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18 Mar, 2013

Gulf’s Largest Heritage Project Underway in Sharjah

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 18 March 2013 (06 Jumaada al-Awwal 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines belo to go to the story.


Malaysia secures largest concierge congress for 2014

Kuala Lumpur will be the destination for the 61st Les Clefs d’Or UICH International Congress 2014, comprising over 400 of the world’s best concierge from more than 43 countries. The International Board of Directors of the Union Internationale Des Concierges D’Hotels “Les Clefs d’Or”, headquartered in Paris, has chosen KL as the event destination after a competitive bid presentation by the Malaysian team in Toronto, Canada. MyCEB CEO Zulkefli Haji Sharif said the Congress from January 11-16 will generate approximately RM6.7 million in economic impact and RM4 million in visitor expenditure to the country. Initiated by Society of the Golden Keys Malaysia and supported by MyCEB, Kuala Lumpur City Hall and its hotel partners, the successful bid is also expected to further grow the reputation of the famed Les Clefs d’Or in the region. Some programmes lined up during the six-day event include an opening ceremony, an after-dark tour of the city, an International Board of Directors meeting, a street food fair and a shopping trip. Adding to Malaysia’s list of successful bids is the hosting of the Million Dollar Round Table Experience in 2014. Scheduled to be held February 13-15 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, the MDRT Experience delivers cutting-edge sales techniques and ideas, technical information and motivational concepts for members of the insurance and financial services sector.

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/ or

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

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Blog: http://blog.tourism.gov.my


Watch Islamic Travel Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil’s landmark TEDx lecture on “Peace through Tourism” on YouTube — the first travel industry journalist in Bangkok invited to speak at this prestigious forum. CLICK HERE.


“Weighing the Causes And Costs Of Global Wars And Conflict” and other columns gagged by the Bangkok Post

For 15 years (January 1997-July 2012), Imtiaz Muqbil penned a hard-hitting fortnightly column called “Soul-Searching” in the Bangkok Post. In July 2012, two editors (Sunday Post Editor Paul Ruffini and Managing Editor Chiratas Nivatpumin) of the so-called “newspaper you can trust” censored and muzzled it, with no explanation. In defiance against that unprecedented action, and at the behest of many upset readers, a selection of the nearly 400 columns are reproduced here, with more to be added regularly. Read this column Weighing the causes and costs of global wars and conflict, and several others, by clicking here.

Examples of some columns:

Globalisation Will Make Religion Even More Relevant

Treating the Symptoms and Not the Cause Is a Recipe for Death

Acts of God Show the Wrath of God

Those Who Send Others to Die for a Lie Are all Cut from the Same Cloth



Gulf’s largest heritage project underway in Sharjah

Sharjah, 29 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/12 March 2013 (IINA) – Aiming to retain the feel of the 1950s in Sharjah’s traditional areas, the largest heritage project in the UAE and Gulf region, the ‘Heart of Sharjah’ is currently in progress aiming to create the first development of its kind.

The five-phase, 15-year historical restoration project which aims to restore and revamp the traditional heritage areas of Sharjah, is scheduled for completion in 2025, Gulf News reported. The project plans to feature diverse commercial, cultural and residential projects. It also aims to create tourist and trade destinations, including a boutique hotel, restaurants, retail shops, art galleries, traditional and contemporary markets, archaeological sites, museums, play areas, and commercial offices which will be placed in renovated old or ancient houses.

The heritage project is being undertaken by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) in cooperation with the Sharjah Department of Public Works and a number of government bodies and departments in the Emirate. “Executing a project of this scope would be impossible if not for the cooperation of stakeholders across the full spectrum of conservation, heritage, and development,” said Shurooq CEO Marwan Bin Jassim Al Sarkal, who highlighted the Sharjah Department of Culture’s continuous efforts throughout the project.

Starting its renovations in 2010, the project’s first out of five phases is near completion. As part of phase 1, the foundation works of the Al Hisn Fort, Al Midfa Houses, and Al Tawaweesh House have been checked and evaluated for plans to add an upper floor to the buildings. The design and layout of the buildings is currently under study. The chipping process has also been completed and the construction team is currently working to repair the façade. Works were also carried out in October 2012 on Bank Street, the first modern commercial street in Sharjah constructed in the late 1970s. The project was launched after a non-intrusive ground radar survey of the area showed extensive remains of the historic core of the city, including its souq, which lay underneath the tarmac of Bank Street.

Works included a full archaeological excavation, led by Tatsuo Sasaki, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Archaeology, University of Kanazawa, Japan and coordinated between Shurooq, the Sharjah Ruler’s Office, the Directorate of Heritage, and the Directorate of Antiquities. “It is believed that the town dates back at least to the late 16th century, and the object of the work to be carried out between November 1 and May 2013 will be to identify the foundations from earlier periods in the town’s history in an attempt to accurately date Sharjah’s urban history in this location, as well as to ascertain how it has evolved over the centuries,” said Peter Jackson, Architectural Adviser in the Ruler’s Office.

Situated just five minutes from the city’s Corniche and 10 minutes from Sharjah International Airport, the heritage project which aims to safeguard the emirate’s national historical character aims to complete phase 1 by 2015.

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Plan Ahead: Malaysia’s Tourism Highlights – April 2013

PUTRAJAYA, 15 Mar 2013: The month of April will be celebrated with a combination of water splashing, flashing jewellery and culture enrichment events. Highlights of the month include:


It’s the month of water splashing again as the Malaysia Water Festival is back to Port Dickson as its first station! Activities like International Jet Ski Challenge and beach soccer competitions will be there to cool down the tropical heat!

As one of the most anticipated events in Port Dickson, it is expected to draw more than 130,000 tourists. So, get ready to join the party!

Organiser: Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia

Date: 3 – 5 April 2013

Venue: Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan

Contact: +6 03 8891 7000


The annual 2013 Kelantan State’s Cultural Carnival is back to promote the uniqueness of Kelantanese culture that differs from most of the Malay cultures. It is initially an event to promote Kelantan as a tourist destination with rich culture, natural attractions and delicious food.

Highlights of the event include the cultural practices of dikir barat, mak yong, and wau bulan (kite-flying). Besides that, handicraft products such as songket, silverware and mengkuang will be introduced to the visitors as well.

Organiser: Tourism Information Centre Kelantan

Date: 5 – 8 April 2013

Venue: Compound of Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium, Kota Bharu, Kelantan

Website: www.tic.kelantan.gov.my

Contact: +6 09 748 6652


Regatta Lepa, one of the most unique and colourful cultural events in Malaysia, is celebrated annually to honour the Bajau tradition of building beautiful ‘lepa’, a traditional single-mast sailing boat.

Highlights of the event include the grand regatta which features colourful ‘Lepas’ parade with dancing women in traditional costume, the ‘lepa’- tug of war, duck catching competition and other cultural performances.

Organiser: Semporna District Office

Date: 26 – 28 April 2013

Venue: Semporna, Sabah

Contact: +6 089 781 (518) / (663)


Prepare to get into the rhythm of percussion and drum music from all over the world! The Archipelago Drum Festival 2013 will be displaying a variety of percussion and drum music as one of the uniqueness of Malay Archipelago cultural traditions.

Performers from Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and other countries are invited to present their art. It is an event initially held to raise awareness among the younger generation to engage with their heritage.

Organiser: Melaka Historical City Council

Date: 9 – 17 April 2013

Venue: Dataran MBMB, Melaka

Contact: +6 06 232 6411


Malaysia largest international jewellery show is coming to town! The 20th Malaysia International Jewellery Festival 2013 (Spring Edition) invites quality international jewellers from Italy, India, Myanmar and other countries to present their latest collections.

Held twice annually, the four-day exhibition is expected to attract a large crowd as jewellery export-import trades in Malaysia are now tax free! Watches, as well as equipment for jewellery production will be on display too.

Organiser: MIJ Exhibition Sdn. Bhd.

Date: 19 – 22 April 2013

Time: 11 am – 6 pm

Venue: Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur

Contact: +6 03 2171 2564

Website: www.mij.com.my


Miss the earlier Malaysia Water Festival in Port Dickson? Now it’s Labuan’s turn to have its very own water festival – the 2013 Labuan International Sea Challenge!

Highlights of the event include the exciting Cross Channel Swimming Challenge, Labuan International Fishing Tournament, and Kayak Sprint Challenge. The event promises all participants an enjoyable experience.

Organiser: Ministry of Tourism, Labuan

Date: 26 – 28 April 2013

Venue: Labuan International Sea Sport Complex

Contact: +6 087 422 622

Website: http://www.motourlabuan.com/

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Selling Nigeria at the World’s Biggest Tourism Exhibition

10 March 2013 – This Day – The entire tourism world virtually descended on Berlin, Germany on Wednesday for another opportunity to sell their countries as destinations worth visiting by foreigners. Nigeria has managed to stand out in its section of the expo. Domiciled in Hall 21 and surrounded by many other African countries, interest in Nigeria and what it offers are still high if traffic to its stand is anything to go by. Obviously, the work put in by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation in erecting an imposing 60 square metre stand is bearing fruits.

Size apparently, is not the only attraction; the stand, which unsurprising is painted in Nigeria’s national colours, is grand without being ostentatious. White leather seats and stools are also in green. Style without substance is hollow though, so the offerings of the country had to be at par.

The NTDC team has been smart enough to highlight where Nigeria has comparative advantage. The selling point was Nigeria’s culture, as mainly carvings, beads, indigenous clothing like Ankara and Nigerian food were on display. Following up on the culture theme were banners that depicted cultural festivals like the Argungu Fishing Festival and the Eyo Festival of Lagos. These helped to draw visitors who were inquisitive enough to ask more questions about the country.

The Nigerian team also took advantage of the recent victory of the Super Eagles at last month’s African Cup of Nations and conspicuous pictures of Stephen Keshi and the national team being received by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also sparked interest.

Another pull was Nigerian music playing in the background, which inevitably sparked spontaneous dancing from many visitors to the stand. “There is a lot of energy at the Nigerian stand,” said an elderly American who simply gave his name as Paul. He was one of the many people who kept circling and taking pictures of random ladies dancing.

“It was not all play though. While all the gaiety was going on, deals were being struck. Many investors enquired about the business climate in Nigeria and sought advice. Security was one of the burning issues. The Director-General of the NTDC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, was, however, quick to allay any fears by insisting that insecurity was an isolated occurrence. Only a few locations in the Northern part of the country were of concern he maintained and the Nigerian government, according to him was on top of the situation.

Sealing Partnerships

In the first two days of the travel exhibition, this writer was privy to a few agreements between the NTDC and some international organisations. One of them was American-based non-profit organization, the Medical Tourism Association, which expressed strong interest in helping to brand Nigeria as a viable destination for medical tourism. The MTA team led by Chief Executive Officer, Jonathan Edelheit, and Global Congress Manager, Cristina Cardona, revealed plans to help in educating and training medical practitioners in Nigeria.

“Our organization works with governments and hospitals in over a hundred different countries and we would like to help brand Nigeria and train personnel with a view to help bring in medical tourists to Nigeria,” said Edelheit who revealed such plans would include helping to form a chapter of the body, the Medical Tourism Association of Nigeria.

“Medical tourism is a huge part of the tourism industry in Kenya and South Africa and we would like to help Nigeria grow this sector and take advantage of the huge opportunities,” he said. “One of the benefits is that it also helps the local population as there’ll be increased investment in quality, in expansion and infrastructure.

“Presently patients travel round the world looking for value, quality and affordability. What the MTA is offering is to come to Nigeria to provide education on where the country’s competitive advantage lies and help develop it,” Edelheit added.

Responding, the NTDC DG revealed that plans were underway to convene the summit where all stakeholders would meet as he also expressed surprise that the body would be the first of any in Africa to partner with the MTA.

Speaking of the advantages, Runsewe said: “We have some massive hospitals in Abuja for example but what they do is strictly medical. However, with this new initiative, tourism would be added to it and that would make people stay longer, which would obviously have a knock on effect on the economy.”

Corroborating this view, the MTA CEO revealed, “Medical tourists spend about five times the amount than a regular tourist and they usually come with a companion so that is a huge opportunity for economic development.”

But is Nigeria ready for medical tourism considering the state of its healthcare system? Runsewe told this writer that there are a couple of “massive” hospitals that could tap into this initiative. “We still have some good hospitals left. The problem is that many doctors who refer patients to hospitals outside our country get commissions for this referral,” he revealed while admitting that there was still a lot of room for improvement, which the agreement with MTA will help to address.

Another initiative to expose the Nigerian hospitality industry to the international market was also discussed with the management team of Preferred Hotel Group, publishers of Preferred Hotels and Resorts and Preferred Boutique Destination Guide. The promotional deal is meant to add value to Nigeria’s hospitality industry improving ease of access to Nigerian hotels. Hotels and other related tourism outfits registered by the NTDC in Lagos, Abuja, Calabar, Kano and Port Harcourt, would be the first set of beneficiaries of this new scheme.

Speaking at the occasion, the Vice-President, Business Development, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa of Preferred Hotel Group, Mr. Jose Venture, said the pact was a historic one, as Nigeria is one of the few Africa countries now on the list of the group. According to him, Nigerian businesses will gain tremendously from the agreement, as the group’s publication has a wide range and is used by many international travellers and corporations.

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Uganda Fields Biggest Team At Berlin Expo

5 March 2013 – The Observer – For the first time in a decade, Uganda has taken the biggest team to the 2013 annual ITB Berlin travel and tourism exhibition The Uganda delegation, which is led by the minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Maria Mutagamba, includes 22 tour operators, including one hotel, Sheraton. ITB is one of the world’s leading travel and tourism shows which attracts about 100,000 visitors.

Edwin Muzahura, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB)’s spokesperson, says Uganda has been participating at the ITB for the last 10 years, and as a result the number of visitors from Germany has been growing steadily. In 2011, Uganda received 8,960 tourists from Germany out of the 32,960 tourists from Europe.

Last year, Uganda’s exhibition stand was voted third best stand from Africa at ITB. This year, Uganda has doubled its space to 100 metres. The stand will trade under the theme “Uganda the Pearl of Africa, your eco-tourism destination.”

In order to improve Uganda’s visibility during the show, for the first time, government has also bankrolled the services of Ndere cultural troupe to entertain guests at the stand and during the cocktail.

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GCC tourist visa plan ‘in final stage’

Gulf Times – 09 March, 2013 – The procedures for issuing a unified GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) tourist visa to expatriates are being finalised and an announcement is expected to be made soon, local Arabic daily Al Sharq reported yesterday.

Quoting the acting director of Tourism and Museums in the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh, Sad al-Nassab, the report said that there were no hurdles to be crossed in implementing this proposal since the GCC countries had a high stake in tourism.

The amount allocated by them in total is to the tune of $380bn. However there has to be a link between the six GCC countries for implementing this scheme.

The details were discussed by the technical affairs committee and the committee on tourism during their meetings held recently. It was agreed to expedite the creation of E-link procedures for issuance of the visa.

As a destination for tourism, the GCC countries offer a variety of choices in terms places of interest, scenic spots, deserts, cool seas, high mountains and salubrious resorts besides political stability and security.

Apart from tourists from abroad, expatriates living in any of the GCC countries will also be eligible to the unified visa, he said. The GCC leaders have in their recent deliberations affirmed the need to forge mutual co-operation in a concerted manner.

Tourism has been identified as a promising sector in light of its potential to augment the gross national product (GNP) of every country, the report added.

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1Malaysia Grand Prix Sale 2013 Launch

KUALA LUMPUR, 16 MARCH 2013 – The Formula 1 Grand Prix returns to Malaysia this year, and with it, comes the exciting 1Malaysia Grand Prix Sale which takes place from 16 March to 7 April, sweeping the nation with 23 days of great discounts and promotions.

The sale, which is supported by the Bukit Bintang-KLCC Tourism Association, will be launched at 8.30 pm today by Tourism Minister Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen at the Bukit Bintang entrance of Pavilion KL.

This will be followed by a fashion show by model and production company Andrewsmodels, and the announcement of the international winners of last year’s ‘BBKLCC Celebration of the Best’ contest held in conjunction with the year-end festivities. The two international lucky winners won based on the best slogan in their contest forms.

They will receive the Grand Prize worth RM100,000 in total, comprising of shopping allowances, hotel accommodations, as well as airline tickets to Malaysia to stay, dine, and experience the best of BBKLCC and its privileges.

This year, the 1Malaysia Grand Prix Sale will also feature a multitude of contests, discounts and promotions throughout the 23-day period. Some of the exciting promotions include:

The Pavilion ‘Fast Track to Malaysia Grand Prix’ Mastercard contest (12-17 March), where participants stand a chance to win the Grand Prize of a pair of Grand Stand tickets, exclusive F1 merchandise, as well as an Exclusive Pass to attend the F1 Gala night at Majestic KL hotel with every purchase of RM300 in a single receipt at any specialty store.

The 1Malaysia GP Sale at Sunway Pyramid (16 March – 7 April) with discounts of up to 70% on most outlets, and a chance to win Sepang International Circuit Grand Stand Tickets.

The ‘100 Pairs Giveaway’ promotion (16 March – 7 April) by Fahrenheit 88, where contestants who spend RM100 in a single receipt at any specialty stores or RM300 at UNIQLO or Brands Outlet can stand to win a pair of shoes, with up to 100 pairs of shoes to give away worth RM20,000.

Other exciting events held in conjunction with the 1Malaysia GP Sale 2013 include:

Malaysia International Shoe Festival (MISF): 28-31 March 2013

Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix: 22-24 March 2013

These sale campaigns and events are part of the Tourism Ministry and Tourism Malaysia’s initiatives of turning Malaysia into a leading international shopping destination, which has received international recognition. Last year, Kuala Lumpur ranked second best shopping city in the Asia Pacific according to the latest Globe Shopper Index, while a CNN report listed Kuala Lumpur as the 4th best shopping destination in the world.

Last year, Malaysia received 25.03 million tourists, with tourist receipts amounting to RM60.6 billion. Shopping contributed to 30.7% of the total tourist revenue, with a grand total of RM18.56 billion.

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Uganda: It Now Takes 15 Minutes to See Chimps in Ngamba Islands

10 March 2013 – New Vision – Going to see chimpanzees and the hundreds of bird species in Ngamba islands will now take just 15 minutes from Kajjansi outside Kampala, thanks to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on Tuesday.

The MoU between Kajjansi Aero Club (Fly Uganda) and the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) will see Fly Uganda carry tourists to the Lake Victoria island famed for its chimpanzee conservation, as well as the monitor lizard and abundant bird species.

The chopper bought from the Japanese Police Force about three years ago will also help promote the other tourist features of the island that include sport fishing and community tourism.

The helicopter carries a maximum of four passengers and a return trip will cost $980 for four full packages, including access to the island.

The island has until now been serviced by boats and motorised vessels only, for a journey that takes an average of 40 minutes. By boat, it costs $80 per person for a minimum of four passengers for foreign tourists and $60 for East Africans.

“This is a natural extension to get more tourists to Ngamba islands,” said Russell Barnes, the director of Fly Uganda at the signing in Kajjansi. A trial flight has reportedly already been done with chimps reacting positively by coming over to watch the chopper.

Barnes said the longer tourists stay in Uganda, the more money they spend and have a better experience “and the more they can talk positively about the country.”

Lilly Ajarova, the executive director of CSWCT, said Ngamba highlands houses rescued chimpanzees from areas that they were endangered. She cited West Africa, where the chimpanzee is already extinct in four states.

“Most of their mothers were killed and were brought as babies. Some were brought back from Europe after being traced back to Uganda. There has to be a deliberate move to see they continue surviving,” said Ajarova.

The sanctuary receives 4,000 international tourists annually. “It is a destination promoting Uganda because tourists include a lot of other destinations,” said Ajarova.

She explained that a monitoring system has been instituted to check any negative drastic effect of the chopper on the chimpanzees, although the test flight showed there is none so far.

“There have been inquiries for quicker (transport) means to the islands, this will also provide a chance for medical evacuation,” said Ajarova.

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Pakistan Cabinet cCears New Investment Policy 2013

ISLAMABAD, Mar 13 (APP): The Federal Cabinet which met here under the chair of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Wednesday approved the Investment Policy 2013 and Foreign Direct Investment Strategy 2013-17. The focus of Investment Policy, 2013 is to reduce the cost and processes of doing business to enhance Pakistan’s competitiveness. It proposes liberalization of economy with emphasis on investors’ facilitation, investment protection, removing regulatory impediments, public-private partnership and coordination amongst stakeholders.

The Cabinet discussed and approved amendment in section 82 of the PPC to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 years and approve the duly vetted Bill, “The (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill, 2013” with this amendment for its introduction in Parliament. This excludes children involved in terrorist activities.

Before taking up the regular agenda, the Prime Minister expressed his deep sorrow and grief over the unfortunate incident of criminal assault on the Christian colony in Lahore.

He said that Christians were equal citizens of the land and must be given complete protection. Minorities in Pakistan are enjoying equal rights as per commitment of the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the teachings of Islam and the government would not allow any body to take law into his hands, he added.

He assured the Christian community that the losses of properties would be made good jointly by the Federal and Provincial Governments. He further assured that the culprits, responsible for this inhuman act would get exemplary punishment.

He said that Islam teaches tolerance and assures protection of life and property of all its citizens without discrimination. He requested the Ulema to help the Government in promoting religious harmony and elimination of intolerance.

Such acts of violence convey wrong signals that depict a negative image of our society before the international community, he said. The Cabinet expressed its solidarity with Christians and all minorities as a mark of respect towards them.

In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister said it is an important day in the history of Pakistan, as the democratic government was completing its tenure.

He appreciated the role of the Provincial Governments, Civil Servants, the Armed Forces and the Security Agencies who extended full cooperation in serving the country and its people in the last five years.

The Prime Minister said that their government inherited many problems, one of the conspicuous among them was the energy crisis. He said the government had been working on multiple fronts to achieve energy security for the country. The government had, therefore, formally kicked off the long awaited $ 7.5 billion Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project aimed at addressing the energy crisis in Pakistan, he added.

The Prime Minister further said that President Asif Ali Zardari and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had officially inaugurated construction of the Iran-Pakistan Pipeline Project in a ceremony held at the border on 11th March 2013 from where the Pakistani section of the Pipeline starts. This project would not only boost the economies of both the countries but also bring prosperity to the entire region.

The Cabinet approved the proposal to start negotiations for the import of LNG from Qatar on government to government arrangements. The Cabinet accorded its confirmation to the decisions taken by the ECC meetings held on March 6 and 8, 2013.

The Cabinet considered and accorded its approval, in principle, to start negotiations and signing of Memorandum of Understanding between the National Records & Archives Authority of the Sultanate of Oman and National Archives of Pakistan for Cooperation in the field of Archives.

The Cabinet also reviewed consumer price index and the trend of prices of essential commodities.

The Cabinet accorded its approval for initiation of negotiations for reciprocal agreement between Government of Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran and Memorandum of Understanding between the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) Pakistan and financial Intelligence Unit of Iran (IRIFIU).

The Cabinet gave its approval to the signing of Executive Programme on Cooperation in the field of Tourism with Government of Egypt.

The Cabinet also accorded its approval, in principle, for the ratification of the agreement for establishment of Joint Commission Signed between the Governments of Pakistan and Niger.

The Cabinet considered and approved Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation between Economic Affairs Division Pakistan and Department of Health South Africa.

Approval to commence negotiations on MoU on the establishment of a Bilateral Consultation Mechanism with Lithuania was also accorded by the Cabinet.

The Cabinet approved initiation and signing of Memorandum of Understanding between the Board of Investment of Pakistan and the Kuwait Investment Authority.

The Cabinet accorded approval to sign Memorandum of Understanding between Board of Investment of Pakistan and General Authority for Free Zones and Investment of Egypt.

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Turkey’s arts and culture on display in China

BEIJING / ISTANBUL – Anatolia News Agency – Turkey celebrated 2012 as the Year of China. Now, in return, China will celebrate 2013 as the Year of Turkey. Many events featuring Turkish arts and culture will be organized in the country until the end of the year. Events will begin on March 21 in Beijing with the gala of a 140-person show.

The “Turkey Year in China” will be celebrated throughout the year in China. Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik, who held a press conference yesterday in Ankara’s Cermodern, said 122 works from all eras would be exhibited in China as part of the events. “Turkey will show itself in all areas such as exhibitions and film weeks,” the minister added.

Also speaking about the controversial restoration process of Istanbul’s historic Emek Movie Theater, Çelik said it the demolition of the theater was out of the question.

“The Emek Movie Theater will be moved to the upper floors according to the original. We are strengthening the inside of the theater,” he said. A ceremony to inaugurate the Year of Turkey, that will feature numerous events in China over the coming months, was also held March 11 in Beijing.

The gala of the event will take place March 21 in the presence of 140 guests. The culture ministers of both China and Turkey will attend the event.

The year’s program of events and exhibitions was launched by Turkish officials at a press conference held at the Chinese Ministry of Culture. A number of show groups from various parts of Turkey will perform at special shows across the country in events, programs and exhibitions that will be organized in the country until the end of the year

Relation of 42 years

Turkish Ambassador to Beijing Murat Salim Esenli said that relations between both countries had a long history and that Turkey had hosted 120,000 Chinese people last year in Turkey during the Year of China in Turkey.

He said that in the 42nd anniversary of the establishment of Turkish-Chinese diplomatic relations Turkey had prepared big productions to express itself better in China, and that they would open important exhibitions there.

Esenli noted that Turkey had the largest Chinese porcelain collection after China and that a total of more than 11,000 pieces in Turkey were from various eras. He said that during the Turkey Year in China many precious pieces of the collection would be exhibited in China.

The ambassador said that Turkish opera artists would make a first in China in May and perform Mozart’s opera “Abduction from the Seraglio” in Beijing. He also said that important exhibits such as Anatolian Civilizations would be opened in China and Turkish films would join the International Beijing Film Festival. It would also be organized Turkish dishes week and a Turkish fashion show, and the Presidential Symphony Orchestra would give a series of concerts in the country.

The Year of Turkey will open in Beijing on March 21 and in Shanghai on March 25 with a special show during which a 140-person selected Turkish artist group will take the stage. “The events will not only be limited to Beijing and Shanghai but organizations will be made in 12 cities.”

Esenli said that Turkey would be promoted to the Chinese population of over one billion, adding, “Such a comprehensive promotional event has not been organized in 42 years of Turkish-Chinese relations.”

Among top 10

Turkish Embassy to China Cultural Adviser İlknur Yiğit said that Turkey was among the first 10 tourism destinations in China. Yiğit also highlighted the importance of the gala program in Beijing and said that works had still been continuing for the program.

Turkish Airlines (THY) Beijing Director Veysel Taş said that THYwas the sponsor of The Year of China last year in Turkey and it would also sponsor the Turkey Year in China this year.

He said that the number of flights to China would increase to 28 as of May, which would be a very big capacity of 1 million seats between Turkey and China.

“As part of this program we expect that some 2,000 people will come to China in 2013. We will also provide discount tickets for passengers between Turkey and China,” he added.

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Bethlehem To Host First-Ever Marathon

BETHLEHEM, Mar 14 (NNN-ALARAB) – The not-so-little town of Bethlehem is to host the West Bank’s first-ever marathon next month in a race starting at the Nativity Church and taking in several refugee camps, organisers said.

The brainchild of two Danish women runners, the Palestine Marathon will take place on Apr 21 and offer runners the choice of three distances: a full marathon of 42.2 kilometres (26 miles), a 21.1 km (13 mile) half marathon or a 10 kilometre (six mile) race.

But given the problems of finding an uninterrupted 42-kilometre stretch within Area A, the small portion of the Israeli-occupied West Bank which is under full Palestinian control, those running the full distance will have to do two loops of the town on a course which passes through Aida refugee camp.

“We thought it would be good to have a positive activity to show a different side of life here,” said Signe Fischer, who has been working for a Danish NGO in Jerusalem for several years.

“We wanted to give Palestinians a new type of activity where they can explore their beautiful countryside,” she said, saying the event has no political agenda and has been two years in the planning.

The event is being organised in coordination with an umbrella NGO called Right to Movement and the Higher Council of Youth and Sports.

News of the race emerged a week after the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced it was cancelling its third annual Gaza marathon after the ruling Islamist Hamas movement refused to let men and women run together.

But Fischer said the Palestine Marathon was aimed at encouraging all people to start running, particularly women.

“We have been having practice runs in Beit Jalla since Jan and now we have 30 people joining every week,” she said.

“People have worked hard to get up to 10 km but I’ve got six weeks to get them up to 21 km,” she said, referring to the half marathon. “They are very excited to be exploring their countryside this way.”

Organisers say up to 100 international participants have already signed up for the race, and hundreds of Palestinians have expressed an interest although local registration only opens this week.

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Arab League urges retrieval of Palestinian relics stolen by Israel

CAIRO, March 10 (KUNA) — The Arab League on Sunday called on the international cultural organizations to act for retrieving the Palestinian books and relics stolen by the Israeli occupation authorities.

The League’s department of Palestine and occupied Arab territories affairs, urged, in a press release, the international community to adopt a decisive stance against the major robberies of Palestinian heritage including boycott of any Israeli organization or individuals involved in the stealth.

Some 40,000 Palestinian books were robbed from Jerusalem alone and the rest 30,000 books were robbed from Jaffa, Al-Naserah and other towns in the West Bank; they are kept at the National Library of Israel, according to the statement.

The League called for an international action against this crime, highlighting the need to return the books to Palestine immediately as per the provisions of the concerned international law.

The call follows reports about the discovery of a large usurpation of the contents of Palestinian public and private libraries in 1947 by the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was active during the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948 and became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) later on.

In 2011 Israeli-Dutch filmmaker Benny Brunner released a documentary on “The Great Book Robbery” which documents the Jewish usurpation of the Palestinian heritage.

The documentary is inspired by Gish Amit’s book titled “Salvage or Plunder? Israel’s ‘Collection’ of Private Palestinian Libraries in West Jerusalem.” Brunner stated that he was “stunned” at the appropriation of 70,000 books by the State of Israel during the 1948 Palestinian exodus as significant to the loss of Palestinian cultural heritage and decided to make a film on the topic.

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Tunisia mobilizes for ”Earth Hour”

Tunisia will host on March 23 the “Earth Hour,” the largest annual international event held every last Saturday of March, at the initiative of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The aim is to fight against climate change.

For the first time in its history, Tunisia, represented by the National Agency for Energy Management (ANME) will mobilize this year, for this action that had taken place for the first time in Sydney on March 31, 2007 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

This operation involves turning off the lights and unplugging non-essential electrical appliances for a period of one hour, in order to promote power saving, and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and fight against global warming. The aim is to mobilize the largest number of Tunisians around the issue of climate change.

To shed light on the important role of this event, ANME held a press briefing on Thursday, March 14.

Samira Douiri, Director of awareness information and public relations, ANME, said it is an excellent opportunity to bring together various stakeholders for a noble gesture towards the environment which will aim not only to save energy but also to increase consumer awareness about the challenge of energy efficiency, knowing that the energy deficit in Tunisia is up 176% in 2012 and is around 1.6 million toe against 600,000 in 2010, i.e. the highest rate.

This view was shared by Faouzi Maamouri, WWF officer in Tunisia and North Africa who said this simple gesture will also induce a change in consumer behavior in favor of saving electricity.

Which impact for an hour without light?

The choice made on evening time to meet this challenge is explained by the fact that turning off lights for an hour from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Habib Bourguiba Avenue, Tunis will generate the equivalent of 520 MWH, said Fathi Hanchi , director of the rational use of energy, ANME.

In the residential sector, electricity consumption will be around 580 GWH, i.e. 32% of the daily consumption of residential lighting.

For the tertiary sector, this approach will help save 330 MWH, equivalent to 15% of daily consumption.

In general, we can note that the “Earth Hour” will help save 850 MWH of energy, i.e. the equivalent of the annual electricity consumption for lighting needs of 4,000 households. At the environmental level, the “Earth Hour” will reduce more than 420 tCO2 avoided.

Moncef Marzouki will inaugurate the “Earth Hour” on March 23, in the presence of a large number of actors working in several areas. Energy consumers are, therefore, invited to participate in this global event, directly from home, turn off the lights at home and in workplaces for 60 minutes and engage in this simple gesture that reduces greenhouse gas emissions responsible for accelerating climate change.

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Turkmenistan builds more international airports

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-03-06 ASHGABAT – Two planned international airports could brighten Turkmenistan’s economic future.

Turkmenistan already has two international airports but intends to build two more by 2016 in hopes of attracting more passengers and cargo. However, analysts debate whether these plans will actually boost tourism and business.

Construction of a new international airport in Ashgabat has begun, media reported January 30. Later reports have come out saying that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov February 8 ordered construction of another one at Turkmenabat.

The new facilities will supplement Turkmenbashi International Airport, which was built in 2010 and can handle 800 passengers an hour, and the existing Ashgabat International Airport, which was built in 1994 and can handle 1,600 passengers an hour.

The future Ashgabat airport, with a planned throughput capacity of 1,600 passengers an hour, would be the biggest airport in Central Asia and will cost an expected US $2.2 billion (6.3 billion TMT). The Turkmenabat airport is projected to cost about a third of that and will be designed to handle 500 passengers an hour.

Polimeks, a Turkish contractor, will build the Ashgabat airport, while Altkom Road Construction, a Ukrainian firm, has contracted to build the Turkmenabat facility. Both new airports are expected to begin operating in 2016.

“At that time, the total throughput capacity of Turkmenistan’s three newest international airports will be 2,900 passengers an hour,” Amansary Garadzhayev, a spokesman for Turkmenistan Airlines, told Central Asia Online. “There is nothing like it anywhere else in the region.”

Turkmenistan’s geographical position makes it ideal for delivering freight between Europe and Asia, and new airports can help with such trade, said economist Bolotberdy Nasimov.

Increasing passenger capacity will boost tourism simply by enabling the country to receive more visitors, he said. “But we don’t just need to build airports; we also have to improve services,” Nasimov said, calling for broader reforms to encourage tourism and noting that visas still are necessary for entering and exiting Turkmenistan.

But some wonder whether new airports will indeed attract more business.

Khalmammed Niyazmammedov, spokesman for Turkmenbashi International Airport, showed Central Asia Online a current timetable for his airport that offers only five international departures and arrivals daily.

Although he acknowledged that the number of flights could increase as the facilities are built, he wondered about whether Ashgabat can support two airports or whether the one under construction will just be a replacement for Ashgabat International.

Current plans call for both Ashgabat airports, although they will be of similar design, to continue functioning, as they will be on opposite sides of the city.

Fewer regulations sought

Some citizens have expressed support for the new airports. The more airports Turkmenistan has, the better off passengers will be, said Turkmenabat resident Alisher Khamrakulyyev, who runs a small-scale “shuttle” trading business with his wife.

“It will be good for us to be able to fly from our airport to Istanbul, Tashkent and Dubai,” he said. “We won’t need to fly to the capital first and fly abroad only from there, as we do now.”

Like Nasimov, he called for easier entry to and exit from Turkmenistan. “Building airports is a good thing, but … the country should (also) open up to the world,” he said.

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Australian Islamic Peace Conference concludes

Melbourne, 05 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/17March 2013 (IINA) – Australia Muslim community held their largest conference in Melbourne, hoping to correct misconceptions about their faith to the wider society.

With the theme of “Australian Islamic Peace Conference”, the event, which will conclude today, aims at bridging gaps between Muslims and followers of other faiths and the wider community in Australia, The Age newspaper reported. Organized by the Islamic Research and Educational Academy (IREA), the three-day conference opened on Friday. . “There was a lot of media after September 11 going against Muslims, saying that they like to harm people, but it’s not true,” Brunswick cafe manager Houssan Afiouni, who came to the conference with his five children, told the newspaper. “The conference invites people to go deeply into Islam and see how peaceful it is.”

At the opening of the conference, Waseem Razvi, the organizer of the Australian Islamic Peace Conference, apologized for the absence of advertised keynote speaker Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah. “He gave us the days, those were the 15th to the 17th of March, and we booked the venue accordingly for the conference,” Razvi told the crowd of about 2000 faithful. “But due to certain personal reasons, yesterday when I spoke to the contact of Sheik Sudais in Mecca, they said to me that (he) will not be able to come because of personal reasons although he was willing and was prepared to come. “Yes, we regret his absence. But at the same time, Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Sudais has said that he prays for the success of this conference, and he said insha’Allah — he wishes for peace for all the Australians,” Razvi said

Instead, Brother Imran of the Indian Islamic Research and Education Foundation and Sheik Anwar Sahib, New Zealand’s only Salafist sheik, led the prayers. The three-day conference features rides for children and halal foods. It also hosts a galaxy of Muslim scholars from around the world who would give marriage workshops, multilingual sessions and Da`wah workshops, OnIslam.net reported. Nearly 1,000 volunteers will be assisting in training and the management of the conference. The conference would also host the “Australian Stars Launch” where “some of Australia’s youngest Daees aged between 6-14 years, who have been actively working with IREA in promoting Islamic teachings and clarifying misconceptions about Islam, will be giving their presentations on some key concepts of Islam”. Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.

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10 Airlines to Operate from New Doha Airport as of April

Effective 1 April 2013, Hamad International Airport (HIA), the State of Qatar’s brand new airport, will begin soft opening operations for the following 10 passenger airlines:

The 10 airlines will no longer have a presence at Doha International Airport (DIA) and will operate exclusively from HIA from 1 April 2013 There will be around 32 passenger flights departing daily from HIA equating to approximately 222 flights per week.

Concourse B at HIA will be fully operational on 1 April 2013 for passengers travelling with these 10 airlines. Passengers will enter the passenger terminal complex from the east side entrance and go directly to the check-in counters. After check-in, immigration and security, passengers will be directed to concourse B. At HIA, passengers departing and arriving will be boarding and exiting aircraft via an air bridge to the terminal.

Along with the concourse B opening on 1 April 2013, the eastern runway, which is the longest of the two runways at HIA, and the uniquely designed, crescent-shaped air traffic control tower, will also be in operation.

Parking will be available at the eastern side of the short term car park in front of the passenger terminal complex. From the car park, passengers will be able to enter the passenger terminal complex through the eastern link bridge connected to parking facility.

There will be taxis available to and from HIA as well as a limousine service from April 1. The taxi pick-up point is located on the arrivals floor at the left side when exiting the terminal and the limousine service is located on the arrivals floor at the right side when exiting the terminal. Across the road from arrivals there will be a pick-up point for private cars.

For transport between airports, arriving and departing passengers will be able to use the shuttle bus service which will be operating from HIA to Doha International Airport Departures terminal (DIA) and DIA to HIA as of the 1st April 2013.

Qatar Airways’ flights will not be affected. The national airline is expected to move its entire operations from the current Doha International Airport (DIA) to Hamad International Airport (HIA) by the end of the year.

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Exhibition promoting culture of peace opens in Bahrain

Gulf Daily News – 13 March, 2013 – AN exhibition promoting peace through the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons opens to the public today at Seef Mall.

Bahrain is the first country in the Middle East to host the exhibition, titled ‘From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace.’

It was launched in 2007 and has been shown in more than 29 countries and various cities around the world, including New York, Geneva, London and Berlin.

Its appearance in Bahrain is co-organised by the Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat), Soka Gakkai International (SGI), International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) and Inter Press Service (IPS).

“The violence we see comes from distrust and fear,” said SGI executive director for peace affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki. “I believe through dialogue we could work through the distrust and achieve peace.”

The exhibition officially opened yesterday during an event at the Bahrain National Museum, in Manama, attended by Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, in co-operation with the Japanese Embassy and Bahrain government. It will continue at Seef Mall until March 23.

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Turkish Airlines Places Its Biggest Order Ever with Airbus

Paris, March 15 (QNA) – Turkish Airlines finalized an order for 82 mid-range jets from European airplane manufacturer Airbus, in a deal with a listed value of 9.3 billion dollars, media reports said.

According to a press release on Airbus website, Turkish Airlines signed a contract for up to 117 A320 Family aircraft (25 A321ceo, 4 A320neo, 53 A321neo and options for 35 additional A321neo aircraft). This order is the largest ever placed by a Turkish carrier. The engine selection will be made at a later date.

“We are placing our biggest ever order with Airbus,” said Faruk Cizmecioglu, Chief Marketing Officer. “At Turkish Airlines our customers expect the best. The A320 Family with its economic benefits combined with superior cabin comfort will greatly contribute to meet our ambitious growth plans.”

“We are delighted with this new order from Turkish Airlines, which takes us above 2,000 NEO orders in a little over two years after launch” said John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer, Customers. “This order confirms that the NEO is the most cost effective and profitable solution for airlines with ambitious growth plans. The 15 per cent fuel saving and the widest cabin in its class give Turkish Airlines a big competitive advantage.”

Turkish Airlines already operates 75 A320 Family aircraft. The new order will help Turkish Airlines expand their short to medium-haul routes from their Istanbul hub, while the aircraft s commonality with their existing Airbus fleet will generate additional cost-savings.

Incorporating new engines and large Sharklet wing tip devices, the A320neo Family will deliver fuel savings of 15 percent. In addition, the A320neo Family will provide a double-digit reduction in NOx emissions and reduced engine noise. The A320neo will enter into service from late 2015, followed by the A319neo and A321neo in 2016.

More than 9,150 A320 Family aircraft have been ordered and more than 5,450 delivered to more than 385 customers and operators worldwide reaffirming its position as the world s best-selling single-aisle aircraft Family. The A320neo has over 95 percent airframe commonality making it an easy fit into existing fleets while offering up to 500 nautical miles (950 kilometres) more range or two tonnes more payload at a given range. (QNA)

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Turkish Airlines plans expansion in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Gazette – 13 March, 2013 – Turkish Airlines, the national carrier of Turkey and Europe’s best airline, recorded a growth in passenger traffic of 43 percent in Riyadh during 2012 compared to 2011, sustaining the momentum that the world’s fastest growing airline reports across the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

An event was held at Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh recently to honor the travel agents for their contribution to driving passenger traffic, in the presence of Ahmet Muhtar Gün, Turkey’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Leading travel agents in Riyadh attended the ceremony.

Building on the growth achieved by Turkish Airlines in terms of passenger traffic from Riyadh – which grew 40 percent in 2011 compared to 2010 – the airline also recorded the doubling of seats on flights to and from the city in the last two years. Simultaneously, the six-city network of Turkish Airlines in Saudi Arabia reported a doubling of passenger numbers from the Kingdom since 2010 reaching 750.000.

Ersen Engin, General Manager for Turkish Airlines in Riyadh, said: “The robust growth in passenger numbers from Riyadh underlines the emergence of Turkish Airlines as a popular carrier for residents in the city, as well as the rising importance of Turkey as a business and leisure destination for the Kingdom.”

“With Riyadh’s robust passenger increase of 40 percent year on year, and increased demand from both business and leisure travelers to Turkey and beyond destinations, we are confident that with our award winning inflight service and competitive pricing the upward trend will continue.”

He added: “We are delighted to celebrate the achievement of our travel agencies that have contributed to the rapid expansion of Turkish Airlines network in the region, and to the airline’s 220 destination network – the largest country network in the world.”

Turkish Airlines currently operates flight to 32 destinations in the Middle East Region, with 14 weekly flights from Riyadh. The airline plans to add further routes in both the Kingdom and the Middle East Region. The company’s growth is in line with the recent IATA announcement that Middle East airlines posted the strongest growth rates for January this year, outperforming the global industry average by tapping into demand from emerging markets.

Huseyin ES, Cultural & Information Attache of the Turkish Embassy in Saudi Arabia, said: “Turkey’s tourism sector is thriving and Saudi visitors are increasingly flocking to the famed city of Istanbul as well as cities such as Bursa, Yalova, Trabzon and Antalya for rich cultural experiences and scenic holidays. In addition, trade relations between the countries are growing, demonstrated by the increased demand and uptake in travel through Turkey’s national carrier.”

As part of Turkish Airlines relations with the travel trade, the airline recently hosted a familiarization trip for the “Winter in Turkey” campaign, promoting Istanbul’s proximity to Riyadh and Turkey’s attraction as a tourist destination, the cultural linkage and spectacular blend of Eastern and Western influences that make the country a popular destination amongst GCC tourists.

For more details including flight schedules of Turkish Airlines, please visit www.turkishairlines.com, or contact the call center on 00 90 212 444 0 849 or visit any Turkish Airlines sales office.

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Abbas Hopes Year 2013 Be Declared Year of Mideast

Moscow, March 15 (QNA) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hopes that the year 2013 will be declared the year of Middle East settlement.

“We hope that this year will be declared the year of Middle East settlement and peace in our region,” Abbas said in a statement relayed by Russian Itar-Tass news agency Friday. “The efforts should be taken to resume the serious and substantive peace process based on the resolutions, which were approved by the international community and worked out on the Arab Peace Initiative,” the Palestinian president said.

“Such move envisages stopping Israel s occupation of the Palestinian Territories and forming the state within the 1967 borders with the capital in East Jerusalem the state, which lived side by side with Israel in peace, good-neighbourliness and security,” Abbas stressed.

On behalf of the Palestinian people he expressed deep gratitude for Russia s “tireless efforts to maintain peace in the region and provide political support to the Palestinian people on the way to make it independent and free”.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hoped that the Palestinian-Israeli settlement would develop positively. “We will do all what depends on us,” he stressed. It is noted that President Abbas flew into the Russian capital earlier Wednesday on a two-day state visit to Russia at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and which will continue until March 16, Itar- tass reported.

President Vladimir Putin met Thursday in Moscow with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas where the two leaders discussed joint cooperation and the situation in the Middle East, and the possibility of the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

“This is the first visit to Russia by the Palestinian leader since Palestine s attaining the status of an observer state in the United Nations on November 29, 2012, the Kremlin press service reports.

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Emirates airline launches $ 1bn sukuk

Gulf Daily News – 13 March, 2013 – Emirates airline, Dubai’s flagship carrier, launched a $ 1 billion amortising Islamic bond yesterday at the tighter end of pricing guidance, suggesting healthy demand for the deal.

The 10-year sukuk, maturing 2023, carries a weighted average life of five years and launched at a spread of 300 basis points over five year midswaps, arranging banks said.

The deal launched at the tighter end of profit rate guidance released earlier and lead managers had said in an update that order books were oversubscribed, including strong anchor orders from regional investors.

Demand could have been spurred by the guidance which investors considered to be generous. The issue was already trading up in grey, or unofficial, trading, market sources said.

Emirates tapped global debt markets in January for a $ 750 million amortising bond, which received a muted response due to weak market sentiment at the time. Citigroup, Standard Chartered, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Dubai Islamic Bank and ENBD Capital are mandated lead managers for the sukuk.

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Master planners picked for Doha’s new Airport City

Gulf Times – 09 March, 2013 – After winning an international competition, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), co-founded by the globally-acclaimed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, has been announced as master planners for Qatar’s proposed Airport City.

The new 10sq km development, where 200,000 people will live and work, is meant to link the Hamad International Airport (HIA) with the city of Doha. OMA’s master plan is a series of four circular districts along a spine parallel to the HIA runways, intended to create a strong visual identity and districts with unique identities.

Phase One of the 30-year master plan, which links airside and landside developments for business, logistics, retail, hotels, and residences, will be mostly complete in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar.

Koolhaas commented: “We are delighted and honoured to participate in the exciting growth of Doha, in a project that is perhaps the first serious effort anywhere in the world to interface between an international airport and the city it serves.”

Partner-in-charge Iyad Alsaka commented: “Doha’s Airport City is an important addition to the realisation of OMA’s work in urbanism and will incorporate unprecedented transport planning opportunities; we look forward to collaborating with the HIA to meet the objectives of this ambitious project.”

Each district of Airport City “will be unique within the master plan’s overall identity”. The Business District will centre on a major new transport hub linking with greater Doha; the Aviation Campus will accommodate office headquarters and educational facilities for aviation authorities; the Logistics District will provide cargo and warehousing facilities; and the Residential District, adjacent to the new Doha Bay Marina, will accommodate future employees.

A Green Spine connects the districts, echoing their individual identities as it runs north-south. The landscaping scheme, developed by Michel Desvigne, is a new public space for Doha that will be used by residents and tourists.

A network of public spaces, gardens and plazas will stretch across the site, surrounded by a “Desert Park”. The competition team was led by OMA partners Alsaka, Reinier de Graaf, Koolhaas and OMA associate Katrin Betschinger in collaboration with engineering consultants, WSP.

The Airport City master plan and development of its individual elements is being led by Alsaka, project director Slavis Poczebutas and Betschinger. Before the 2022 World Cup, Airport City infrastructure and utilities will be completed along with the Western Taxiway and Aircraft Parking System adjacent to the HIA 2nd runway, the HIA Visa Building, and the visual concept planning of the future transport hub.

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China tops list of tourist arrivals to Maldives

MALE, March 14 (Xinhua) — The Maldivian government said Thursday that China had topped the list of tourist arrivals to the island nation after the market had seen a rapid growth since 2009, local press reported.

Maldivian Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb Gafoor was quoted by local media as saying that with the increasing numbers, more Chinese staff were now being recruited to work at the resorts in Maldives and Chinese restaurants were being set up to cater for the guests.

Gafoor further called on the Sri Lankan government to join together with the island nation and promote joint packages to the Chinese as Sri Lanka has more to offer than beaches.

Gafoor’s comments comes amidst calls for a tourism boycott of the Maldives have exploded across Chinese social media networks, after allegations of discrimination against Chinese tourists at one resort became widely circulated.

According to Maldivian media reports, Chinese nationals employed at one of the tourism resorts in the Maldives posted allegations on a Chinese media forum earlier this month stating that guests who were arriving from the country were receiving inferior treatment to Europeans despite paying the same prices.

However, the allegations have been dismissed by the Maldivian government who has stated that the Chinese market was very important for the island nation and the tourism industry would continue to offer high quality service to the Chinese tourists.

Meanwhile, Gafoor said that with the dawn of peace in Sri Lanka, the Maldives will soon be launching a cruise ship service between Male and Colombo and it is likely to commence operations in December.

Gafoor further called on the Sri Lankan government to work together with the Maldives in capturing potential markets as it would be mutually beneficial for both countries in a highly competitive market.

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25 years of Arab creativity” Exhibition opens at Abu Dhabi Festival

Saudi Gazette – 10 March, 2013 – A Paramount visual arts exhibition honoring 25 years of creativity in the Arab world was unveiled last Tuesday night at the opening ceremony of the 10th anniversary edition of the Abu Dhabi Festival, a four-week extravaganza of music, visual and performing arts that continues until March 31.

“25 Years of Arab Creativity” presents the most exhaustive panorama of contemporary Arab art to date, and features painting, sculpture, photography, video & installations, including works by 12 UAE artists.

The gala opening was inaugurated by Abu Dhabi Festival patron Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research; Hoda Ibrahim Al Khamis-Kanoo, Founder & Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Festival; Farouk Hosni, former Minister of Culture for Egypt; Mona Khazindar, General Director of Institut du Monde Arabe (exhibition partner), the Rt Hon David Willets, UK Minister for Universities and Science, Alain Azouaou, French Ambassador to the UAE, H.E. Dominic Jermey, UK Ambassador to the UAE; and a selection of participating artists.

Distinguished guests and dignitaries were joined by hundreds of Emirati undergraduate students from the federal universities of Abu Dhabi, including applicants of the Abu Dhabi Festival 2013 Visual Arts Award, as well as art enthusiasts from across the UAE.

Curated by Ehab El Labban, the Egyptian artist, critic and gallerist, the carefully selected collection of innovative works by artists of Arab origin aims, in El Labban’s words, ‘to paint a precise picture of the distinguishing traits of an Arab artist’. Inspired by personal experiences of evolving Arab societies, over 40 artists from 16 countries are exhibiting work from video and film to paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations.

Spanning over 1000 square meters, the exhibition was first presented in Paris in 2012 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Institut du Monde Arabe, (an ADMAF strategic international cultural partner). In its second edition, and Arab world premiere, at the 2013 Abu Dhabi Festival, visitors can experience a number of new works by the featured artists.

To complement existing pieces by Sharjah-based Karima Al-Shomaly, and award-winning artist Ebtisam Abdulaziz, the capital’s art lovers have the opportunity to view an additional section specially curated by the Abu Dhabi Festival that highlights the breadth and depth of Emirati visual arts practice. Entitled ‘Three Generations’, a further ten home-grown Emirati talents are exhibited, including Sumayyah Al Suwaidi (the UAE’s first female Emirati digital artist), Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi (an Al Ain-based self-taught photographer, graphic designer and writer), and Emirati artist and designer, Mohammed AlAstad Al Hammadi, among others.

Hoda I. Al Khamis-Kanoo, Founder and Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Festival, expanded on the need for major collective exhibitions: “The exhibition provides a window into the cultural currents of the region through the eyes of some of its most innovative and creative minds. Artists are essential to society. They challenge commonly held perspectives with innovative thinking. They raise awareness about social issues, break down barriers to cross-cultural understanding and global dialogue, and inspire creative ideas.

“The exhibition is therefore a reflection of where the Arab world has come from, where it is now, and where it is going. The audience we welcomed here today were enthralled by the range of styles, approaches and mediums used and equally excited by the surge of creative ideas and originality prevalent within each work. Given our continued emphasis on visual arts education, development, and practice, ‘25 Years of Arab Creativity’ is a pillar of the Festival’s 10th anniversary edition.”

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Iran exports $ 664m worth of textiles

Tehran Times – 10 March, 2013 – Iran exported $ 644 million worth of textile products during the first eleven months of the current Iranian calendar year (March 20, 2012-February 18, 2013), IRNA reported. Textile exports grew by 24 percent compared to the same period in the past year.

Machine-made flooring, clothing, and threads were the main exported products. In October, 2012, Iranian industry ministry official Mehdi Eslampanah said that regional countries as well as the South America are the main targets for Iranian textile products.

More than 9770 industrial units are working in different fields in this regard including textile, clothing, leather and shoes, according to reports. Carpet, shoes and materials of leather are among the textile products’ export to other countries.

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Oman Tourism Products Win Three Awards at ITB Berlin

Oman Tribune – 11 March, 2013 – Sultanate’s strategic initiatives in tourism development, which is a key contributor to the national economy, are on track – and its proactive approach to gaining exposure in world tourism markets are paying off.

By winning three awards at the ongoing International Tourism Bourse in Berlin, the various players in the Sultanate’s tourism drive have shown their capabilities in this direction.

Oman claimed the Favourite Destination for German Speaking Tourists (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) prize for the Arab region, Oman Air won the second best air carrier award for operating flights between Arab countries and Germany and the Tourism Foreign Representative Office clinched the third place prize among in its category for German speaking tourism markets.

This is no mean achievement, especially since these awards are the results of a survey of more than 2,600 experts, members and representatives of travel and tourism establishments in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

While the awards are region-specific, they point to the giant strides made by the Sultanate in the tourism sector. Maitha Bint Saif Al Mahrouqiyah, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Tourism who received the Favourite Destination award for the Arab region, said that winning this award reaffirms the rich tourism potentials of the Sultanate.

Development of tourism infrastructure is a continuous process in the country and it offers excellent opportunities to investors to tap into its vast potential. For a major sector like this, there are also a number of challenges and government seeks to boost the confidence of investors and ensure implementation of plans, funding and management.

With an eye on development of infrastructure and enhancing tourist facilities in the country, investors can undertake tourism projects and banks are urged to support such ventures that contribute to the economy and provide a sustained livelihood for the local people who inhabit villages near these projects.

But while the government is putting its best foot forward to promote tourism and improve infrastructure, it is also up to more private investors to come forward and avail of business opportunities in this sector. An important aspect of tourism development in the country is that it provides jobs to citizens, and for which training is an essential prerequisite.

Many more jobs will open up as the tourism industry expands, and this will enable the local people to better their economic livelihood. Development of infrastructure in areas which have tourism potential also ensures against damage to the environment is those areas.

Nature tourism is a growing trend in many countries, even in the Sultanate more and more visitors now opt for spending some quality time just soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of places of natural beauty.

Oman is blessed with many natural and scenic areas like mountains, green wadis and pristine beaches to fulfil the desires of the nature lover.

Initiatives to make the Sultanate a must-see destination are to be welcomed, especially as they also ensure the economic welfare of citizens. The Ministry of Tourism is doing a great job in developing tourist facilities and executing plans and programmes to attract a greater number of visitors from abroad.

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Gambia: Coast Project Calls for Responsible Tourism, Protection of Coastal Environment

12 March 2013 – The Daily Observer – The coordinator of the Collaborative Action for Sustainable Tourism (COAST) project has said that the goal of the project is to support and enhance the conservation of globally significant coastal and marine ecosystems and associated biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa, through the reduction of the negative environmental impact, which they receive as a result of coastal tourism.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer, the project coordinator, Abubacarr Kujabi, disclosed that the ultimate objective of the COAST project is to demonstrate best practices & strategies to reduce the degradation of marine and coastal environments , and to enhance sustainable tourism practices and approaches for sustainable tourismin Africa.

The project, which was launched in Kartong village as one of the demonstration sites on 15th December 2012, is being implemented by the National Environment Agency (NEA) in collaboration with the Gambia Tourism Board. The objective is to “demonstrate and support the adoption of best practice approaches for sustainable tourism that reduces the degradation of marine and coastal environments of trans-boundary significance”.

According to Kujabi, who doubles as the Programme Assistant for Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) at the NEA, the project will provide cross-learning lessons on how to sustain the emerging and dynamic tourism sector in Africa. He said it also safeguards the fragile coastal ecosystems within the context of rapidly changing environments and increased international tourism.

He continued: “The project is expected to implement the following activities in Kartong within the lifespan of the project: Promotion of village tours, introducing camping, demonstrations of Gambian home cooking, bicycle hiring, cross-village excursions, promoting/developing craft, introduction of sports tourism, training and awareness raising on sustainable environment management, production of maps of the demo site and public private partnership planning.”

Kujabi revealed that under the project, Kartong’s ancient sacred site Folonko crocodile pool will be rehabilitated. “To introduce more environmentally-friendly activities, the project already bought and handed over 20 wheel-waste bins and 10 bicycles to Kartong Association for Responsible Tourism (KART),” he added.

He further revealed that the project will organise a one-day triathlon (run, bike and regatta style rowing competition on the Allahein Bolong) during the Kartong Annual Cultural Festival.The purpose, he said, is to enhance the capacity of stakeholders within the project area. Kujabi added that the project recently conducted a three-day cross learning training on Responsible Tourism and environmental management held in Kartong.

He further disclosed that the project will also train 20 members of the community on environmental protection and management issues to enable them to protect the marine and coastal ecosystems. “In addition to a Training of Trainers (TOT) for six KART and VDC members to build capacity within the community for further replications, the project would also develop Tesito Camp into a camping site with modern facilities and enhance the Sandele craft showcase by introducing new craft products, among a long list of benefiting programmes and activities KART and VDC will benefit,” Kujabi added.

He thanked the community for taking ownership of the project, which according to him, is a testimony that the project will be sustainable. He further urged the villagers to synergise tourism and tradition as there are lots of untapped opportunities that the village can harness to enhance responsible tourism while at the same improving their livelihood.

The COAST Project is a UNEP implemented, Global Environmental Facility (GEF) supported project that is executed by UNIDO in collaboration with UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organization). The COAST project also promotes rights of indigenous people by identifying community needs and gaps through community visioning exercise particularly regarding ecotourism developments and subsistence resource uses in protected areas in its three demo sites in Kartong, Tumani Tenda and Denton Bridge.

Countries involved in the project are: Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Seychelles and The Gambia.

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Guyana seeks to expand aquaculture

GEORGETOWN, March 10 (NNN-GINA) — The Ministry of Agriculture is seeking to develop the necessary framework for Guyana to tap into the growing trade in aquaculture products that would entail putting the regulations in place to meet the export standards, and getting the farmers on-board.

Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy met with farmers involved in aqua-farming at the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) to listen to recommendations for moving forward the industry and developing instead a “high yielding aquaculture industry in Guyana that can enter the Caribbean, North America and European market”.

“Clearly we have the potential for a very successful fishing industry, we have the potential for fishing to become more significant in the agriculture production of our country, and in contributing to overall development and the overall GDP of Guyana, but for one reason or another our development has not been as rapid as we would have preferred,” he said.

Ramsammy explained that the leading producers of aquaculture are now using a lot of their own products internally, but if production is increased Guyana can seek to get a foot hold in the export market. He further explained though that in seeking to enter these markets Guyana must first meet the non-tariff and sanitary standards for export trade to these countries.

“The US imports some $1billion in aquaculture products, and Central America is now getting much attention from the US and that includes Belize, but whilst it is part of the supply chain for the US, Belize has only approximately eight acres of aquaculture pond producing tilapias yet Belize’s export is many times that of any other Caribbean country.”

One of the reasons is that Belize has developed all of the sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards that are necessary for exports into the US and into Europe which Guyana will have to match, he said.

Regulatory framework

In working to ensuring Guyana adheres to these international guidelines for export of aquaculture products, the Ministry of Agriculture is soon to put a number of regulatory measures in place, Ramsammy said.

“We are about to approve the national policy for inland fishing and aquaculture and at present we are finalising the fishery product regulation; the marine fishing regulation and the aquaculture regulation,” he said.

“Unless we develop and produce our product, within this regulatory framework, we will not have an export market period, and indeed if new food regulation of the US, which is also being mimicked in Canada, and Europe will see further non-tariff barrier to our trade. We can complain that they are unfair, or we can do the only thing we can which is to meet those standards, because I can guarantee you, we can complain till we turn blue, it will not change the regulation in North America and Europe,” he added.

Investigations have revealed that Guyana’s inability to meet these sanitary and phyto-sanitary conditions have been hindering trade even within the region (to countries like Trinidad and Tobago), which have a huge import bill for aquaculture products, the Minister stated.

“When I investigated why Trinidad would import from China, one of the reasons cited is that Guyana does not meet the sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards that are necessary for entry of food products into Trinidad. Barbados says it is the same, Jamaica says it is the same, for that reason I am about to send a team to Trinidad to look at this sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, and also to work with you so that we know what these standards are and we meet these standards.”

Trinidad and Tobago imports about US$50 million of fish products including tilapia, and the Caribbean as a whole imports more than 220 million tonnes of fish product from outside of the region at a value of close to US$300 million annually.

“This constitutes a rich market for us in Guyana, but we will have to work together to ensure that we can take advantage of the market that exists in the Caribbean,” he said.

During the meeting, the farmers cited the lack of availability of proper nutritious local fish food, short supply USAID fish food, the lack of land for expansion, access to loan and financing and not enough government support among issues that must be addressed and/or are to be put in place in moving the industry to the point of increased production for export. One farmer also suggested setting up an aquaculture park.

In response, Ramsammy recognised the need for local feed of quality and said that ministry is seeking to address this through research and development of an indigenous fish food. The farmers were also informed that an investor is seeking to work with the ministry on the concept of an aquaculture park and that it will seek to build this park around the Satyadeow Sawh Research Centre.

The issue of loans remains a problem and whilst government has and will continue to give support to the farmers financially or through research or the provision of equipment, the onus is on the farmers to also seek to invest in the development of their aquaculture enterprise. Government can only partner with the farmers, they were reminded.

During the meeting the decision was taken that a15-man National Oversight Committee be established to accelerate the expansion of the industry, with the goal of ensuring Guyana becomes a major aquaculture exporter. The committee which will be established by the end of April will comprise farmers that were in attendance at today’s meeting.

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Uganda Govt outlines nine key factors for economic transformation

KAMPALA, march 11 (NNN-NEW VISION) — The Ugandan government has outlined nine key factors to stimulate further social economic transformation at a time when African countries celebrate the 10th Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) anniversary.

Commemorating the day, President Yoweri Museveni said over the weekend that the government would relentlessly pursue the strategy of private sector economic growth, market access and expansion, infrastructure development and human resource development. The other strategies are value addition, export-led growth, democracy and good governance as well as defence and security.

“Our aim is to ensure socio-economic transformation of the people of Uganda. We also ask ourselves the stimuli required for changing a predominantly, traditional and peasant economy into a modern and prosperous middle-income country,” the President said in a statement read by Vice-President Edward Ssekandi

The President noted that because the private sector is the engine for economic growth, it must be nurtured, regulated and supported to ensure economic development. He also noted that although Uganda has a population of 34 million people, it is not an adequate market to absorb and stimulate production in the economy.

“We are putting mechanisms for our products to access other markets, including the East African Community of 142 million, Common Market for East and Southern Africa of 430 million and the global market. However, we must have finished goods that meet international standards to sell in these markets,” Museveni said.

The President also recognized the high costs of transport as a result of poor roads and lack of a functional railway network. He, however, said the government had embarked on the expansion of roads and revamping the railway line using the army engineering brigade to support the construction.

In January 2013, the African Union declared March 6 as the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) day.

In Uganda, a number of activities have commenced to mark the day under the theme: “APRM working for the people of Africa.”

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World Bank says Palestinian Economy Is Losing Competitiveness

JERUSALEM, March 12, 2013 (WAFA) – A new World Bank report on the Palestinian economy published Tuesday said Israeli measures in the occupied territories damage Palestinian competitiveness, according to a press statement.

The Economic Monitoring Report said that “while the donor community’s efforts are directed towards short-term relief for Palestinian fiscal stress, it is important to recognize that the prolonged system of closures and restrictions is causing lasting damage to the competitiveness of the Palestinian economy.”

The report entitled Fiscal Challenges and Long Term Economic Costs was released ahead of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting, a forum of donors to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which will meet in Brussels on March 19. The report analyzes the state of the Palestinian economy and the PA’s fiscal position.

The Bank’s analysis of the prospects for an economically viable Palestinian State in the near future remains largely unchanged: Palestinian institutions have the required capacity to exercise state functions, but Israeli-imposed economic restrictions continue to constrain sustainable economic growth. This situation is unlikely to change as long as political progress remains absent.

This latest report, however, offers new analysis by exploring the long-term damage to the competitiveness of the Palestinian economy wrought by the worsening fiscal situation and the absence of political progress.

The economy is in danger of losing its capacity to compete in the global market, according to the report. It shows that the structure of the economy has deteriorated since the late 90’s as the value-added of the tradable sectors has declined, illustrated by the productivity of the agriculture sector having roughly halved and the manufacturing sector having largely stagnated.

The share of exports in the Palestinian economy has also been in steady decline since 1994, dropping to 7 percent in 2011, one of the lowest in the world. Moreover, Palestinian exports are concentrated in low value-added goods and services, the majority of which is exported to Israel.

Of equal importance to the long-term viability of the economy, the quality of infrastructure in key sectors like water and transport is deteriorating and damaging economic productivity. This negative impact is most severe in Gaza where significant resources are required to bring the level of infrastructure performance to a desirable level.

The labor force, too, could lose long-term employability, say the report’s authors. With low labor force participation and high rates and duration of unemployment, many Palestinians of working age do not have the opportunity to develop on-the-job skills. Increased employment in the public sector has provided some short-term relief, but this is unsustainable and does little to prepare employees for future private sector jobs.

“Continued financial support by the donor community, and increased reform efforts by the PA to manage the current fiscal challenges must remain a high priority,” said Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for the West Bank and Gaza. “However, much bolder efforts to create the basis for a viable economy need to be made to prevent the continued deterioration that will have lasting and costly implications for economic competiveness and social cohesion.

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Palestine calls for global action to save economy

TEHRAN, March 13 (NNN-FNA) –The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on Tuesday called for an immediate international action to stop Israeli restrictions on Palestinian economy.

This call came after the World Bank issued a report warning that the continued deterioration of the Palestinian economy “will have lasting and costly implications for economic competitiveness and social cohesion,” Xinhua reported.

The Israeli restrictions include the frequent withholding of tax revenues, keeping military checkpoints in the West Bank, restricting the some Palestinian economic activities and preventing large-scale exports, said Palestinian Minister of Economy Jawwad Naji.

Since the Palestinians upgraded their UN status to a non-member observer in November, Israel has withheld or delayed the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues to the PNA.

“This has put more obstacles before the local economy and struck the PNA’s ability to meet its obligations to the private sector,” Naji told Xinhua. He slammed Israel for not respecting Paris agreement, the 1994 protocol that regulates economic relations between the two sides. “Israel only implements what it benefits of the agreement,” Naji said.

The protocol has been set to expire after five years, but it is still in effect and still limits the Palestinian capacity to establish massive production and agricultural projects, he added.

The World Bank’s report, released ahead of a March 19 meeting in Brussels for donors to the PNA, also attributed the economy’s damage to the increasing fiscal crisis facing the West Bank-based Palestinian government.

Naji said the crisis and the ensuing delays in paying wages for public servants “caused dangerous stagnation and a serious decline in demand.”

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Sharm El-Sheikh to Host African Tourism Bourse in 2015

8 March 2013 – Egypt State Information Service – Egypt’s Ambassador to Germany Mohamed Hegazi said that Egypt has signed an agreement to host the African tourism bourse in 2015 in Sharm El-Sheikh. Hegazi told MENA on Thursday 07/03/2013 that this comes as part of the government’s efforts to promote Egypt’s tourism.

On the sidelines of the current International Tourism Bourse (ITB), Hegazi met with a number of key German tourism figures. Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou and Hegazi inaugurated earlier Thursday Toutankhamon replicas exhibition in Germany. Hundreds of German families flocked to see the exhibition.

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Minister – Egyptian Tourism Product On Demand

11 March 2013 – Egypt State Information Service – Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou confirmed that Egypt was able to achieve its goals, which are topped by increasing the demand on Egyptian tourism product regardless of current incidents. This came during the minister’s participation in the International Tourism Bourse in Berlin (ITB).

He pointed out that all tour operators said that as soon as disappearance of the current incidents from media programs and shows a bulk of reservations will head to Egypt, especially the German tourists. It is projected that the number of tourists could increase by the end of the year to reach 2 million German tourists.

Zazou added that German Airlines Lufthansa expressed its interest to operate new direct flights from a number of German cities to Luxor.

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Azerbaijani culture represented in Cairo

14 March 2013 – TODAY.AZ – The Azerbaijani culture was represented in the international charity festival International Day 2013 here. The festival organized by the American College in Cairo was attended by representatives from over 25 countries including Egypt, Turkey, Russia, USA, UK, Italy, countries of Central Europe and Latin America.

Azerbaijani pupils of the weekend school Akif Manafov and Sarah Badirkhanova performed the national dance Naz Eleme.

Member of the organizing committee of the festival, Sabina Mehdiyeva said, “We are happy to represent the rich culture and ancient traditions of Azerbaijan in Egypt along with other countries of the world. Our country has the richest culture, deep national traditions and unique customs.”

The festival showcased folk musical instruments and Azerbaijani carpets. Azerbaijanis set up the model of the Ateshgah shrine, distributed copies of international magazines Baku, Irs-Naslediye, publication Azerbaijani Carpets. The event was attended by representatives of the embassy of Azerbaijan to Egypt and Azerbaijani Diaspora, and journalists.

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Works of Azerbaijani artist showcased in Bulgaria

14 March 2013 – TODAY.AZ – An exhibition of Azerbaijani artists has opened in Sofia, Bulgaria, under support of the Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Art (ASUCA), Bulgarian National Academy of Arts and Azerbaijani embassy to this country.

The exhibition featured paintings by Sevda Sadikhbayova, Dean of the faculty of Arts at ASUCA and Ayten Rzaguliyeva, head of the department of Art and Painting.

Addressing the event, rector of the Bulgarian National Academy of Arts, prof. Svetoslav Kokalov viewed the exhibition as an important event and said culture plays a great role among peoples. He also stressed confidence that the exhibition will deepen the cultural ties between Azerbaijan and Britain and contribute to popularization of country`s cultural heritage.

Ambassador Emil Kerimov in detail briefed the participants on history of Azerbaijan`s art and culture, highlighting the role of nationwide leader Heydar Aliyev in developing these fields.

Painters Sevda Sadikhbayova and Ayten Rzaguliyeva thanked the organizers and said they were happy with the demonstration of their works in Bulgaria.

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Azerbaijan one of world’s fastest growing economies: IMF

14 March 2013 – AzerNews – The International Monetary Fund recently confirmed that Azerbaijan has become one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

The remarks were made in conclusion of a visit by an IMF mission to Baku from February 27 till March 12.

“Through the use of oil revenue, Azerbaijan has become one of the world’s fastest growing economies over the last 10 years,” IMF Mission Chief for Azerbaijan, Raja Almarzoqi, said in Baku on Tuesday. “Supported by public spending, growth in the non-oil sector is projected to remain near 9 percent and drive overall GDP growth of 4.5 percent in 2013. With increased government spending and the non-oil economy operating at capacity, and unless actions are taken, inflation is set to reach an annual average of 3.5 percent.”

The IMF mission reported, however, that with a relatively short oil production horizon, the authorities need to accelerate efforts in several areas to achieve the government’s 2020 goal of a highly competitive economy, with sustainable and broad-based growth led by the private sector.

“This will require decisive changes in the current course of economic policies, focused on improving the efficiency of public spending while reducing its size, strengthening the financial sector, and improving the business climate,” Almarzoqi said.

Following the visit the mission issued a report citing the following suggestions: embarking on an up-front fiscal consolidation to pursue a sustainable non-oil fiscal position and provide room for private sector activity; shifting to a more neutral monetary policy stance, ending the central bank’s role in direct lending to the real sector, and preparing, in coordination with other government agencies, for greater exchange rate flexibility over the long term. The IMF also recommended capitalizing the banking system while strengthening supervisory safeguards; promoting diversification by easing the entry and exit of companies in the non-oil sector, fighting corruption, improving access to finance, enacting the code of competition, and completing the WTO accession.

The mission also recommends that the authorities tighten the non-oil fiscal deficit. The 2013 budget is expansionary and creates overheating risks. It says plans for continued large deficits in the coming years, if implemented, would increase Azerbaijan’s oil dependence and raise concerns about fiscal sustainability and efficiency. Scaling down government spending, resisting pressures for a mid-year supplementary budget, and guarding against evasion from recent tax amendments would reduce fiscal vulnerabilities while promoting a self-sustaining expansion of private-sector activity. Public investment can be cut without hurting growth if projects are prioritized and their selection and appraisal is done in line with best international practice.

According to the IMF, high oil prices provide an opportunity to cement principles of sound oil revenue management in a new policy framework. This would entail committing to a fiscal rule and strong institutional arrangements to bring public finances to a sustainable level by 2018 in line with the government’s objective. Reforms to strengthen non-oil revenue and rationalize public spending would help support the credibility of the new framework.

In the near term, monetary policy should shift to a more neutral stance and be tightened if signs of demand pressures intensify. The Central Bank of Azerbaijan (CBA) should continue adopting prudential measures to cool down the acceleration in consumer loans. In addition, the CBA should not have any role in future direct lending to the real economy.

Over the longer term Azerbaijan would benefit from a more flexible exchange rate as this would improve the economy’s ability to absorb shocks. In preparation for a gradual move toward greater flexibility, the authorities need to initiate sequenced reforms to put the pre-conditions in place, the IMF said.

It said the financial sector needs to be strengthened to support economic diversification. The ongoing capitalization should be used to create a more viable and competitive banking sector. Initiatives to strengthen this sector should be supplemented with supervisory safeguards to guide the capitalization process and contain risks in the system.

The mission reports that ongoing CBA initiatives to strengthen corporate governance regulations, risk management practices, and prudential regulations to contain consumer lending are well placed. It was also reported that efforts to strengthen capital markets with the support of the World Bank will facilitate the financing of companies in the non-oil sector.

“We welcome plans to develop the legal framework, infrastructure, and instruments for savers and investors. Though the recent expansion of the corporate bond market could help deepen the capital market, the authorities need to strengthen the consolidated supervision of banks and its brokerage subsidiaries, and develop an appropriate credit infrastructure — in particular through enforcement of contracts, effective recovery of collateral, and a private credit bureau. The recent change in the Commercial Secrets Law discouraging the disclosure of shareholders of companies, including banks, should be reversed and the law brought into line with international disclosure principles,” the report reads.

The mission says that the government’s 2020 strategy could provide the platform for decisive reforms in the business environment that could promote non-oil exports.

It said that the “easy service center” initiative (ASAN) has reduced the costs and delivery time of government services and should be expanded while phasing out “more traditional and inefficient” government services.

Also, ambitious reforms aimed at reducing informal and formal barriers to trade and competition will be crucial to promote a diversified and competitive economy, the IMF concluded.

‘Azerbaijan 2020: A Look into the Future’ concept

Azerbaijan approved Development Concept “Azerbaijan 2020: A Look into the Future” in late 2012. The need for such a concept is explained by the fact that the country is entering a new phase in its development.

The key strategic vision of the concept is to take into consideration the existing opportunities and resources to achieve sustainable economic growth and social prosperity in Azerbaijan, ensure effective state governance, rule of law and complete exercise of all human rights and freedoms, and reach a development stage characterized with an active status of civil society in the country’s public life.

Over the period covered by the concept, Azerbaijan’s population will increase by an average of 1.1 per cent a year to reach 10.2 million people by 2020.

Then, Azerbaijan will be an economically and politically developed and competitive country. Azerbaijan will be a country with high population incomes, minimum unemployment rate, highly developed human capital, a sound environment and extensive opportunities for every citizen.

As a result of the activities envisaged in the concept, the GDP per capita will more than double to reach $13,000. In 2020, according to the World Bank’s gross national income classification, Azerbaijan will become a “high average income country” with plans to advance further among “high human development” countries of the UNDP human development report.

From the standpoint of economic development, Azerbaijan will advance from being a regional leader to become a highly competitive participant in the system of international economic relations. To do that, the country will avail itself of the advantageous geographical location and broad potential to turn into a regional commercial center with the per capita volume of non-oil exports of $1,000.

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Young musicians of Islamic countries to perform in Baku

12 March 2013 – TODAY.AZ – The 2nd International Festival – Competition of young performers of classical music among the Islamic World countries will be held in Azerbaijan`s capital on April 23-26.

The objects and tasks of the festival-competition are exposure of young talents, international exchange of experience and ideas, learning of new creative methods, providing the youth of foreign countries with wider facilities in order to get familiarized with the Azerbaijani culture and music art and increasing the aesthetic level of young performers-talents in the dialogue of Eastern and Western Culture.

The event organized by the “KAINAT” Youth Center is supported by the Azerbaijani Ministries of Youth and Sport, Culture and Tourism, Foreign Affairs, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and the Baku Academy of Music named after Uzeyir Hajibeyov.

Young musicians-instrumentalists under the age of 20 can take part at the competition. Age groups of participants are under 15 – a small group and from 15 to 20 – a big group. Persons interested in taking part at the competition should submit documents to the Organizing Committee.

More information can be found at www.kainat.az

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Turkmens propose support to Turkmen-Afghan-Tajik railway

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-03-13 ASHGABAT – Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov March 12 expressed support for building a railway through Afghanistan to connect Turkmen and Tajik railways, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported.

Berdymukhamedov gave his opinion in a phone conversation with Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon. Connecting their countries’ railways through Afghanistan would help restore Afghanistan’s socio-economic infrastructure and would diversify Turkmen and Tajik transportation corridors, Berdymukhamedov said. Tajikistan is interested in projects that will help it break out of its geographic isolation, the Tajik Transportation Ministry told Avesta.tj

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Sotheby’s to auction Central Asian art

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-03-08 TASHKENT – Sotheby’s, one of the world’s leading auction houses, is holding its first-ever exhibition sale of art from Central Asia and the Caucasus March 4-12 in London.

Asian art is attracting more and more attention from gallery curators and collectors throughout the world. The exhibition at Sotheby’s features 47 works from different periods, said Joanna Vickery, senior director and head of the Russian department at Sotheby’s. Starting prices range from US $3,000-$500,000.

“The countries of Central Asia have been developing dynamically in recent years, and this fully applies to art too,” Vickery said. “Each year new artists, collectors, galleries and art projects appear here. It is a particular honour for Sotheby’s … to organise an art exhibition from this exceptionally interesting region.”

‘The Crossroads’ of a multicultural region

The exhibit should be a strong draw, art watchers said. “This is one of the world’s most multicultural regions,” said Suad Garayeva, curator of the exhibition. “The aim of our innovative exhibition is to attract attention to the very rich culture of this region with its common past.”

The exhibit is called “At the Crossroads” to emphasise the transitional state of the region’s countries at the turn of the century politically, socially and culturally, Garayeva said. The exhibition shows the evolution of the majority of the artists involved, who are already well known at home but now can gain exposure elsewhere, she added.

“Artists who passed through the official Socialist Realism and the Non-Conformism of 1970-1980 and are now seeking a new identity are represented at this exhibition,” Garayeva said. “Geographically located between East and West, they synthesise, in their creative works, folk traditions and folklore with contemporary Western practices.”

Central Asian art is drawing more admirers now. Interest in Russian art is long-standing, but only recently have curators and collectors begun eyeing the Central Asian ex-Soviet republics, said Alexander Ugay, a Kazakhstani artist whose video work “Bastion” appears in the exhibit.

“I think that until recently, for the whole world, we – the former Soviet republics – were seen as something monolithic,” Ugay said. That is probably why, after the collapse of the USSR, Sotheby’s worked only with … Russia.”

“In the 1990s, there was a boom in ‘Russian’ auctions, and enhanced interest in art works from Russia through the ages,” said Uzbek artist Alexander Barkovsky, who is exhibiting a lithograph from his “Gipsy Madonnas” series. “Now, in my view, the West is turning to the East, and we can expect a boom in Central Asian art.”

Still, Ugay said, while interest is growing, the region’s artists are still viewed as one group, rather than several.

“Now all the republics have finally ‘broken up,’ but the inertia remains,” he said. “For example, world art scholars often use the term ‘artist from Central Asia,’ not specifically ‘an artist from Uzbekistan.’ This is neither bad nor good; it’s just a small episode of a large history.”

Several works at the exhibition have been set by Sotheby’s curators as top lots, which should draw the most attention. Among them are two works from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The first is a photograph, Kazakhstani artist Almagul Menlibayeva’s “Aral Beach 2,” which depicts an abandoned fishing barge that symbolises the death of the Aral Sea and of its region’s economy after the sea was drained to irrigate cotton fields.

The second “top lot” is an untitled painting from the “Dream” series of Jamol Usmanov, an Uzbek. The artist symbolically depicts his dreams with the aid of birds in the traditions of Sufi philosophy and mediaeval poetry.

A variety of art media

The Central Asian show features more than traditional easel-mounted paintings, with growth in experimental genres and media reflected, curators and art scholars note. Several of the works shown are video art, as Barkovsky and Ugay won prizes at the Central Asian Festival of Independent Films (CAFIF) in 2012.

The new conceptual approach to art became widespread in Central Asia back in the 1990s and has spread still further thanks to new media and the globalisation of art, Garayeva said.

“My video work ‘Bastion’ was made in 2007,” Ugay said. “I used 8mm film to shoot it. Then I cut and processed it using digital and 3D technology. My work is directed toward Utopia, as to some permanent object of desire of mankind.”

Barkovsky also discussed the evolution of his art form. “I shall not stop at classical painting in connecting genres and techniques,” Barkovsky said. “My ‘Gipsy Madonnas’ project consists of photography, photo-montage, lithography hand colouring, wood carving and embroidering with gold.”

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Strasbourg Mosque becomes an inter-faith meeting place

Strasbourg, France, Sunday, 27 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/10 March 2013 (IINA) – Being an example of the tensions surrounding France’s growing Muslim minority, the Great Mosque of Strasbourg has become a mixing place for once-wary French to meet their Muslim neighbours, The Washington Post reported.

“From the very beginning, we wanted to be open to the people around us,” Said Aalla, a Strasbourg jurist who is president of the mosque’s governing council, said. With the capacity of 1,300 sqm, it is 1.5 times as big as the previous largest one in France, at Evry in the Paris suburbs. It has a 16 million copper dome but no minaret and has taken nearly two decades to complete since the project was first launched in 1993. Inaugurated last September, the mosque’s governing council wanted a bigger role for the mosque.

Built within 2 km from Strasbourg’s celebrated cathedral, Notre Dame of Strasbourg, the mosque opened arms to thousands of tourists who began asking for directions at the Strasbourg Tourism Office. More than 20,000 visitors inspected the construction site between July 2011 and July 2012. In the four months since inauguration, 10,000 have taken guided tours of the finished building and the tempo of visits is accelerating, according to Aalla. Abdelrahman Binjalloun, a Moroccan-born pharmacist who doubles as a guide, leads tourists across the mosque, answering their questions about Islam and Muslims.

A group escorted around the mosque on a recent day by Aalla and Binjalloun included about 35 alumni of a Roman Catholic engineering school, along with family members and several of the school’s Dominican professors in cream-colored friar’s robes. “I have long been interested in the Muslim world,” said one of them, the Rev. Benoit Ente, who spent two years as an aid worker in heavily Muslim Chad. “I was very interested to know what this mosque is like.” For decades, Strasbourg was restricted to Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism and Judaism. It was only in 1998 when the heads of the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Calvinist Church and the Jewish minority signed a letter to the local government supporting the construction of a mosque. They said Islam, the religion of a sizable community in the region, must enjoy comparable status with the four official religions.

Becoming a symbol of religious understanding, the uneasy road to the mosque had survived a three-decade controversy between socialist and conservative administrations. “The history of the Great Mosque was long, difficult and tortuous,” said Olivier Bitz, deputy mayor in charge of religious affairs in the Socialist-run Strasbourg City Council, headed by Mayor Roland Ries.

Inaugurated last September, the mosque came amid growing unease with the growing Muslim minority in France apparent in the passing of law banning full-face veil and growing opposition for right-wing political leaders to mosque projects in various cities. After 15 years of fruitless meetings and conferences between Muslim figures and city officials, then-Mayor Catherine Trautmann in 1993 decided that the mosque would be built on a grand scale and that the city would help finance it, according to a 1905 legislation. Her decision was opposed by conservatives, becoming a major campaign issue in the 1995 elections that brought her Socialist majority to power for another term.

As the conservatives captured City Hall in 2001 under then-Mayor Fabienne Keller according to Bitz, they were set out to bury the mosque. “The entire project was put into question,” he said. Keller’s mainstream right council nixed plans for a minaret, a cultural center and a tea salon. It also shrank plans for the prayer hall by a third, forbade an underground parking lot and banned donations by foreign countries or sermons in Arabic.

Construction got off the ground only with the arrival in 2008 of another Socialist administration, this one under Ries. Finishing the mosque, Ries has erased the restrictions asking Portoghesi to design an extension to embrace the originally planned cultural center, the tea salon and perhaps even a minaret. France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe’s largest. French Muslims have been complaining of growing restrictions on their religious freedoms.

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ISESCO joins hands in empowering 200 African women

Rabat, Sunday, 27 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/10 March 2013 (IINA) –The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) has initiated, in collaboration with the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), the implementation of a socio-economic project for the empowerment of 200 African women in the management techniques of small income-generating projects.

The benefitting women belong to Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger and Togo. The initiative was on the occasion of the International Women’s Day which falls on March 8. The project aims at enhancing employment opportunities for African poor women and helping them improve their families’ living conditions through managing small income-generating projects.

The project features a series of workshops on importance of small projects in combating poverty and developing national economy, enhancing knowledge and techniques on management of small income-generating projects, and enhancing employment opportunities for poor women. Under ISESCO’s supervision, local experts will, with the technical support of international experts in microfinance, run these workshops dedicated to local development.

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Islamic banking best option for all people, says IDB expert

Jeddah, 28 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/11 March 2013 (IINA) – An eminent economist has stressed the need for promoting Islamic banking as the best banking option for not only Muslims but all people of the world. Dr. M. Azmi Omar, Director General of Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI) at the Islamic Development Bank, also emphasized the importance of embracing Islamic banking to confront challenges facing the global economy.

Dr. Omar made the remarks while delivering a presentation on “Features of Islamic Banking and Its Challenges” at Red Sea Palace Hotel Jeddah on Thursday on the sidelines of a book launch. The function was organized by the Jeddah-based Islamic Dawa Council (IDC).

Dr. Omar said the Islamic banking industry could offer solutions to economic crises besetting many countries of the world. “More than 50 countries have allowed Islamic banking institutions. Even Western countries have realized the significance of the interest-free banking system and this was evident from the growing popularity of this industry there,” he said while drawing attention to the demand raised by the Wall Street protesters to introduce Islamic banking to solve the economic crisis faced by the United States, the world’s largest economy.

“Islamic banking has become unavoidable in the global economic order. As it is based on moral principles, Islamic banking prevents exploitation and targets sustainable development,” he said while attributing this as the major factor for its wide acceptance, especially among non-Muslims. The global Islamic banking assets are forecast to cross $1.8 trillion in 2013, up from $1.3 trillion in 2011, according to recent reports.

The IDB official sees bright future for Islamic banking in countries like India where Muslims are a minority. He called on the Indian government to make necessary amendments to its banking regulations to allow Islamic banking operations. He also suggested changes to terminology used in the industry to remove misgivings among non-Muslims living in pluralist societies. “Through its dual banking system, Malaysia could attract all types of clients to Islamic banking,” said Omar, himself a Malaysian.

Dr. Omar released the new book on Islamic banking by K.T.M. Kutty by giving a copy to Muhammad Alungal, chairman and managing director of Al-Abeer Medical Group. In his speech, Alungal underscored the need for promoting the interest-free Islamic banking in societies where interest is being used as a means for exploitation of the ordinary people. Prominent Islamic preacher M.P. Suleiman Faizee explained how Zakah, the third pillar of Islam, acts as a boost to a country’s economic growth besides ensuring welfare of the people.

Earlier, journalist A.M. Sajith introduced the book. Kutty shared his experience while preparing the book in the southern Indian language of Malayalam. K.C. Abdurahman presided over the session, which began with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an by Hussein Baqawi. K.H.M. Muneer and Naser Chavakkad also spoke on the occasion.

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Crown Prince Salman launches Madinah Culture Capital festivities

Madinah, , 30 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/13 March 2013 (IINA) – Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, launched last night the yearlong celebrations to mark Madinah as the capital of Islamic culture.

After opening Maaraz Al-Eiman exhibition, he toured the exhibition and was briefed on its exhibits through a replica of the city at the beginning of the Saudi era. He also watched a photo exhibition on the history of the historic city up to date.

Speaking on the occasion, Crown Prince Salman highlighted the significance of Madinah. “Allah Almighty has honored this country by making it the seat of Muslims’ Qibla and the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah where the Holy Qur’an was revealed and the Holy Kaaba was located. We are now in the city of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to where he migrated from Makkah, and from where the message of Islam started spreading throughout the world,” he said.

Crown Prince Salman also spoke about the utmost care and concern given by the Saudi government to serve the two holy mosques and extend the best possible services for the Haj and Umrah pilgrims as well as visitors to the holy mosques. Over 130 noted Islamic cultural personalities, including scholars from all around the world, were in attendance along with Prince Faisal Bin Salman, governor of Madinah region in the opening ceremony.

This modern city in the western part of the country is the second holiest city in Islam after Makkah. The city, which is also home to the three oldest mosques in Islam — the Prophet’s Mosque, Quba Mosque and the Mosque of the Two Qiblahs — was the power base of Islam during the times of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The launch of the festivities also coincides with the multi-billion riyal development projects in and around the holy city, including the massive expansion of the Prophet’s Mosque.

The Rabat-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), an affiliate of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has chosen Madinah as the Islamic Culture Capital for the Arab region for 2013. As many as 400 activities and programs, including conferences, seminars, recreational activities and competitions, as well as wide variety of cultural programs and folk art shows highlighting the rich culture and civilization of Madinah city will be held as part of the celebrations. There will be two exhibitions displaying the various stages of the holy city’s history, and showcasing the life story of the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions from a historical perspective.

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Int’l Tourism Fair held in Bangladesh

DHAKA, March 13, 2013 (BSS) – A three-day International Tourism Fair will begin here on March 15 with the participation of six countries. A total of 50 organisations from Malaysia, Turkey, Thailand, Singapore, Nepal and host Bangladesh will take part in the fair titled “Monitor-United Airways Dhaka Travel Mart (DTM) 2013” at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel.

The organisations include National Tourism Organisations (NTOs), Airlines, Tour Operators, Hotels, Resorts, Travel Trade bodies, Financial and Educational Institutions. Participating organisations will offer special discount on airfares and tour packages to the visitors.

The Bangladesh Monitor, a leading travel and tourism publication of the country, will organise the fair for the tenth time. Editor of The Bangladesh Monitor and Chairman of the DTM- 2013 organising committee Kazi Wahidul Alam disclosed this at a Press conference at a city hotel today.

“We have been arranging the mart regularly for the last nine years to promote travel, tourism, hospitality and aviation sector of the country. The exhibition has been attracting more and more visitors every year,” Alam said.

Former Advisor to the caretaker government and Editor of The Independent Mahbubul Alam will formally inaugurate the exhibition at the Ballroom of the hotel at 10.30 am, he said.

Sales and Marketing Director of United Airways Khawja Jonaid, Head of Brand and Communication of Eastern Bank Ziaul Karim and General Manager, Marketing and Sales of Biman Bangladesh Airlines Abdullah Al Hasan also spoke on the occasion.

Hasan said Bangladesh Biman Airlines will give 25 percent discount on economy class ticket for some particular routes like Dhaka to Kolkata, Katmandu, Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai, London and Rome from its stall of the fair. This discount will be valid for 90 days after buying the tickets, he added. Visitors will be able to go around the fair from 10 am to 8 pm on all the three days paying an entry fee of Taka 20.

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ISESCO Director General hails Islamic Culture Capitals Programme

Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah, Mar 13th, 2013 (WAM) — Abdulaziz bin Othman Altwaijri, Director General of Islamic Cultural, Educational, and Scientific Conference Organization (ICESCO) affirmed that the Islamic Culture Capitals Program comes in the framework of strengthening the Islamic culture unity and enhancing the comprehensive cultural cooperation bonds among the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation.

In an address made yesterday on the occasion of the kick-off of the festivities celebrating Al Madina Al Munawwara as Capital of Islamic Culture for 2013, the Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, said that “the election of Al Madina Al Munawwara among this years’ capitals of Islamic culture is a continuity of the great enlightenment role played by the City of the Prophet (PBUH) in Allah Messenger’s lifetime and beyond. Indeed, Al Madina was the capital of the then nascent Islamic State, and a springboard to Islam’s global outreach.”

He pointed out that the Prophet’s Mosque has been a place of learning where senior scholars and imams emerged, who later became Hadith narrators and enriched Islamic jurisprudence and thought with their extensive knowledge and original jurisprudential rulings.

The Director General emphasized that the Programme of Islamic Culture Capitals is part of the efforts to strengthen Pan-Islamic cultural unity and cultural cooperation among OIC Member States, and entrench the concept of multi-sector Islamic solidarity.

In the same vein, he explained that among the objectives of the programme is to revamp the Islamic civilization’s role, to increase the visibility of Islamic intellectual, scientific and cultural heritage, and to revive the collective memory of the Muslim peoples towards a stronger correlation between the present and the past, through the relentless pursuit of cultural development, promotion of literary and artistic creation, and excellence in science and knowledge, in such a way as to give the Muslim Ummah its deserved place among the world’s nations.

He added: “Through the implementation of this programme, we want to prove to the world that we are a faithful developed Ummah belonging to a glorious civilization that believes in tolerance and coexistence and advocates justice and peace, and that Muslims are a nation working for the good of the world thanks to their middle stance, seeks the best interest of humanity at large, promotes truth, justice, equality, human dignity, human rights all that is necessary to fulfill people’s duties towards themselves, their families, their communities and their human surrounding in general.”

The Director General stressed that Al Madina will, always remain an ever-radiant and vibrant capital of Islamic culture. This, he said, would require supporting the efforts being made by the competent authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in these vital areas.

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Arab Countries Hailed as Shark Saviours at CITES

Bangkok, Thailand, Mar 13th, 2013 (WAM)–Countries in the Middle East were hailed as leaders in the fight to save sharks at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) happening this week in Bangkok, Thailand.

“People and governments from Arab countries have woken up to the slaughter of sharks in their waters and they will not support it any longer,” said Elsayed Mohamed, Middle East Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “If we are to protect our biodiversity it starts with protecting the species most at risk – and that means these sharks. We need Arab countries to stand strong against lobbying from countries who don’t want to regulate the trade in shark products in tomorrow’s plenary vote.” Every three years the 177 CITES countries come together to decide which species of animals need more or less protection. This year there has been a very strong presence from Arab countries.

“We do want to appreciate the support these proposals for sharks have gotten in the very wide range of countries around the world ,” said Liz Taylor of the Colombian delegation speaking of support from Arab and West African countries. Colombia is one of the countries who submitted the proposal for greater shark protection.

The Oceanic Whitetips sharks are among the most sought after sharks on the markets and especially also on the black markets. This market demand puts them in highest risks with devastating effect on the local shark populations and the marine ecosystem here. That is why we need international regulations like CITES. The Porbeagle, unlike the other sharks listed, are sought primarily for their meat with the fins considered a useful by-product.

The scalloped hammerhead shark is largely targeted for its fin which means that once caught its fin is often cruelly cut off before it is thrown back into the sea dead or alive. The fin is then used to make soup. Smooth and great hammerhead shark fins are very similar to those of the scalloped hammerhead which means that they are at risk of being targeted accidentally for their fins.

“Jordan is always concerned with species conservation around the globe and we try to do our best to judge based on the scientific data and on the information that is scientifically sound,” said Mahdi Quatramiz, Head of the CITES Management Authority in Jordan. “We need the NGOs and concerned parties to start to think of a way of bringing concerned parties together, to do capacity building and awareness programs (to save sharks). Congratulations and we hope it goes through plenary on Thursday.”

“These sharks are worth far more alive than dead to local communities. Sharks are charismatic animals that are beloved by divers and therefore can play an important role in attracting more tourists and tourist revenue for coastal communities,” said Elsayed. “IFAW has worked very hard to raise awareness of this by sponsoring two shark Conservation Workshops in UAE and Yemen and organizing a Regional Preparatory Meeting for the CITES CoP 16 in Jordan.” A successful vote for sharks in tomorrow’s plenary vote at CITES would better regulate the international trade in shark fins. Any domestic use of sharks is unaffected and the international trade is still allowed if the shark population is healthy.

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“Kalima” Translation Project takes part at Riyadh International Book Fair

Abu Dhabi, Mar 13th, 2013 (WAM)–“Kalima”, the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority Translation Project, has showcased a range of translated works, in participation at the Riyadh International Book Fair, organised by the ministry of culture and information in Saudi Arabia. The fair will come to conclusion next Friday.

The Project Kalima, which won the International Award of Translation of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques last year, always show a keen interest in taking part in both regional and international book fairs to communicate with readers and promote the book industry in the Arab world.

The Project features works translated into over 13 languages, written by world renowned authors, such as “Muslims in American History” by Jerald F. Dirks, a book that displays a balanced image for the Muslims in the American history in particular and the Americas in general, going back to the beginnings of Islamic contribution before the Colombo discovery. Another book was “The Ramayana” epic, translated by Wadi Al Bustani, a sacred epic for the Hindu Tradition where the superhuman Rama takes the role of the virtuous and just hero.

And among the masterpieces which Kalima has contributed with: “a treasury of Sanskrit poetry” by A.N.D Haksar, translated by Abdul Wahab Abu Zeid from Saudi Arabia. The book presents readers with selected poems from the Sanskrit language, which dates over 3000 years, translated into English by 40 translators, two of them are the Nobel prize winners; William Butler Yeats and Octavio Paz.

Kalima also showcased “My left foot” novel by the Irish novelist Christy Brown, translated by Khalid Al Ghunami from Saudi Arabia. The novel was published when Christy was 24, though the novel itself was written years before, indicating an early stroke of genius.

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Holding EXPO-2017 of great importance for Kazakhstan

ASTANA. March 15. KAZINFORM – Initiatives such as the transition to a “green” economy, formation of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, the “Green Bridge” program and theinternational specialized exhibition “EXPO-2017” will be the most important steps to implement a new way of Kazakhstan’s development.

This idea has been developed by the scientists of the International Business University, the Associate Professor S. Diyar and Professor A. Toktabaev.in the article published in “Business Kazakhstan” newspaper under the title “Green economy” – a new way of development”.

Initially, the authors note that the “green” economy is a new direction of economic science, having been worked out in recent years, including a large number of versions. The most succinct, concise and precise, in their opinion, is the definition given by UNEP: “Green” is an economy which leads to increased well-being and social justice, while substantially reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcity of resources. ” But in this definition there is no concept of “sustainable development”, a concept which was adopted at the World Summit of Heads of State and Government in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

The authors believe that the creation of a “green” economy without creating at the same time of “sustainable development” in the region, in the country, in the inter-state space is inefficient and probably impossible.

It is noted that “Rio +20” Summit was aimed not only to reduce carbon and other emissions. It helped to identify a new path of evolution, one that will ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and an effective economy. In the business environment the concept of “green economy” is at the height of attention. Financial funds, venture capitalists, governments of advanced countries, businesses and consumers are already building a “green” economy.

Clean technology market is shown in a wide range of goods, services and processes that provide superior performance at lower costs, while significantly reducing or eliminating the negative impact on the environment, more efficient and responsible use of natural resources. The global market for “green” products and services is 546 billion dollars. There is prediction of the size of the market-friendly technologies equal to $ 2 trillion by 2020.

In Kazakhstan, there is a clear understanding of the country’s leadership that the promotion of “green economy” is the main way and the only way to maintain sustainability. Moreover, Kazakhstan has happened to historically have large environmental problems, which are not faced by other states. In particular, it is about the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, which was closed as a result of the people’s movement called “Nevada-Semipalatinsk” by the Decree of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Consequences of hundreds of nuclear tests have affected up to now. In addition, there is a huge amount of industrial waste, more than 23 billion tons. Of these, about 9 billion tons are man-made mineral formations that we had “inherited” from the industrial activities of the Soviet time, and that, too, need to do something about. There is also the problem of water, as Kazakhstan is dependent on trans-boundary water resources. Therefore, to develop the “green economy” is a must not only to prevent future environmental changes. This is not an idea for an idea, but a specific response plan, and there is probably no other way to escape from this kind of problem. After all, the main purpose of “green economy” is to increase the well-being and quality of life.

The scientists also point out that the model of the National Sustainable Development Strategy of Kazakhstan establishes conditions for realizing “Kazakhstan-2050” long-term strategy proposed by the Head of state in his address in December 2012. This strategy is notable for its comprehensive approach to solving economic problems, where tied up in one ball a whole set of processes of forced material potential buildup and improving the quality of life of Kazakhstan.

Strong support for model development of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development will be “Green Bridge” program It has been designed to meet the needs of the regional integration processes in the field of environment and progress, coordinated by ESCAP and UNECE, and was nominated as the Astana initiative at the 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific. “Green Bridge” tools are the projects called upon to create the conditions and infrastructure to improve access to “green” technology and investment.

A good addition to “Green Bridge” program is the Global Energy and Ecological Strategy providing a scientific approach and calculations of the energy welfare of all countries and regions, without hurting globally significant ecosystems and without human influence on climate change. In “Green Bridge” partnership program there is no country being a donor or a recipient.

The process is in two directions: one way are clean “green” technologies, the other way are products produced with “green” technologies, so called “green” ones. The scope of the program is quite extensive: three quarter of the world’s population, more than 1 billion of the poor, almost 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, critical ecosystems, and energy and natural resources.

The article stresses the fact that the great value for a new way of development of Kazakhstan has the venue chosen for “EXPO-2017” International specialized exhibition made on November 22, 2012 by secret ballot at the 152nd General Assembly of the International Exhibitions Bureau in Paris.

The potential of renewable energy and natural gas in Kazakhstan is very high. For example, our country may set a target of electricity from natural gas by 2030 as 20 percent, in 2050 – 40 percent. Balance proven gas reserves in Kazakhstan are 3.5 trillion cubic meters, which puts the country in the top ten according to this world indicator. Potential energy savings in the stages of production and transportation make up to 40 percent, in the consumption sector up to 50-60 per cent. The potential of renewable energy sources is also very high – water, sun and wind.

Fair Ground is included into the long-term plan of the capital, and there is already a vision of how it will be used after the exhibition. It is assumed that the EXPO 2017 will bring together around 100 countries and 10 international organizations. According to optimistic forecasts, the attendance of the exhibition will be 5 million visitors for the duration of the event.

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Indonesia’s Paoman batik artisans ready to meet European demand

March 16 2013, Indramayu (ANTARA News) – Some artisans of Paoman batik, a typical pattern of North of Java Beach (Pantura), Indramayu, West Java, are ready to meet European market demand such as in Germany and the Netherlands.

The demand of Paoman batik had ever stopped for several times due to sluggish market there, said a batik artisan Murdianto here on Saturday. This time, some batik artisans continue to increase their batik production to meet European demand.

Yanto said, this is an opportunity to artisans to work and meet local and international market demand.

Paoman batik has natural dye and ink scratch neatly that make favorite one of consumers.

Variety of flora and fauna is Indramayu batik type, with white and dark color on the background, arch motif and sharp line (riritan).

An other artisan Kasidi said Indramayu artisans have trained in technique to determine dip needle points variety that showed the beauty of Pantura Sea.

The main motive of Paoman batik focused on nature, such as wadas, iwak ketong and parang rusak are quite interested to local and international market.

Siti Ruminah, a batik entrepreneur said Paoman batik business is developing, so that helped the artisans to keep working. She expected northern coastal Indramayu area could be batik tourism.

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EU Representative opens Refugees’ Photo Exhibition in Gaza

GAZA, March 14, 2013 (WAFA) – The EU Representative to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, John Gatt-Rutter, Wednesday opened at Rashad Shawa Cultural Center in Gaza City an exhibition for young Palestinian refugees featuring photos of the EU-UNRWA photo competition titled ‘Change the Picture’, according to an EU press release.

“I am very happy the EU-UNRWA photo exhibition is travelling to Gaza this week and that we can meet with and hear from the winners,” said Gatt-Rutter. “Young Palestinians are the best advocates concerning their lives, ambitions and rights. Through this competition we wanted to give voice to young people and help them reach out to the wider world.”

He said that “young Palestine refugees in Gaza live under extremely difficult circumstances but still manage to preserve their creativity and play a leading role in their communities.”

Gatt-Rutter, who along with Robert Turner, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, met with the top three winners of the competition, said “the EU is working closely with our longstanding partner UNRWA to make sure our support goes to where it matters most: health, education and job creation.”

During his visit, the EU Representative also met with civil society and business representatives and visited EU-supported community-based organizations.

The EU is providing significant support for Palestinians in Gaza in partnership with the Palestinian Authority and civil society. The EU is also the largest multilateral provider of assistance to Palestine refugees though UNRWA.

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Dublin festival to spotlight Iranian cinema

TEHRAN, March 16 (MNA) – The Silk Road Festival in Dublin has put the spotlight on Iranian cinema this year, organizers announced.

Khashayar Mahmudabadi’s documentary “Haghighi”, Abbas Kiarostami’s “Taste of Cherry”, Bahram Tavakkoli’s “Here, Without Me”, Ali Rafiei’s “Mr. Yusef” and Ali Mosaffa’s “Last Step” will go on screen during the festival, which will be held from March 19 to 21.

In addition, the film of Behruz Gharibpur’s opera puppet show, “Rustam and Sohrab”, will be shown at the festival.

“The Secret of Permanency”, the first Irish-Iranian co-production directed by Mahmudabadi, will be the opening film of the festival, which will go on screen at the Light House cinema on March 19.

The documentary is about the spiritual journey of a young girl who discovers the echoes of ancient Persia through a visit to the surviving historical monuments in Esfahan, Iran.

The next edition of the festival in 2014 will screen films from the Mediterranean, Somalia, Turkey, China, India, Iran, Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Caucasus region.

The Silk Road Film Festival was created by Irish creative producers Delwyn Mooney, Carla Mooney and Icelandic creative producer Steinar Oli Jonsson.

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