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20 May, 2013

Abu Dhabi entepreneur promotes Falafel as fast-food chain

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 20 May 2013 (10 Rajab 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.



World Islamic Tourism Mart to be held in Kuala Lumpur

The World Islamic Tourism Mart (WITM) and Malaysia International Tourism Exchange (WITM-MITE) 2013 jointly organised by the Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (MATTA) and My Events Sdn Bhd, with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Tourism Malaysia, MyCeB and Islamic Tourism Centre, amongst others, will be held at the Putra World Trade Centre, Kuala Lumpur from 6-9 June 2013. WITM-MITE 2013 comprises of: B2B Travel Exchange for Buyers and Sellers to network and expand their market potential, and International Conference, Date: 6-7 June 2013; and Consumer Travel Fair Date: 8-9 June 2013. MATTA is encouraging its Members to participate in WITM-MITE 2013 by taking up booths as SELLERS/EXHIBITORS in the Business-to-Business Travel Exchange and Consumer Travel Fair as well as to attend the international conference featuring world renowned speakers. Top Management from numerous countries will be at WITM-MITE 2013 as Buyers seeking opportunities to expand their business with Malaysian Inbound tourism players. For further information, please click here: http://witm-mite2013.com

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:

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus: How to Alleviate Poverty and Insecurity

Call for Israeli Apology to Palestinians As a Prelude To Peace

Asia Must Influence New World Order, Not Be Influenced by It

“War on Terror” is a War Without End

Surin Pitsuwan to Civil Society: “Hold ASEAN to Account”

No Sign of A Pursuit of Accountability for the Global Financial Crisis

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus: How to Alleviate Poverty and Insecurity




First public display of original artefacts at Pakistan museum

KARACHI, May 17, Dawn.com : Judging from the nervousness of museum director Mohammad Shah Bukhari, one could understand the risk involved in putting on display the rare artefacts and ornaments. “It is for the first time that I am taking these out for the public at the National Museum of Pakistan,” the museum director told Dawn on Friday.

The extremely valuable artefacts in the museum, like at all other big museums of the world, are kept under lock and key. They are only brought out at heavily guarded exhibitions or on very special occasions. The International Museum Day was as good an occasion to do it for the very first time here.

Among the excavated pottery, old texts, stone and metal artefacts in one of the museum’s 11 galleries, the Islamic Art Gallery, there are four or five special glass display tables. One has a beautiful 300-year-old copy of the Holy Quran, another showcase displays solid gold Gandhara Civilization jewellery, while the third has a pair of small gold bulls with the last one exhibiting the original King Priest.

“The King Priest is South Asia’s biggest archaeological symbol,” the museum director said. “You must have seen it many times in textbooks, postcards, posters or on television. Well, all those are only casts of the original. We have never brought out for display the original King Priest before this day,” he said.

Anwar Hussain Khan, the museum’s model maker, said that he had been creating replicas in clay and plaster of Paris, but the original was made of white stone. “Most Gandhara objects are made of the same white stone,” he said.

Commenting on the priceless King Priest, Mr Khan joked that if sold the amount fetched in exchange can take care of Pakistan’s years of debts. “But seriously, the biggest buyers of such art pieces are in Japan. They can give you a lot of money for it but no one in their right mind would even think about selling such a piece. It is just priceless,” he said.

Meanwhile, the museum director said that even if they took it out of the country for exhibitions, its insurance itself came to billions of dollars.

The other artefacts on display include the jewellery comprising two bangles and as many necklaces with stones embedded, like clear glass Kundan work. “They are some 1,800 years old,” said Mr Bukhari.

There is also a pair of small gold bulls. “They are not gold-plated but pure, solid gold ornaments,” he said. “Both are Indus Valley Civilisation pieces, excavated from Quetta during the construction of Serena Hotel there several years ago,” he added.

The copy of Holy Quran in Naskh script by Abu Al-Barkat Sayyid Mohammad Makki is dated back to AH 912/ 1506 AD. “It has been passed down through several generations and the museum acquired it in 1957,” he said.

“We usually hold our exhibitions in the main lobby of the museum but considering the preciousness of these items and the risk involved in bringing them out, we decided to put them on display in the Islamic Art Gallery, which seems more secure,” said Mr Bukhari.

He said they had made extraordinary security arrangements for the very special artefacts. The exhibition, which opens for the public on May 18 when the world celebrates International Museum Day, will continue for 15 days.

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Sabah’s tourism industry resumes its uptrend

Sabah Online, May 17, 2013 – Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun revealed that international tourist arrivals to Sabah increased by five per cent in the first three months compared to the same period in the previous year.

“This is a phenomenal growth. We are now ready to bounce back and seize new opportunities after the unfortunate Lahad Datu incident that caused a slight dip in the number of tourists to Sabah,” he said to reporters at MASwings Top Travel Agent Awards at Magellan Sutera Harbour on Thursday.

Masidi said despite the Lahad Datu incident the number of tourists to Sabah between January and March this year was 718,626 as compared to 684,546 during the same period last year.

“Despite the terrorist intrusion in Lahad Datu, tourist arrivals were not significantly affected because there is close cooperation between the government and the tourism industry players,” he said.

He also disclosed that the number of international tourists from China and Hong Kong made up 79.2 per cent, the highest of the tourist arrivals. South Korea came second with 41.3 per cent, followed by Japan with 20.9 per cent, Singapore 20.8 per cent, Australia 14 per cent, United Kingdom and Netherlands 12.8 per cent and neighbouring Brunei 15 per cent. – Insight Sabah

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Abu Dhabi entepreneur promotes Falafel as fast-food chain

Just Falafel is a vegetarian fast food chain of restaurants, which started to operate in the UAE and witnessed an enormous growth in just a short period of time reaching several corners of the world. Jenny Kassis talked to Mohamad Bitar, Founder and Managing Director, and Fadi Malas, CEO, Just Falafel, to learn more about their fast business growth and future plans across the world.

The company was established in 2007 at a location in Abu Dhabi by Mohammed Bitar, the Founding Partner. Since the falafel sandwich is one of the oldest known types of food of our time, Mohammed has been wondering why anyone hasn’t adapted this food category into a 21st century lifestyle. This is how the idea evolved. Since he decided to develop the falafel concept, he realised that it should include a few different options in order to appeal to a wider audience.

“When we opened our first outlet in Abu Dhabi, we were providing the traditional, Greek and Indian falafel sandwiches since a great number of Greeks and Indians lived there. So, we wanted to attract them as clients”, Fadi said.

In the early stage of establishment, Mohammed didn’t have a business plan, but only a great idea to develop this food category as well as the passion to innovate it. From this point, he took the next step by developing the menu. Within a year, he opened the second outlet in Abu Dhabi.

“A year later, we managed to set up two branches in Dubai. When we opened our fifth store, we decided to move forward and check if there was a demand for franchising our business. We got a lot of visibility, since nobody offered the falafel in the same way as we did”, added Fadi.

Click here to read the rest.

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New political culture emerges in Pakistan: Nizami

ISLAMABAD, May 17 (APP): Caretaker Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arif Nizami has said that new political culture had emerged in the country and previous government had created consensus over a number of controversial issues during the past five years.

Talking to Pakistan Television (PTV), he said that intervention of any extra constitutional adventure should not take place and the consensus politics should continue. He said that caretaker government provided equal opportunities to all political parties in general elections. Arif Nizami said that people gave mandate to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to form the government. He said that despite all circumstances and rumors elections were held on time.

Replying to a question Nizami said complaints about poll rigging had been received and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was dealing with the issue through recounting and thumb impression verifications. If Imran Khan shows workable majority in Khaber Pakhtunkhaw Assembly Maulana Fazal ur Rehman should accept the mandate of Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf, he added.

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Umrah visas can now be obtained electronically

Jeddah, Thursday, 01 Rajab 1434/11 May 2013 (IINA) – Minister of Haj Dr. Bandar Hajjar said that Umrah visas can now be obtained electronically thanks to the activation of an international e-network.

An intending Umrah performer fills an e-form through an approved agent. The application is linked with a package of services that has been purchased from the agent. The intending Umrah performer pays the cost of the package linked with the visa through a bank transfer to a recognized bank in the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Interior issues a computerized entry number for him. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues the visa after getting the Umrah performer’s data from the Interior Ministry. The visa is received within 48 hours after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has received the data. The agent is informed to visit the embassy to get the visa stamped.

After the Umrah performer arrives in the Kingdom, the Ministry of Haj starts monitoring to ensure that all services are provided to him or her. The Ministry of Haj ensures that Umrah performers leave the Kingdom on time. The new e-network is linked with the ministries of interior and foreign affairs and the other authorities concerned.

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MyCEB Has Secured 130,000 Delegates To Malaysia Over Next Five Years

KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) has secured 26 conferences comprising 130,000 international business delegates to Malaysia over the next five years. MyCEB Chief Executive Officer Zulkefli Sharif said MyCEB also aims to increase tourist arrivals for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) by eight per cent by 2020.

“To achieve this target, we have appointed representatives in Europe, theUnited States, Australia and New Zealand who will help us to penetrate the market and give us the lead information on how we can tab the market,” he told reporters after the launch of the conference mobile application and delegates’ privilege card.

Zulkefli said both products, which form part of the delegates’ welcome kit, aims to provide destination information to further facilitate business events and to award international delegates with special privileges.

Applicable to conferences which involves more than 500 international delegates, users will be able to obtain information on the conference they are attending including schedules, conference speakers, surveys and announcements.

He said in later development stages, MyCEB will be expanding the mobile app to feature other states around the country. “Business events are an important industry to the country where the average spending of business visitors was recorded to be three times more than the average tourist. Thus, facilitating business delegates during their stay is an on-going effort,” Zulkefli added.

Apart from the launch of the new mobile app, MyCEB also recently unveiled its new corporate logo, giving the bureau a refreshed look with a stronger commitment towards the industry.

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Meetings & Events Australia 2014 picks Malaysia for Annual Conference

MALAYSIA – The Meetings & Events Australia (MEA) Annual National Conference will be hosted at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) in Malaysia next year, making it the first time the pre-eminent meetings industry event will be held in Southeast Asia.

“This close collaboration is definitely a win-win opportunity for both Australia and Malaysia as it will mutually benefit and boost business opportunities and relationship between both countries, especially in the area of business events industry,” Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) general manager of sales and marketing Ho Yoke Ping told micenet ASIA.

Convincing MEA to take its conference offshore had been the main barrier in securing the event, Ms Ho said, but it was “propelled by the fact that MEA on its own had, for some time, the intentions to expand its horizons and relations beyond Australia”.

The bureau convinced the association that hosting the event in Malaysia would be cost-effective for organisers and also present value for money for delegates, despite the distance between the two countries. MyCEB also had to show that they possessed the appropriate facilities to accommodate the conference, and hosted a site inspection at the KLCC for MEA to demonstrate its capacity and support.

MyCEB and MEA will jointly work on the conference’s promotional campaign, and to incorporate key messages such as the conference theme of “Embracing the Asian Century”, introduce a range of Asian speakers and content not seen previously at MEA, and offer pre- and post-tour recommendations .

This comes on the back of the announcement made at the closing ceremony of the MEA Annual Conference this year in Darwin. MEA 2014 will be hosted at the KLCC from May 15-17 next year, marking the first time the conference is taking place in Southeast Asia. The dates have been selected to precede IMEX Frankfurt, providing a convenient stopover for MEA members attending the tradeshow.

MEA 2014 is expected to draw over 600 business events professionals from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore, and is estimated to generate RM 6.4 million in economic impact for Malaysia.

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Tourism Malaysia woos Omanis

Oman Daily Observer – 15 May, 2013 – Tourism Malaysia’s efforts to promote tourism in the Middle East continued with the launch of its ‘Visit Malaysia Year 2014′ campaign in Oman yesterday.

“With the celebration of VMY next year, Tourism Malaysia will strive to attract more tourists from the Middle East to Malaysia. I’m confident that we will be able to achieve our target, as Malaysia is the top destination for Muslim travellers, explained Dato’ Haji Azizan Noordin, who is leading a Malaysian delegation.

“In a survey released in January this year by Crescent rating, a Singapore-based travel consultancy, Malaysia secured the first spot as the world’s top Muslim-friendly holiday destination. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the best score, Malaysia obtained 8.3, among 50 nations surveyed,” added Dato’ Haji Azizan.

In fact, Tourism Malaysia has just added another feather in its cap by garnering the “Best Global Tourism Advertising Campaign” award at the 4th Middle East Business Leaders Awards 2013 held on April 28 in Abu Dhabi. The event was jointly organised by the Federation of GCC Chambers and The Leaders International.

Several important programmes have been scheduled, which include a media briefing and the launch of “Destination Malaysia” brochure.

Last year tourist arrivals from West Asia to Malaysia were 370,535, which was an increase of 3.2 per cent compared to 358,994 in 2011. For the same period, tourist arrivals from Oman registered a hike of 13.2 per cent while tourist arrivals from UAE and Kuwait recorded a drop of 24.7 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively.

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Turkish PM in US, attends groundbreaking for Turkish-American Culture Center

MARYLAND, Thursday, May 16, 2013. turkishpress.com – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Turkish-American Culture and Civilization Center in Maryland. Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Erdogan said that the multi functional monument would be the honor of the (Turkish) nation.

Erdogan thanked everyone who started the project for the center and those who purchased the land and developed the project. “I believe that this center would be a place visited by not only those who have come from Turkey but also friends living in the United States,” Erdogan stressed.

“I have learned that the center would go into service in October 2014. If God permits, we will live the excitement of the inauguration of the center,” Erdogan underlined. “Carrying traces from classical Ottoman architecture, the center would make contributions to the meeting of different civilizations,” Erdogan said.

This center would be a matter of pride for Turkey, an important actor of the Alliance of Civilizations project, Erdogan stated. “I thank the US administration, Turkish Directorate General of Religious Affairs, officials of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, and all philanthropists for supporting this project,” Erdogan said.

Youth who come to the US for education would be able to make use of the center, Erdogan said. “Cultural and artistic activities will take place at the center. Islamic works would be introduced and conferences would also be held at the center,” Erdogan stated. “This monument will be a symbol of our understanding of culture and civilization,” he added.

The center will be a good way to show how wrong Islamophobia is by giving messages of Islam`s brotherhood and tolerance, Erdogan noted. With the completion of the center, the state of Maryland will have a different richness, Erdogan said.

“With its multi functional character, the center would be a source of pride for the Turkish nation,” Erdogan indicated. The Turkish American Culture and Civilization Center would be an expression of co-existence based on love and tolerance, Erdogan said.

Also attending the groundbreaking ceremony, Turkish Ambassador in Washington Namik Tan stated that Turkish-American Culture Center in Maryland would be an attractive center, allying civilizations. Tan stated that they started to build the Turkish American Cultural Center and said, “This center as an attracting center will gather people from different beliefs and will let us live the phrase ‘mosques are places, where brotherhood starts’.”

He added that this center will bring youngsters together to let each other know closer and will serve not only the Muslims in Washington but also the ones throughout United States. “Today, we do not break ground for a simple construction, but reach people who are from different beliefs than us. This is a step to fight against Islamophobia and communities which try to misrepresent Islam and Muslims,” Tan stated.

He thanked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for “making the idea possible”.

Attending the groundbreaking ceremony, Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough said that they were highly pleased to see a Turkish heritage in their state. “We are honored to host the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, known for his strong leadership in the world, and as the prime minister of a strong ally of the US,” McDonough stressed.

Deputy Chairman of the Directorate General of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Emin Ozavsar, said that with the new center, the humanitarian aspects as well as the cultural richness of the Turkish nation and civilization would be represented. This center will be a source of pride forus and also be a richness for our American friends, Ozavsar added.

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Palestinians unite behind ‘Arab Idol’ star from Gaza

Gaza City, Wednesday, 05 Rajab 1434/15 May 2013 (IINA) – The fractious factions in the Gaza Strip and across the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories have found one voice to unite behind — a 22-year-old youth singing songs about a lost homeland on the Middle East’s version of ‘American Idol’.

Gaza native Mohammed Assaf has become the first Palestinian to qualify for ‘Arab Idol’, a TV talent show staged in Beirut, in which singers perform for judges and voting viewers. He is now one of the last 10 contestants — largely thanks to his potent mix of good looks and emotional lyrics about ancestral Palestinian lands. “He is the pride of Palestine. He broke the siege with his voice,” said fan Rehaf Al-Batniji, referring to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, seized by the Jewish state, along with the West Bank, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. She stood in front of a large mural of Assaf at a Gaza restaurant, one of hundreds of posters covering buildings and walls usually marked with political slogans.

Assaf’s songs blare out of radios — a counter-balance to their usual broadcasts of bleak economic and political news. Politicians have raced to endorse him and Palestinian mobile phone company Jawwal has cut the price of text messages to make it easier for supporters to vote. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from the Fatah movement that holds sway in the West Bank, phoned the singer in Beirut and urged all Arabs to vote for him. “The president stressed his support and backing to artist Assaf, whose talent represented pride to Palestine,” said a statement by the Palestinian official news agency WAFA.

The Gaza Strip is ruled by the rival Islamist Hamas faction — a group that disapproves of non-Islamic songs and the kind of Western-style excess on full display in TV talent shows. But even Hamas has come as close as it possibly can to showing support. “He comes from a good, respected and known family,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said on Facebook.

Assaf first made his name inside Gaza at the age of 11, when he recorded a song in 2001 called “O Town be Strong”, at the height of Israeli incursions in the enclave during a Palestinian uprising. On Arab Idol, broadcast by Saudi-owned MBC Group, he has performed with a traditional black-and-white Palestinian scarf around his shoulders. His performances have included “Flying Bird” which lists the cities of historical Palestine and another song urging Palestinians to unite.

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Bangladeshi ‘computer whiz kid’ seeks listing in Guinness Book of Records

DHAKA, May 19, 2013 (BSS) – Wasik Farhan Roopkotha, a Bangladeshi computer whiz kid who was earlier recognized as a “wonder boy” by ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ is going to write his name in the Guinness World Record as the youngest IT expert in the world. His first record attempt program was held at the Creative IT limited office in Dhanmondi, Dhaka recently in the presence of IT experts and journalists. There Roopkotha again showed his talents and fascinated the audiences having IT background.

Earlier, Cynthia Farheen Risha, the mother of the seven-year-old super genius boy, signed an agreement with the authorities of the Guinness World Record. “Uncountable thank to the Almighty to fulfill my long-cherished dream as my son is going to write his name in the Guinness World Record as the youngest IT expert in the world.” said boy’s proud mother Risha.

Last year, the UK-based globally-acclaimed TV show, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, placed Roopkotha in its annual cartoon book as the world’s youngest computer programmer.

According to the Ripley’s, those who have been placed in Ripley’s cartoon book are usually included in its annual record book which publishes bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims.

The authorities of Ripley’s Believe It or Not have informed his parents that the Ripley’s would include Roopkotha in their new annual record book, which would hit bookshops worldwide in September this year.

Earlier, the Bangladeshi super genius boy hogged the headlines of the international media as BBC News, Zee news, World news, The New York Herald Tribune, California Observer, Estate News, Children Post and many international websites ran stories on him and recognized him as the youngest computer programmer on the earth.

Roopkotha’s amazing story has been included in Bangladeshi national textbook of class eight “English for Today”.

The story of Roopkotha, Bangla for ‘fairytale’, has overshadowed even (a) fairytale. At the tender age of six, when most of the children play games with toys, Roopkatha developed his own computer system (with windows) and ran tags and code of computer programming like an expert.

The born genius, a resident of Gulshan in the capital Dhaka, unbelievably started computing when he was hardly seven months old, and learned writing on computer at the age of only two, said Risha.

She said her son’s curiosity about computer had started a couple of days after his birth. He would look at computer monitor with eyes unblinking and refrained from eating until the computer was switched on. She said Roopkotha never took IT lessons and learned everything without taking anybody’s help.

Risha said he has already played more than 700 games and completed many complicated games like Sonic-knuckles(all sonic series), Prince of Persia, Terminator 3, Hercules, Air Conflicts, Age of Mythology, lock on, azangara, Metal Gear Solid, Mig-29 fulcrum, Mario Forever(all Mario series), Super Mario64 Nintendo 64, Need for Speed series, The bugs life, legend of Zelda, Star Defender, Red dead redemption, lock on flaming cliffs, Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun, Flight simulator lll, Eve online, Modern Warfare 2, FPS mechanics, Age of Empires 3, Rise of Legends, Castle vania – legacy of darkness act.

He knows operating system setup and troubleshooting. And more than 5000 English words are in his store and with the words, he can make sentences. Typing is a very simple matter to him as the boy can type words with his tiny fingers as swift as any highly efficient typist without having a look at the keyboard.

The computer wizard can perfectly manage games project tools and synchronize any project with other projects. He can also use different complex codes and run them easily. Roopkotha businessman father Wasim Farhan and mother Risha hope that their son would become a great programmer in future and introduce a new episode in the cyber world.

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Saudi woman tops Everest as country warms to women in sports

KATHMANDU – Agence France-Presse – Saudi woman Raha Moharrak reached the summit of Nepal’s Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, in a first for the conservative Muslim kingdom where women’s sports are severely restricted, tourism officials said Sunday.

The 25-year-old reached the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) summit early Saturday morning with a party of foreign mountaineers and Nepalese guides. “She reached the peak with 12 other members of the expedition,” Gyanendra Shrestha, an official with Nepal’s tourism ministry, told AFP from Everest Base Camp.

“We have been able to contact her and she is very exhausted and now resting,” Hassan Moharrak, the climber’s father, told AFP, adding that the family was very happy with her achievement. Moharrak’s feat is backdropped by her country’s gradual warming to the idea of women participating in sports.

In a historic first for the country, two female athletes participated in the 2012 London Olympic games. Early this month, the government allowed some girls in private schools to participate in athletics but requested the schools ensure girls wear “a covering and decent outfit” for sport activities in “suitable areas”.

According to international watchdog Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that still effectively bars girls from taking part in sports in government schools. “It’s terrific a Saudi woman has been able to reach the summit of Everest,” Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

“But it’s worth remembering that meanwhile millions of women and girls in Saudi Arabia are still denied the right to climb in a gym or play any sports, including in state schools — as a matter of government policy.” Moharrak’s Everest expedition, dubbed “Arabs with Altitude”, undertook the quest to raise money for education charities in Nepal.

Hundreds of climbers will attempt to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak in the coming days as a fair weather window has opened. This year, which marks the 60th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s maiden Everest summit, has been marred by a brawl that broke out between European climbers and Nepalese Sherpas high on the mountain in April.

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Fabulous Pictures of Iran’s second Origami tournament

TEHRAN, May 19 (MNA) – Iran’s second Origami tournament has been held Wednesday afternoon in Sarv House of Culture. As a picture is worth a thousand words, see the fabulous photographs here: http://old.mehrnews.com/en/newsdetail.aspx?NewsID=1822088

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Saudi Citizens Advised to Follow Regulations of Countries Where They Travel

Riyadh, Rajab 9, 1434, May 19, 2013, SPA — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on citizens traveling abroad to adhere to the laws and regulations applicable in the countries they wish to visit. The Ministry has issued a guide for citizens traveling abroad including instructions about passports, airline tickets, personal belongings, the validity of a passport for a period of not less than ‘six months”; registering passports and addresses at Saudi Embassies, dealing with licensed offices, carrying credit cards and travelers’ checks instead of cash money, entry visas, and getting vaccines if required by the State (of travel).

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IDB financing to six Central Asian states reaches $4.6 billion

Dushanbe, 09 Rajab 1434/19 May 2013 (IINA) – The Islamic Development Bank Group (IDB) has so far extended financing worth a total of $4.6 billion for its six member states among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This was stated by Tajikistan’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade Sharif Rahimzoda in his opening speech at the “Dushanbe Business Forum 2013 here yesterday.

The seminar is organized by the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) on the sidelines of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Islamic Development Bank Group (IDB). The theme of the seminar is “Financing and job opportunities in IDB projects and the success stories.”

It was stated in the seminar that as many as 340 projects have been implemented in the six member countries -Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kirgyzia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan has benefited from $290 million financing. ICD organized the seminar in collaboration with the IDB Business Forum, Tajinvest, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tajikistan, and Agro Invest Bank. The seminar, which showcases Tajikistan as a promising investment destination, focuses on the best practices of Islamic banking and leasing. The Forum aims at strengthening the economic ties between the Tajikistan and the OIC countries by attracting investment into Tajikistan. The forum also highlights the economy and business environment in Tajikistan and the available investment opportunities and prospective business partnerships.

The 38th Annual Meeting of the IDB Board of Governors will begin in Dushanbe on Tuesday. More than 730 representatives from 50 member states and 68 international financial institutes are attending the IDB meeting. Raising the capital of IDB from $45 billion will figure high on the agenda of the meet, according to IDB sources. Tajikistan President Emomalii Rahmon will open the meet in which ministers of finance, economy and planning from the member states, in addition to representatives of regional and international financial organizations, Islamic banks, national organizations for development financing, and federations of contractors and consultants from the member countries will take part.

The conference will discuss increasing the capital in line with the recommendations of the Extraordinary Islamic Summit held in Makkah in August 2012 so as to enable the bank to play an active role in meeting the growing financial requirements of the member countries. On the sidelines of the Governors’ Meet, Dushanbe will also witness the annual meetings of the subsidiary organizations and bodies of IDB.

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Halal mark a must for all food products in UAE

Dubai, 09 Rajab 1434/19 May 2013 (IINA) – All food products claiming to be halal need to have a halal mark and certification from next year, a senior official from the Emirates Standardiszation and Metrology Authority (Esma) has said.

The announcement comes as part of a halal regulations package, which will also include halal certification for cosmetics and perfumes as well as clothes and accessories. “It is His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai’s dream to make Dubai the capital of the halal economy and this initiative is part of that project. Through this process we will make sure what people consume assuming it is halal is actually halal,” said Mohammad Saleh Badri, Director-General of Esma. According to Badri, there is currently a system in place to verify halal compliance of food products but it has very limited scope. Recently mandated by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to formulate halal codes for cosmetics and perfumes to be implemented in all Islamic countries, Esma hopes the halal food standards will also be adopted by other countries. “Each emirate has its own system to verify halal compliance at municipal level but there are no general standards and regulations. We will be putting a whole new system in place which will not only be a point of reference for firms in the UAE but also for other Islamic nations,” added Badri.

Currently in the process of ratification, the standards will be in place by early next year, covering all types of food products and outlets. “Every eatery and food brand that claims its food to be halal will come under the scanner and we will go into details of the ingredients used, the processing, the plantation, chemicals used, the packaging as well as the slaughtering of animals. Every process should comply with Sharia regulations,” said Badri.

The announcement comes following recent speculation about Western food chains not complying with halal standards, which led to the withdrawal of certain products in several countries. “Once we have our system in place, there will be no place for speculation and scepticism. It will be clear to people what products are halal and what are not permissible. We will ban those products that don’t comply with the standards,” Badri said.

Paying attention to detail, the standards will even look into cases of food products being genetically modified or processed using chemicals or fertilisers that have traces of non-permissible products. Having traces of pork, animals slaughtered in a non-Islamic way or the presence of alcohol in food products among other things is not allowed according to Shariah. In the next phase, the authority will implement standards to ensure all clothing and accessories are also halal.

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Islamic finance needs global Shariah board

Kuala Lumpur, 09 Rajab 1434/19 May 2013 (IINA) – Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali, President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), has called for the creation of a global Shariah advisory board that can offer greater uniformity for the Islamic finance industry, its president said yesterday.

Addressing a conference here, he said that the banking products is gaining favor across the globe, as regulators seek to standardize industry practices and improve consumer perceptions. “IDB and IFSB (Islamic Financial Services Board) should study ways for creating globally acceptable references for the industry for the benefit of all,” he said. “This could include striving for the concept of a globally accepted Shariah committee or body, which would be able to assist all Islamic financial institutions and bring them in line with a uniform standard.”

Malaysia pioneered the country-level Shariah board and in recent months several countries have introduced central boards of their own, including Dubai, Oman, Pakistan and Nigeria. Countries like Oman have gone as far as imposing term limits on the Shariah scholars who are members of these boards, while also requiring they abide by a code of conduct. Islamic scholars are experts in financial and religious law, but they are not certified or accredited like other professions, so regulators are increasingly developing ways to ensure the hiring of experienced and financially literate scholars.

A global Shariah board would also allow the industry to address low penetration rates in majority Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey and Egypt where the industry’s share of banking assets remains below 10 percent. A global Shariah board would provide a more structured approach to the industry, which has its core markets in the Gulf and Southeast Asia. “This is very important as it gives a much needed structure to the industry, thus enabling it to be more stable and allowing it to grow further,” Ali added.

He also called for the IFSB to assist the IDB and its member countries in providing technical assistance, while urging the industry to focus on Islamic microfinance and youth employment. The IFSB is one of the main bodies setting standards globally for Islamic finance, although national financial regulators have the final say on their implementation and enforcement.

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Uzbek theatre group teaches contemporary drama

TASHKENT, 2013-05-17, CentralAsia Online – The Ilkhom Theatre’s 8th annual Young Directors’ Laboratory brought together 10 young directors from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for inspiration and learning under Russian director Vladimir Pankov. The workshop began April 12 and will run through May 23 in Tashkent.

“Many of them already have experience in putting on a show. Others are only beginning to find their way in the profession,” Ilkhom Theatre spokeswoman Irina Bkharat told Central Asia Online. “Our laboratory is unique – those present here participate in creating a show from beginning to end, becoming fully immersed in it.”

The workshop includes an introductory course by Ilkhom’s Vasily Yuryev on working with a set designer, another by director Ovlyakuli Khojakuli titled “A Practical Course on the Survival of Theatre in the Provinces,” film screenings and discussions conducted by art scholar Kamaritdin Artykov, photo and art exhibitions and even a chess competition, she said. Each director also will stage a brief play including Ilkhom Theatre actors; all of those plays premièred May 12.

“Pankov was invited as (this year’s) ‘Master,'” she said, adding that the Master “stresses the important aspects of directing and explains the reasons behind his work.”

The main creative process of the laboratory is the staging of the modern drama Rain behind the Wall, which will première May 21-22, Bkharat said. The attendees will participate directly in the creative process, observing Pankov’s work and assimilating the main points of the production process.

Though the young directors come from different countries, they share common goals and challenges facing theatrical arts in Central Asia. “There are no opportunities in Kyrgyzstan to grow as a theatrical director,” Olga Shchetinina, an independent Kyrgyz director, told Central Asia Online, explaining that for this reason young Kyrgyz directors often study abroad if given the chance.

“At the same time, we have a tremendous number of areas where young directors can express themselves,” she said. “Our viewers love innovation. Kyrgyzstan contains interesting small theatres that convey their own themes and culture. But the traditional academic theatres are finding it more difficult. They are far from contemporary art, and spectators have stopped attending them.”

“In our country (Uzbekistan), the theatrical vacuum prevents the development of young directors,” Vyacheslav Tzyu, an aspiring Ilkhom Theatre actor and director, said. “It is very hard for a young director to find himself.”

The laboratory is unique because it teaches true contemporary drama, Bkharat said. The laboratory gives them the opportunity not only to learn but also to exchange experience and network with each other, she said. “We want this form of theatre to develop,” she added. “If we don’t move in this direction, theatre in Central Asia will stagnate.”

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Oman Air invests further in staff training

Muscat, 18 May 2013 – Oman Air, the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman, has committed OR2 million to staff training in 2013, having already invested more than OR3.3 million over the previous two years.

In addition, Oman Air’s Board of Directors has approved plans to fund full scholarships for 100 employees, enabling them to improve their academic qualifications in a range of administrative and technical disciplines. The initiative builds on existing training opportunities, such as Oman Air covering 75% of tuition fees on approved courses and offering unpaid study leave.

Each of the moves will be overseen by the Oman Air Training and Development Centre, which is recognized internationally for its quality and has been named by IATA for the last two years as one of the Top Ten Training Centres in the Middle East.

Oman Air Chief Executive Officer Wayne Pearce commented: “One of Oman Air’s greatest assets is its people and we are proud to be investing in increased training opportunities over the coming year. The training we have provided to staff over the last two years is already paying off, both for individual members of staff and for the company as a whole.

“To date, 26 candidates who have benefitted from Oman Air’s funding have graduated from RMIT, one of Australia’s internationally approved aviation colleges, and are now undergoing practical training. In addition, we have funded an average of ten trainee engineers per year through to full qualification, and are currently training 100 candidates as passenger service staff, 30 as ramp service staff and 30 as cargo service staff. Furthermore, we have 77 commercial pilot’s license holders working towards qualification as First Officers.

“We now have staff placed at every level of Oman Air who have been assisted by the superb standard of training offered by our Training and Development Centre. It is gratifying to see the invaluable contribution that graduates are making to the ongoing success of Oman Air and to the economic prosperity of the Sultanate of Oman.”

The Oman Air Training and Development Center was established to improve the professional skills and academic qualifications of employees, and to develop and raise awareness of the latest developments within Oman Air and the broader aviation industry. Over the last 20 years, it has developed an enviable reputation for delivering the highest standards of training, implementing a range of specialized training courses and working with acknowledged industry experts and training partners. Its well-qualified staff and outstanding facilities also make it a much sought-after venue for external organisations.

Saleh bin Abdullah Al Zadjali, Senior Manager, Training and Development Center at Oman Air added: “With the invaluable support of Oman Air’s Board and senior managers, the Training and Development Centre has delivered a range of specialized international training programmes that have provided career development for trainees and strengthened Oman Air’s staff teams.

“We have worked closely with every department within Oman Air to create training plans which support Oman Air’s commitment to providing services of the highest standard and offering customers an unbeatable passenger experience. We now look forward to building on our excellent track record by developing and implementing integrated training programmes that both meets the needs of both Oman Air’s individual staff members and support Oman Air in its ongoing mission to provide all our customers with the very best that 21st Century air travel has to offer.”

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Call for observatory for cultural rights in ISESCO Member States

Rabat 16/05/2013 – The experts taking part in the roundtable held by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO,) today at its headquarters, on cultural rights promotion in the Islamic World, called for devising cooperation and coordination means for launching and implementing civil and participatory initiatives and projects in the fields of education, culture, development and the environment, between the public institutions and NGOs in the Member States, in order to promote cultural rights.

They also recommended that the NGOs and the governments of the Islamic world set up a normative framework to determine the cultural rights in a participatory way. In the same vein, they called on the NGOs to promote their networking mechanisms and foster their efforts to advance collaboration and solidarity among the Islamic countries and develop the foundations and institutions of sustainable human development in their communities.

Likewise, they underlined the importance of establishing an observatory for cultural rights in the Member States to create human rights indexes to measure the degree to which these rights are respected, and determine the challenges impeding their enforcement in the legislative systems. Equally, they called for providing the needed legal and constitutional atmosphere in the Member States to promote and constitutionalize the cultural rights.

Also, they called for establishing governmental sectors to provide the environment necessary to work efficiently and in concert with NGOs, and enact laws on cultural rights in the Member States, in accordance with the principles of freedom, accountability, and respect for human dignity.

Similarly, they highlighted the importance of holding an experts’ meeting to examine the impediments to incorporating cultural rights in the legislations of the Member States. In this connection, they called on ISESCO to develop a strategy for civil society and its cultural and educational roles in the Member States.

Moreover, they called on the competent parties in the Member States to continue their efforts to establish a knowledge-based society, and provide a legal framework for cultural rights, including the right to communication and information.

Equally, they called on ISESCO to publish booklets on how to manage cultural diversity in the Islamic world, and highlight the aspects of cultural diversity of the different intellectual schools that have contributed, over the centuries, to the promotion of cultural rights.

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Bangladesh bid to ensure maximum facilities for Hajj pilgrims

RANGPUR, May 19, 2013 (BSS) – The present government has been ensuring maximum facilities, assistances and providing necessary training with better management for hajj pilgrims in conducting the religious ritual safely in a hassle-free manner.

High government officials said this here yesterday afternoon at a divisional level views-sharing meeting organised by Islamic Foundation of Bangladesh (IFB), Rangpur, at its divisional office auditorium with the hajj pilgrims from all over the region.

The meeting was arranged with a view to educate the hajj pilgrims on the ‘Arkans’ and ‘Ahkams’ in conducting the Hajj rituals and inform them about the facilities and assistances being provided to the officials Hajj pilgrims by the present government.

With Deputy Commissioner Farid Ahammad in the chair, Joint Secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry Alhaj Hassan Jahangir Alam and Deputy Secretary (Hajj) Mohammad Jahangir Alam attended the meeting as the chief guests.

Deputy Secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry Alhaj Dr Mohiuddin addressed the meeting as the chief guest while Deputy Director of IFB, Rangpur, Alhaj Saidur Rahman Sayeed delivered the welcome speech.

Religious leaders, Imams, Khatibs and IFB officials discussed the necessary rules and religious rituals needed for correctly performing the holy hajj in the meeting that was attended by the pilgrims, who are going to Makkah this year under official managements.

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Kazakhstan seeks to grow list of cultural heritage objects

ASTANA. May 17. KAZINFORM — Chair of the Kazakh National Commission for UNESCO and ISESCO Imangali Tasmagambetov has held a meeting of National Commission of Kazakhstan for UNESCO and ISESCO today in Astana. “The essence of our work is to include a certain number of objects of cultural heritage in the UNESCO List, but the fact that we had such a personal list and we could nominate objects to the UNESCO List gradually. It is first necessary to ourselves, our posterity, ” I.Tasmagambetov said.

However, Chair of the Kazakh National Commission for UNESCO and ISESCO set a number of goals for 2013, among them – an international forum dedicated to the official launch of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures, which will be attended by the heads of the UN and UNESCO, prominent politicians, scientists and cultural figures.

According to him, another priority of the National Commission in the current year is the organization of Great Silk Road International Forum in Almaty, timed to coincide with the official launch at UNESCO the world’s first comprehensive web portal on the Silk Road.

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Astana EXPO-2017 seeks to learn from Shanghai EXPO-2010

SHANGHAI. May 17. KAZINFORM – At the invitation of the International Exhibitions Bureau (IEB) in the period from May 16 to 19 this year the delegation of the Republic of Kazakhstan headed by the R.Zhoshybayev, the Commissioner of the International specialized exhibition “EXPO-2017”, T.Yermegiyayev, the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Board of the “NC” Astana EXPO-2017″ JSC took part in the commemorations devoted to the celebration of the Day of the World Expo museum.

The Kazakh delegation held talks with the leaders of the Shanghai State Investment Company «EXPO Development Group». The company manages control and use of pavilions and facilities after the exhibition – Shanghai Expo 2010. There were also carried out “round tables” with the reps of the «ZTE» telecommunication corporation, the leading construction companies «Beijing Capital Group» and «China State Construction Engineering Corporation». The parties discussed the issues of the forthcoming EXPO-2017 in Astana, the prospects for further cooperation and exchange of experience.

R.Zhoshybayev, the Commissioner of the EXPO – 2017, also met with the management of the tourism and the People’s Government of Shanghai city and the leading tourist Corporation of China – “Jin Jiang” which are responsible for tourism cluster including Expo-2010.

According to the organizers Expo-2010 was visited by over 73 million people (3.5 million of whom are foreign visitors). Chinese colleagues shared their experience of the Shanghai exhibition and supported the launch of direct flights between Astana and Shanghai. Following the meeting the sides agreed on further cooperation in the tourism potential of Kazakhstan.

On May 18 the Kazakh representatives will participate in the inspection of the Shanghai Expo-2010 exhibition area and take a tour on the retrospective exhibition – Yeosu.

Expo in Shanghai is recognized as one of the most successful. Despite the global financial crisis, the exhibition enabled China to attract more investments to different sectors of economy and to introduce advanced technologies and innovation leading technologically developed foreign countries.

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Railroad connecting Middle East to Persian Gulf to be opened soon

ASHKHABAD, May 08, 2013, turkishpress.com – The first stage of the “North-South Railroad Project”, which will connect the Middle East to Persian Gulf, will be opened by Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The opening ceremony will be held on May 11 in Serhatkaya at Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan border region. Started in 2007, firstly the 146-km-long phase of the project in Kazakhstan was completed. The railway will be 930 km in length when completed. 700 kilometers of it will be in Turkmenistan.

Turkish company Net Yapi provided support for the project, constructing Bereket and Serhatyaka train stations, as well as 30 km-long railway. It also undertook the signalization of the project and the energy transportation lines as well as building a hotel, an accommodation facility and 12 houses as part of the project.

Last phase of the railway, 90 km part in Iran, is expected to be completed in 2014. With the project, the line will shorten the way to Gulf countries for 600 km.

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Iran-Bangladesh trade exchange to hit $500m

Tehran, May 17, IRNA – Visiting Iranˈs Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mehdi Ghazanfari on Friday said on Thursday that the target of Iran-Bangladesh annual trade value of $ 500 million is achievable. Ghazanfari made the remark in the Iran-Bangladesh joint economic commission session in Dhaka, expressing hope that holding such a session could play a pivotal role in expansion of economic and trade ties between the two countries. The fifth Iran-Bangladesh joint economic commission session opened in Dhaka on Thursday.

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Azerbaijani President inaugurates upgraded Shamakhi Juma Mosque

Shamakhi, May 17 (AzerTAc). President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev today opened the Shamakhi Juma Mosque after major overhaul. The Head of State toured the mosque and was informed on the reconstruction work. The Azerbaijani President was informed about the Juma mosque, one of the oldest Muslim temples not only in Azerbaijan but also in the South Caucasus and the Middle East in general, was built in 743.

The 1859 and 1902 earthquakes caused a serious damage to the mosque. Then, it was restored as per the design of Azerbaijan`s first architect with higher education, Ziver-bek Ahmedbayov, and Polish engineer Joseph Ploshko. The excavation carried out at the Juma mosque in the 1970-80s discovered medrese, cells and tombstones. The Head of State viewed photo stands reflecting previous and current look of the Mosque.

President Ilham Aliyev met with religious and public figures here. The Azerbaijani leader made a speech at the meeting. Chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Office Sheikhulislam Allahshukur Pashazade hailed the Head of State`s attention to restoration of religious buildings and presented the Holy Quran to the Azerbaijani President.

Mufti of Chechen Republic Soltan Mirzayev, head of the Coordination Center of North Caucasus Muslims Ismail Berdiyev and Shamakhi resident Majid Shikarov also addressed the event.

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Kuwait Airways to sign $3bn Airbus deal

May/19/2013 – State-run Kuwait Airways will spend KD850 million dinars ($2.98 billion) on 25 new Airbus jets and aims to lease a further 13 to upgrade its ageing fleet, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported on Sunday.

Daily Al-Watan cited sources close to the decision-makers as saying that the airline would start receiving the new aircraft from Airbus, owned by aerospace and defence group EADS , from 2019.

Kuwait Airways plans to buy 10 wide-bodied A350-900 jets and 15 of the slimmer A320neo, the newspaper said, adding that the deal would include support services. The airline also aims to lease 13 of the A330 and A320 models for six years, the paper said, without giving details of the leasing cost.

“The sources made clear that the deal, which will be signed with Airbus very soon, is one contract that will include both the leased and purchased planes,” the newspaper said.

Kuwait Airways and Airbus were not immediately available for comment. Rival Boeing also made a bid, but the Airbus offer was deemed more attractive, Al-Watan said.

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Kashmir eyes Saudi, Kuwaiti tourists to Offset U.S., EU travel advisories

NEW DELHI, May 19 (KUNA) — Before 1989, Ejaz Ahmad’s chain of houseboats floating on Dal Lake in scenic Kashmir hosted high-end tourists, mostly foreigners. But soon, gun shots took over the tranquility of Indian-administered Kashmir, where a conflict between mostly Muslim rebels and Indian soldiers waned the tourism industry.

“Since then domestic tourists, escaping summer heat in the Indian plains started visiting us. But they are mostly piligrim tourists and not high-end like the ones who came from as far as Canada, the U.S. and Denmark,” 40-year-old Ahmad explains. In 1989 when the armed rebellion to end New Delhi’s rule began in Kashmir, tourist inflow plunged dramatically in the Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan who have been ruling it in two portions since 1947.

Several western countries soon issued travel advisories cautioning their citizens to abandon or take extreme caution while travelling in Kashmir. Stray incidents of high-profile tourist kidnappings in the 90s by rebels later barred completely the inflow of whatever remaining foreign tourism was happening in the state.

“There was a time when we had to say ‘no’ to the bookings, because our houseboats were over-crowded. But later the daily blood-bath and street fights took away everything in the name of tourism. Our houseboats began to remain empty throughout years,” Ahmad says.

Elsewhere hoteliers, restaurateurs, coffee houses, pony-owners, who operated in the region of the lakes, lofty snow-enveloped mountains, Mughal gardens and meadows were hit too in a conflict that has claimed over 70,000 lives.

But with India and Pakistan maintaining a ceasefire since 2003 on the de facto border ‘Line of Control’, or LoC, – that divides Kashmir into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Indian-administered Kashmir – and a number of armed rebels declining last year to less than 100, according to one report, the state’s tourism department has undertaken a drive to grasp again the attention of international tourists towards Kashmir.

“A record number of 1.4 million tourists visited Kashmir last year, thus making it the most successful year in the history of tourism in the state,” says a Kashmir tourism official. “Since most of them were local tourists, we are trying to attract mid-east tourists now prominent among them Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” he says.

It is in this connection that Kuwaiti ambassador to India, Sami Muhammad Al-Suleiman, who was in Kashmir on May 17, met tourism and business players from the valley. According to Asif Burza, Vice Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII)-Kashmir, the Kuwaiti ambassador was keen to see Kuwaiti airlines “covering more destinations in India in which (Kashmir’s) capital Srinagar could be one of them.” Burza says, “We urged Al-Suleiman to recommend the visit of Kuwaiti nationals to Kashmir. We also proposed that business delegations, comprising travel and tourism traders from Kuwait, should visit Kashmir and vice versa to promote tourism in the state.”

Simultaneously the state’s tourism minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir on May 17 left for Saudi Arabia, where the state intend to hold road shows in various cities of the Arab nation to attract them and other international tourists.

Before leaving, Mir said, “Though Kashmir did not get many tourists from Saudi Arabia, there was no harm in trying and motivating people to come and visit the valley,” adding “Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and if we go to market Kashmir in the United States and Singapore, there is no harm in marketing it in Saudi (Arabia).”

“We will be on a five-day trip during which road shows would be conducted in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and other towns,” Director of Tourism, Talat Parvaiz told reporters before heading to Saudi Arabia.

Despite tourism breaking all past records in Kashmir last year, very few of those tourists were Saudi. “There were not more than 300 Saudi nationals who visited the state last year. But the state is expecting a lot this time around,” another tourism official suggests.

Currently a fortnight-long tourism festival, which kicked off on May 14, is underway to attract visitors to the Kashmir Valley. Air India, the state government, hoteliers, tour and travel operators have already announced special packages and concessions for tourists visiting the valley from May 15 to May 29.

Kashmir is often equated with Switzerland. At one time it was a mecca of skiers, trekkers, film-makers and couples attracted to Kashmir’s jagged peaks, apple orchards, floating vessels paper machie art and magnificent central-Asian type mosques.

But many foreign governments still advise against travelling to Kashmir, where six Western backpackers were abducted in 1995 while trekking in South Kashmir’s Pahalgam. Of the six, a Norwegian was beheaded, an American escaped and the rest are still to be recovered. A new book ‘The Meadow’ by two British journalists, however, challenges the government narrative saying that four of the remaining hostages were killed by counter-insurgents working with the Indian army and not by the Muslim rebels fighting against the government soldiers.

While the state always looks forward to tourist inflow from western countries, it is travel advisories that remain intact which are being seen as a main bottleneck in the revival of tourism in Kashmir.

“That’s why balanced approach has to be taken to rope in tourists from within the country and abroad,” the state’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said last week. He said, “The tourist market for Kashmir in South-East Asia, Middle-East, Gulf countries and Germany need to be harnessed in full besides working for attracting tourists from other foreign countries.” Germany is the only country in Europe that lifted its travel advisory to Kashmir in 2012. But many other potential tourist nations have not.

Tourism department sources say during the 1990s, India had discouraged Saudi and other Middle Eastern tourists from visiting Kashmir because these countries, who together with Pakistan are members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), support Islamabad’s stand on Kashmir.

“But there is a change of mind in New Delhi too. Now we wish to see tourists from the Middle East coming here,” they say.

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Iran Exporting Medical Products To 40 Countries

TEHRAN, Iran, May 19 (NNN-FNA) – Iran is capable of supplying a major part of its domestic needs to medical equipment and is now among the world exporters of medical products, an Iranian health official said.

Addressing the inauguration ceremony of the 16th Iran Health International Exhibition, Qassem Abkhezr, the head of the exhibition’s organising committee, lauded Iran’s remarkable progress in the production of medical equipment in the last three decades, since the victory of the Islamic Revolution (1979).

“We have reached a level of progress that we are now able to both produce over 54% of our needed equipment and become one of the well-known exporters of medical equipment in the world,” Abkhezr stated. He added that Iran is now exporting medical tools to over 40 countries.

Iran has made huge achievements in various fields of science and technology, from nuclear knowledge to stem cell and Nano technology. In a recent case, the country gained self-sufficiency in producing disposable medical tools and equipment after inaugurating a disposable syringe production line in the Central city of Ashtiyan in Mar 2013.

The plant, which produces steel tubes (cylinders) and disposable cannula, was inaugurated in a ceremony with Former Health Minister, Marziyeh Vahid Dastjerdi, and Iranian Vice-President for Science and Technology, Nasrin Soltankhah in attendance. According to the producers, the new progress will save $12mln for the country.

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Forum: Arab world needs new media landscape

Dubai, Wednesday, 05 Rajab 1434/15 May 2013 (IINA) – The Arab world needs a new media landscape to free itself from corruption, politics and vested interests, Arab Media Forum was told yesterday.

Speakers at the forum also discussed the role of print media and its sustainability in the face of the emergence of various digital platforms. Maha Abouelenein, head of communications, MENA Google, said that the Internet did not kill the newspaper industry. “In fact, it helped democratize contents. We have to reinvent newspaper industry, new audience and new readers,” she said.

Samir Husni, president and CEO, Magazine Consulting and Research, USA, said that none of the newspapers, which went online, survived. “That’s a lesson the hopefuls should take into consideration while adopting new media. It’s the content and content alone that will decide their survival. Print media will survive with support from governments,” he said.

Another speaker, Khalid Al-Firm, professor of political media at the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia said: “The Arab media is in a coma.”

“Rampant corruption, political control and commercial interests coupled with the emergence of the social media is taking its toll on the Arab media. Lies are no longer marketable. There is a need for a new Arab media landscape that will be based on objective journalism and support the rebuilding of Arab societies and reforms,” Al-Firm said.

Hamlinha Baraasi, writer and media personality from Libya, said her country’s media scene is very chaotic. “Although the global media played a great role in reflecting on the revolution in Libya, the present scenario is very chaotic as far as the media landscape is concerned.”

Rakan Al Majali, former Jordanian minister of state for media affairs and communications, said the Arab media is in a state of explosion. “We need to rebuild our mindset. Arab media should be frank and honest with itself.”

“We have recently established a higher committee to reform the media sector in Tunisia,” Kamel Labidi, President, National Commission to Reform Information and Communication, Tunisia, said. “However, the political will to reform the media is not there.

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French shipping line launches trips to Aden Port

SANA’A, May 14 (Saba)- A Ship belonging to a French shipping line arrived on Tuesday in the port of Aden, marking the launch of the international shipping line trips to the port. The new shipping line will be geographically linked with the Taiwanese Navigational Line, which connects the ports of Malaysia and South Asia, and is one of the global shipping lines and will operate by a navigational trip a week to the port of Aden. A navigational source in the port told Saba that the vessel carrying on board 2,824 containers of various sizes emptied 477 cargo containers of various imports for domestic consumption and technical equipment for institutions.

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Indonesian company to convert tea plantations into fruit plantations

Bogor, West Java (ANTARA News) May 19 2013 – State-owned plantation company PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) VIII plans to convert its tea plantations into fruits plantations. The company`s director, Danu Rianto, said here on Sunday the transformation would make the company a producer of fruits as well as the biggest fruits exporter by 2018.

The company`s tea plantations reach 25,512 hectares, he said on the occasion of a Nusantara Fruits and Flowers Festival 2013 held in cooperation with the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, the ministry of agriculture and the ministry of state enterprises and also attended by agriculture minister Suswono.

He said the business transformation was done in view of the increasing imported fruit market. The domestic fruit market has also increased by around 11 percent higher than the sugar market which is only seven to eight percent, he said. He said the location of the company`s tea plantations is in the southern parts of Indonesia so that geographically it would not become the competitor of exporting countries like Thailand.

“Even it could fill the gap left by Thailand,” he said adding that Thailand is not in the harvest season when the season comes in Indonesia. Danu said the fruits to be developed include “durian”, mangosteen, banana and papaya.

On the occasion the commercial and business banking managing director of state-owned Bank Mandiri, Sunarsono, said the bank has allocated around 80 credits for the food sector.

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Indonesian puppet show attracts audience in Turkey

Cairo, Egypt (ANTARA News) May 19 2013 – A wayang golek (Puppet) show presented by an art group of Jakarta Puppet Museum attracted visitors at Youth International Festival in Antalaya City, Turkey. “The puppet show attracted the audience and triggered laughter as the puppeteer presented funny stories in English and Turkish,” said Chief of Art and Culture and Information Division of the Indonesia Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, Robertus Irawan to ANTARA News here Sunday.

The puppeteer Tantan Sugandi presented the story of Ramayana epic to the visitors in the festival. Robertus said Turkey also has the almost-similar art like wayang, named “karagoz hacivat kuklasi” that tells about funny epic and advice to the people.

The 16th International Youth Festival is participated by several countries such as Germany, Czech, Finland, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Japan, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, USA, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.

The festival which was entitled: “Having Contingents in One Map” held in five days (May 13-17) and located in Akdeniz University is held to celebrate Turkish Youth Day.

Indonesian Ambassador to Turkey Nahari Agustini said the puppet show was an effort to tighten bilateral cooperation among the two countries who already had a strong relation in strategic partnership.

Meanwhile, the Director for International Cooperation of Akdeniz University Prof Dr Burhan Okzan in a meeting with Ambassador Agustini offered scholarships in various subjects to Indonesian students.

The Head of Jakarta Puppet Museum Dahlan admitted that his institution introduced Indonesian arts actively to foreign countries through puppet shows. “The show in Turkey is our second effort in introducing Indonesian arts to the foreign country,” Dahlan said.

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Pakistan awaits visit of Chinese Premier to Boost Relations

ISLAMABAD, May 16 (APP) – Pakistan and China would sign several Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) for cooperation in various fields during forthcoming visit of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Pakistan. Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said at the weekly news briefing that details of these MoUs are being worked out.

He said a warm welcome awaits to the Chinese Prime Minister when he arrives in Islamabad on 22 May. President Asif Ali Zardari will host a luncheon for the distinguished guest. The Chinese Prime Minister will also hold wide ranging talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, which will be followed by a joint stakeout.

The Prime Minister will also host a banquet for his Chinese counterpart. The Chinese Prime Minister will also meet leader of political parties.

On the second day of his visit, President of Pakistan Muslim League (N) Mian Nawaz Sharif will call on Mr. Li Keqiang. The Chinese Prime Minister will hold a joint meeting with Chairman Senate and Speaker National Assembly. He will visit Pak-China Friendship Centre and plant a sapling at Shakarparian.

The spokesman told a questioner that no details of the visit of US Secretary of State to Pakistan are available as yet. He said Pakistan and the United States enjoy mutually collaborative relationship. He said Pakistan would like to have good relations with the United States based on mutual respect and mutual benefits.

He confirmed that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman has resigned. He said there are 15 non-career ambassadors and the new Government would decide about their fate.

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Top priority to revive economy: Nawaz Sharif

ISLAMABAD, May 14 (APP): PML-N chief Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif Monday said that after formation of government, his top priority would be to revive the national economy. Talking to BBC in Lahore, the PML-N chief, who looked jubilant after his party got majority seats in the May 11 general elections, the revival of economy was panacea to all the ills and the new government would fully concentrate on it.

“The sense of deprivation can only be removed after improving the economy.” When the sense of deprivation is removed it would help resolve terrorism, corruption, unemployment and poverty issues, he added. The PML-N chief was of the view that all the issues confronting the country and nation would be resolved after putting the economy on right track. It would also end extremism and bad law and order situation.

He said that it was one of his top priorities to overcome the energy crisis by taking bold decisions in the best national interest adding that there were vast opportunities of generating cheap electricity in the country, adding this gigantic task could be achieved.

To a question about his policy after getting majority votes, he said, they participated in the general polls with good intention and would not change their mind after the polls. He said that he wanted to take all the political parties along.

Nawaz Sharif said that becoming a prime minister was of secondary importance to him, rather his priority was to steer the country out of the present crises and put it on the road to economic prosperity.

Nawaz Sharif said that they would invite all the political parties to come forward and make collective efforts in strengthening the economy. He said that all the political parties which got mandate in the provinces had the right to form governments there, and their mandate would be respected.

Citing the example of PPP’s mandate in Sindh province, he said they had the right to use their mandate. When asked whether he would give the right to PTI to form government in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, he said, if PTI could form government there he had no objection.

To a question about control over extremism, the PML-N chief said that the issue of dialogue with Taliban should be taken seriously, and stressed this issue could be resolved only through dialogue.

“Instead of throwing Taliban’s offer of talk in the dustbin, just like the previous government did, I think it should be taken seriously. All the issues can be resolved with dialogue and everybody should be on the same page about it, and then I think it will have a positive effect,” he added.

About Balochistan issue, he said, mistakes are committed by people and if there was any issue it should be redressed. If some people were annoyed they should be appraoched, as they are Pakistanis, he added.

Nawaz Sharif said all stakeholders should be on the same page for resolution of Balochistan problem, adding that dialogue was the only solution to all issues. All the big issues of the world were resolved through dialogue, he added.

To a question about Pak-India ties, Mian Nawaz Sharif said efforts would be made to improve relations between the two countries and all the disputes would be discussed with India. He said that it makes no difference whether the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first came to Pakistan, or he visited India first, rather talks should continue.

About Pak-US ties, he said that Pakistan always had good relations with the US and hoped that they would remain good in future too. He, however, said that ups and downs were seen in these ties, which needs to be given attention.

Regarding drone attacks, Nawaz Sharif said PML-N had a principled stand on this issue that drone attacks should not occur. He said the US should realise that drone strikes were against Pakistan’s sovereignty.

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Qatar Participates In GCC Forum On Tourism in Kuwait

Kuwait, May 18 (QNA) – Qatar participates in forum for officials responsible for youth hostels in the GCC, which is currently taking place in Kuwait. The forum will focus on using social media to promote tourism among GCC youth. The Qatari delegation consists of five Qatari young men in addition to Chairman of Qatar Youth Hostel Abdul Aziz Al Amari and Supervisor at the Qatar Youth Hostel Association Ahmed Hassan Ali.

The Chairman of Qatar Youth Hostel Association Al Amari told Qatar News Agency that the forum had organized a number of seminars on the importance of encouraging tourists exchange among GCC countries. Al Amari noted that one of the seminars highlighted that Qatar was the future of tourism in the region, which Al Amari said reflected that the GCC countries have noticed the leaps Qatar has been making in tourism. (QNA)

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Doha Film Insitute to Launch Two New Film Festivals

Doha, May 18 (QNA) – Doha Film Institute (DFI) announced Saturday that its annual slate will now include two film festivals. Films from first- and second-time filmmakers are the focus of the new Qumra Film Festival, Doha.

The inaugural festival will take place in March, 2014 and will include international competition sections for feature-length and short films, and provide opportunities for creative collaboration among filmmakers and industry professionals. The Ajyal Film Festival for the Young is a community-based event that brings cinema and film-related activities to Doha to promote film appreciation among families and educators. Its first edition takes place in November, 2013.

“Over the last four years, our community-based programming has been extremely popular among the residents of Doha,” said CEO of DFI Abdulaziz Al Khater. “We want to harness the momentum weve generated there and continue developing film appreciation in Qatar. At the same time, the Institute has decided to focus on emerging filmmakers and expand its competitions to include films from around the world. The best path to achieving our goals is to build two separate film festivals.”

The Qumra Film Festival, Doha is committed to exploring the imagination and lyrical visions of upcoming directors, helping them to bring their projects to fruition and providing a launchpad for their work. International competitions for first- and second-time filmmakers are at the heart of the eight-day festival. Awards will be decided by international juries in feature-length and short film categories, including Made in Qatar.

Out-of-competition sections include a panorama of films from contemporary auteurs, established directors and new talent, selected for their artistry, formal innovation and compelling subject matter; a carte-blanche section that invites acclaimed directors to share films that played a role in shaping their cinematic sensibility; and a tribute that pays homage to the contributions of significant figures to the history of world cinema. Extending its focus on directors early works, the Qumra Film Festival also provides a rare chance to see the first films of celebrated filmmakers.

Industry Days will include master classes, workshops, panels and the Doha Projects initiative, which puts together DFI grant recipients with producers and key players from the film industry. Exhibitions and musical performances complement the film programme throughout the festival.

Recently appointed to the post of Artistic Advisor for DFI, world-renowned filmmaker Elia Suleiman said: “The intention is clear and sincere to build a cinematic house of culture, anchored to the principle of hope. I believe we can find the essence of such hope in the new generations of visual poets from around the globe. Today this is an ecological necessity.”

In November, the five-day Ajyal Film Festival for the Young builds on DFI’s history of community-based programming, bringing generations together and offering them film-related activities and events that will inspire creative interaction. The festival gives hundreds of young people the opportunity to sit on the juries that decide the winners of Ajyal’s competition, which is presented in three age-appropriate programmes.

Family-friendly special screenings, thematic retrospectives and tributes round out the film selection, while master classes for students of all ages, workshops for children, parents, teachers and industry professionals and panels enhance film education.

“We have designed Ajyal to enhance film education and make it a lot of fun by engaging families and educators through cinema,” said Fatma Al Remaihi, the Festival Director of the Ajyal Film Festival for the Young and DFI’s Head of Programmes. “At the same time, we want to open a space for dialogue about the complex issues facing youth today and to empower them by giving them a platform for expression. It’s an investment in today’s youth so it’s really an investment in the Qatar of the future.”

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Marine Taxis Project is Expected to Enhance Transport System in Muscat

Muscat, May 18 (ONA)— The National Ferries Company (NFC) commended the comprehensive traffic study for Muscat Governorate on the short, medium and long run up to 2030. The study, which was recently completed by Muscat Municipality in collaboration with a number of governmental agencies, came out with many recommendations including providing marine transportation between the wilayats of Muscat Governorate through the ferries company as this will alleviate traffic congestion in the Muscat Governorate’s streets.

Mahdi bin Mohammed al-Abdwani, CEO of the NFC said in a statement to Oman News Agency that the success of the existing partnership with Muscat Municipality in many projects during the past period will contribute to promoting the services rendered in the Sultanate in general and Muscat Governorate in particular.

He affirmed that NFC plans for the future projects include providing marine transportation through boats (very similar to marine taxis). The service aims at connecting the wilayats of the Muscat Governorate and alleviating the traffic congestion in Muscat streets.

The proposed project will provide citizens and residents with more transportation options inside Muscat Governorate in a very easy and convenient manner. The project will encourage the use of mass transportation means and provide passengers with the opportunity to see the tourist sides all over Muscat Governorate coasts.

He added that all the proposed marine boats will be provided with features and technical specifications that suit the Omani marine environment. Moreover, these kinds of boats don’t need costly facilities during the embarking and disembarking processes, as the terminal will be only a point for transferring employees, students and tourists to and from the marine boats.

He pointed out that the service will too be hopefully implemented in Musandam Governorate to cover the residential areas in the wilayats of Musandam which could not be accessed by express ferry boats.

The success of the service is linked to availing land transportation system to and from the marine terminals for the boats.

He commended the constant growth of the number of passengers using ferry boats, which provide passengers with safe, quick and easy means of transportation for citizens and expatriates travelling among the coastal governorates. The number of passengers rose by 83% as of the end of last April to hit 12,000 compared to 6596 during the same period in 2012. The shipping activities also grew by more than 100% compared to the corresponding period last year.

The number of shipped vehicles amounted to 1941 compared to 963 during the same period last year.

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Increased Passenger Traffic at Muscat International and Salalah Airports

Muscat, May 18 (ONA)— The total passenger traffic (including transit & transfer passengers) through Muscat International Airport increased by (10%) to (2,737,437) passengers as at the end of April 2013, compared to (2,482,449) passengers for the same period in 2012.

Statistics released by the Air Transport Department at the Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA) show an increase in the arrival passengers by (10%) to (1,392,607) passengers as at the end of April 2013, comparing to (1,271,471) passengers for the same period of the year 2012.

The number of departing passengers also increased by (13%) to (1,321,619) passengers as at the end of April 2013, compared to (1,172,540) passengers for the same period of the year 2012.

The increase in arrival and departure traffic into Muscat International Airport is attributed to the increase of the number of flights operated by the existing airlines, such as Oman Air, Ethiopian Airlines and United Airways of Bangladesh.

In terms of air freight traffic at Muscat International Airport, aviation statistics indicate an increase in the total loaded and unloaded freight by (3%) as at the end of April 2013 with total shipment (40,329) ton, compared to (39,025) ton of the same period in 2012.

Salalah Airport has witnessed an increase by (11%) in the total number of arriving and departing passengers to (216,537) passengers as at the end of April 2013, compared to (195,183) passengers for the same period of 2012.

As for the movement of air cargo at Salalah Airport, freight traffic has recorded an increase in total loaded and unloaded freight, bringing the shipment to (482) ton as at the end of April 2013, compared to (468) ton in the same period in 2012.

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Iran To Become World’s 3rd Largest Cement Exporter

TEHRAN, Iran, May 16 (NNN-FNA) – Iran will leave the US behind by the end of 2013 and become the world’s third largest cement exporter, media reports said. Iran is expected to export a total of 20 million tonnes of cement in 2013, which will make the country rank third after China and India, the Global Cement magazine wrote in its latest edition.

Earlier this month, Head of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organisation (TPO), Hamid Safdel, announced that the country’s cement output experienced a remarkable increase after inauguration of several production plants in recent years, adding that Iran produced over 80 million tonnes of cement in the last Iranian year (ended Mar 20).

Safdel said, Iran is now self-reliant in meeting domestic needs of cement, and added, “Some 80 million tonnes of cement were produced in Iran last year (ended Mar 20).” He noted that Iran is currently the fourth cement producer in the world.

Last month, a senior trade official announced that Iran’s cement exports witnessed an eye-catching growth in the last Iranian year. “Iran’s cement exports touched 13.5 million tonnes in the one-year period, showing a 38 percent increase last year,” Iranian Deputy Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade, Vajihollah Ja’fari, said.

He noted that Iran’s cement industry is growing due to close cooperation between domestic industrialists and the government.

Iran is among 15 major mineral-rich countries of the world and exports its industrial and mineral products to 159 countries, including Iraq, China, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Afghanistan. “Self-sufficiency in meeting the country’s need to cement and increasing the cement output to above 70 million tonnes is an important achievement for Iran,” Ja’fari said.

Iran is currently exporting cement to more than 24 countries despite the US-led western sanctions against Iran. The country’s cement exports rose by 30 percent in 2012 as compared to 2011. Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Qatar are the main destinations for Iranian cement in 2012.

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‘Invest in Turkey’ tour held in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Gazette – 13 May, 2013 – Vanguards International executives announced the start of their first ‘Invest in Turkey’ tour to meet with prominent business people and investors in Saudi Arabia between May 10-18, to highlight the benefits and practices of investing in Turkey. Vanguards International will also be presenting a number of residential and hotel projects, offering investors the opportunity to invest in the booming Turkish real estate sector.

Turkey’s dynamic urban transformation and its growing appeal as a world tourism destination have substantially impacted the country’s economic landscape, as evidenced by its booming real estate sector. Property prices of new homes in Istanbul increased by 29.3 per cent since January 2010, while prices in the Turkish Riviera resort of Cesme recorded an increase of 28% in just 2012.

“With an estimated need for 7.5 million housing units and hundreds of thousands of hotel beds over the next 10 years, plus a world-renowned construction know-how, cheap labor cost and political stability, the country has all the essential elements to attract any foreign investor seeking new and promising ROI horizons,” commented Walid Halabi, Managing Director of Vanguards International.

Yet, despite the great appeal of this country, “many foreign investors find it difficult to operate in Turkey, due to language barriers and the local business culture. Our role is to assist these investors in bridging this gap with complete transparency and corporate governance principles,” added Halabi. “Saudi investors who may have missed out on this spectacular growth in recent years should look at Turkey as a safe and lucrative place to expand or diversify their portfolio. Not to mention the natural beauty of the Turkish landscape, the close proximity to Saudi Arabia, and the many cultural ties that link the two countries.”

Istanbul-based Vanguards International is an investment and property management company that focuses on positive-cash investment opportunities in high end and luxury properties with strong potential for capital growth in various parts of Istanbul and the Turkish Riviera. It is headed by two partners, Halabi and Asli Kocaoglu, and relies on its alliance with established developers for local expertise and deal flow.

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Iran’s saffron exports to rise 15%

Tehran Times – 14 May, 2013 – Iran’s saffron exports will increase by 15 percent in the current (Iranian calendar) year, the secretary of the National Iranian Saffron Council announced. Iran exported 126 tons of saffron, valued at $ 384 million, to different countries in the last Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 20, ISNA quoted Farshid Manouchehri as saying on Monday.

The volume of saffron exports is anticipated to reach about 140 tons in the current year, he added. On January 20, IRNA quoted Agriculture Ministry official Naser Tavakkoli as saying that Iran plans to increase its agricultural exports to 118 million tons in the current Iranian calendar year from 107 million tons in the past year.

Iran’s agricultural exports grew last year, with pistachio and saffron sales almost doubling, despite Western sanctions on trade with the country, the Fars News Agency quoted Iran’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Jahangir Pourhemmat as saying on January 6.

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Raising public awareness on Islamic banking

Oman Daily Observer – 14 May, 2013 – Many experts in the field of Islamic banking emphasise the need to pay extra attention to raising public awareness and to educate towards issues related to the operations, scopes and various models of Islamic banks that are managed in compliance with the Islamic Sharia Law.

This is definitely not an easy task. It requires the provision of additional care and consideration together with careful implementation of this structure to provide summary of the experience of both Muslim and non-Muslim countries in this line of banking business.

Accordingly, the Central Bank of Oman and other local banks organise seminars from time to time on various issues of Islamic finance and banking and other relevant issues. Since the Omani government’s recent permission to establish Islamic banks in the Sultanate, license was granted for the establishment of two specialised Islamic banks – Bank Nizwa, which commenced operations early this year, and Al Izz Islamic Bank, which is expected to commence operations soon.

With the issuance of the Royal directives to establish Islamic banks in the Sultanate, CBO began to set forth the necessary foundations for the regulatory and organisational structure of Islamic banking activities and prepare all financial institutions towards applying the requirements of the Islamic banking system in order for the Omani banking sector to ready for this change.

In this regard, CBO lays emphasis in its circulars on the fact that Islamic banking is a specific tool for exercising banking operations under the Omani Banking Law. This especially clear in Articles (50) and (52) of the Banking Law referring to the meaning and use of the term “bank” or “banking operations” and the licenses required from CBO to practice “banking operations”.

CBO also notes that the applicants concerned, including currently operating licensed banks and those wishing to break into this field, should first and foremost gain full knowledge and awareness on the requirements of Sharia-compliant banking services in order to be completely prepared in all aspects related to this line of work, and prove that to CBO at the time of application.

Islamic banking is a business of accountability (which conventional banks should strive to be), because it is based on religious, social and ethical principles that are paramount in this type of practices. Therefore, it is totally unacceptable to undermine these rules, generate risks of any kind — whether operational, financial, legal or reputation — or refrain from fulfilling its obligations towards customers and other stakeholders.

In this regard, CBO underlines the importance of discipline and compliance with all the rules in force in both conventional and Islamic banking, adherence and recognition of contract legitimacy and enforceability, full compliance with the details of contract disclosure and implementation, ensuring the application of the principles of integrity, sound governance and transparency along with other commitments.

Experts stress the need to develop the Omani market in this line of practice and provide and make the necessary expertise in Islamic banking system during the upcoming period as well as prepare the Omani institutions operating in the field of banking and finance in order to keep pace with developments in the sector.

The experts also stress the need to find ways to raise awareness and educate the Sultanate’s general population on systems and principles applicable in the Islamic banking system, referring to the importance of qualifying the staff of local banking and financial institutions to bridge the gap between conventional and Islamic banking activities and provide a solid foundation for Islamic banking before venturing into this business.

The Islamic banking and financial system has witnessed many positive developments since it was launched in 1976, which is why some experts believe that the principles of Islamic banking are more relevant today than ever before due to the negative impacts caused by the global credit crunch. Statistical data indicate that the total value of Islamic assets currently stands at nearly $ 1 trillion, of which $ 210 billion is invested in the Middle East.

Moreover, there are several opportunities available to Islamic banking institutions for operating in Oman and other countries worldwide during the upcoming phase, as the banking sector is expected to grow by 20 per cent over the next decade. It is no secret that the Islamic banking system was less affected by the latest global financial crisis compared to its conventional counterpart, which gives this sector a greater advantage in promoting and carrying out its Sharia-compliant banking transactions.

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GIS to guide pilgrims, worshippers in Makkah

Arab News – 14 May, 2013 – The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities branch in Makkah said that SCTA is developing an application for a geographic information system (GIS) to guide pilgrims to places of their lodging and how to move around to perform the religious rituals.

Abdullah Al-Sawat, executive director of the branch, said during a training session that targeted 20 employees of the branch, that these courses aim to develop the skills of workers in the tourism sector to achieve the visions of Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of SCTA, to educate and develop the staff and promote local tourism.

He said GIS will help employees of the branch to be familiar with the applications of SCTA, including information, statistics and other details to provide a better service to visitors and worshippers. Essam Khundaneh, a GIS expert, said GIS is an important system for all sectors. “Its leading role in the day-to-day operations and planning as well as analysis of information related to the work environment is essential.”

He added: “By using technology, one can take advantage of the possibilities the program provides to best serve tourists and worshipers coming to Makkah, and enable them to perform their rituals easily and safely.”

He said a GIS user can within seconds identify the streets leading to the Grand Mosque, as well as the state of traffic along the way. “A person can also use the system to locate hotels and all details needed in this regard,” he added. GIS can be used to exchange information between the authorities, he said, as well as interacting with the various development projects established to support the development of tourism.

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Dubai Airport world’s busiest, data confirms

Khaleej Times – 15 May, 2013 – Dubai International Airport has won the crown of being the world’s busiest airport for international traffic for the first time. Previously, London Heathrow was enjoying that title. Since the beginning of 2013, Dubai has been performing better than Heathrow, according to monthly data released by both airports.

Dubai was on top when the latest figures published by Airports Council International, or ACI, were released last month. ACI released January figures that showed Dubai recorded 5.53 million passengers, while London Heathrow witnessed 4.86 million during the same period.

Dubai International and London Heathrow have published their first-quarter results on their respective websites, showing that Dubai is leading with 16.5 million passengers while Heathrow reported 16 million for the same period. Dubai had more than 15 per cent growth during the January-to-March quarter compared to same period last year, while London Heathrow reported a less-than-two per cent growth.

The rapid pace of double-digit annual traffic growth at Dubai International contrasted with the much slower pace seen at a constrained and congested Heathrow, meaning it was only a question of “when” Heathrow would be pushed to second place, according to a senior aviation analyst.

“Looking at the first-quarter traffic results, you have to factor in that large parts of the UK were hit with very bad winter weather, causing flight delays and disruption. So on a short-term level, you can see why Dubai has edged out Heathrow for this quarter,” Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research, told Khaleej Times.

But on a longer term level — even removing weather-related impacts — the fact remains that Dubai International is on track not just to surpass the 65-million passenger target set for 2013, but it will also displace Heathrow as the world’s most busiest international airport with full-year results. Since the start of the year, Dubai International has moved up two positions in the global rankings. Dubai reported 5.8 million passengers for the month of March — the fourth consecutive year the airport witnessed more than five million passengers.

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Dubai-Azerbaijan tourism potential highlighted

Gulf Today – 15 May, 2013 – The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), at a roundtable discussion in Baku, highlighted the emirate’s efforts in promoting Dubai as a world-class tourist destination and stressed on areas of cooperation for expanding tourism ties between Dubai and Azerbaijani investors.

The roundtable discussion on “Expanding Tourism between Dubai and Azerbaijan” also stressed on the Chamber’s strategy of reaching out to the promising markets of the world through its international representative offices while also promoting investment potential of Dubai for foreign investors and its status as a global hub for trade and tourism.

Organised at DM’s international representative Office in Baku city on the sidelines of the Azerbaijan International Travel and Tourism Fair 2013, the roundtable was attended by Sanan Nasibli, Head of Dubai Chamber Representative Office in Azerbaijan, representatives from Dubai and Azerbaijani tour operators and agencies, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

Mahir Gahramanov, Head of Internal Tourism Department, Azerbaijan Ministry of Culture and Tourism, spoke of his country’s latest efforts in fulfilling its tourism potential and his Ministry’s experience in attracting GCC tourists through participation in the Arabian Travel Market since 2004 in Dubai.

He also shed light on his country’s “luke-warm approach” in the past to attract GCC tourists due to non-availability of 5-star hotel facilities, trained tourism staff and a complicated visa process.

Azerbaijan has overcome these obstacles with six global 5-star brands present in Baku, and the country now has an electronic visa processing system, which he said will go a long way in increasing the number of GCC tourists coming to the scenic country, according to Gahramanov.

Dayana Persan, General Manager, Atlantis Holidays (Dubai, UAE), which is the Official Representative Office of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in the GCC, spoke of the uniqueness of the GCC market and the need for Azerbaijani tour operators and agents to better understand the GCC clients’ needs. She also expressed her office’s availability to help Azerbaijani companies promote their services while stressing on the e-visa system and availability of 5-star facilities as positive trends to promote GCC tourism to Azerbaijan.

Sergey Kanaev, Director of DTCM’s Russia and CIS Office in Moscow, Russia, informed that Azerbaijan holds the fourth place among the CIS countries in terms of total number of tourists traveling to Dubai stating that the positive developments taking place in Dubai’s tourism sector will help the emirate maintain its leadership in the region.

According to Dubai Chamber, Azerbaijan is an economic leader in the South Caucasus region. It accounts for nearly 73 per cent of the whole economy of this region and one of the leading economies in the CIS in terms of FDI per capita. The main sources of FDI for Azerbaijan are mainly from the UK, USA, Japan, Norway and Turkey. The cumulative FDI in 2011 amounted for approximately $ 4.4 billion.

Meanwhile as part of their efforts to expand globally and to promote Dubai as an international business hub, Hamad Buamim, Director General, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, inaugurated Dubai Chamber’s new representative office in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa on May 9. The opening of this first office in Africa is in line with Dubai Chamber’s new strategy of exploring untapped markets of the world.

Buamim stated the inauguration of this first representative office in Ethiopia marks an important step in DCCI’s expansion and sends a strong signal of our intent to enhance ties across Africa.

Established in 1965, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a non-profit public entity, whose mission is to represent, support and protect the interests of the business community in Dubai by creating a favorable business environment, supporting the development of business, and by promoting Dubai as an international business hub.

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Business aviation conference to be held in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Gazette – 16 May, 2013 – The Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) is hosting the inaugural Middle East Business Aviation Conference (MEBAC) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The conference will be held under the aegis of Prince Fahd Bin Abdullah Bin Muhammad, President of General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), on June 4 at the Hilton Hotel.

The Kingdom is experiencing huge growth in the sector and is widely recognized as one the biggest markets in the GCC commanding at least 35% of the market share. The MENA market is earmarked to continue its growth as was showcased by Honeywell Aerospace at MEBAC 2012 in Dubai.

Talking about the Saudi Arabian market, Wajdi Alidrissi, Managing Director of Saudi Private Aviation (SPA), sponsor of the conference said, “We anticipate that the Saudi Arabian market will witness growth of at least 10% through to 2014, due to the government’s bold plans for economic cities across the Kingdom and other major infrastructure projects currently underway and in the pipeline.”

Regulatory authorities will debate important topics such as the grey market and regulatory frameworks. Such companies include GACA, GCAA, NasJet, Nexus and SPA to name a few.

Speaking about MEBAC, Ali Ahmed Al Naqbi, Founding Chairman of MEBAA said, “We are continuing to see a healthy growth of the Kingdom’s business aviation industry. With such growth must come continual dialogue with industry stakeholders ensuring that the interests of business aviation are promoted and protected. Through MEBAC, we aim to deliver a platform to share our concerns and promote business aviation within the economic agenda of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

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Jeddah to host Saudi Food, Hotel and Hospitality show

Saudi Gazette – 12 May, 2013 – Saudi Arabia continues to be the single-largest market for food and beverages in the Gulf, accounting for 63% of all of the region’s imports and the value of the Saudi Halal food market alone is estimated at $6 billion annually, according to an organizer.

In a sign of confidence of the Saudi market, hundreds of companies from the food, hotel and hospitality industries are geared up to take part in next week’s Saudi Food, Hotel, Hospitality & Propac Arabia fair.

Over 400 companies from 22 countries will be participating at the annual show to be held in Jeddah from May 19-22, 2013, under the patronage of the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture.

Organized by Jeddah based Al-Harithy Company for Exhibitions (ACE), Saudi Arabia’s 18th international Event will showcase a wide range of food and beverage, hotel equipment and supplies, kitchen and catering equipment as well as food processing technologies and packaging products.

The event hosts 400 companies from 16 countries with an impressive list of national pavilions from China, Egypt, Indonesia, Taiwan, Turkey, US; individual companies from Turkey, Algeria, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, India, Italy, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, USA and Saudi companies representing international brands.

In addition, the four-day international exhibition incorporates Top Chef & Art de Table contests, jointly organized by ACE and Saudi Arabian Chef Association, which will feature culinary skills of chefs from the finest hotels and restaurants and adjudicated by a panel of international experts.

Zahoor Siddique, Vice President for Exhibitions, ACE said “ This is the leading event in the Kingdom’s food, hotel, and hospitality industries, with a successful track record of more than 17 years.”

With a 23 million population, estimated to grow to SR50 million over the next decade, there are innumerable opportunities for a host of businesses in the food, catering, hotel and hospitality industry.

In addition, nearly 7 million foreign residents and more than 5 million visiting pilgrims annually are seeking diversified, and quality products. Consumers have become more selective in terms of nutritional value, quality, and price.

Zahoor added “This show is organized in light of the exciting developments in Saudi Arabia’s hotel industry and consistent with our continued efforts to make our events truly relevant to the needs of our clients.”

He pointed out that the Saudi food, hotel and hospitality Arabia Food & Hotel comes at a time when the Kingdom’s food and hospitality industries are experiencing rapid growth as more prestigious properties and new hotels are built for the rising number of tourists who are visiting Oman every year.

Meanwhile, the Kingdom’s tourism market exceeds $ 15 billion annually and expected to reach $ 60 billion by 2019. The direct contribution of travel and tourism to Saudi Arabia’s GDP is expected to reach $14.9 billion.

Saudi Arabia’s hotel and hospitality industry is set to grow with inbound travel that continues to increase, thanks to pilgrims and business visitors. As such the Kingdom is already witnessing a boom in the hotel and hospitality sector. Plans are being executed for increasing hotel rooms, furnished apartments, leisure resorts, restaurants and food outlets.

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Guyana Grants Caribbean Airlines As Its Flag Carrier

GEORGETOWN, May 11 (NNN-GINA) — Guyana has granted Caribbean Airlines (CAL) as its flag carrier, the decision to be communicated to regulatory bodies in US and Canada, said Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon.

Flag carrier status will see CAL providing direct flights between Georgetown and New York and Georgetown and Toronto. In December 2012, the government bestowed such designation on the airline following the launch of its inaugural non-stop flight from Guyana to Canada.

The investment being made seeks to ensure improvements in airline operations out of Guyana, and complements the anticipated CJIA expansion to the terminal and runway.

While there have been ups and downs, CAL has always been a stable partner in ensuring Guyana maintains its links with the Diaspora in North America and Canada where many Guyanese reside. During Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Luncheon was asked about the attraction of other airlines, and he explained that those efforts are ongoing.

“You must be aware of our successes although I must admit that they have not been as sustained as we would have liked them to be… but those efforts continue, but the most recent initiative in granting the flag carrier status, this was the one that the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) recommended and Cabinet endorsed,” he said.

Luncheon was also asked about the prospects of Fly Jamaica operating out of Guyana, and he noted that this has not yet been brought to the attention of the Cabinet and may be due to some regulatory procedures still to be completed.

He believes that a process is applicable when these entities seek government’s approval to operate in Guyana, and it is not instantaneous and there is no prescribed time from the date of application to when a decision is made. Luncheon explained that interested persons have to apply and Cabinet is the final decision maker.

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Palestinians mark 65th anniversary of Nakba

Ramallah, 05 Rajab 1434/15 May 2013 (IINA) – Palestinians are marking the 65th anniversary of the Nakba ((catastrophe), when hundreds of thousands of Arabs were forced out of their homes and into exile.

Sirens will be sounded for 65 seconds and demonstrations will take place in Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Jericho to mark the day. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their villages during the war that established Israel in 1948, an event they commemorate every year as their Nakba Day.

On Tuesday, the eve of the anniversary, Palestinians carried 65 torches through the streets of Ramallah to mark the event, while hundreds of others gathered around a stage to hear the Palestinian National Forces band play their instruments. In the evening, a special pre-recorded speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was broadcast on Palestinian television. Abbas said that the Palestinian right to an “independent state” had been affirmed by “countries all over the world” and called on the Israeli government to show its positive intentions during negotiations by releasing Palestinian prisoners.

“If the Israeli government has positive intentions it should release our prisoners, especially those who are in prison before 1993 and also the sick, the women, the children and our brothers, the Palestinian party leaders and the Palestinian legislative council members,” he said.

Palestinians have maintained for six decades that Arabs who either fled or were expelled from their homes during the fighting that followed Israel’s 1948 creation, as well as all their descendants, all have the right to reclaim former properties in what is now Israel. The uprooted Palestinians and their offspring, now numbering several million people, cite United Nations resolutions in claiming the right to return to the property they left behind.

The fate of Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian claim to what they call “the Right of Return” is an explosive issue that has loomed large in the failure of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks over the past two decades. In previous rounds of negotiations, several ideas were floated, including allowing for a limited return of refugees to what is now Israel and settling the rest in a future Palestinian state and third countries along with compensation.

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Al-Aqsa Mosque exhibition launched in Jeddah

Jeddah, Wednesday, 05 Rajab 1434/15 May 2013 (IINA) – The Al-Aqsa Mosque exhibition kicked off at the Shadda Gallery in Red Sea Mall in Jeddah on Sunday.

The event was inaugurated by Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in the presence of Jamal Abdullatif Al-Shobki, Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Several prominent figures, including Emad Sha’at, Palestinian consul general, Saleh Atiyah, Algerian consul general and dean of the Arab Consuls General Group, as well as diplomatic officials, eminent personalities from the academic and cultural community and members of the press also attended the event, organized by OIC.

Speaking on the occasion, Ihsanoglu thanked King Abdullah for his support and commended the Kingdom’s position vis-a-vis the Palestinian cause. “The exhibition has a special significance as it is a propitious opportunity to revive the image of the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque and its significant religious and symbolic value in the heart of the Muslim Ummah. In addition, it helps remove the confusion for some Muslims between the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque,” he said.

The secretary general pointed out that the exhibition confirms that the cause of Al Quds Al Sharif, the capital city of the State of Palestine, would always be a top priority for the OIC in all domains of political, cultural and economic action, etc. “The Israeli aggressions against Jerusalem and the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque are directed against an important pillar of Muslims’ faith. They are aggressions against their sacred places and their first prayer direction and a blatant Israeli defiance of the most deep-seated sacred values and sentiments of the Muslim Ummah.”

Jamal Al-Shobki also thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for his support, expressing sorrow that few Muslims have the opportunity to visit Jerusalem given the fact that it is occupied by Israel, a country with few political ties in the region

The Turkish photographer, Orhan Durgut, exhibited 54 photos of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the first of the ‘qiblas’ (the direction Muslims face for prayer) and the third holy mosque after Makkah and Madinah. “It is worth mentioning that this event is part of the OIC’s efforts to raise awareness among Muslims to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as this dated holy site is still under occupation,” he said. The artist took the pictures during his visit to the mosque, saying they reflect the strategic, architectural and historic elements of the site. Durgut also stated that the religious significance of the Al–Aqsa Mosque for Muslims lies in the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) went to Jerusalem as stated in the Qur’an.

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Morocco launches solar mega-project

Rabat, Thursday, 01 Rajab 1434/11 May 2013 (IINA) – Morocco yesterday officially launched the construction of a 160-megawatt solar power plant near the desert city of Ouarzazate, the first in a series of vast solar projects planned in the country.

The largest of its kind in the world, according to Mustapha Bakkoury, the head of Morocco’s solar energy agency MASEN, the thermo-solar plant will cost 7 billion dirhams (630 million euros) and is slated for completion in 2015, the official MAP news agency reported. The ambitious project “reinforces the will… to optimize the exploitation of Morocco’s natural resources, to preserve its environment… and sustain its development,” Bakkoury said at the ceremony which was attended by King Mohammed VI. A consortium led by Saudi developer ACWA Power won the contract to build the plant, near Morocco’s desert gateway city, last September.

The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank are helping to finance the solar complex. It is the first of a two-phase project, due for completion in 2020, which is expected to cover 3,000 hectares and have a generation capacity of 500 megawatts, enough to meet the electricity needs of Ouarzazate’s 1.5 million residents. MASEN’s Bakkoury said in March that companies bidding for the second phase of the project had to submit their proposals by mid-April, with the contract to be awarded sometime next year.

The North African country is aiming to become a world-class renewable energy producer, and is eyeing the chance to export clean electricity to neighboring Europe. Morocco expects to build five new solar plants by the end of the decade with a combined production capacity of 2,000 megawatts and at an estimated cost of $9 billion. Morocco has no oil and gas reserves to speak of and is hoping, with the solar projects, along with a string of planned wind farms along its Atlantic coast, to raise renewable energy production to 42 percent of its total power supply mix by 2020.

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