civil authorities have attended the conference.

Beside religious leaders, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, Italian Prime minister Mario Monti and Bakir Izetbegovic, chairman of Bosnia’s Presidency, addressed the conference. On the final day of the event tomorrow, participants are expected to sign a join treaty for a long-lasting peace in the region.

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Muslim Americans meet post-9/11 fears with outreach

Washington, 24 Shawwal1433/ 11 September 2012 (IINA) – After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, racial discrimination and Islamophobia spiked against the Muslim and Arab-American communities in the United States.

In the years since then, members of those communities have responded by sticking together to promote education about their religion and cultures. The FBI reported a 17-fold increase in the number of hate incidents against Muslims in the period immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, increasing from 28 reported hate incidents against Muslims in 2000 to 481 in 2002.

“Islam was put in the spotlight in a bad light,” said Zainab Baloch, a senior in psychology and president of N.C. State’s Muslim Student Association. “I grew up in the America where, as Muslims, we were required to explain ourselves and what exactly we were. Our parents never had to deal with this type of backlash.”

The Muslim Student Association was formed nearly 20 years ago because a large number of international and Muslim students on campus at that time felt underrepresented. The MSA works to increase diversity education and provides programs for people of all backgrounds to meet with other Muslims on and off campus, as well as educating both students and faculty about Islam.

Education about Islam is a key goal for both the MSA and NCSU’s Muslim community, according to Muneeb Abbasi, a senior in business administration. “It makes me very happy to see that the Islam classes I’m taking on campus are full of students who’ve never been exposed to the subject, and that the interfaith events that MSA holds are full of people as well,” Abbasi said.

“It shows me that there are people out there who want to learn more about our religion… The best way to have any sort of interfaith dialogue is only through good education, and I think everyone should be well educated on religion, regardless of what faith you are.” Despite these efforts to educate, hate crimes still happen on college campuses. In July, an Islamic center was vandalized in Rock Hill, S.C. Suspicion still lingers as well. For instance, many members of the Muslim community have reported differential treatment in airport security lines since 2001.

“Every time I fly I am randomly selected to be screened,” Baloch said. “When we came back from Pakistan last year from visiting my mom’s family, we were told to wait about five hours before we could enter our country.”

Baloch said the people she saw being randomly selected for screening were of Arab or South Asian descent. “This event really disappointed me because the way we were treated and handled felt like we were some type of criminals and that we didn’t belong to our country,” Baloch said.

The years since the Sept. 11 attacks have seen a number of high-profile controversies involving the Arab American and Muslim communities. In 2010, controversy arose with the building of an Islamic community center, then called the Cordoba House, in lower Manhattan. The Cordoba House, or Park51 as it is known today, was dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” by the media. At the height of its controversy, a CNN poll taken in August of 2010 found that 68 percent of Americans opposed the building of the Islamic community center.

Many, like sophomore biological sciences major Yusor Abu-Salha, said events like the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy are over-sensationalized by the media, which in turn increases Islamophobia in the country. “(The media) tends to tag the term ‘terrorist’ to many Muslim faces and names so easily,” Abu-Salha said. “They show what will give America a certain impression, and they hide what they can deal without. They will show what gets their ratings up, and they use fear to do it.”

Controversy continued in 2010 when Terry Jones, the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., said he would burn 200 Qurans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. “What people didn’t realize is that burning the Quran is actually one of the most respectful ways of disposing of the book,” Abbasi said. “Obviously, his intent wasn’t that, but the way people around the world reacted was insane, and that’s why the media had a field day with it. If the pastor hadn’t received as much attention as he did, the issue would’ve died out long before it actually did.”

Many, like Abu-Salha, have hope for a less sensationalized future. “I think we’re on the road to recovery,” Abu-Salha said. “Hopefully one day the actual practicing Muslims will be recognized instead of those who have hijacked the religion.”

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Turkey, Azerbaijan sign more contracts

Hurriyet Daily News QABALA – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Azerbaijan emphasized the improving business and trade ties, with the two countries signing eight deals yesterday in Qabala. Turkey will not open its border gates with Armenia unless the country solves its problems with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Erdoğan said, speaking at a joint press conference with Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev after the signings.

A meeting of the Turkey-Azerbaijan High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, co-chaired by Erdogan and Aliyev, was held in Qabala yesterday. Turkey and Azerbaijan signed eight cooperation agreements in various fields, including energy, transportation, diplomacy, culture and economy there, Anatolia news agency reported.

Turkey and Azerabaijan improved their energy ties with a deal earlier this year to build the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), a planned project to carry Caspian gas to eastern Turkey, from where it might also be transferred to European markets. This was followed by fresh talks on adding Turkmen gas to the project with contributions from Azerbaijan.

“Opening the border gates (with Armenia) is out of the question, unless the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is solved,” Erodğan said at the meeting.

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Maldives Ranked Asia’s Fourth Best Holiday Destination

2012-09-10 – Maldives has been ranked the 4th place in the BEST IN TRAVEL POLL 2012, voted by readers of SmartTravelAsia.com, the only dedicated travel magazine for Asia which has consistently high search engine rankings. This is a worldwide poll with SmartAsiaTravel.com’s frequent traveler readers voting from Europe, USA, and Asia, where voting was from May to July this year.

Smart Travel Asia Magazine is an online magazine platform working on natural rank for searches like “Best Maldives resorts” and “Maldives resorts review” with a reach of over 1,000,000 high-end travelers.

“Readers come to us to seek independent trusted editorial recommendations” says Vijay Verghese, Editor of Smart Travel Asia. Vijay further added that they are also working to build powerful online brand visibility and demand for NTOs like Incredible India, Tourism Authority of Thailand and and also premium hotel brands like Conrad Maldives and Bulgari Bali etc.

The Awards results can be accessed on http://www.smarttravelasia.com/travelpoll.htm

Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation hosted a destination Marketing Workshop on 13 September 2012. Key stake holders from the industry involved in marketing attended the workshop to discuss ideas and gather information for the formulation of the destination marketing strategy for 2013. Input of the industry stakeholders is crucial for an effective communications plan for the overall destination which balances between realistically taking into account the strategic objectives of all stakeholders whilst addressing the budgetary limitations.


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City Terminal Check-in facility in Dubai

Khaleej Times – 11 September, 2012 – Air Arabia has launched its first “City Terminal Check-in” facility in Dubai and may add more facilities on demand. The facility in the Lamcy Plaza shopping mall is Air Arabia’s first check-in service outside of an airport and offers increased convenience for passengers travelling from Dubai.

“This is the first counter we are doing outside Sharjah. We will see the result and performance of this and then decide to open more (counters),” Adel Ali told Khaleej Times at the launch. The counter of Air Arabia’s “City Terminal Check-in” is equipped to accept baggage from passengers, which is then sent straight to Sharjah International Airport.

Passengers can check-in 24 hours before their flight, up to three hours before departure. Checked-in passengers, who can choose seats for their flight, will receive their boarding passes, as well as claim tags for any checked-in luggage, meaning they only need to reach the airport to proceed to their flight.

“We know that our customers value the efficiency of Air Arabia’s operations which enables them to travel more for less,” said Ali. “Our new City Check-in facility will be a great value addition for our passengers; helping to reduce the amount of time they need to spend at the airport and making the process of flying just a little more hassle free.”

“City Terminal Check-in” was inaugurated during a ceremony held in Dubai, which was attended by the airline’s officials, trade partners, Lamcy Plaza officials and media.

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New domestic airline to link Abu Dhabi and Fujairah

Khaleej Times – 10 September, 2012 – The nation’s first domestic airline will begin its operations from September 19 when it begins flights to Fujairah. The former chairman of Etihad Airways, Dr Shaikh Ahmed bin Saif Al Nahyan, announced the launch of his new venture Rotana Jet, with a fleet of two ERJ145s.

The man who ran Gulf Air for four years before founding Etihad, as well as heading the Abu Dhabi Civil Aviation Authority for some time, hinted that another aircraft will join the fleet next month, while the fourth one will be added later in the year. Next year will see the fleet’s expansion to 12 brand-new aircraft acquired through leasing.

The double flight operations to Fujairah will be followed by a service to Al Ain on September 26. “Flights to Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah will follow soon,” Dr Al Nahyan said. On a service between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, he said he was “considering” it. Tickets can be purchased online or from local travel agents, as well as from the counters at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The airline on June 2 began its service on Dalma Island and Sir Bani Yas in Abu Dhabi to fill the demand gap created by the growing number of travellers on the two sectors, which include local residents and tourists on Dalma Island. The aircraft takes off from Abu Dhabi’s downtown Al Bateen Airport. But flights to Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah will fly from Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Terminal 2.

And in order to make the shortest possible check-in time, the passengers will not have to go through the immigration and customs routine procedures, taking only five minutes to board the aircraft. For a hassle-free travel, “there will be no complexities involved in the check-ins,” Ahmed Al Haddabi, chief operating officer of the Abu Dhabi Airport Company, told Khaleej Times.

The one-way fare to Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah will start from Dh200, “inclusive of everything,” Dr Al Nahyan said. The passengers will not be served meals due to the short duration of the flight. However, beverages and water will be offered, commercial and planning director Rajendran Vellapalath told Khaleej Times.

Embraer aircraft will be used on the network, which has the seating capacity of 50 passengers. The flight time to Fujairah and Al Ain will be 30 minutes, while it will take 25 minutes to fly to Sharjah, he said. The travel time to Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah by road is five to six hours from Abu Dhabi, which will be cut down to 45-60 mintues, Vellapalath said.

Dr Al Nahyan said the airline will be “competing with buses and taxis” to these destinations. “There is a strong demand on these routes according to the market surveys,” Vellapalath said. He expected between 60-70 per cent seats to be filled on the aircraft in the initial months of operations, which will grow gradually.

On future plans of the private airline, Vellapalath said the flight frequencies on these routes will be increased to three-flight-a-day in the next phase. However, there is no immediate plans of expanding beyond the borders.

On the successful business operations, he said Dalma Island, a destination inhabited by 8,000 Emiratis and expatriates, is also visited by tourists, which has made the load factor ranging between 60-70 per cent. Sir Bani Yas, a tourist destination is even more stronger with 80 per cent seats filled, he said.

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Indian VP Releases the Book “Muslims in Indian Cities”

10-September, 2012 -The Vice President of India Mr M. Hamid Ansari has said that Indian Muslims are, in more ways than one, sui generic. They are 13.4 percent of India’s population; at the same time, they are the second or third largest Muslim community in our world of nation-states. Addressing after releasing a book entitled “Muslims in Indian Cities” edited by Laurent Gayer and Christoph Jafferlot here today, Mr Ansari has said that Muslims have lived in India’s religiously plural society for over a thousand years, at times as rulers, at others as subjects and now as citizens. They are not homogenous in racial or linguistic terms and bear the impact of local cultural surroundings, in manners and customs, in varying degrees.

He said that the Partition of India in 1947, a result of political calculus, compromises and adjustments of elites but not of population at large, affected adversely the Muslims in India, particularly in the northern and eastern states of the Indian Union. For several decades thereafter the socio-economic impact of that event on the Muslim minority remained largely un-studied or understudied. Ad hoc government initiatives taken occasionally were poorly implemented.

The Vice President opined that the realisation is dawning that as equal partners in a democratic polity governed by the ideals of social, economic and political justice, they can make the weight of numbers felt in political decision-making and seek a fair access to it.

Following is the text of the Vice President’s address :

“The subject of India’s Muslim minority, and its socio-economic condition, has been the subject of considerable study in recent years. The debate has thus progressed from informed and less informed speculation to diligent collection and analysis of actual conditions based on ground data.

Indian Muslims are, in more ways than one, sui generic. They are 13.4 percent of India’s population; at the same time, they are the second or third largest Muslim community in our world of nation-states. They have lived in India’s religiously plural society for over a thousand years, at times as rulers, at others as subjects and now as citizens. They are not homogenous in racial or linguistic terms and bear the impact of local cultural surroundings, in manners and customs, in varying degrees.

The Partition of India in 1947, a result of political calculus, compromises and adjustments of elites but not of population at large, affected adversely the Muslims in India, particularly in the northern and eastern states of the Indian Union. For several decades thereafter the socio-economic impact of that event on the Muslim minority remained largely un-studied or understudied. Ad hoc government initiatives taken occasionally were poorly implemented.

In March 2005 the Government of India set up a High Level Committee under Justice Rajinder Sachar to collect authentic information about the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community so that it could be used for formulation of specific policies and programmes to address its socio-economic backwardness.

The Sachar Report has become a landmark and is being used by the Government for affirmative action in different areas. The extent to which it has succeeded is the subject of a lively debate. Amongst the many studies undertaken, I could mention the volume edited in 2010 by Rakesh Basant and Abusaleh Shariff and the Report published last year by Harsh Mander’s Centre for Equity Studies. Both shed much light on the conceptual and practical limitations of the extant policies.

The volume before us today adds some useful empirical data to the debate. It is yet another example of the thoroughness and diligence of the CNRS, Paris and of its guiding light, Professor Jaffrelot, who needs no introduction to an Indian audience. It is a sociological study of the condition of Muslim communities specifically in a dozen urban centres. It explores patterns of segregation as well as of resilience. The concluding essay by the editors offers a nuanced view of social and territorial marginalisation through typologies and argues that Muslims are losing ground.

This conclusion may be contested on two grounds. In the first place, any generalisation for so large a number spread over a vast area, is hazardous. Secondly, and as the editors point out, the Muslims of India are NOT a homogenous entity. Different strata of the community have performed differently. The elite of a feudal past have lost ground but some amongst them have adapted themselves well in new callings. New elites have sprung up amongst those who in the past were socially under-privileged and are now doing well in terms of educational levels and economic wellbeing.

Above all, the realisation is dawning that as equal partners in a democratic polity governed by the ideals of social, economic and political justice, they can make the weight of numbers felt in political decision-making and seek a fair access to it.”

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New approach – Tunisia increasing tourism promotion and development

Global Arab Network, 11 September 2012 – A new government tourism management agency set to begin operations this month will bring together several aspects of Tunisia’s tourism sector under one roof, combining efforts to increase promotion, develop overall strategy and facilitate a more liberalised air transport policy, including overseeing negotiations for an open skies agreement, Global Arab Network reports according to OBG.

The new unit, which is in the process of being established under the Ministry of Tourism, will have to oversee a changing sector. In the past, Tunisia has relied heavily on its seaside resorts to attract package tourists, primarily from France, Italy, Germany and the UK. In fact, 80% of visitors come from six countries, Elyès Fakhfakh, the minister of tourism, told international media recently.

However, the emphasis on package tourism has resulted in relatively modest visitor spending, particularly when compared to other regional destinations such as Egypt and Morocco, limiting sector revenues. This was exacerbated when tourist arrivals dropped some 2.5m visitors to 4.5m in 2011 after former President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in a popular uprising. The unrest in neighbouring Libya, previously a major market for Tunisia’s hospitality industry, further compounded the sector’s woes, while the eurozone debt crisis has moderated demand.

Speaking to news agency Reuters in April, Fakhfakh said he believed numbers would recover in 2012 although would fall short of the level of 7m arrivals seen in 2010. The latest figures from the research department at the Ministry of Tourism show that receipts from the sector are starting to recover, having dropped from TD1.78bn (€892.8m) in 2010 to TD1.11bn (€554.8m) in 2011. As of July 31, tourism receipts have climbed back to TD1.53bn (€765m).

Tourism arrivals are beginning to improve as well, with 3.24m tourists entering the country through the end of July, a 34% increase on the 2.42m arrivals in the first six months of 2011, but still down on the 3.97m total tourists who arrived between January 1 and July 31, 2010.

Tourism remains big business in the country, with the travel and tourism sector directly accounting for 6.6% of GDP in 2011, a figure that is forecast to rise to 8% this year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The sector’s direct and indirect contribution accounted for at least 14.3% of GDP in 2011, according to the WTTC. The sector is also a major employer, employing 415,500 people in 2011, or 12.9% of total employment.

To maintain this expected level of growth, however, both the private and public sector will need to further diversify the country’s overall appeal, both in terms of markets and in terms of activities. Niche tourism activities, such as health and eco-tourism, offer extensive room for growth, particularly at the high end of the market where thalassotherapy resorts have already had an impact. Similarly, non-traditional markets such as Russia and China, who hitherto have not comprised a particularly large proportion of Tunisia’s inbound holidaymakers, have sent burgeoning numbers of tourists to other Mediterranean markets such as Egypt and Turkey, highlighting the potential for Tunisia to increase its own slice of the pie.

The previous government had taken a number of steps in this regard, spending roughly €28m annually on advertising campaigns, while new classification systems for hotel facilities were introduced, in a bid to encourage an improvement in accommodation standards.

According to Fakhfakh, the country’s current aim is to diversify its existing tourism product to include desert adventure holidays, spas, golf and a greater focus on the country’s diverse regions, including deserts, forests and archaeological Roman and Islamic sites.

Tunisia held its first Alternative Tourism Fair in 2012 in June in the village of Ken near Bouficha, in the Sousse governorate. Habib Ammar, the director-general of the Tunisian National Tourism Office (L’Office National du Tourisme Tunisien), speaking to Agence France Presse in Tunis, said that the fair was an initiative undertaken by the newly formed Association for the Promotion of Alternative Tourism in Tunisia (L’Association de Promotion du Tourisme Alternatif en Tunisie, APTAT). The main aim of alternative tourism is to reduce Tunisia’s reliance on seasonal visitors by providing a diversified tourism sector that will receive visitors year round.

The minister of tourism is also working with other North African states to encourage long-haul visitors from Asia and the US to book multi-stop packages, such as Roman tours across Tunisia and North Africa.

Negotiations with the EU over an open skies agreement is also hoped to put the sector on a more secure footing for the future. Open skies is supposed to make it easier for foreign and low-cost airlines to use the country’s airports. Morocco’s decision to sign a similar agreement in 2006 led to an increase in low-cost flights to cities such as Marrakesh – although some carriers have struggled with the increased competition – and Tunisia is hoping a similar open skies agreement will provide the same increase in traffic.

According to Fakhfakh, negotiations are expected to take between six months and one year to conclude. Once agreed, the new tourism management unit at the Ministry of Tourism will have responsibility for its implementation.

The limits of package and budget tourism – the traditional mainstays of Tunisian tourism – have long been clear to those working in the sector, and for a number of years, private operators have been pushing to improve the attractiveness of the country for high-end and niche visitors, with some success. However, the drop in visitors and the subdued interest from major markets has lent new urgency to the government’s push to diversify Tunisia’s appeal.(OBG)

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Dusit Grand Opens Hotel in Maldives

Dusit International celebrated the grand opening of its flagship resort, the Dusit Thani Maldives, in a ceremony that saw His Excellency Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the President of the Republic of Maldives, and First Lady, Madam Illham Hussain, as the guests of honour.

Also in attendance was Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor, the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

Dusit International CEO, Chanin Donavanik, and Chatri Sophonpanich, Chairman of Dusit Thani Public Company Limited along with the board of directors of DMS Property Investment Private Limited, were also on hand to mark the event.

Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, in his opening remarks, commented on the deep commitment that Dusit International has made to his country, “The Maldives will not only benefit from economic gains and job creation as a result of Dusit International’s investment, but equally, if not more important, is the legacy afforded by the education opportunities that Dusit International will introduce to this country … The group has created a blue print to develop their well established and highly successful hospitality college in the Maldives.”

Chanin Donavanik, CEO of Dusit International said, “It has always been the dream of Dusit International to establish a hotel property on this beautiful island destination. To realize this dream is a source of tremendous pride and achievement for the entire Dusit group.”

Mr. Donavanik reflected on the long history of the company and the vision of Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui, founder of Dusit International, who opened the first Dusit Thani College in 1993. Furthermore he confirmed that Dusit Thani College is in the process of being established in the Maldives.

Located on Mudhdhoo Island in Baa Atoll, Dusit Thani Maldives is just 35 minutes by seaplane from the capital Malé and only 10 minutes by speed boat from the new domestic airport opening in late 2012. It is also just a short boat ride away from Hanifaru Huraa, the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

The fully operational Dusit Thani Maldives comprises a luxurious collection of 100 exclusive guest villas and residences. The resort also features three restaurants, two bars and Dusit’s signature Devarana Spa, uniquely elevated above a grove of coconut palm trees.

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Seminar highlights health benefits of Islamic lifestyle

(Borneo Bulletin Online) – A seminar lauding the benefits of daily prayers and fasting was held at the International Convention Centre on Wednesday in conjunction with the Knowledge Convention 2012. (Dr) Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz bin Juned, the State Mufti, delivered a working paper entitled ‘A Healthy Lifestyle and Healthy Eating Habits from the Islamic Perspective’. He said that a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating habits are needed to achieve near-perfect health, which has long been realised in Islam and we are, in fact, told to aspire to it.

According to him, the human body is generally made up of four main components, which are the active tissues, bone tissues, water and fats. Each and every one of these components has its own functions in the body. Therefore, the connection is clear that the research done by experts on the advantages of doing activities towards the body’s composition is that whatever activity, heavy or light, done regularly and consistently, is able to burn fat and carbohydrates.

It is similar to the light motions in prayer which have been proven to increase the body’s resistance, in addition to avoiding the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“The greatness of this religious activity is evident from the bowing movement alone: the position of the backbone would be at a 90 degrees’ straight horizontal angle, making it possible to avoid the risks of back pains and arthritis diseases. “Bowing, according to experts, can slow down the ageing process and improve the water balance in the body, along with the levelling of the kidney functions.

“It is also the same with ‘sujud’, which would allow more blood to flow into the brain. Through sujud, the wall and brain nerves would be able to receive greater blood flow as well as a higher oxygen supply, which could make the brain healthier and sharper. With that in mind, we have to make sure that the sujud is done correctly and that we spend a little more time in that position to enable blood to flow to the brain,” explained the State Mufti.

Modern medical researchers, he explained further, have begun to find out that fasting can play a part in getting rid of toxins or poisons from the body and that it can also indirectly increase one’s immune system to fight diseases.

In his working paper, the State Mufti also looked into the opinions of the experts in America, one of which was Dr Mac Fadon, who explained that fasting is like a magical wand that can cure sickness that involves the stomach. Dr Mac Fadon has also been largely successful in treating patients through fasting as an alternative to modern medicine.

The State Mufti also cited another report by Dr Alan Cott, a medicinal expert in the US, who has reported a psychological research proving that fasting could influence the level of a person’s intelligence.

He also stated that in terms of biology, when the stomach and intestines carry out digestive processes, the brain would not function properly because of the energy and blood flows concentrated on food digestion.

In addition, when we eat food until we are full, our brains will become too weak to think and our body becomes lethargic, making our eyes tired. It is different when people are fasting, as their energy and blood flow are concentrated in their brain, which enable them to work efficiently, making their mental and physical states work effectively.

In 1996, an international congress carrying the theme “Health and Ramadhan” was held in Casablanca, in which a number of experts from all over the world presented more than 50 research papers. All the research validated fasting as being able to prevent and cure various illnesses.

All these four aspects are in accordance with the findings of the World Health Organization, that plenty of diseases now are caused by the metabolic syndrome, comprising four things: high blood glucose, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, as well as obesity.

The State Mufti then proceeded to remind people to eat healthy and to not eat too much to avoid endangering their health. He further mentioned that the main causes of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and kidney disease are due to the food consumed.

In another working paper, Assistant Ra’es of Religious Teachers University College of Seri Begawan (KUPU SB), Dr Hj Norarfan Hj Zainal, imparted the significance of health in Islam, saying that Muslims are strongly urged to safeguard and treasure their health, an asset every bit as important as life.

On the benefits of prayers, Dr Hj Norarfan said that this second pillar of Islam can enhance the value of health, such as reducing the amount of fat deposits in the body and also making the kidney more efficient and functional. Daily prayers can enhance the function of the brain, where an individual’s focus and memory can be taken to a higher level, Dr Norarfan added.

The health benefits of daily prayers have been proven, and according to Professor Ir Fatimah Ibrahim, the motions within a prayer can prevent and treat certain diseases associated with the heart, kidneys and sexual-related matters.

Regarding the act of fasting, Dr Hj Norarfan said much research has been carried out, by both the Muslim and non-Muslim medical research community, which has concluded that fasting is beneficial to health. Publications such as ‘Fasting and Eating for Health’ by Joel Fuhrman and ‘Juice Fasting’ by Steve Meyerowitz are examples highlighting the benefits of fasting.

Working papers by Dr Hj Norarfan support these findings, where his work shows that fasting can remove harmful toxins accumulated over time in the body. On a similar note, Dr Hisyam Ibrahim al-Khatib elucidated that fasting can rectify and enhance the digestive system of the human body. Brain functions are also elevated while fasting, as energy and blood circulation are prioritised to the brain, according to research. Consequently the effects include the ability to conduct mental and physical activities in a more efficient manner.

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