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25 Mar, 2013

Indonesia’s Lion Air Now One of World’s Fastest Growing Airlines

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 25 March 2013 (13 Jumaada al-Awwal 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.


Kuching To Host Asia-Pacific Tourism, Hospitality, Tech Conference in Nov

More than 300 Asia Pacific travel specialists are expected to attend the inaugural Asia Pacific Tourism, Hospitality and Technology (APTHAT) 2013 conference to be held in Kuching, on Nov 21-22. APTHAT Project Director, Gracie Geikei said the inaugural conference will include conference, workshop, master-class, buyer seller session, hotel inspection and exhibition. “Among the objectives of organising this conference are to prepare the travel and tourism industrialists to be resilient in the competition market that is technology driven as well as to introduce them to the latest gadgets. A total of six papers will be presented along with six workshop and two master-classes will be held at the conference.” Among the confirmed speakers include Prof Dr Ross Dowling and Selina Power from Australia, Dr Madahmohan Roa and E.M Najeeb both from India, Rohizam Md Yusoff from Malaysia, and Director General of Tourism Malaysia Mirza Mohammad Tayeb also has consented to deliver the keynote address at the conference, she said at the official launch of APTHAT 2013 here. APTHAT 2013 conference will cover a broad range of topics on new technology, information and global trends. It will bring together industry experts, workshop leaders, master classes and an exhibition to give delegates an insight into new realms to tourism approaches, marketing paradigms, marketing technology and more. For more information, pls click here.

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



Malay Food Products To Penetrate Korea, Japan And Middle East Markets

KUANTAN, March 22 (Bernama) — Muhazrin Holdings Sdn Bhd, a manufacturer of Malay food products, herbs and spices, is ready to penetrate markets in South Korea, Japan and the Middle-East, says its Managing Director Asmah Abdullah.

She said the South Korean and Middle East markets would contribute to a three-fold increase in the sale of the company’s products which are marketed under the brand name of ‘VIAS’.

“Currently, many of the company’s Malay food products and spices are being exported to Australia, Brunei, United Kingdom and Singapore,” she told reporters in Kuantan, Friday.

Domestically, Muhazrin’s products are marketed directly to consumers nationwide and via independents.

Asmah said she owed the company’s success to the support received from Technology Park Malaysia, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation and its numerous participation in expositions overseas.

With new markets opening up in South Korea and the Middle-East, she was confident revenue from the export market would increase by three-folds and contribute at least 70 per cent of the company’s bottomline.

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Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Campaign On High Speed At F1 Grand Prix

PUTRAJAYA, 22 March 2013 – For the past 15 years, Malaysia has been part of the highest class of the single-seater auto racing calendar, bringing in the Formula One Grand Prix (F1GP) to fans in Asia – and the rest of the world – since in 1999.

Now, come every March, hundreds of thousands of auto racing fans from all over the world flock to Malaysia to watch the race and also to enjoy the various exciting events that come with it.

The F1GP isn’t called F1 Fever for nothing as the motorsport event brings glitz and glamour with the presence of world-class racers, celebrities, exciting parties, fashion shows and a myriad of entertainments. As Formula One is regarded as the third biggest sport event in the world after Football World Cup and the Olympic Games, it becomes a very important generator of tourism and tourism publicity for Malaysia.

The Ministry of Tourism and Tourism Malaysia are leveraging on this important event to create awareness for and promote the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY) campaign among the local and foreign visitors at the F1GP event.

A specially-designed VMY 2014 Pavilion has been constructed at the Mall Area situated near the main gate in Sepang Circuit from today until 24 March. Measuring 180 sq.m., the VMY 2014 Pavilion offers visitors a fascinating and unforgettable experience of the various colors, tastes, sights and sounds of Malaysia.

The theme of the pavilion is “Journey Through Time, Experience the Wonders of Malaysia” with highlights of Malaysia’s tourism success story and tourism products and destinations such as ecotourism, art tourism, shopping, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and motorsports events (F1GP and Moto GP).

For the duration of the F1GP, the pavilion will be the event hub for exciting activities comprising traditional music and cultural performance by Balle Balle, Latin Percussion music performance, professional street magician show and various quizzes and games. It is open to the visitors from 22 until 24 March between 10.00 am and 5.00 pm.

As part of its publicity and networking efforts, Tourism Malaysia has also invited a total of 40 international tourism corporate guests from 13 countries in conjunction with the Formula One Grand Prix Mega Fam programme. These high-level management of tour agencies and media companies hail from Australia, Bhutan, China, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand and Vietnam.

Apart from watching the Formula One and visiting the VMY 2014 Pavilion, the corporate guests will also go on a post-event tour to destinations within the country to get a first-hand look at Malaysia and what’s in store for tourists visiting the country this year and next year during the VMY 2014.

For further information on VMY 2014 Pavilion, please contact Ms. Hazrina Azman, Assistant Director, Domestic Marketing Division, Tourism Malaysia at:-

Tel: 03-8891 8437 Fax: 03-8891 8449 E-mail: hazrina@tourism.gov.my

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Summer In Istanbul, 14-day tour for Muslim Girls Only

Mr Fahreddin Nurullah Dal, the owner of Akdeniz Girls Dormitory in İstanbul, has written to Islamic Travel Newswire to help him promote “Summer In Istanbul”, a 14-day tour for Muslim girls only. The tour runs from July 13th to July 27th. The girls must be at least 16 years of age be able to read, speak and understand basic English. All students in the Summer in İstanbul program are accommodated in Mr Dal’s dormitory, which he describes as a wonderful place to live, newly renovated and fully furnished with the finest amenities.

The tour includes visits to the Suleymaniye Complex, Istanbul University, Beyazıt Old Town Centre, Sultan Ahmed Complex, The Museum Of Turkish and Islamic Works And Arts (İbrahim Paşa Palace), Topkapı Palace – The Harem; Islands Trip for all day; Emirgan Tulip Garden – The most famous shopping centre istinye Park; Hagia Sofia Mosque – The Basilica Cistern; the New Mosque Complex- Egyptian Baazar – Shopping time in old centre; Bosphorus tour with ferry, Üsküdar Valide Mosque – Maiden’s Tower, and Galata Tower – Taksim – İstiklal Street.

The program cost of 1,200,00 € (euro) includes 14 nights in dormitory housing with breakfast and dinner, the tours and activities described above, transportation to and from airport, and daily bus fare. Not included are air-fares and Lunch meals.

This is an estimated price based on enrollment of 10 students or more. Price may change with enrollment of additional students.

Contact: Akdeniz Kız Yurdu, e-mail: info@akdenizkizyurdu.com, phone: 0090 212 521 13 30, mobile: 0090 533 385 58 58. Address: Molla Gürani cad. No :39 Fındıkzade/Fatih/ İstanbul

E.mail: fndal@akdenizkizyurdu.com, Mobile: 0(90)5333855858. http://www.akdenizkizyurdu.com

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Vienna Welcomes Iranian Musicians

Vienna, March 23, IRNA – Iranian musicians who are in Austria for last several weeks, are still playing music in Vienna, world music capital. A group named ‘Khaidalou’ from mid-western province of Lurestan are playing Traditional and Gnostic Music in different cities of Austria. At the beginning of their concert here in Vienna, Iran’s Ambassador to Austria Hassan Tajik congratulated audiences on the occasion of spring season and wished them the best. Iranian cultural attaché to Vienna Alireza Malekian also congratulated the occasion of New Year upon Iranian calendar ( March 21) and welcomed the audiences. The group had already played concerts in Britain, Shanghai, China, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Armenia and Ukraine. Another group named ‘Shams’ had played Iranian traditional music in the past week in Austria.

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Obama tours ancient city of Petra

Amman, Mar 23 (Petra) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday visited the ancient city of Petra and toured the landmarks and monuments of the red rose city and world wonder. Obama, wrapping up a two-day visit to Jordan, was welcomed at Petra by tourism minister Nayef al Fayez and the president and administrators of the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority PDTRA.

The president was escorted through the city’s main entrance or the Siq, a narrow one-mile cleft leading to the city, and then stopped at the treasury and the Nabataean amphitheater, where he was briefed by an archaeologist on the city’s history and role of its builders, the Nabataean Arabs, who carved it in the rock over two millennia ago.

Obama was told about Petra’s status as a prominent regional and international tourist destination that had been voted as one of the seven wonders of the world. The president, who stopped at a souvenir shop and picked some gifts, said he was keen to come to the city as a tourist at the end of his tour in the region to send a message to the world that Petra is worth visiting and seeing, noting the security and stability Jordan enjoys.

Fayez told Petra News Agency that Obama’s visit in the present political conditions in the region is of paramount importance for the ancient city and tourism in the country in general as it bolsters its status on the world tourism map. He said his ministry viewed the president’s visit with utmost interest and is of great help to the promotion efforts by concerned authorities marketing Petra and the Kingdom’s tourist attractions in the world.

PDTRA President Mohammad Abul Ghanam, who presented Obama with a replica of the red rose city, thanked him for the visit, noting American support, through USAID, the U.S. embassy and NGOs, of projects in the area, including the Petra archaeological reserve.

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Indonesia’s Lion Air Now One of World’s Fastest Growing Airlines

Jakarta (ANTARA News) March 23 2013 – Indonesias largest private airline company, the Lion Air, becomes one of the worlds fastest growing carrier as it goes into the global aviation spotlight with record deals to buy Airbus planes. Airbus in Paris on Monday, March 18, 2013, announced that a record order worth 18.4 billion euros, (US$24 billion) from Lion Air for 234 medium-range A320 jets. Lion Air also gave Boeing its largest-ever order when it finalized a deal for 230 planes last year.

Commenting on the US$24 billion deal, inked by Lion Air to buy 234 Airbus planes, Coordinating Minister for Economy Hatta Rajasa said here on Thursday that it would push Indonesia`s economic growth. “Because of the plane import, the capital goods will increase and push the economic growth,” the economic minister said at the Finance Ministry office here on Thursday. Besides, Hatta Rajasa further added that spare parts and plane maintenance will certainly increase as part of economic development.

“If the import increases, the trade balance deficit will certainly rise. The important thing is that if the fuel oil import is controlled, the non-oil and gas trade balance can be offset,” Hatta said. He also expressed his optimism that investment in Indonesia will increase with the target of Rp390 trillion in 2013 could be reached.

The economic minister added that the aircraft purchase is part of the connectivity development in Indonesia which is made up of thousands of islands.

According to Lion Air CEO Rusdi Kirana, the company has ordered 109 A320ne, 65 A321neo and 60 A320ceo. “This is the first Airbus order by Lion Air Group and the biggest that has ever been made by Lion Air,” Rusdi said in Paris on Monday, adding that the order was made on basis of a positive trend of passengers and economic growth in Indonesia and the Asia Pacific region.

According to him, the first six planes will be delivered in mid-2014 to service routes in Asia and the Pacific. Rusdi said Lion expects to have ordered 1,000 planes in the next few years.

“Those aircraft were targeted to expand our airline in the Asia-Pacific region. We are not satisfied just to develop our business domestically. We will go international, especially with the emergence of the open skies policy in the Asia-Pacific,” he noted. Lion Air planes started flying in 2000, about a year before AirAsia.

According to Winnipeg Free Press in its website www.winnipegfreepress.com, Lion Air is taking the battle for Asia`s budget-minded travelers to the backyard of the airline that helped pioneer low cost flights in the region. It said the Malaysia-based airline and its CEO Tony Fernandes pioneered low-cost air travel in Southeast Asia, opening up skies previously dominated by full service carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Thai Airways.

These airlines today have their own low cost offshoots to vie with AirAsia. AirAsia also has spread its wings with affiliates in Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, Thailand and India. And Lion Air, which has relied mainly on the Indonesian market for its growth, now wants a slice of global aviation.

It is banned from flying to Europe due to broader safety lapses in the Indonesian airline industry but this is expected to change with its new plane orders. Lion Air is buying 169 A320s and 65 A321 jets. The first planes will be delivered in 2014 and most of them will be outfitted with a new, more fuel-efficient engine that Airbus has recently developed.

Meanwhile, AFP reported that French President Francois Hollande said a deal that he described as the biggest in the history of civil aviation would create 5,000 jobs in France over the next 10 years. Mondays agreement, hailed as "historic" by Hollande, was signed at the presidents official residence, the Elysee Palace, by Airbus head Fabrice Bregier and his Lion Air counterpart Rusdi Kirana.

Lion Air is to buy 60 classic A320 planes. The rest of the contract involves the new, more fuel-efficient Neo version of the A320 series, which has a catalogue price tag of more than $100 million, though discounts are common for large orders. According to the Elysee, the A320s currently under production will be delivered from next year while the Neos will be supplied from 2016.

“These are impressive figures which honor European industry and bear witness to the vitality of the Indonesian industry,” AFP quoted Hollande as saying. He said Airbus is the pride of France and Europe, and it is one of the pillars of our economy and directly employs 24,000 people.

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Indonesia Targets To Be World’s First Largest Cocoa Producer

Mon, March 18 2013 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Agriculture Minister Suswono said Indonesia is aiming to be the world`s largest cocoa producer replacing Ivory Coast by launching Cocoa National Movement to boost production.

“In the national movement there will be efforts to rejuvenate cocoa trees and improve production through proper cultivation and fertilization,” Suswono said here Monday. Indonesia is currently the world`s third largest cocoa producer after Ivory Coast and Ghana. According to Suswono, the rejuvenation program was conducted by replacing non-productive cocoa trees with new productive ones.

The government started the rejuvenation program in 2009, hoping it could increase cocoa production to 1 million tons in 2013 from 833,310 tons in 2012. The 2012 cocoa production represented a 17 percent increase compared to 2011 when the figure was recorded at 712,231 tons. To improve the national production, the cultivation is done by applying the grafting and side-cleft grafting as well as proper fertilization. “Hopefully the productivity would increase,” Minister said.

However, the effective production rates was only 700-800 kilogram per hectare per year, Suswono said adding that Indonesia, in fact, had a potential to increase its production up to 1.5 tons per hectare per year that would outperform Ivory Coast`s production, 1.4 tons per hectare.

Suswono said it was the opportunity for Indonesia to improve its production and become the world`s first larger cocoa producer as the Ivory Coast could not increase its productivity. Minister Suswono, during the 87th Meeting of International Cocoa Council in Denpasar, Bali, held on Monday, set the national cocoa production target of 1.5 tons per hectare in 2016.

The government had imposed five percent import duty on cocoa, thus the industries were expected to optimally work on the cocoa downstream products such as chocolate. The government would also apply a certification on cocoa to promote the Indonesia`s cocoa sustainability to the consumers.

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Pakistan, Thai Fashion, Gemology institutes sign MoU

BANGKOK, March 18 (APP): The Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design (PIFD) on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Bangkok-based Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (AIGS). The MoU, which envisages collaboration in a range of activities in the area of gemology and jewellery design, was signed by PIFD’s Vice Chancellor Hina Tayyaba. On the AIGS side, General Manager Ms. Benyaphat Chatchonbut signed the MoU, said a press release.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Thailand Sohail Mahmood and other senior embassy officials were present on the occasion. Establishing a formal collaborative framework, the MoU inter alia provides for exchange of students for training, faculty exchanges, mutual cooperation at exhibitions and trade fairs, joint research activities, and arranging students’ internship with the industry.

The PIFD is a premier fashion design institute in Pakistan with six constituent colleges. In 2011, the institute was chartered by the Government of Pakistan with degree-awarding status.

The AIGS is among Southeast Asia ‘s first educational facilities devoted exclusively to the study of gemology. Established in 1978, the AIGS offers knowledge and expertise for building appreciation of gemstones and imparts professional training for those involved in gem and jewellery trade.

Ambassador Sohail Mahmood described the signing of MoU as a significant step forward in building a long-term, collaborative partnership between the PIFD and the AIGS. This, he added, was part of the broader efforts to forge linkages between academic institutions in Pakistan and Thailand and to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the arena of creative economy.

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Oman Hosts Meet to examine future of exhibition industry

Oman Daily Observer – 23 March, 2013 – Oman International Exhibition Center (OIEC) will hold an open meeting tomorrow of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) for 2013 under the theme “Getting Ready for Future Exhibition Industry Challenges” at Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa. Hassan bin Ramadhan bin Sulaiman, OIEC Acting General Manager, said the meeting will review UFI activities for 2013 and the venue for the next meeting.

In a statement to ONA, he said the meeting will include discussion panels and working papers on the GCC Exhibition Market, Changes in Client Expectations, the “Must Do” List for Organiser and Venues in the Digital Age, Increasing Media Competition and the Position of Face-to-Face in Future Marketing, Management and Control of Corporate Social Media Output and Interaction, and the Importance of Sustainability/CSR Strategy in the Tomorrow’s Exhibition Business.

Mohsen bin Khamis al Balushi, Chairman of OIEC Board will present a working paper on Oman’s Potential in the Business Event Sector for the Coming Decade. He will review the Sultanate’s trends in enhancing the exhibition and conference industry, which qualifies it to become a leader in this field at the regional level. He will also review the implications of the flourishing exhibition industry on the business community, local investment and various economic activities.

The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) was founded in Milan, Italy, on April 15, 1925, by 20 leading European international trade fairs. The number of members from exhibitors around the world, in addition to associations and unions for international and world fairs now stands at 540.

UFI represents, promotes and supports members and fair industry around the globe as it serves as a platform for all fair industry professionals. It provides them with the opportunity to discuss the future opportunists and develop solutions for the challenges facing them. The number of Omani companies registered as members of the UFI now stands at six.

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‘UK is losing hub traffic to Dubai and Istanbul’

Gulf Today – 23 March, 2013 – Heathrow Airport has strongly defended its status as the UK’s only hub airport in a submission to the country’s independent airports inquiry. The airport, which is running at capacity, said that the UK is currently losing out on additional hub traffic and warned that “a significant proportion” of un-served hub demand could be lost for good by the time the country builds more runways. It said rivals such as Dubai and Istanbul were already making major investments that “exploit the UK’s hub capacity constraint”. The London gateway said new hub capacity could be delivered quickest – by 2024 – at Heathrow. The Airports Commission was set up late last year and is investigating if and how the UK should expand its airport capacity. It will recommend to the government whether Heathrow should be allowed to build a third runway, or whether expansion should take place elsewhere.

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Jordan Central Bank plans to issue sovereign Islamic sukuk

Gulf Today – 23 March, 2013 – The Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ) is examining mechanisms to issue sovereign Islamic sukuk in the primary market in order to widen the base of investment tools that can be traded in the secondary market on the one hand and, on the other, to come up with a new method for financing the treasury besides the traditional financing means.

Addressing experts meeting at the Arab Academy for Banking & Financial Sciences on Thursday, CBJ Governor Ziad Fariz underlined the importance of coming up with new financing tools in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law) to accelerate the economic growth, the state news agency, Petra, reported. Fariz said that the issuance of sukuk will help Islamic banks invest their financial surpluses which account for 17 per cent of the total surplus reserves in the kingdom’s banking sector.

The governor pointed to an increase in demand on Islamic banking which has developed immensely, noting that its pioneering services are marked by diversity and outreach not only in Arab and Islamic states but in Western countries as well because they demonstrated resilience, stability and strength in the face of internal and external financial crises. He also credited Islamic financial services for the strong link between the financing sector and the real productive sector in the economy.

Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) president has said that Jordan needs to market its image to investors as an open economy with a skilled labour force.

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Oman Air to encourage students to pursue aviation engineering

Oman Daily Observer – 23 March, 2013 – Oman Air will organise today at College of Higher Technology in Muscat, in collaboration with Airbus, a seminar on the future of aviation and the latest developments in this competitive sector.

The opening ceremony will be held under the auspices of Mohsen bin Khamis al Balushi, Adviser at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in the presence Airbus representative in the Middle East and a number of officials from the public and private sectors, in addition to engineering and physics student at the College of Higher Technology.

Khalid bin Abdul Wahab al Balushi, Senior Manager of Government Relations and Community Service at Oman Air, said the seminar coincides with the company’s 20th anniversary and to cope up with the ambitious plans of the Sultanate’s national carrier to activate its social role and its positive communication with the academic institutions in the Sultanate.

He added that Oman Air seeks through the seminar to familiarise students of colleges and universities, engineers and officials with aviation future with the latest developments in this field. More 350 students from the College of Higher Technology will attend the seminar.

Al Balushi added that two seminars will be conducted for school students at the 6th and 7th grade under the theme “Junior Engineer” in which a lecture will be given by a specialist from Lebanon to highlight and enhance their knowledge about engineering, affirming that this experience is the first of its kind in the Sultanate.

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Muscat International Airports see rise in traffic

Oman Daily Observer – 23 March, 2013 – Muscat International Airport has seen an increase in passenger traffic (including transit and transfer) by 10 per cent to stand at 1,331,026 passengers during period ending February 2013 compared to 1,208,603 for the same period last year.

The statistics released by the Air Transport Department at the Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA) shows an increase in the arrival passengers by 10 per cent to 683,906 ending February compared to 622,576 for the same period in 2012.

The number of passengers leaving the airport has also increased by 13 per cent to 635,442 by February compared to 564,377 for the same period in 2012. The rise in traffic is attributed to the increase in the number of flights by some airlines such as Oman Air, Biman Bangladesh Air and Turkish Airlines. In terms of air mail traffic at Muscat airport, the statistics indicate an increase in the total unloaded and loaded mail by 43 per cent, with total shipment of 161 tonnes compared to 113 tonnes during the same period in 2012.

Salalah Airport has also witnessed an increase in the total number of arriving and departing passengers by 6 per cent to stand at 107,366 for the period ending February compared to 100,897 for the same period of 2012.

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DMCC set to launch Islamic commodity platform

Khaleej Times – 21 March, 2013 – Dubai’s government-owned commodities centre is launching a Shariah-compliant commodity trading platform which Islamic banks in the Gulf could use to manage their short-term fund flows. The tradeflow platform developed by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, or DMCC, allows trading of warehouse receipts, which represent ownership of commodities stored at warehouses.

Islamic banks cannot use conventional interbank money markets because of Islam’s ban on interest, so they have struggled with a shortage of instruments to manage liquidity. The DMCC hopes its platform can be part of the solution to this problem, since warehouse receipts are based on actual trading of physical assets, an important principle in Islamic finance.

“What we have built is a completely different alternative to what is out there. Assets are really owned, really transferred — scholars can check these and all contracts are standardised,” Tradeflow director Paul Boots told Reuters. “We realised that there was a shortage of Shariah-compliant money market instruments, which means Islamic banks end up with large concentrations of cash.”

The DMCC has operated a conventional trading platform for commodity receipts for years; the Islamic platform now being launched tracks the ownership of commodities in a way which gives assurance that a “true sale” of commodities is occuring.

That assurance is necessary for Islamic banks to enter into murabaha contracts with each other to place their surplus funds. “Banks still offload their master murabaha agreement as per their conditions, but all the sales and purchases are done in a very standardised way to ensure they are real sales purchases,” Boots said.

The Islamic trading platform, developed with Shariah advisory firm Dar Al Shariah, which is headed by prominent scholar Hussein Hassan, also involves the DMCC certifying that storage facilities for the commodities meet Islamic principles.

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Dubai Chamber, Baku to expand trade ties

Khaleej Times – 22 March, 2013 – The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s International Representative Office in Azerbaijan recently organised a roundtable discussion on ‘Expanding Trade between Dubai and Azerbaijan’ in Baku.

The roundtable was attended by Hassan Al Hashemi, director, External Relations, Dubai Chamber, Sanan Nasibli, head of Dubai Chamber Representative Office in Azerbaijan, leading Azerbaijani importers and exporters, and representatives of logistics companies, Dubai franchisees, the UAE Embassy, the Ministry of Economic Development of Azerbaijan, and the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Agency (AzPromo).

In his welcome address, Al Hashemi reiterated Dubai’s solid position as a world-class trade hub for the CIS, GCC, and Africa. He also stressed the importance of Azerbaijan as a strategic location for trade and business and expressed gratitude to the Ministry of Economic Development and AzPromo for partnership and support.

Al Hashemi also shed light on Dubai Chamber’s plans to expand its international presence with 15-20 offices until 2016 in the CIS, Africa, and Asia noting that Africa and the CIS are very promising markets and Dubai continues to be an excellent hub for cross-continent trade to these regions.

He took the opportunity to highlight the ease of doing business the emirate of Dubai offers to foreign investors via its unconditional government support, business-friendly laws, world-class infrastructural and financial services and a high return business environment.

On his part, Rufat Mammadov, Acting President of AzPromo, informed that Azerbaijan has gone through a period of significant development and growth with overall trade up nine times and the non-oil trade up five times in the last 10 years.

He also stressed that Azerbaijan’s trade with the UAE is based on imports from the emirates. Apart from hydrocarbons and related products, AzPromo would like to see agricultural products and food stuffs exported to the UAE and other MENA markets.

Representative of leading local retail and commercial real estate companies expressed strong confidence in the growing local consumer market and noted the need and potential of bringing more Dubai management and franchise experience to Azerbaijan.

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Qatar Airways plans two new routes to Iraq

Gulf Times – 21 March, 2013 – Qatar Airways yesterday announced plans to launch scheduled flights to two destinations in Iraq starting this summer. The addition of Basra and Sulaymaniyah will add to a total of five destinations served by the airline across Iraq. Flights to Basra are due to begin on June 3 with Sulaymaniyah starting on August 20. Both destinations will be served four times a week from the airline’s hub.

Qatar Airways began operations to Iraq last summer with flights to the capital Baghdad and Erbil, followed in January this year by new services to Najaf. The airline currently operates 12 flights a week across the three Iraqi cities. The new capacity will take frequency up to 20 weekly services across Iraq. The decision was fuelled by the reconstruction drive in the country and demand for more air services to Iraq – in line with its strategy to enter underserved markets.

“With today’s announcement of flights starting to the cities of Basra and Sulaymaniyah this summer, Qatar Airways is offering new travel options to the people of Iraq and for those involved in the reconstruction efforts of the country,” Akbar al-Baker, Qatar Airways CEO, said. “After years of restricted air access for foreign airlines in many parts of Iraq, Qatar Airways has been working with the authorities to open up services and are delighted to have expanded our operations there in such a short space of time, doing our bit in the country’s rebuilding efforts.”

The convenient timings of the Doha – Basra and Sulaymaniyah flights will provide passengers with good connections to key destinations across the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia Pacific. Both routes will be operated with an Airbus A320 featuring 144 seats in a two-class configuration of 12 seats in Business Class and 132 in Economy.

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Iran, Iraq start direct flights

TEHRAN, Mar 15 (NNN-FNA) – Iran and the Iraqi Kurdistan region launched direct flights between Iran’s Western city of Oroumiyeh and Iraq’s Northern city of Erbil. Direct flies between Oroumiyeh and Iraq’s Northern city of Erbil are available after the airline between the two cities was launched on Sunday with the presence of a number of Iranian and Iraqi officials.

Director of Oroumiyeh International Airport, Kamal Parhizgar said in a ceremony held to celebrate the event that the airline was officially inaugurated with the Sunday flight from Oroumiyeh Airport to Erbil. Parhizgar said the flight would be two days a week on Sundays and Thursdays. Iran and the Iraqi Kurdistan region have enjoyed growing ties since the overthrow of former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, during the 2003 US invasion of the Muslim country.

In Jan, Iranian First Vice-President, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, stressed the necessity for the further expansion of relations between Tehran and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. In a meeting with Head of the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan, Ali Abdul-Aziz in Tehran, Rahimi said, “The two nations enjoy brotherly ties and in this way, the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan, too, is one of the noble movements which is close to both nations.”

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Tourism Ministry, Oman Air unveil ‘Short Breaks’ holiday packages

Oman Daily Observer – 21 March, 2013 – The Ministry of Tourism and Oman Air, the national airline of Oman, have announced the launch of “Oman Short Breaks”, a joint project to provide great-value, ready-made holiday packages in various major tourist destinations in Oman. The holiday packages include return tickets from Oman Air and accommodation at any of Oman’s wide selection of upscale hotels.

Popular destinations that are featured in the holiday packages include the capital Muscat and Salalah, a popular city in the Dhofar Governorate known for its waterfalls, lime-stone cliffs, beaches and heritage attractions as well as Khasab, in Musandam peninsula.

Ghasi Humaid al Hashmi, Acting Director-General of Tourism Promotion, Ministry of Tourism, said: “The Oman Ministry of Tourism is taking advantage of its strategic partnerships with the key players in the travel and tourism industry to further intensify our campaign to promote Oman’s most attractive tourist destinations. Our continuing collaboration with Oman Air, in particular, has consistently generated very positive results and has contributed in creating greater awareness and interest from a much broader target audience.

The ‘Oman Short Breaks’ holiday offerings that we are jointly launching with Oman Air builds on the continuing success of our strategic partnership and seeks to open more opportunities for strategic collaboration in the future.”

Masoud al Balushi, Country Manager — UAE, Oman Air said: “The Oman Ministry of Tourism has been actively supporting our projects and this strongly demonstrates the commitment of the government to strengthen the Sultanate’s travel and tourism sector.

“The ‘Oman Short Breaks’ holiday packages that we have launched reaffirm our strong support to Oman’s vision and serve as an expression of our gratitude to our loyal patrons establishing Oman Air as one of the aviation industry’s top-performing airlines. Moreover, the holiday packages provide visitors with an opportunity to see Oman’s most popular destinations and enjoy upscale hospitality services at highly competitive rates.”

Oman Air currently operates 7 daily flights from Dubai to Muscat, 4 daily flights from Dubai to Salalah, and 3 daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Muscat. Underlining the airline’s commitment to service excellence, Oman Air’s Business Class Seats onboard its A330 fleet has been voted by Skytrax as the Best Business Class Seat in the world for two years in a row, in 2011 and also in 2012.

Oman Air passengers can now experience a whole new level of on-ground service with Oman Air’s premium frontend check-in facility exclusively for First Class and Business Class guests, besides Oman Air’s Premium Lounges located at Muscat International Airport.

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Iran exports nearly $30bln of non-oil products

TEHRAN, Mar 16 (NNN-FNA) – Iran exported almost $30bln worth of non-oil products during the last eleven months of the current Iranian year (Mar 20, 2012 – Feb 19, 2013). During the first eleven months of the current Iranian year, Iran’s non-oil exports weighed 61.627 million tonnes. Meanwhile, imported commodities weighed 35.873 million tonnes, showing a 7% growth in comparison with the preceding year.

China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Turkey, South Korea, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Azerbaijan were the main importers of non-oil products from Iran. The UAE, China, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, India, Russia, Italy and Turkey were the leading exporters of non-oil goods to Iran.

In Feb, Head of Iran’s Customs Office, Abbas Me’marnejad had told FNA that the value of Iran’s non-oil trade with the outside world has exceeded $85bln during the first 11 months of the current Iranian year. Also in Feb, Head of the Exports Commission of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, Asadollah Asgaroladi said that his commission plans to equalise the volume of the country’s non-oil exports and imports in the next Iranian year (starts Mar 21).

“If we are due to import goods worth about $60bln to $65bln, the country should have the same amount of exports,” Asgaroladi said.

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Algeria plans US$32 bln spend on railway development

ALGIERS, March 19 (NNN-APS) — A budget of more than 32 billion USD has been devoted to the development of rail transport in Algeria over the period 2005-2014, according to Nassim Mustapha, an official from the Transport Ministry. “The total budget devoted to railway development is important for the two development plans 2005-2009 and 2010-2014 and totals about 32 billion USD,” Mustapha told National Radio.

“Ninety per cent of registered operations are engaged on the ground,” he said, adding that some lines had been delivered and others were still under construction. The country’s rail network, which was 1,769 km in 2008, will reach 10,000 km by 2016-2017, he added. Nassim Mustapha stated the work included extension projects of several lines from the North to the South, including that linking Bechar to Adrar over a distance of more than 600 km.

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Malaysia plans to become global aerospace player by 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, March 22 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia is on a solid track towards becoming a global aerospace player by 2015 in line with the primary target of the country’s National Aerospace Blueprint. Launched in 1997, the blueprint was prepared by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).

Its Senior Vice President – MIGHT Industry Intelligence, Ir Kamarulzaman Zainal said since the formation of the steering body, the Malaysian Aerospace Council (MAC) in 2001, the industry had rapidly expanded to post annual growth of between six to seven per cent. “In respect of implementing the proposals contained in the National Aerospace Blueprint, we have completed 80 per cent, and on track to attain the goal of becoming an important global player.

“This is due to the emergence of local companies which are gaining prominence in the field. It is also supported by four key segments which are receiving emphasis, namely, services maintenance, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), manufacture of aeronautical aircraft components and systems integration as well as human capital training and development,” he told Bernama.

He said overall, the industry last year record an income of RM30.2 billion, with 65,000 jobs having been created to date. Kamarulzaman said for the MRO sector, an income of RM5 billion was recorded by industry players, and close to the RM8 billion target in 2015, while for the manufacture of aircraft components, about 8,000 workers with a variety of skills and 1500 engineers are expected to be produced.

“For aeronautics and systems integration, we have set the key performance index such that, local companies can effectively expand and compete at the top tier from their present second spot. For human capital training and development in the aerospace industry, we have set no targets in respect of income, but have projected for it to become a regional centre,” he added.

Commenting further, he said the sectors are also the key focus of MIGHT in creating high income job opportunities, alongside technopreneurs. To further strengthen this industry, MIGHT as the secretariat to the MAC will sponsor an industry forum at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA 2013) from March 26-30.

It focuses on the development of logistics based on performance, with a representative of Boeing as the main speaker. “This year, MIGHT’s participation will be more towards the dissemination of information and also the sharing of experience as well as the latest information related to the aerospace industry,” said Kamarulzaman.

At LIMA 2013, MIGHT is also expected to sign seven memoranda of understanding with industry partners and research institutes, in the initiative involving human capital development, investments and entrepreneur opportunities.

Last year, RM2.4 billion in Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) was recorded, with 40 per cent contributed by international players and this figure is expected to increase with the initiatives taken by the government to strengthen the industry. “MIGHT is responsible for developing the industries of focus. This includes assisting in securing the FDI with the cooperation of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) and the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade), to promote local products overseas,” he added.

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Guyana’s economy transitioning to one built on clean energy, says Pres Ramotar

GEORGETOWN, March 23 (NNN-GINA) — President Donald Ramotar launched an update to Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy, (LCDS) which provides a summary of Guyana’s progress towards delivering on the ambitions set out in the strategy. This year, 2013 has been described as a pivotal one by the President as he launched the update at State House, this evening.

Speaking of the progress made on the LCDS, President Ramotar described it as ‘immense’ since it was launched four years ago by his predecessor Bharrat Jagdeo. He noted that with the hard work of local and international persons and agencies, the main objectives of the LCDS are beginning to pay off.

“As this update on the LCDS will indicate, we have stayed the course towards our long- term goal of achieving what few countries in the world have managed to do this far. We are now well on the way towards transitioning our economy to one that is built on clean energy sustainable land use and maintaining our forests,” the President told the gathering.

In 2009, he said, the LCDS set out a vision where government aimed to make local forests worth more alive than dead, and at present, the country has the second largest REDD partnership with the Government of Norway. Only Brazil has a bigger project although per capita Guyana is by far the world’s largest. “Today we have earned US$115M through that partnership where Norway pays for climate services provided by our forests.”

The president said that the benefits of the LCDS are already making their way down to the ordinary people and this is expected to continue through 2013. With over 11,000 indigenous homes across nearly 200 communities, obtaining electricity for the first time through solar power, real results are being seen, the President said.

With nearly 27,000 internet ready laptops distributed, more persons will be prepared for participation in low carbon employment in the future. Call centers continue to expand and provide employment to Guyanese who can be as good as their overseas counterparts, he added.

Eco tourism is also expanding, he noted and this is only the start. Amaila Falls, when completed in 2017 will be the largest infrastructure development project, locally, the president said and in addition to saving millions of much needed foreign currency, it will also eliminate 92% of energy related green house gases emissions locally.

The Inception phase of the Amerindian Development Fund, under the Guyana Redd investment Fund (GRIF) that was launched earlier, will be capitalised with Norwegian funds and benefit indigenous communities which have produced Community Development Plans (CDPs).

All of these measures show that the initial vision set out by the LCDS is no longer just an idea or strategy, the Head of State noted, and called on all sectors of society to consider how they can play their part in an economic transition that is world class and which will, “make a real difference for today’s Guyanese and future generations”.

This responsibility also lies with political parties, said President Ramotar, and noted that when the previous president launched the strategy, he spoke of how it would outlast him and how it transcended partisanship and differences.

“The Multi Stakeholder Committee is a shining example of how Guyanese from many organisations and backgrounds have come together in the national interest. They leave their interests at the door and work together to progress the LCDS”. The upcoming national budget should result in a similar dedication to the national interest, said the president. “The measures contained in the LCDS are good for all our people and that is the only test that should matter”.

The Head of State said in closing, that “four years ago, we started off on a journey that many said we would not be able to manage. Today we are showing just what we are capable of. We have stayed the course through choppy waters so far, and I know that we can continue to do so”.

In 2009, former President Jagdeo, set out a vision to forge a new low carbon economy in Guyana over the coming decade. The vision was translated into a national strategy in the LCDS – after over a year of review and consultation within Guyana, coupled with input from climate change negotiations at the United Nations.

In 2008, when he set out his vision of a new economy to achieve these goals, President Jagdeo said that Guyana would aim to meet three inter-linked challenges: how to make forests worth more alive than dead: how to stimulate future growth using clean energy and non-deforesting economic activities: and how to protect against climate change.

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World’s largest concentrated solar power plant opens in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, Monday, 06 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/18 March 2013 (IINA) – Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, president of the United Arab Emirates, yesterday launched the Dh2.2 billion Shams 1 solar power plant – the largest working plant in the world using concentrated solar power in Abu Dhabi.

More than 600 guests attended, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Other dignitaries present included Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister; Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior; and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.

Sheikh Khalifa expressed his support for the project, calling it “a strategic investment” for the UAE. “Expanding our leadership into renewable sources of power demonstrates the commitment of the United Arab Emirates to maintaining its position as a major provider of energy,” he said. “The inauguration of Shams 1 is a major milestone in our country’s economic diversification and a step toward long-term energy security.”

With a capacity of 100 megawatts – enough to power 20,000 homes – Shams 1 covers 2.5 square kilometres in Madinat Zayed in the Western Region. With the push of a button, to rounds of applause, Sheikh Khalifa officially started the plant before stepping out on to an outdoor terrace overlooking the solar field. To harness the power of the sun, Shams 1 relies on a solar field large enough to fit 285 football fields. Giant curved mirrors concentrate solar light on to a small glass tube, collecting heat. This is then used to power an electric turbine and produce power. The plant relies on a small amount of natural gas to boost its efficiency during the day. This also allows it to generate electricity at night. If the plant’s power was produced using fossil fuels, it would involve pumping 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Producing the same amount of power using sunlight is the equivalent of planting 1.5 million trees or taking 15,000 cars off the road every year.

With the completion of Shams 1, the UAE now has about 68 per cent of the total solar power capacity in the Arabian Gulf and nearly 10 per cent of the world’s installed capacity of concentrated solar power, said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, chief executive of clean-energy company Masdar and Minister of State. Masdar developed Shams 1 with the help of a French oil company, Total, and Abengoa of Spain, which specialises in the engineering and construction of projects in the power and water sectors. Each of the two partners owns a 20 per cent stake in the Shams Power Company, which developed the plant. The remainder belongs to Masdar. “The inauguration of Shams 1 is a breakthrough for renewable energy development in the Middle East and contributes to maintaining the position of the United Arab Emirates as a constructive force for stability and development,” said Dr Al Jaber.

Philippe Boisseau, president of marketing and services and new energies at Total, said the French oil company’s decision to invest in the project stemmed from a partnership with Abu Dhabi that was now more than 70 years old. Like the emirate, the French oil company believes the current energy mix needs to be diversified, said Mr Boisseau. “We absolutely share the same vision that Abu Dhabi has of the need to diversify the energy mix,” he said. “Our vision is really that all energies are necessary to supply the world with energy, that only one is not enough, that you need a combination of all. The energies are not competing against one another, they are really complementary to one another.”

Santiago Seage, chief executive of Abengoa Solar, said Shams 1 would likely inspire other countries in the region to follow suit. “Shams is, and will be, a key achievement in the region, not only in the UAE. It starts an era of renewable energy in many countries around us,” he said. “Many leaders in the region are convinced now that they need to follow the path Masdar initiated with our small collaboration and we hope that we will see many other renewable energy power plants.”

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Brazil-Arab trade flow hits $26 billion

AfricaManager – Trade flow between Brazil and Arab countries reached nearly $26 billion in 2012, increasing by 3.26 per cent from $25.11 billion in 2011, according to figures released by the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce.

Brazil imported $11.10 billion worth of goods from Arab countries in 2012, increasing by 11 per cent from $9.98 billion in 2011, while Brazilian exports to the Arab world totaled $14.83 billion last year.

Fuels ($9.11 billion) topped the list of goods imported by Brazil from the Arab world, followed by fertilizers ($1.32 billion) and salt/sulfur ($180 million). On the other hand, the top Brazilian exports to Arab countries were sugars ($4.24 billion), meat ($3.93 billion) and ores ($2.44 billion), a statement said.

Michel Alaby, general secretary and CEO of Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, said: “Brazil continues to nurture strong trade relations with the Arab world and this is evident in the sustained growth of trade volume between the two parties over the years. Moreover, Brazil and its Arab partners are continuously engaged in multilateral talks to further expand trade activities and explore mutually beneficial investment opportunities across diverse industries.

“The Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, in particular, plays a key role in nurturing and consolidating these strategic partnerships, while helping generate new opportunities for Arab and Brazilian enterprises. It was certainly another solid year overall in 2012 despite a few challenges along the way, and we intend to build on this important breakthrough to further boost economic, cultural and tourism activities between Brazil and the Arab world.”

Brazilian imports witnessed an increase from nearly all Arab exporting countries, led by Lebanon (491 per cent), Qatar (214 per cent), Kuwait (148 per cent) and Bahrain (103 per cent). Brazilian exports, on the other hand, slightly declined by nearly 2 per cent from $15.13 billion in 2011 as a result of political instability in some Arab countries. Nonetheless, there was a significant increase in exports to several other Arab countries, including Oman (35.73 per cent), Yemen (38.37 per cent), UAE (13.26 per cent) and Egypt (3.35 per cent), the statement said.

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Egypt parliament approves Islamic bond law

Cairo, Wednesday, 08 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/20 March 2013 (IINA) – Egypt’s parliament approved Wednesday a law allowing the issuance of Islamic bonds which could provide the heavily-indebted government with a new form of finance. The Islamist-led upper house voted in favor of the law that was passed by the government on Feb. 27 and sent it to President Mohamed Mursi for final

approval. Finance Minister Al-Mursi Al-Sayed Hegazy said last month that Egypt could raise around $10 billion a year from the sukuk market – much more than some analysts expect – but added that it would take at least three months to push through the necessary regulations. Egypt has never issued a sovereign sukuk. An international issue would help the government replenish its dangerously low foreign currency reserves which dropped to the critical level$13.5 billion in February.

The upper house voted against a demand from the Nour Party, Egypt’s main hardline Islamist group, that the law should be approved by scholars at Al-Azhar, a religious institution which should be consulted on matters related to Islamic law according to a new constitution. Egypt has endured over two years of political and economic instability and the pound has lost more than 8 percent of its value against the dollar since the end of last year. The government is seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to secure to support its ailing economy.

Bassem Ouda, the minister of supply and internal trade, said Tuesday that the government will start rationing subsidized bread, restricting supplies of cheap loaves upon which many Egyptians depend as the cash-strapped state tries to curb spending. Ouda said the government would start implementing the system “after two months”. Trials of the rationing system using electronic smart cards would begin in the cities of Port Fouad and PortSaid. Food supply is a politically-sensitive issue in Egypt, where rising prices are being passed on to struggling consumers and shortages have provoked unrest in the past. Curbs on bread subsidies triggered bread riots in 1977.

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Exhibition on Prophet Muhammad kicks off in Madinah

Madinah, Saturday, 11 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/23 March 2013 (IINA) – Madinah Governor Prince Faisal bin Salman, who is also chairman of the Higher Committee for celebrating Madinah’s selection as the Islamic Cultural Capital for 2013, opened yesterday an exhibition on the biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him). It was organized by the general secretariat of the cultural capital festival.

Secretary-General of the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) Fahd Al-Samary, Madinah Mayor Khaled bin Abdul Qader Tahir and Secretary-General of the Festival and Imam at the Quba Mosque Sheikh Saleh Al-Maghamesi welcomed the prince to the venue of the inauguration of the expo close to the Prophet’s Mosque. After cutting a ribbon to mark the formal opening of the expo that showcased 150 plaques, Prince Faisal toured various pavilions to view the plaques that portrayed various incidents in the life of the Prophet (pbuh) including his birth, genealogy, mission, wisdom, tolerance, emigration to Madinah, battles with enemies, physical features and moral qualities.

The exhibition also presented models of the Prophet’s Mosque, his house including its rooms, the city of Madinah, documentaries about various aspects of the life of the Messenger (pbuh), the Saudi Press Agency reported. In another development, Prince Faisal received at his office members of the board of directors of the province’s Takaful Charity Society for Orphan Care, who submitted to him the annual report of the charity for 2012.

The report said the society took care of 4,000 orphans. The charitable society took special care of the orphans’ daily board and housing, health insurance, education and talent development, training in various skills and personality development besides instilling noble qualities in them. The members also briefed the prince on the Takaful’s achievements in the organization’s administrative structure. They discussed the challenges and obstacles faced by the Takaful in its efforts to achieve its goals. The members thanked the prince for consenting to be the chairmanship of the society’s board of directors.

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US unblocks $500 million in frozen funds for Palestinians

Washington, Saturday, 11 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/23 March 2013 (IINA) – Following the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the West Bank and Israel this week, the Palestinian Authority was granted access to almost $500 million that was frozen by U.S. Congress for months.

A top U.S. official said yesterday that the frozen funds have been quietly unblocked after Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with top Palestinian and Israeli leaders during his visit this week. Kerry has pushed for the funds to be released since taking up his post on Feb. 1. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Obama Administration notified Congress late February that it was seeking a further $200 million to fund U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs for the Palestinians, Al Arabiya reported. “To date, we have moved $295.7 million in fiscal year 2012 money… and $200 million in fiscal year 2013 assistance,” She added.

The first sum comprises some $195.7 million, allocated under the 2012 fiscal year budget for USAID economic, development and humanitarian assistance, as well as a further $100 million earmarked specifically for narcotics control. The second sum of $200 million unblocked and available to the Palestinian Authority will come under the 2013 budget and be spent for direct budget support.

Earlier this month a report by the Palestinian Authority urged the world to step up financial aid and press Israel to allow economic development, warning of a “political collapse” due to Israeli fiscal strangulation. The Palestinian Authority is facing its worst economic crisis in years, in part because of a failure by donors to deliver pledged funds. But its finances were plunged further into chaos after president Mahmud Abbas won upgraded U.N. observer status at the U.N. General Assembly in late November. Israel, which also strongly opposed the move, said it was suspending monthly transfers of the tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the wake of the decision.

During a visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank Thursday, Obama insisted a two-state solution was still viable but condemned Israel’s ongoing settlement building as unhelpful to the pursuit of peace. He did not say as he has done in the past that they must be halted. The Palestinian people, he said, “deserve an end to the occupation” by Israel, but he appeared to rule out talk of a new settlement freeze at a news conference here following talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas told Obama there could be no talks with Israel without a freeze on settlement construction, a high-ranking official said. “Based on the conversations I’ve had with President Abbas and (Israeli) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu… the possibility continues to exist for a two-state solution,” Obama said, countering claims it was no longer possible because of the pace of Israel’s settlement construction.

Standing next to Abbas, Obama insisted that Washington remained “deeply committed” to realizing the creation of an independent Palestinian state which would see an end to the Israeli occupation. He did not elaborate on any US strategy in this regard. “The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it. Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own,” he said. “We do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace,” he said.

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UK campaign to promote London as Islamic finance hub

London, 04 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/16March 2013 (IINA) – The British government launched a campaign to promote London as a centre for Islamic finance, seeking to counter growing competition in that industry from rising centers such as Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.

A task force including Britain’s Financial Secretary to the Treasury Greg Clark, ministers of state and private sector executives will advertise London around the world, the British Foreign Office said. The group will try to attract foreign investment to Britain by facilitating Islamic financial business, including investment in British infrastructure by Islamic sovereign wealth funds, the Foreign Office said in a statement. Because of its status as a top global financial centre, London has attracted a large amount of Islamic business; more than $34 billion (22.8 billion pounds) worth of sukuk, Islamic bonds which are structured under religious principles such as a ban on interest payments, have been issued through the London Stock Exchange.

But competition from cities where Islamic funds originate is increasing. Kuala Lumpur is building its credentials as a centre for foreign companies to issue sukuk outside their domestic markets, while Dubai announced in January that it would revise regulations to attract sukuk issuance and trading. Britain has introduced legislation facilitating Islamic finance, and in 2009 it came close to issuing Europe’s first sovereign sukuk. The issue was ultimately postponed indefinitely because the government felt it would not provide value for money, Farmida Bi, European head of Islamic finance at law firm Norton Rose in London, told Reuters. The World Islamic Economic Forum, a conference of Islamic financiers to take place in London this October, will be an early opportunity for the new British task force. It will be the first time the forum is held outside of an Islamic city or Asia.

Some other parts of Europe are also showing increased interest in Islamic finance as much of the conventional financial industry struggles. The European Central Bank and the Malaysia-based Islamic Financial Services Board, a global standard-setting body, are conducting a joint study on policies affecting Islamic finance in Europe.

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Qatar, Iran racing to produce film on Prophet

Cairo, Saturday, 04 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/16March 2013 (IINA) – Movies depicting the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are at a competing production stage by filmmakers in Iran and Qatar, racing to bring the movie to the big screen.

The Qatari production is set to be shown as a series of films aiming to target a worldwide audience. With a spending budget of $1 billion, the movie is funded by Qatar-based Alnoor Holdings. The film’s production will be led by the world-renowned Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradwai to ensure that events in the movie are parallel to the Qur’an. “They are being understandably very cautious,” said The Lord of the Rings producer Barrie Osborne, who was hired as the project advisor, according to a report carried by Al Arabiya.net.

Now, Iranian director Majid Majidi is competing with Qatar’s production, beginning to film another story of the Prophet in October, with a set budget of $30 million. The character of the Prophet will be shown in Majidi’s production; his figure shown without revealing his face. However, it is unlikely that the prophet’s figure will be shown in the Qatari production, in accordance to Sunni Islamic laws stating prophets cannot be depicted on screen or in print.

Last year, protests swept the Muslim world in September following the release of the U.S. produced movie, Innocence of Muslims, which depicted the image of the Prophet as a womanizer. Following the protests, the United Arab Emirates held an event in Dubai, as part of global campaign, named “The True Message of the Prophet,” involving a group of young Muslims offering roses with a message of “peace and good manners” inspired by the sayings of the Prophet. Similar initiatives were seen across the Arab world as a backlash to the film they deemed offensive.

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Kyrgyzstan declares it is “Open For Business”

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-03-19 JALAL-ABAD – Kyrgyzstan is putting up an “Open for Business” sign. Kyrgyz officials March 15 met with a delegation from Austria and are planning to meet with delegations from Germany and Japan for recommendations on how to entice foreign investment. In April, parliament plans a series of hearings focused on improving the business climate and on creating investment-friendly conditions while protecting national interests.

Foreign investment would “boost the economy as a whole,” MP Ravshan Zheenbekov told Central Asia Online. “But the economic and political freedom of the state should be given priority.” Kyrgyzstan needs to pursue an integrated approach that grants investors favourable conditions and assigns top priority to Kyrgyz national interests, he said.

“We need to attract investors from a variety of countries,” he said. “Therefore, we need to create attractive investment conditions for them. The situation is improving, but slowly.”

Though foreign investment often includes large-scale projects such as railway lines or power plants, Kyrgyz officials hope to attract interest in smaller projects that they say could bring considerable profits to investors.

For example, in Balykchy, some large enterprises have fallen behind the times and could be sold to investors, Balykchy Mayor Mirlan Boobekov suggested. “The meat-processing, expanded-clay and canning plants and other businesses need equipment upgrades,” he said. “Their revival through foreign investment would stop the outflow of workers abroad and provide jobs and profits for investors.”

In order to encourage investment in small and medium businesses, MP Marat Sultanov has proposed special tax benefits. “Investors are interested above all in companies that can export,” he said. “Therefore, we need to provide tax benefits and free economic zones for these businesspeople, especially in the economically underdeveloped regions.”

Courting smaller investors

First and foremost, attractive conditions should be created for mid-sized investors and not only for major national and multi-national companies, Asylbek Chekirov, a scholar of inter-budgetary relations at the Development Policy Institute, told Central Asia Online.

“When a lot of money is moving around, big investors will arrive in spite of any gaps in legislation, corruption and political instability,” he said. “But mid-sized investors think hard about whether they should invest in a difficult country with high risks.”

The country needs to consider a wide range of conditions if it seriously intends to improve the investment climate, political analyst Mars Sariyev said.

“Before investing their money, investors look at the various indices provided by reputable international organisations, which reflect the level of corruption, the human rights record, the transparency of the judicial system and the attractiveness of the tax system,” he said. “For example, revisions to laws about taxes, natural resource use and privileges for investors can raise Kyrgyzstan’s scores and attract foreign capital.”

Various international organisations are providing considerable assistance to Kyrgyzstan in improving its investment climate. In conjunction with the government, the UNDP Global Environment Facility (GEF) is preparing such laws, Stella Bilalova, a consultant on UNDP-GEF energy projects, told Central Asia Online.

“Currently, government departments are conducting preliminary review of several bills on bettering the investment climate in the energy sector,” she said. “They will then be submitted to parliament.”

Even now, Kyrgyzstan is an attractive destination for investors, according to Chekirov, but he said he still has reservations in general. “As far as legislation is concerned, we have a fairly warm business climate that would appeal to investors,” he explained. “But enforcing these laws is a whole different thing. … Investors have to deal with red tape and corruption, and we need to fight against this.”

The country needs to follow existing law, he said, saying it should work to improve conditions and attract investment simultaneously. “It will not work if the country introduces new legislation, creates the optimum investment conditions and only then invites investors in,” he said. “The processes should go hand in hand.”

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Uzbekistan to build Afghan railway

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-03-20 TASHKENT – Uzbekistan envisions a transportation project that could have big payoffs for it and its neighbour Afghanistan. Uzbekistan Railways (Uzbekiston Temir Yullari or UTY) is conducting feasibility studies regarding plans to build an extension of the existing 75km Hairatan−Mazar-i-Sharif railway in Afghanistan. The project, slated to be done between 2013 and 2015, would boost economic ties with Afghanistan, analysts say.

In January, the company announced plans for a US $450m (914 billion UZS) 230km-long track extension that would connect Sher Khan Bandar – a Tajik-Afghan border checkpoint on the Panj River – with the existing track in Mazar-i-Sharif. From there, the track would go to Herat, where it would link to a still-incomplete track that should one day lead to the country’s western border, UTY planning centre chief Navruz Erkinov told Central Asia Online.

The project would be developed and financed under the Central Asia Regional Economic Co-operation (CAREC) Programme and would pass through the Afghan cities of Kunduz, Kholm and Naibabad, he said. “Uzbekistan has always helped, and will continue helping Afghanistan in restoring its economy,” Erkinov said. “Transport projects are of particular importance for the two countries.”

Uzbek workers helped restore the Mazar-i-Sharif−Kabul highway and restored 10 bridges on that route. In 2010, Uzbekistan started building the Hairatan−Mazar-i-Sharif railway – the first ever in northern Afghanistan – with the first trains running in late 2011.

“The most ambitious and strategically important project in the history of our bilateral relations, the Hairatan−Mazar-i-Sharif railway, has taken on the burden of freight transport on a vital route,” Erkinov said. Once put into operation, the extended railway would become the “northern railway corridor,” securing the uninterrupted transportation of Uzbek, Tajik, Afghan and international cargo across Afghan territory.

Such a corridor would be of great benefit to Afghanistan and surrounding countries, analysts agree. “The economic and strategic expediency of such a railway has long been evident,” Uzbek political scientist Valery Khan said. “It will open up more opportunities for Afghanistan to develop economically, logistically and otherwise, including the promotion of the country’s regional ties.”

“Railway construction should change Afghanistan considerably by boosting its imports, exports and industry,” he added. “Transport network expansion will stimulate Afghan business, and Afghan goods will appear in the neighbouring countries’ markets.”

Those advantages notwithstanding, Afghanistan would have to overcome some technical hurdles, UTY engineer Pavel Sychev told Central Asia Online. “Apart from building up its rolling stock and training the railway staff, Afghanistan will have to solve the problem of the difference in railway gauge,” he said. “The situation is fairly complex, because direct train transit is impeded by the different track widths used by the neighbouring countries.”

Pakistan’s railway gauge (1,676mm), for example, is wider than that of the Central Asian countries, he said, adding that the new railway, even in Afghanistan, will have standard Uzbek gauge of 1,524mm throughout for the sake of consistency and operational simplicity. “Switching from one track width to another would require building special switch stations,” he said.

Once officials solve all their logistical problems, their efforts should pay off, Dmitry Verkhoturov, an analyst with the Centre for the Study of Modern Afghanistan, told Central Asia Online. “There isn’t a single country around Afghanistan that would not benefit from the development of Afghan domestic railways,” he said. “The prospects are great: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan will get the shortest access to the sea, and transit of … Pakistani goods to Europe will be enabled.”

Erkinov agreed, saying that UTY already is seeking more projects, such as a potential Kunduz-Kabul-Jalalabad railway.

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Uzbeks To Deliver Bio-Metric Passports To Disabled Citizens

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-03-23 TASHKENT – Uzbek authorities plan to enable disabled citizens to receive bio-metric passports, even if they can’t travel to passport offices, the Uzbekistan National News Agency reported March 20. Mobile stations will allow officials to visit disabled Uzbeks’ residences, where they can fingerprint and digitally photograph the residents, it added. Until then, the disabled still will be able to obtain ordinary passports. The date when the mobile stations will become available was not reported. President Islam Karimov in June 2009 ordered a transition to bio-metric passports to comply with requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The transition is supposed to be complete by the end of 2015. The decree applies only to passports for foreign travel, not to internal passports that serve as identification documents in Uzbekistan.

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Afghanistan, Turkey sign trade agreement

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-03-23 KABUL – Afghan and Turkish officials March 19 signed a 10-year trade agreement, Pajhwok Afghan News reported. The agreement allows the countries to conduct trade fairs on each other’s territory. The signatories were Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, CEO of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce & Industries, and Murat Akyüz, secretary-general of the Afghan-Turkish Industrialists & Businessmen Association. A three-day Afghan-Turkish trade fair is scheduled for Kabul in mid-April, Haqjo said. Akyüz called Afghanistan an ideal country for investment. About 200 Turkish companies operate in Afghanistan. Last year, Afghanistan exported US $35m (1.9 billion AFN) of goods to Turkey, according to Pajhwok.

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South Sumatra Bids To Expand Fashion Export To Middle East

March 24 2013 Palembang, S Sumatra, (ANTARA News) – The South Sumatra provincial industry and trade affairs office expressed its wish to expand fashion products export to the Middle Eastern countries, an official has said. Head of foreign trade division of the provincial industry and trade affairs office, Ahmad Mirza made the statement here on Sunday, adding that his office intended to diversify its commodities for the Middle East market.

According to him, several fashion makers have expressed their wish to support such fashion export measure, however their quantity is still small. “If the fashion supply is not enough, the provincial industry and trade affairs office will only make use of trade exhibitions (to promote the fashion products). But South Sumatra`s administration is still optimistic to be able to penetrate the Middle Eastern market,” he said.

The expansion of fashion products market is a measure to increase the South Sumatra`s export, which to date still depends on rubber and crude palm oil (CPO), Mirza noted.

Data released by the Central Statistics agency showed that until November 2012, the South Sumatras export value reached US$332.72 million. Mirza said further that trade exhibition goers from the Middle East prefer the South Sumatras fashion products such as “Jumputan” and “Blongsong”.

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Nine Indonesian commodities ready to enter free ASEAN market

Fri, March 22 2013 Bandung, W Java (ANTARA News) – Industry Minister MS Hidayat said nine Indonesian commodities are ready to enter and compete in free ASEAN market in 2015. Indonesia is more competitive in the market of the nine commodities over other ASEAN member countries, Hidayat told a workshop here on Thursday evening.

The nine commodities , dominated by agribusiness products, include crude palm oil (CPO), cacao, and rubbers; fish and processed fish products, textiles and textile products; footwear, leather and leather products, and furniture. “They will be given the priority to enter the ASEAN market as they are higher in competitiveness,” Hidayat said.

Other commodities with relatively strong competitiveness are food and beverages, fertilizer and petrochemicals, machines and equipment, basic metals, steel and iron. Meanwhile, a number of industrial commodities though relatively competitive still need to strengthen their domestic market foothold facing the threat from cheaper imported products from other countries such as China, Hidayat said.

The competitiveness of industrial commodities such as automotive products, electronic goods, cement, garments, footwear, food and beverages and furniture, still need to be improved he said. Hidayat, however, expressed doubt about the readiness of the country to face an open competition in ASEAN in 2015 when ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is to be established. “To be frank, I am a bit nervous, whether we are ready to face AEC in 2015,” he said.

ASEAN has agreed to create free market for goods, services and investment in this regional grouping under the AEC. Hidayat hopes full support from other related government agencies in controlling import goods, and in dealing against illicit and unhealthy trading practices such as smuggling.

He also called for support in boosting development of infrastructure that would contribute to improving the competitiveness of Indonesian commodities. “AEC 2015 also will create market opportunity, boosting investment and form joint ventures to facilitate access to basic materials,” he said. The industry ministry will intensify networking among industrialists including small and medium industrialists to expand entrepreneurship, he said.

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ISESCO to host 4th International Conference on ICT for the Muslim World

Rabat 21/03/2013 -The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) will host the 4th International Conference on Information and Communication Technology for the Muslim World, to be held on 25-26 March by the Kulliyyah of Information and Communication Technology (KICT) of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), with support from ISESCO, the National School of Applied Sciences (ENSA) of the Fez-based Sidi Mohamed ben Abdellah University, the International Organization for Information Integration and Web-based Applications and Services (IIWAS) based in Australia, Pakistan’s Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Morocco Section.

The conference is aimed at promoting knowledge integration to explore research opportunities using ICT in inter-disciplinary studies, exploring ways to use ICT to serve the Ummah by establishing channels of comprehensive communication and cooperation, anchoring Islamic values in ICT and working towards their promotion through Islamic institutions operating in the various areas of the ICT sector. The conference will also seek to develop a new contemporary approach to Islamic curricula in educational institutions through the incorporation of ICT in teaching, and establish a forum for Muslim scholars, academics, and industrialists to promote cooperation among ICT enterprises.

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Media training for journalists to redress stereotypes of Islam in Western media

Dr El Mahjoub Bensaid, representing the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in the 20th Annual Conference and 19th General Assembly of COPEAM (Permanent Conference of the Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators), today at the Training Commission of COPEAM gave a presentation on the Course to Train Journalists and Broadcasters on Addressing Stereotypes about Islam and Muslims in Western Media. The course was prepared by ISESCO and endorsed by the Seventh Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers (Algiers, December 2011) and the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers (Libreville, April 2012).

Dr Bensaid, Head of the Information Division at ISESCO, gave a general background on what the training course is, stressing that it is key to the effort by ISESCO since 2004 in following up implementation of the General Framework of the Programme of Action for Refuting Media Smear Campaigns against Islam and Islamic Civilization, in countering Islamophobia, and in redressing misconceptions about Islam in western media, through a professional approach to ensure quality of training and scientific research on information and communication technologies.

Dr Bensaid pointed out that training sessions on this subject are scheduled by ISESCO Culture and Communication Directorate in 2013 for journalists, Muslims and non-Muslims, in France and Germany. He also stated that ISESCO is currently investigating how to build a centre in Europe to train journalists in ways to remedy two-way stereotyping, in association with media training partners.

Also speaking at COPEAM conference, Dr Abdelwahab Rami, a teacher at the Rabat-based High Institute of Journalism and the independent expert whom ISESCO commissioned to prepare the training course on remedying anti-Islam stereotyping, gave an outline of the modules and unit objectives of the course, explaining in what way it will benefit journalists from the Muslim world and beyond.

The chair of the Training Commission commended the course, affirming that she will submit it for recommendation to the members of COPEAM. Also significant, the course was met with enthusiasm and interest among all participants. This year’s annual session of COPEAM, a forum of media professionals from both shores of the Mediterranean, is taking place in Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy, on 21 through 24 March 2013 on the theme “The Mediterranean between economic crisis and socio-political changes: the floor to the media”.

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Egypt holds investment promotion conference

23 March 2013 – Prime Minister Hisham Qandil is to open the Second Investment Conference on investment in public-private partnerships (PPP) on Sunday 24/03/2013. “Despite the critical situation in Egypt, the government is keen on holding the conference to show its backing to the private sector,” Minister of Finance Al-Morsi Hegazy said. Through this conference, the government drives home a message to the international business community that it is keen on luring foreign investments. The minister believes the conference will help assuage fears and rebuild confidence in Egypt’s investment climate. The conference is expected to be attended by delegations from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Union (EU), the World Bank (WB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the African Development Bank (ADB).

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Oil Minister: Saudi Arabia & Asia are “Partners in Prosperity”

Hong Kong, Jumada I 6, 1434, Mar 18, 2013, SPA — The Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi stressed the commitment of Saudi Arabia towards the economic growth with those countries that are linked to the Kingdom with common interests and aspirations aimed at raising the living standards of these countries and peoples of the region.

This came during a speech delivered by Al-Naimi at the 16th Annual Conference for Investment in Asia, organized by Credit Suisse Asia Pacific in Hong Kong to be concluded today. Following are some excerpts of the keynote address of Saudi Minister of Petroleum & Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi entitled “Partners in prosperity” at the Credit Suisse Asia Pacific “Asian Investment Conference.”

‘Saudi Arabia’s relationships with other Asian nations have strengthened and deepened over this period. Since 1997, total oil volumes exported from Saudi Arabia to the region have increased by 50 per cent. Since 1999, Saudi Arabia’s oil exports to China alone have gone from zero to more than one million barrels per day. We have entered into joint ventures in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and China. And companies from across Asia have invested in Saudi Arabia. It has been a remarkable period of prosperity; an unparalleled period of partnership. And as we look ahead to the next ten years, I see no reason for this to change.

Claims that the world is running out of oil have been around since oil was first pumped out of the ground. Yet over this period, despite billions of barrels of oil consumed, reserves have continued to rise. Human innovation and technological advances make this possible. And I see no reason this will not continue. Saudi Arabia’s upstream engineers and scientists talk about oil and gas production well into the next century.

Saudi Arabia maintains a spare capacity to ensure oil market stability and to see that growing global economies are well supplied. We know it plays a pivotal role in protecting the world’s economic health and it is a responsibility we have faithfully and reliably discharged over several decades.

Our central interest lays in global economic growth increasing, regardless of the (oil) price. Moreover, the reality is that our economic growth – and the economic growth of the wider Middle East – depends on the health of the global economy.

Increased energy usage is to be expected in a growing economy. Asian nations understand this well. We are investing in infrastructure, we are diversifying our economy away from merely selling oil and we are creating sustainable employment opportunities. Of course, all this requires energy. But we are increasingly tackling demand by diversifying to other energy sources, such as gas and renewables, plus we are adopting a range of efficiency measures. Current levels of oil consumption growth are temporary. Our position as long-term, reliable suppliers of oil to Asia, and the world, is not in doubt.

‘Clearly, Asia’s steady economic rise is not in doubt. So I firmly expect, particularly with new leadership across the region, that Asia’s economic growth and prosperity will continue for the years ahead. This transformation will, of course, require energy to drive it. Again, I repeat my commitment: Saudi Arabia will continue to be a long-term, energy partner within Asia. Wildly fluctuating prices may be good for a few traders, but it is not good for long-term economic stability and growth.

My final point on future certainties brings me back to where I started – Saudi Arabia’s deepening partnership within Asia. I believe it will deepen even further in the decades ahead – because Saudi Arabia’s partnership within the region goes far beyond petroleum. In 1998, for example, Saudi Arabia sent ten students to study Chinese in China. Today, more than 1,200 Saudis are studying medical or technical courses in China alone. And our flagship King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, located near Jeddah, is attended by a large number of students from across Asia. While in my day, many Saudis headed to the US and Europe to study, today there are many more heading east.

This investment in people highlights the importance with which Saudi Arabia sees its ever closer ties in this region. It is about energy, yes, but it is ultimately about relationships – and about people. And that fills me with confidence.

To conclude, I want to reiterate Saudi Arabia’s commitment to Asia’s economic growth. I believe we have shared interests, and that we share aspirations to raise living standards for people across the region. Domestically, we are striving to build a brighter future for our people. But Saudi Arabia will not stint in its commitment to meeting the needs of its international customers. I believe we are partners in prosperity – and I hope this continues for many more decades to come.’

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Bangladesh conducting survey on remittance income

DHAKA, March 24, 2013 (BSS) – Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) is conducting a survey on remittance income to find out its actual uses in different sectors. “The main objective of the survey is to collect accurate and detailed data on the uses of remittance income that would help policymakers in formulating economic and development policies,” BBS deputy director Dildar Hossain told journalists at a media briefing at BBS headquarters today.

The Remittance Income Survey is scheduled to be completed by next year, he added. Statistics and Informatics Division and BBS jointly briefed the journalists about their ongoing activities. Statistics and Informatics Division Secretary Najibur Rahman, BBS Director General Golam Mostafa Kamal and other officials were present on the occasion.

Najibur Rahman said accurate statistics are inevitable during the formulation of any kind of development agenda. “The development activities would be excellent whenever the statistics are accurate, and the BBS is working hard for gathering accurate and detailed statistics from the country’s different sectors,” he added.

As part of ongoing activities, the BBS is conducting around 22 surveys in different sectors, of which a few are nearing completion. Meanwhile, the BBS has completed Literacy Assessment Survey- 2013 and the report would be published soon, informed the Statistics and Informatics Division Secretary.

Replying to a query, BBS Deputy Director and Focal Point Officer of Literacy Assessment Survey-2013 Mohammad Abdul Kadir Miah said the country’s national literacy rate is now 53.7 percent as per UNESCO definition. Of the total, the literacy percentage of males is 56.9 while it is 50.2 percent for females, he added. The BBS has taken four different assessment tests for any person between the ages of 11 and 45 while preparing the survey report.

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Indonesia to hold meeting on the post-2015 Development Agenda

March 22 2013, Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia in cooperation with United Nations will hold a High Level Panel of Eminent Persons meeting on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in Bali to discuss global partnership. “The meeting will be held at Nusa Dua, Bali on March 24-27, 2013 and the theme is Global Partnership as Means of Implementation,” said director general of multilateral relations of the Foreign Ministry, Hasan Kleib, in a press briefing here, Friday.

He said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been appointed to be one of the three co-chairs of the panel accompanying England Prime Minister David Cameroon and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. According to him the total panel members are 27 consisting of three co-chairs, 23 panel members, and one special assistant secretary general for Post-2015 Development Agenda as an ex-officio.

The result from the panel meeting will be delivered to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on May 30 at New York. “The UN Secretary General will use the report as the key input to the UN General Assembly on September 2013,” said Hasan. The panel meeting`s vision consists of ending poverty, sustaining prosperity for all and preparing for the future, Hasan said. He added that the meeting will also discuss achievement efforts in global partnership and its implementation.

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Baghdad inaugurated as Arab Culture Capital

Baghdad, Saturday, 12 Jamad Al-Awwal 1434/24 March 2013 (IINA) – Baghdad was inaugurated as the 2013 Arab Capital of Culture yesterday, the latest in a series of steps which officials hope will put Iraq back on the map after decades of conflict.

The ceremony marking the event was held under a massive tent in the Iraqi capital’s Zawraa Park, and featured a choir singing songs and a performance by renowned Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma, as well as speeches by senior Iraqi politicians and Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi. The events surrounding the Arab Capital of Culture will include music and dance performances, photography exhibitions, as well as folk arts and crafts shows. “Baghdad, which was a source of knowledge for the entire world, is rising again today thanks to the efforts of Iraqis and their Arab brothers,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a speech.

It is the latest in a series of efforts by Iraq to raise its global profile after three decades of war and sanctions which led to its international isolation, economically as well as culturally. The city hosted the Arab League summit in 2012, and later that year was the site of talks between global powers and Iran on the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear program. It is also scheduled to host football’s Gulf Cup in 2015. Iraq’s efforts have not gone off without a hitch, however. It had been scheduled to host the Gulf Cup this year but it was delayed, and ambitious plans for the Shiite shrine city of Najaf to take over as the 2012 Islamic Capital of Culture were shelved as several projects failed to get off the ground or were postponed indefinitely amid accusations of corruption.

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Kyrgyz felt carpets included on list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

Bishkek, March 22 / Kabar /. Member of Kyrgyz Parliament Karganbek Samakov met on March 20 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris with UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. The press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic reports. According to the information, the sides discussed issues on the status of ongoing projects and programs of UNESCO at the national and regional levels, as well as conservation of the world intangible cultural heritage. At the end of the meeting I. Bokova handed over the Kyrgyz delegation the certificate on introducing Kyrgyz felt carpets “Ala kiyiz” and “Shyrdak” in the list of intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO. The Kyrgyz delegation expressed gratitude to the UNESCO for its ongoing work in Kyrgyzstan and presented a commemorative gift -shyrdak.

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Charter flights to connect Iran, Upper Egypt soon

TEHRAN, March 24 (MNA) – An Egyptian minister says direct flights in the form of charter flights will resume between Iran and Egypt within the coming weeks. Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Wael el-Maadawy was quoted by Egyptian daily Al-Ahram as saying on Wednesday that the flights will link Iran with three Egyptian cities of Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel. A private carrier owned by businessman Ramy Lakah is expected to run the new routes, el-Maadawy added.

The Egyptian official’s remarks came after an agreement signed between the country’s Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou and Iranian officials in Tehran in February. Direct air travel between Iran and Egypt came to a halt after the two countries severed bilateral relations following Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. But Tehran and Cairo moved to improve ties following the ouster of the Western-backed regime of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Many observers believe that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo in February was a major step toward further improvement of bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic and post-revolution Egypt. Earlier in March, Tehran and Cairo signed a memorandum of understanding to promote tourism between the two countries.

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Algeria has huge potential for Ecotourism, mountain tourism

(APS) 24 March 2013, BEJAIA- The ecotourism and mountain tourism “are the main powerful tools of the new strategy to boost the sector,” said Saturday Minister of Tourism and Craft Industry Mohamed Benmeradi. “Algeria has huge potentialities that we should promote and highlight, through the diversification of tourism products” he said. In this regard, he gave the example of Bejaia (263-km east of Algiers) especially the region of Toudja, whose archaeological, social and cultural heritage allows it to become among the most preferred tourist destinations, the minister said. “Tourism is not only the seaside, it is also the countryside and the mountains.” During his visit to the Bejaia, the minister inaugurated a new high-standing hotel downtown and examined with local authorities ways and means to launch projects part of tourism extension zones in Aokas and Souk-el-Tenine.

Meanwhile, the National Office of Tourism (ONT) and the Algerian National Tourism Company (ONAT), Algeria’s leading tour operator are participating since Friday at the 38th edition of the World Tourism Exhibition in the French capital. “Through its participation in the four-day event, ONAT aims at highlighting three main tourism products for different types of customers,” ONAT Director General Selatnia Mohamed Cherif told APS. “We aim at developing a tourism strategy for the nationals settled abroad, promoting the tourism of memory, especially as many French pieds-noirs wish to visit Algeria, and encouraging adventure,” he explained.

Algeria’s participation in the world tourism show is an opportunity to meet again its former partners and forge new business relations. For his part, ONT Director General Rachid Chelloufi said that the area reserved for Algeria at the exhibition (60 square metres) “is insufficient given the great interest showed the visitors to the destination Algeria.

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Tunisian dates’ exports up 10.5%

AfricaManager – Tunisia has exported so far 38.700 thousand tons of dates to Europe, with a value of 126.500 million Tunisian dinars (MTD) against 35,000 tons, worth 116 MTD during the period from 2011 to 2012. These exports place Tunisia on the top in terms of foreign currency inflows from dates and second after the United Arab Emirates in terms of quantities exported globally, according to Moncef Chargui, technical director of the Inter-professional fruits Grouping (GIF).

Tunisian dates, so popular in the local market and internationally, are known for their good quality. “But this should not obscure the problems endured by the sector,” noted the head of GIF. “The current season has been marked by difficult weather conditions,” he said, citing, for example, high temperatures, day and night, a shortage of rainfall, lack of irrigation water in some oases.

He cited other no less important problems, such as the late harvest due to lack of manpower and high cost of labor. This led to the drying of significant quantity of dates’ production, whose overall volume reached 193 thousand tons during the 2012-2013 season. 135,800 tons of this production consist of Deglet Nour and 57,050 tons of other varieties of dates.

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Dubai ruler receives new 40m superyacht

24 March 2013 – Italian shipyard Sanlorenzo has said it has delivered a 40-metre aluminium superyacht to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. The 40Alloy model was showcased during the recent Dubai International Boat Show 2013, and has now been officially delivered to Sheikh Mohammed, also the UAE’s prime minister and vice president. He already owns the second longest yacht in the world with his 162-metre “Dubai” superyacht, two metres shorter than “Eclipse”, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

The building of the new vessel took about a year to complete, according to reports. The yacht’s most distinctive feature is its four terraces, while her interior boasts a combination of exclusive woods such as olive ash for the furniture and burned oak for the floors, yacht magazines reported. Two dining tables are located on the upper deck which can host up to 12 guests. On the lower deck, two double and two triple cabins can accommodate up to 10 guests, as well as six crew and a captain.

The yacht’s maximum speed is reportedly 28 knots and the cruising speed approximately 25 knots. Founded over 50 years ago, Sanlorenzo has grown to become one of the world’s most highly regarded builders of luxury yachts. Last year, it was reported that Arab owners own seven of the biggest superyachts in the world.

As well as Sheikh Mohammed, the top 10 included the Sultan of Oman with his 155-metre “Al Said” and the Saudi royal family yacht “Prince Abdulaziz” which measures 147 metres. The Abu Dhabi owned “Yas” (141 metres), the “Al Salamah” (139 metres), owned by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and The Emir of Qatar’s 133-metre yacht “Al Mirqab” were also in the list compiled by superyacht.com.

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Turkish productions go to Beijing Film Festival

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News – Productions in various genres of Turkish cinema will be promoted in China at the International Beijing Film Festival as part of the 2013 Turkish Culture Year in China. During the gala night that will take place in Beijing March.21, the events will begin with a 140-person special show.

Film Producers’ Professional Association (FİYAB) coordinator Ayşe Sönmez said due to the interest of Chinese people in Turkish films, they had made a Turkish film panorama for the festival.

She said romance and action films were more popular in the Far East. “Our relations with China have been going very well in the field of cinema. Last year we proposed making a panorama there, but this year they asked us to join the festival. From now on, we will participate in the Beijing festival every year.”

Sönmez also added they had sent 20 films for the festival and five of them were selected. These films will be “Can,” Aşk Tesadüfleri Sever” (Love Likes Coincidences), “Güzel Günler Göreceğiz (To Better Days), “Saklı Hayatlar” (Hidden Lives) and “Çanakkale 1915.”

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Yemen, KFAED sign $54 mln loan agreement to finance rural roads

SANA’A, March 23 (Saba) – Yemen and Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) on Saturday signed a loan agreement to finance the implementation of roads in rural areas. It was signed by Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Mohammed al-Sa’adi and KFAED Director General Abdul Wahab Ahmed al-Badr. KFAED will lend Yemen $54 million to build roads that will link remote rural areas and villages to the urban centers and cities to facilitate goods and services access to those areas through establishing 13 asphalt rural roads in nine governorates and improve 16 other roads in addition to providing the required institutional and consulting services to oversee the implementation of the project. It is a labor intensive project creates many job opportunities, so it will assist in enhancing the social and economic development in those areas.

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Turkish premier launches new high speed train line

TurkishPress, 23 March 2013 – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has inaugurated Turkey’s third high-speed train line. “Road means civilization. Railways mean civilization. These show the progress we have made. We have become a country which exports rail to the world,” Erdogan told the inauguration ceremony of the high speed train line that links up the central cities of Eskisehir and Konya. The new line completes a three-city network with an existing route between capital Ankara and Eskisehir, and another between Ankara and Konya.

“Eskisehir is the Capital of the Turkic Culture World and Konya is the capital of ancient Seljuk Empire. This railway will bring people, culture, history, civilizations, past and future together,” Erdogan said. Erdogan said Turkey had become the 8th country in the world and the 6th in Europe to use high speed trains. “We approximately built 137 kilometers of railroad on annual average between 2004-2012, and 1,094 kilometers in total. This number is equivalent to the railroads built during the early years of our republic,” he noted. “We will materialize the Iron Silk Road from Beijing to London with the Marmaray and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars projects.”

Turkey’s high-speed train operations began in March 2009 with the Ankara-Eskisehir line which offers 20 round trips daily. The line has held 26,411 services and carried 7.3 million passengers so far, forcing inter-city passenger bus fares on Ankara-Eskisehir route to drop dramatically from 55 percent to 10 percent, while increasing railway use on the route from 8 percent to 72 percent.

Services started on Ankara-Konya line in August 2011 and the number of daily services on this line is 16. So far, 7,825 round trips have been made, and 2.07 million passengers travelled on this line. After high-speed train started serving, the share of passenger buses on Ankara-Konya route plummeted from 70 percent to 18 percent, while railway travel increased to 65 percent. There was no train service on this route prior to the launching of the high-speed train line.

Turkey’s high-speed trains have carried a total of 9.4 million passengers so far.

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