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15 Jul, 2013

Malaysia To Host World Tourism Conference in Oct 2013

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 15 July 2013 (07 Ramadan 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



Ramadan Mubarak. May the Almighty accept all our sacrifices and prayers during this Holy month.



Visitors to Malaysia will now be able to download a free application for their smart phones that puts a complete guide of Malaysia in the palm of their hand. This application called “The Malaysia Trip Planner” gives travellers personalised, inspiring and practical information on Malaysia, and all you can see and do. Its main features include: Detailed information on local attractions to explore; A complete schedule of events; A description of places and must-see attractions; A nifty way of planning your itinerary. Dato’ Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, Director General of Tourism Malaysia says, “Mobile platforms are an excellent way to showcase a country’s diverse tourism offerings. Tourism Malaysia is proud to launch this mobile app to meet the demands of today’s travellers.” The app organises travel plans into an itinerary that has all of the visitor’s trip details in one place. Moreover, it provides extensive information on Malaysia’s various attractions and enables quick and easy sharing with friends via Facebook and Twitter. “The app was designed to create a portable, engaging, motivational experience for users. It’s a great tool to enhance the experience of exploring Malaysia,” says Zaleha Asmahan, Director of IT Department of Tourism Malaysia. The ‘Malaysia Trip Planner’ app is available for use on iPhone and Android phones in their respective app stores.

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.



Imtiaz Muqbil’s 100% accurate forecast in the 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, which claims to be the “newspaper you can trust”. In July 2012, the column was gagged, with no explanation. Over the years, four columns had explicitly forecast the rise of whistle-blowers — a prediction now coming 100% true. Read the four columns by clicking on the links below.

Let’s Hear It for Whistle-Blowers

2002: The Year TIME Magazine Recognised Whistle-blowers

Ex-White House Spokesman Exposes “Culture of Deception”

U.S. is No Longer the Country it Once Was

To read other far-sighted “Soul-Searching” Columns, click on any of the headlines below or here to access all the columns.

If the Burmese are entitled to freedom, aren’t the Palestinians?

An Open Letter to President George W Bush: God Does Not Love Liars and Killers

Beware the new colonialism

Study of “Happiness” is Becoming both a Science and a Business

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

“War on Terror” is a War Without End

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

Shouldn’t ‘Never Again’ Apply to All?

Globalisation Will Make Religion Even More Relevant

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

Acts of God Show the Wrath of God

Weighing the causes and costs of global wars and conflict


Read Imtiaz Muqbil’s columns in Lookeast Magazine

Imtiaz Muqbil writes two columns a month in Lookeast magazine, one of Thailand’s leading consumer travel publications. Here are some of the recent columns:

Thammasat University – A Must-see Destination

Russian Visitors To Thailand: Women Outnumber Men

China is Now Dominant Force in Thai Tourism

Take Advantage of the Rail-tours

10 Fascinating “Factoids” about Thailand

The Next Big Thing: Northeast Thailand

Chiang Mai, North Thailand Set to Boom

Top 10 Reasons to Hold Your Next MICE Event in Thailand

Thailand’s Big Spenders

Phuket grows as Thailand’s Second Most Important Gateway

10 Reasons to Pursue Further Studies in Thailand

Promoting Sustainable Tourism Via ‘Designated Areas’ in Thailand

Japanese Market Rebounds After Four-year Slump


This dispatch contains the following stories. Please click on the headline to go to the story.


Malaysia To Host World Tourism Conference 2013

PUTRAJAYA, 11 JULY 2013 – The Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia together with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the State Government of Melaka will be organising the World Tourism Conference at the Equatorial Hotel in Melaka from 21 to 23 October 2013.

Themed “Global Tourism: Game Changers and Pace Setters”, the conference is expected to bring together world leaders in tourism, high-level policymakers, specialists and experts from both the public and private sectors to share experiences, put forward valuable ideas and provide guidance for tourism development.

Therefore, WTC 2013 should be attended by all travel and trade members in Malaysia such as hoteliers, tourism officers, airlines and airports representatives, tour operators, tourism product operators, and also students, as they’ll get the opportunity to connect, share and learn at this prestigious event.

Being one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malaysia, Melaka is the perfect venue to host WTC 2013. This historic city has developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the town with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. In brief, Melaka has a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

The main objectives of World Tourism Conference 2013 are to discuss and address current and relevant issues related to the tourism industry. The key areas for discussion will be:

• Beyond Mass Tourism: how destinations can prosper with higher yield markets by capitalising on niche products which are priced correctly and targeted to the right markets.

• Innovative Marketing: the importance of creating innovative products and a strong brand identity to develop dynamism and continuous progress in the industry.

• Directions for Tourism Product Development: exploring the potential of tourism products such as homestay and its variants, domestic tourism, as well as youth and Gen-Y travellers, and synergies between conservation and commercial viability.

Over the three-day conference, 10 specific and topical subjects will be presented by authoritative individuals and acknowledged experts including the Head of Travel Google (United States) Mr Rob Torres, the Chief Executive Officer of Korea Tourism Organisation (South Korea) Mr. Lee Charm, the Chairman of VisitBritain (United Kingdom) Right Hon. Mr. Christopher Rodrigues CBE, the Vice-Chairman of China National Tourism Administration (China) Mr Du Jiang, the Chief Executive Officer of Air Asia X Sdn Bhd (Malaysia) Mr. Azran Osman Rani and the Managing Director of Tourism Australia Mr Andrew McEvoy.

Registration for World Tourism Conference 2013 is now open. Please visit http://www.wtc2013malaysia.com for more details.

For further information on World Tourism Conference 2013, please contact conference coordinators:-

Ms. Zarina Md. Yusuf, Strategic Planning and International Affairs Division, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, Tel : +603-8891 7402, Fax : +603-8891 7365. Email : zarina@motour.gov.my

Ms. Christine Brew, Senior Programme Assistant, Regional Programme for Asia and the Pacific, World Tourism Organization, Tel: (34-91) 5678192 Fax: (34-91) 5713733, E-mail: cbrew@untwo.org

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Malaysia’s Tourism Highlights – August 2013

PUTRAJAYA, 14 June 2013 – August is an important month for Malaysia as the National Day falls on the 31st of this month. Besides this special event, the month is also filled with other interesting programmes from art to sports. Some of the major tourism highlights in August include:


The 1Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism Festival (1MCAT) continues on in August after an exciting month of art exhibitions in July. More events are scheduled this entire month of August, with art exhibitions, seminars and unique displays in art galleries around the country.

The event acts as a platform for art enthusiasts from artists to gallery owners to forge business alliances, as well as to share their ideas and information about the new contemporary art of Malaysia.

Organiser: Ministry of Tourism & Culture, Malaysia

Date: 1 July – September 2013

Venue: Throughout Malaysia

Contact: +6 03 8891 7519


After fasting from dawn to dusk for a month, this is the time to celebrate! Hari Raya Aidilfitri marks the end of the Ramadan month (fasting season) and every year this festive occasion is celebrated in a grand scale in Malaysia.

The highlight of this joyous occasion is the open house where the Muslims will invite their friends from various ethnics and cultures to their house to join in the merrymaking and enjoy traditional Malay favourites such as ketupat, rendang and satay!

Date: 8 – 9 August 2013

Venue: Nationwide


Sabah Memorial Day 2013 is held annually to commemorate the 2400 fallen heroes who perished on three separate torturous 240-km marches from Sandakan to Ranau, known today as the infamous Death March.

Every year, visitors will travel to the Sandakan Memorial Park, which was once the site of the Prisoners of War Camp, to commemorate these brave souls with a memorial service in their honour, ‘Lest we forget’.

Organiser: Sandakan Municipal Council

Date: 15 August 2013

Venue: Sandakan Memorial Park, Sandakan, Sabah

Contact: +6 089 273 753

Website: www.sabahtourism.com


MATTA Fair is coming to Melaka town! The Melaka MITS MATTA Fair 2013 offers visitors a great selection of exciting tour packages and fares that suit their travel needs.

Besides that, visitors and consumers will also be able to find many attractive bargains and great discounts for various tourism-related products. It’s time to make plans for your holiday. Come, compare, and purchase!

Organiser: MATTA Melaka Chapter & Melaka Tourism Promotion Division

Date: 23 – 25 August 2013

Venue: Melaka International Trade Centre (MITC), Melaka

Contact: +6 06 286 9668/ +6 016 630 6971 (Cik Hanitah)


The biggest motorsports endurance race in Asia, the Merdeka Millenium Endurance Race (MMER) 2013, will be back for the 14th edition!

Each team will have three drivers who will race for at least 70 minutes before being allowed to switch. Young motorsports enthusiasts will have a new way and new place to celebrate Malaysia’s Independence Day.

Organiser: Sepang International Circuit (SIC)

Date: 29 – 31 August 2013

Venue: Sepang International Circuit (SIC), Selangor

Contact: +6 03 8778 2200

Website: www.sepangcircuit.com.my


“Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” Hari Kemerdekaan is a national holiday which is celebrated on 31 August every year to commemorate the independence of the Federation of Malaya from British colonial rule in 1957.

Traditionally, a grand and colourful parade will be held in the morning at the Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur for everyone to attend and celebrate this important occasion together. Similar parades will also be held in every state simultaneously. This year’s celebration marks the 56th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence.

Date: 31 August 2013

Venue: Nationwide / Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur.

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Tourism dominates Jammu & Kashmir Plan for 2013-14

New Delhi, Planning Commission, 9-July, 2013 – The Annual Plan for 2013-14 for the State of Jammu & Kashmir was finalised today at a meeting between ShriMontek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission and Shri. Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. The Plan size has been agreed at Rs. 7,300crore. In addition, Rs 600 crore would be considered for PMRP ( State Sector) projects. In addition, an amount of Rs. 3,000 crore is likely to flow from the Centre to Jammu & Kashmir through various Centrally Sponsored Schemes. Moreover, a special assistance of Rs 710 crore would be available from the central plan for PMGSY projects. Thus, taking all resources, Plan assistance from the Central Government to the State of Jammu & Kashmir is expected to be over Rs. 11,000crore during 2013-14.

In his comments on the plan performance of the State, Mr Ahluwalia complemented the State Government for restoring economic activity and focusing on the development of social and physical infrastructure. He said the State needs to further encourage private participation by creating an atmosphere conducive to investment. Education, health and tourism should be given priority while working out development strategy. The State Government was particularly complemented for achievements in horticulture, education and health sector.

The Commission pointed out that Tourism sector holds tremendous potential for boosting economic activities in the State by generating direct and indirect employment. Focus should be on development of infrastructure in a regulated manner through public and private partnership by extending incentives to the investor. Promotion of heritage, adventure, pilgrim and eco-tourism should also receive attention.Many States have also taken important initiatives in Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the development of infrastructure, introducing in the social sector, i.e. health and education. The State Government of J&K was requested to take action in this regards as this would promote investment.

Mr Ahluwalia requested the State Governments to come forward with the flexibilities they need in the guidelines related to centrally sponsored schemes to improve efficiency. He said the initiatives need to be availed in introducing innovativeness in the programmes.

It was pointed out that the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) growth rate of J&K during 11th Five Year Plan was only 6% which is lower than national average of 8%. Service Sector growth rate of J&K (9.5%) remains almost at par with the national average of 9.7% during 11th Plan. The State needs to step-up growth so as to catch up with all India average. Agriculture is a primary and traditional occupation which is vitally important for the balanced and sustainable growth of economy. The State needs to take advantage of on-going schemes like RKVY and NHM to nurture development of this sector.

Jammu & Kashmir has great potential in terms of natural resources which should be harnessed to generate sustainable growth and income opportunities for the people. Tourism, obviously, holds good prospects for the State. The State Government needs to prepare a comprehensive plan to improve high value tourism as well as religious tourism.

The Planning Commission appreciated the efforts made by the State to augment the State’s own tax revenue. As a percentage of GSDP, State’s Own Tax Revenue is about 6.7% in 2011-12 which needs to be further increased to balance the requirements for expenditure. Attention was drawn to the Power Sector deficit which has been affecting the State’s Own non tax revenue adversely.

It was pointed out that the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) recently approved by the National development Council (NDC) has identified 25 monitorable targets reflecting the vision of rapid, sustainable and more inclusive growth during this plan period. One of the monitorable targets is generation of 50 million new work opportunities in the non-farm sector and skill certification of equivalent numbers during the 12th Plan. The State needs to ensure better performance of ITIs/ITCs by effective utilization of their seating capacities and ensure proper coordination among various line departments engaged in skill training.

The State is having around 30 habitations with water quality problem due to fluoride, iron and salinity which needs focused attention of the State Government. Further, 46% habitations are fully covered with drinking water facilities against the national average of 76%. The State Government should step up the efforts to cover 100% habitations with water supply facilities during 12th Plan under National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

Briefing the Commission on the strategy for the 12th plan, Mr. Abdullah said that enhanced and inclusive development is a key component of the overall strategy to build on peace dividends. He thanked Planning Commission for sensitivity and positive support to Government of J&K.He said the twelfth five year plan will focus on accelerated and sustained Growth, Growth-employment Linkage, Consolidation of Infrastructure, Empowerment of people, & building of human and institutional capacities.The State would target a modest and realistic growth rate of 7.5% with focus on productive sectors and promoting private and public investment in the infrastructure sectors. Making growth inclusive by putting in place special component plans.

He said against the target of 7.50% average growth rate in 12th Plan, Jammu & Kashmir has achieved a growth rate of 7.01% (A.E) at constant prices in 2012-13. GSDP at constant price is up from Rs. 40771 crore in 2011-12 to Rs. 43628 crore (2012-13) whereas Per Capita Income has gone up from Rs. 29215crore to Rs. 30889 crore (2012-13) up by 5.7%.

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Azerbaijan’s Naftalan oil spa one of a kind in globe

08 July 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Centuries ago a caravan with camels was passing through the arid region of north-west Azerbaijan. The trip was progressing slowly as the animals were trying to stay away from the oily lakes omnipresent throughout the area. One of the camels was in poor health so, to avoid slowing down the trip even further, the caravan’s leader decided to leave him behind. When a few months later the caravan returned to the region, they found the camel not only alive but also in an excellent shape. After keeping an eye on him for a couple of days they realized that the animal owes its health to regular baths in the dark greasy liquid from the lakes. Word of mouth spread and people started traveling to the area from far and wide in hope of finding a relief from their health troubles. With time a petroleum spa, Naftalan, was established in the region.

Some facts

Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer who traveled to the East in 1271-1291, wrote about today’s Naftalan: a “fountain from which oil springs in great abundance … not edible but good for burning and to treat men and animals with mange, and camels with hives and ulcers”. Archeological findings in the area date to the 12th Century AD. The oil was traded by caravans throughout the Near East, and was known as far as China and India. In the Tsarist Russia the oil was used as a treatment in the Russo-Japanese War.

The healing oil

Naftalan oil, a thick, black-brown liquid with a particular, aromatic odor, is unique to Azerbaijan and forms in the deep layers of the earth beneath the plains of Naftalan. It has a complex chemical composition and is very resinous, a little sour, without paraffin oil, and contains almost no light fractions such as gasoline, kerosene, naphtha. For centuries it was used as an ointment to heal skin conditions and provided relief to people with such problems as eczema, psoriasis and even arthritis. Rich in physiologically active components, Naftalan oil is known to improve the skin’s ability to regenerate itself and absorb more nutrients and oxygen. It also stimulates the collagen and elastin production of the skin cells.

Naftalan today

During the Soviet era, Naftalan’s famous crude oil baths used to draw tourists from all over the Soviet Union, and at the height of their popularity the spas had 75,000 visitors a year.

The collapse of the USSR and the Karabakh War almost ruined the industry but today the resort is undergoing a revival. The old spa center, which is currently used chiefly as a dormitory for the war refugees, has been replaced with modern hotels and treatment facilities.


The most popular treatment at Naftalan is the crude oil bath. Patients dip their bodies in 35 gallons of crude oil, at a temperature of 40 degrees for about 10 minutes per day. Other treatments are also available, for example the resin from the crude oil is extracted and painted on the patient’s limbs, helping the nervous and blood system and easing joint pain.

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How One U.S. Multinational Company is Accommodating Culture for Ramadan

Norman, Oklahoma (PRWEB) July 09, 2013 – Ramadan falls in July this year, which means very little to most American companies. For Allshore Global Resources however, this holy month of fasting and prayer presents a delicate challenge: how does a company accommodate two vastly different cultures without compromising the business or the culture? It is a potential pitfall of working internationally and Allshore’s unique model is particularly vulnerable. This year for Ramadan, they are meeting the problem head on and turning a vulnerability into a strength.

Allshore is an IT staffing firm based in Norman, Okla. that offers outsourcing with an invaluable twist. Offshore meets onshore in what they call Allshoring™. This up-and-coming company provides clients in the U.S. with developers from their sister company in Pakistan, but that’s where the offshore ends: the American team based in the Norman office is present throughout every step of the process (sales, billing, customer service, daily oversight, etc.) and the developers work directly (and exclusively) with their client during U.S. business hours in total compliance with American business standards and expectations.

The end result is that clients scarcely notice that they are offshoring (other than the reduced costs). This marrying of onshore and offshore outsourcing has given Allshore an edge, but vastly different holiday schedules can pose a challenge, and none more so than Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. During this time, observers remove themselves from their comfortable daily routine to gain perspective on their own lives and come closer to God through fasting, prayer, charity, reflection and pious living in accordance with the tenants of Islam.

Ramadan requires followers to fast from sun up to sun down and spend significant time every day in prayer. These requirements lead many companies in Pakistan to reduce the working day to six hours for the whole month. For Allshore, who guarantees their clients access to their developer eight hours a day, this is not an option; but nor is it feasible to deny their employees the accommodation they need.

The ultimate solution during Ramadan for Allshore is that everyone in the company compromises to ensure the client sees as little disruption as possible. Translation: longer work days to accommodate extra prayer breaks without losing productive working hours.

The work schedule is only half the battle though—clients and employees will only tolerate things they view as inconvenient for so long before it starts affecting the relationship. Therefore, in order to make the solution viable long-term, both groups can’t merely be putting up with it, they have to understand why, and more importantly, want to do it. It’s all about perspective; the key is facilitating an understanding in human terms rather than merely in terms of business.

The toughest thing about Ramadan for Allshore is that there isn’t a good point of reference for Americans – it’s not like Independence Day whose date may be different for each country, but is pretty universally understood. Ramadan doesn’t have a good quick comparison, so it is easy for clients (and U.S. employees) who can’t relate to view it merely as a strange inconvenience and consider only how it affects their work. That is the perspective Allshore has to change.

Allshore is a client-based company, so their clients have been working with the same overseas team for months, many even for years. They have had a chance to develop a more personal relationship with their team and come to care about their developers as people, rather than regard them as faceless resources like in most offshore outsourcing. This human connection holds the key. Rather than skirt around Ramadan, Allshore approaches it head on and relates it to the clients in human terms, taking the time to try and educate about what it is and what it means to the guys overseas.

And it has worked. Clients who began skeptical became supportive over time because they were able to understand Ramadan in terms of what it meant to their developer instead of as marker of a strange culture that runs counter to their own. Plus when given the chance, many of Allshore’s clients enjoyed the chance to learn about Ramadan and were genuinely interested in the chance to know more. In the end, the shared understanding has enhanced Allshore’s relationships with its clients and helped them further their own mission of promoting cultural understanding through business.

When it comes down to it, business is a series of personal connections, the importance of which sometimes get obscured by the bottom line. Any chance a company has to make business human again and add a personal touch is valuable, and at times even vital. Ramadan began as a challenge for Allshore, but in the end it presented an opportunity to strengthen their relationships and build a strong base for the future.

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Arab Travellers Become a Key Source Market for Hotels in the Middle East

Ramallah, Palestine (PRWEB) July 14, 2013 – Yamsafer, an online hotel booking website recently re-launched its redesigned website to include new Arab destinations such as the UAE, Lebanon, Kuwait, KSA and Egypt. The company will soon increase the number of participating hotels to 2,500 properties spanning the MENA region in 22 Arab countries with a focus on competitive hotel pricing.

Faris Zaher, the CEO and Co-Founder of Yamsafer stated, “The number of hotels in our network grew exponentially and Yamsafer now hosts hotels ranging from the world’s largest luxury chains to small, family-owned boutiques. What hotels like about the Yamsafer platform is that we provide them with access to Arab travelers. Arabs now represent 80% of travel activity within the region and are more resilient to political shocks, making them a valuable source market for hotels at this time.” Zaher further added, “We’ve also revamped our interface, which now runs on top of a powerful booking engine”.

Yamsafer has now increased its travel-related content in both the Arabic and English languages. Customers can also make payments directly to Yamsafer or pay the hotel once they arrive, using their credit card to guarantee the transaction. The website also provides full compatibility with mobile devices, in a move designed to prepare the company for its’ upcoming release of a cross-platform mobile application.

The idea of Yamsafer was born as a result of the growth in the MENA region, which a couple of years ago was considered to be the world’s fastest growing inbound and outbound travel market. Although the Arab Spring affected business travel patterns in the MENA region, the impact has been limited almost exclusively to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Kuwait City, Aqaba and Amman which remain popular Middle East alternatives to Arab Spring affected countries, which Yamsafer anticipates to experience big hikes in leisure, business and religious tourism.

With the launch of the new website, Yamsafer will continue to work on the many features of the site which includes marketing, further acquisition of hotels, product development and maintaining its’ great customer support operation.

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Sunda strait infrastructure project to boost regional development

July 11 2013 – Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The planned Sunda Strait Infrastructure and Strategic Zone (KSISS) project is expected to boost the regional development, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Hatta Rajasa said here on Thursday.

“We hope the bridge connecting Banten and Lampung Provinces will help speed up the regional development growth,” the minister said after chairing a coordinating meeting on the constructions of Sunda Strait Bridge and Trans Sumatra Toll Road.

The projects have been regulated in a Presidential Regulation No. 86/2011 on the Development of Sunda Strait Infrastructure and Strategic Zone. The strategic zone will include tourist resort and heavy equipment industries.

The KSISS has been included in the ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan with international standard. “It will become our national pride,” Minister Rajasa said.

The groundbreaking ceremony of the planned longest bridge is expected to be held in late 2014. Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto said his ministry had conducted the bridge project`s feasibility studies concerning the wind, geological and volcanological aspects. “We have involved foreign experts. The bridge is feasible technically, financially, economically and environmentally,” he stated.

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India Releases “Urdu Language Fonts and Keyboard Managers”

Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, 12-July, 2013 – “Urdu language Fonts and Keyboard Drivers” for different media were released by Shri Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Communication and IT, here today. Developed under the aegis of Technology Development for Indian Languages Programme (TDIL) of DeitY (Department of Electronics and IT), these would be available free of cost, for public use. Indian Language Technology Development on digital medium is one of the major thrust areas of DeitY, Ministry of Communications and IT.

Content creation and consumption is one of the major requirements for language growth and keeping this in mind, as a first step, the following Urdu Fonts and keyboard drivers are being released to the public:

• Unicode compliant Open Font format for Naskh script – 12 numbers

• Unicode compliant Open Font format for Nastaliq script – 1 number

• Urdu Keyboard driver with enhanced INSCRIPT, Phonetic and Custom for Windows 32 / 64 bit Operating system

• Urdu Keyboard driver with enhanced INSCRIPT keyboard for Android platform

Fonts of Urdu

The font is the first contact, which the user makes with an application on his screen, and largely it is the choice and attractiveness of the font, which makes the application visually appealing. The beauty and the aesthetics of a font are closely intertwined and are dependent on the font designer. CDAC, GIST has always kept these factors in mind when designing the font, which has maximal visual appeal and readability.

A total of 12 Naskh and 1 number of Unicode 6.2 compliant fonts are being made available to the public.

Naskh: Naskh, though cursive, is linear in nature. Each letter joins the next moving from right to left. The glyphs change shape according to the place they occupy within the word.

Strictly defined by norms laid down by tradition, the visual beauty of Naskh lies in the seamless manner in which each letter joins the next letter to create a text which is as attractive as a visual drawing.

Click here to see photo

Nastaaliq: Nastaaliq is one of the most complex scripts to design. Nastaaliq moves both from right to left and vertically from top to bottom with the “nukte” or dots conforming to a strict placement order.

Nastaaliq demands strict conformity with a specific grammar which has been honed and fine-tuned over the centuries.

A well-designed Nastaaliq font as is shown in the Nabeel font designed by GIST C-DAC, has both a visual appeal as well as grammatical economy and correctness:

Click here to see Photo

Urdu Keyboard driver based on Enhanced INSCRIPT

The keyboard manager released in January 2007 for Urdu was based on Inscript Keyboard layout. Now, the INSCRIPT standard has been enhanced to make it compliant to latest Unicode standard 6.2. The new Urdu Keyboard driver based on Enhanced INSCRIPT, gives freedom to the users for creating content, write e-mail, chat in Urdu using UNICODE compliant software. Urdu by nature is written right to left. It is capable of handling these right to left (RTL) scripts on any existing UNICODE compliant application, running under language enabled Windows such as – Notepad, MS-Word, etc in Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 and above editions.

Using Unicode enabled web-content creation tools; user can also create HTML documents which can be published on the Web / Internet. The documents, letters and data created using it are UNICODE based. User can use the application to type in various layouts such as INSCRIPT / PHONETIC / CUSTOM by pressing either Capslock / Numlock / Scroll Lock and can switch to English as and when required. The tool also comes with Virtual Onscreen Floating keyboard for click-typing or easy reference.

Urdu Enhanced INSCRIPT keyboard for Android:

• On-Screen keyboard driver for Android devices, 3 layered

• English QWERTY layer has been updated to support the English inputting. Thus English inputting is possible without a need to select the Android native English keyboard while working with Urdu. The basic prediction is now available for English inputting.

• Supports Android version 4.1 and above

• Downloadable from Mobile Service Delivery Gateway (MSDG) Appstore at: http://apps.mgov.gov.in/home.jsp

Click here to see Photo             Click here to see Photo

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Malaysia Airports launches RM1 million shopping spree campaign

Sepang – Ever wonder what it would be like to shop in six of the world’s top shopping cities? Wonder no more with Malaysia Airports’ latest Indulge Till You Fly Campaign, a special campaign created to reward travelers handsomely for shopping and dining at its five international airports.

This year, the Grand Prize winner of the Indulge Till You Fly Campaign will be rewarded with RM1million shopping spree and the shopping experience of a lifetime to Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Dubai and, of course, Kuala Lumpur!

The winner, and a partner, will fly business class to all the seven cities where they will stay at top-class hotels and be taken shopping at the respective cities’ premier malls.

According to Puan Faizah Khairuddin, Senior General Manager – Commercial Division, Malaysia Airports, the top-of-the-range prize to the seven shopping wonders of the world is in line with the “Wonderland” theme of the Indulge Till You Fly (ITUF) Campaign 2013/2014.

Said Puan Faizah: “We are all familiar with the various wonders of the world. With ITUF we are introducing our travelers to the wonders of the shopping world. It will be a most memorable experience for the winner – one that will be remembered for a long time.

“It is also very much in line with our airports as places of wonder theme. To many travelers, airports are more than just transit or connection points. They are places of wonder, of respite, where one can get lost, even if it is for a little while, and indulge.”

“Our airports are no different. It is a shopping and dining wonderland to many travelers. It is a place where they can linger and explore and, with Campaigns such as the ITUF, a place where they can win wondrous and fabulous prizes by just spending RM250,” commented Puan Faizah.

Held for the fourth year in a row, the ITUF Campaign is part of Malaysia Airports’ drive to raise awareness of the dual roles of its international airports – as transportation hubs and as lifestyle destinations.

Malaysia Airports’ 2013/2014 ITUF Campaign will be held from 10 July 2013 till 28 February 2014 at all international airports – KLIA/LCCT-KLIA, Langkawi International Airport, Penang International Airport, Kuching International Airport and Kota Kinabalu International Airport.

Participants of the Campaign need to spend a minimum of RM250 at any F&B or retail outlets at the five international airports. With that amount, they will be eligible to take part in the Indulge & Win Contest and are entitled, automatically, to instant cash shopping vouchers worth RM10. MasterCard holders will be given the privilege to double their entries and shopping vouchers.

“MasterCard and Malaysian Airports Holdings Berhad have been partnering together for nine years to create unforgettable shopping experiences for air travelers. As a leading payment solution provider, Indulge Till You Fly Campaign is also a way to reward travelers handsomely for making the choice to shop with MasterCard at the participating airports”, said Safdar Khan, Country Head, Malaysia and Brunei, MasterCard Worldwide.

Shoppers can redeem their shopping vouchers on the spot at one of the 40 Indulge & Win e-kiosks located throughout the five international airports. All they have to do is to scan the receipts of their purchases and personal details; answer a question related to the Campaign; and redeem their RM10 shopping vouchers on the spot.

Information captured at the e-kiosks will be uploaded to an off-site server computer that will randomly select a monthly indulger prize winner of RM10,000 in shopping vouchers. Seven (7) indulger prizes are given out throughout the Campaign period.

The Grand Prize winner of RM1,000,000 and the opportunity to shop round the world will also be selected by the computer from the pool of participants.

Revealed Puan Faizah: “Our never-ending quest for technology enhancement at our airports underscores Malaysia Airports’ forward-looking approach to commercial marketing as we move ahead into the digital era. This on-going employment of technology will continue to be an integral part of the lifestyle experiences that Malaysia Airports is striving to give. It is a fantastic way to engage our customers and to increase participation.”

Malaysia Airports’ active use of technology which started in 2012 saw a 57 per cent increase in entries for the Indulge & Win Contest in the previous ITUF Campaign. Overall, last year’s Campaign garnered a 134 per cent hike in sales generated through the campaign. Average spend by travelers also went up by 50%.

“The ITUF Campaign is gaining recognition here and abroad. It is a key component of our drive to increase revenue from our non-aviation segment. Going forward, it will continue to be an important event in our annual calendar,” added Puan Faizah.

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ASEAN promotes six creative travel themes

Thu, July 11 2013 – Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is currently promoting six experiential and creative travel themes to encourage multi-country trips across Southeast Asia. According to a press release from the ASEAN Secretariat received here on Thursday the themed promotions are part of the implementation of the ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy 2012-2015.

The themes include: “The Tastes of Southeast Asia”, “ASEAN, a Tropical Paradise”, “World Class Cities”, “Experience Diverse Traditions”, “Sport and Relaxation”, and “Diverse Contemporary Creativity.” An initial list of 20 tour operators offering the themes in multi-country itineraries are now on the new look ASEAN travel website, www.aseantourism.travel , the official website of ASEAN Tourism. More trips are being added. Website enhancements are underway.

“Our new focus is on experiential and creative tourism that respects environment and culture,” Director General from Myanmar`s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism who is also Chairman of the ASEAN Tourism Product Development Working Group Aung Zaw Win said.

“An authentic travel experience involves meaningful engagement with the heritage, arts and special character of our ASEAN destinations,” he said.

The minister urged tour operators in ASEAN countries to develop more multi-country packages highlighting experiential and creative tourism, which he pointed out was a rising trend among consumers who want authentic travel.

“Today`s travellers are more sophisticated and interested in unique experiences with immersion in local ways of life,” he said. “Our role is to therefore support multi-country experiential travel within ASEAN member states.”

To inspire travellers, ASEAN has compiled a series of features about themes such as beach, nature and wildlife; cruise tour and rail; culture and heritage; education and volunteering; food and nightlife; fun and leisure; health and spa; outdoor and water sports; and pilgrimage tourism. All are available on www.aseantourism.travel .

Tour operators who would like to submit multi-country experiential programs for possible inclusion on the ASEAN travel website should email their offerings to atmcwg@gmail.com.

ASEAN consists of ten member countries namely Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

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Exploring Ras Al Khaimah hospitality

Khaleej Times – 07 July, 2013 – The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah — at the very least — isn’t as glitzy as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, neither is it as busy like Sharjah or Ajman.

A good number among us would identify it as somewhat of a getaway or a hideaway from our normal, busy lives.

But what many don’t know is the fact that RAK is revving up its economy with a plethora of offerings for several industries. And at the forefront of this — or at least at par with its attractive industrial free trade zones — is its hospitality sector.

And, as a top official of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts put it, “with the sea, sand and mountains, RAK is poised to emerge as a tourism destination in the UAE”.

“In the GCC, visitors feel very welcome. And RAK has its own warmth,” Anders Dimblad, area general manager for Ras Al Khaimah, told Khaleej Times in an interview. “RAK is trying to become a tourism hotspot, and it has the potential to do so.”

Singapore-based Banyan Tree was established in 1994, and its first resort opened in Phuket, Thailand. Since then, the brand has spread globally, putting up more properties in China, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Mexico, Seychelles, South Korea, Vietnam and, of course, the UAE, with several properties under development in the Americas and Europe. Information from its Web site show that from 2014-17, there are plans to add several more destinations in China, as well as one each in India, Malaysia and Morocco.

It has two properties in the UAE, both in RAK. Banyan Tree Al Wadi is the first desert resort in the UAE featuring 101 all-pool villas, 3,999sqm of Asian-inspired hydrotherapy spas, a dedicated nature reserve and a private beach. Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach, on the other hand, is an integrated resort located in the exclusive Al Jazirah Hamra development.

The resorts opened in early and late 2010, respectively, and are just 15-20 minutes apart.

And if its two UAE properties being located in RAK is any indication, Dimblad — who was born in Manila and has spent a considerable amount of time in the Philippines — feels very confident of the hospitality industry there, especially with these two resorts putting up “very good” occupancy levels and receiving “positive and inspiring” reviews from guests.

“Our visitors enjoy their stay in our RAK resorts (because) we take the extra step for (their) satisfaction,” he said.

Banyan Tree has only one other property in the GCC — a joint-venture maternity hospital in Kuwait that is unbranded. Dimblad said that the company is into discussions for possible developments in the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.

While having an image and offering of its own, Dimblad believes that RAK — along with the other emirates — are not trying to outdo each other. Rather, they help each other out in making the UAE a tourism hub with each emirate having its own distinction.

“Dubai has always been the leader in the industry, no question… and other emirates are not trying to compete; they’re trying to complement each other,” he stressed.

And speaking of distinction, Dimblad mentioned that the tourism board in RAK is complementing on developing a mountain resort — something that, if it pushes through, will serve as a huge boost for its tourism and a come-on for visitors. “Temperatures are down in RAK’s mountain areas. That’s a good respite from the desert heat we all experience,” he said.

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Camel milk products from Dubai arrive in Europe

Khaleej Times – 07 July, 2013 – The Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products, or EICMP, producer of the leading camel milk brand Camelicious, commenced sending its first products to various countries in the European Union.

After the company’s official listing on the Web site of the Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Commission, becoming the first Middle Eastern company to export camel milk products to the European Union, the first smaller quantities of camel milk powder, fresh milk and camel whey powder have reached Europe last week.

“We are very proud to be the first UAE-based company to ship camel milk powder to Europe on the new permit. We would like to thank all parties involved in this effort to see Dubai and our brand Camelicious find its rank amongst global exporters,” said Mutasher Al Badry, deputy general manager and business development manager at the EICMP. “We are thrilled to see our products on the European market. This is a ground-breaking step for our company as well as for the camel milk industry in the UAE.”

The EICMP had been listed in the section for third-country establishments of Section IX, raw milk and dairy products, under the UAE section, entitling it to officially export camel milk and camel milk products to all of the 27 member countries of the EU in June 2013.

The first camel milk products were sent to potential business partners of Camelicious to the Netherlands and Denmark. The EICMP is focusing on the B2B market in Europe, working to establish further business ties with European companies and exploring additional fields of usage for camel milk. Main targets are companies in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic fields, as well as sport and nutritional supplements.

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SR 62 bn Makkah metro project launch in 2014

Arab News – 07 July, 2013 – The SR 62 billion new Makkah public transport system, including a metro with four lines and 88 stations and a fast bus service network, will bring about dramatic improvement in transport of pilgrims and citizens in the city, said Makkah Mayor Osama Al-Bar.

He said the first phase of the project, costing around SR 25.5 billion, would begin by the middle of next year. It will be completed in three years.

There will be underground lines in areas surrounding the Grand Mosque until the third ring road, while the lines beyond that region will be built on suspended bridges, he said. The first phase includes construction of a 30-km line from Um Al-Qura University in Abidiya to Sayeda Aisha Mosque.

Al-Balad Al-Ameen, a company owned by the Makkah Mayoralty, conducted a technical study on the metro, which will be implemented by Makkah Railway Company. Systra, a French consultancy, and BW Engineers from Germany are also involved in the project.

The bus service will be integrated with the metro system, Al-Bar said, adding that the speedy bus service would link various parts of the city, covering 60 km with 60 stations. There will be a local bus service to areas not covered by the metro and speed bus network.

The local buses will cover 65 km between the Grand Mosque and surrounding residential districts. In addition, there will be feeder bus services for the metro system. He said the public transport scheme is to be completed in 10 years in three phases.

A consultancy service contract will be signed with a British company for project management. The governor has set up a 11-member committee, chaired by Deputy Gov. Abdul Aziz Al-Khodairy, to monitor the project. Al-Bar also disclosed plans to implement a project to link the Mashair Railway with Makkah in Shesha and the Haramain Railway station in Rusaifa.

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Bahraini farmers showcase local Ramadan products

Gulf Daily News – 07 July, 2013 – Around 16 Bahraini farmers and seven productive families showcased their produce during a Farmer’s Market at the Budaiya Botanical Garden. Yesterday’s event was held in line with the onset of Ramadan and included stands selling vegetables, fruits and Ramadan-related items such as dates. It was organised by the Municipalities and Agriculture Affairs Ministry and aimed to raise interest in locally-grown products.

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RAK Airways eyes 40 new destinations by 2015

Saudi Gazette – 08 July, 2013 – RAK Airways has announced its strategic plan towards commercial expansion and acquiring new aircraft. Murabit Al Sawaf, President and CEO of the airline, said that the expansion plan is part of the airline’s endeavors to achieve the target of 40 new destinations around the world by the year 2015, of which five destinations will be announced shortly. Addressing a press conference in Ras Al Khaimah recently, Al Sawaf said that the carrier has completed working out a plan to operate services to four more destinations.

Al Sawaf also unveiled plans to buy new aircraft. “RAK Airways is close to inking deals with some agencies to acquire new fleet of aircraft in order to meet the requirements for its future expansions. Accordingly, new aircraft will join the fleet before the end of this year,” he said, adding that the airline is now operating its services by using two leased aircraft.

He also noted that there would be a focus on operating services to those destinations that would help in promoting the tourism sector of Ras Al Khaimah, in particular, and the United Arab Emirates, in general.

Al Sawaf said the airline transported 300,000 passengers in 2012. There has been 40 percent increase in the number of passengers carried by the airline in the first half of 2013 compared to the same period last year. In the first half of 2013, the airline increased its frequency to Dhaka, Peshawar and Lahore, from two weekly flights to three, in order to meet the growing demand to these destinations. The weekly services to Jeddah will also rise to 10 from seven.

According to Al Sawaf, “RAK Airways has an ambitious growth plan and the strategy is being studied to be rolled out effectively, very shortly.”

Being one of the national carriers of United Arab Emirates, RAK Airways is playing a vital role in the growth and development of Ras Al Khaimah, he said. “We are working on diversifying travel options to Ras Al Khaimah, whether it is for business or tourism purposes.”

The airline also functions as a roving ambassador by showcasing investment opportunities available in the emirate to the world, in addition to letting the world know about the large number of touristic and recreational sites available in the emirate.

Ras Al Khaimah, the growing emirate of the United Arab Emirates, has plans to offer 10,000 new hotel rooms by the year 2016. At present, there are 15 hotels with 2,947 rooms in Ras Al Khaimah, and plans are under way to open five new hotels with 2,000 rooms within the coming 10 months.

The Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah Hotel with 346 rooms and suites will be among the hotels to be opened in the near future in the emirate.

RAK Airways is one of the youngest national carriers in UAE. It was founded in 2006 and launched operations in early 2007 with two Boeing 757-200 aircraft. The airline relaunched in 2010 with a new livery and under new management.

In 2010 the airline announced that it would be resuming operations with a “value-for-money” business model.

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14,000 foreign students studying in Iran

Tehran Times – 11 July, 2013 – Fourteen thousand students are studying at Iran’s universities and efforts are underway to attract more international students, according to Iran’s minister of science, research, and technology, Kamran Daneshjoo.

“The improvement of the quality of universities has paved the way for the enrollment of foreign students. 14,000 foreign students from 92 countries are currently studying at Iran’s universities. And if we include the 12,000 foreign students studying at Al-Mustafa (International) University, a total of 26,000 foreign students are studying at higher education institutions in the country,” Daneshjoo said in a speech at a graduation ceremony of a number of foreign students of Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, which was held on Friday, Farheekhtegan English weekly reported.

The country’s current short-term development plan envisages the enrollment of 25,000 foreign students at Iranian universities, Mr. Daneshjoo explained, referring to Iran’s Fifth Five-Year Development Plan (2010-2015), part of the 20-Year Outlook Plan (2005-2025) which is the country’s main blueprint for long-term sustainable growth.

According to Hossein Seyyed-Mousavi, a deputy president of Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, most of the foreign students studying in Iran are from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Iranian news agencies quoted Hassan Moselmi Naeini, the head of the science ministry’s general bureau of scholarship and overseas students affairs, as saying in April that 55,686 Iranian students were studying abroad.

“Out of this number, 8,883 students are studying in Malaysia, 7,341 in the United States, 5,638 in Canada, 3,504 in Germany, 3,364 in Turkey, 3,228 in Britain, and the rest in other countries.”

A report published by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) in 2012 said that at least 3.6 million students in 2010 were enrolled in tertiary education abroad, up from 2 million in 2000.

The surge in internationally mobile students (students who have crossed a national border to study, or are enrolled in a distance learning program abroad) reflects the rapid expansion of enrolment in higher education globally, which has grown by 78% in a decade.

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Oman-Pakistan Joint Business Council in the works

Oman Daily Observer – 11 July, 2013 – Oman and Pakistan will sign an accord to establish a joint business council at the private sector level, according to the Pakistan diplomatic sources in Muscat. The Joint Business Council which is highly expected to give a major impetus to the bilateral trade relations of both countries would mainly focus on ways to improve import and export relations while exploring newer avenues for encouraging investments in both countries.

“We are in the final stage of forming a joint business council with the Sultanate of Oman and the final nod will be received by early next month”, K K Ahsan Wagan, Deputy Head of the Mission at the Pakistan Embassy, told the Observer.

The Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), and the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FPCCI) have already concurred the draft agreement and now we are waiting for the final approval and signing the MoU to this effect. He said this would likely happen in a month or two.

Speaking to the Observer on the sidelines of the Pakistan Mango Festival at the Sultan Centre, he said, “The mango festival is part of the economic diplomacy and business networking.” “This event is part of the economic diplomacy and we are happy to have launched it. The major imports from Pakistan to Oman are related to food and agriculture and since rice, mango, pulses and dry products are very popular in Oman we want to enhance our relations with the Sultanate”.

He also said that there has been a substantial increase in the export and import relations between the two countries especially in the food sector. Year 2011-2012 witnessed an increase of 10-15 per cent in the Oman imports of Pakistan products.

On the other hand, the Pakistan imports of Omani products during the same period stood at $ 100-120m which is a substantial increase compared to the year before, according to the Deputy Head of the Mission. These imports include oil related products, leather and petrochemicals.

“These trade figures are highly encouraging to strike better deals with our counterpart in the future. I’m pretty sure that the new Business Council would be a milestone in that direction. And in terms of cultural diplomacy activities, we are arranging events to create awareness about the Pakistan culture and tradition”.

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Muscat-Madinah flight launched

Oman Daily Observer – 11 July, 2013 – Oman Air, the national carrier of the Sultanate, celebrated at Muscat International Airport yesterday the launch of the inaugural flight between Muscat and Madinah in Saudi Arabia (KSA) to become the fourth destination to KSA and the 43rd around the world. Oman Air’s 1st Class and Business Class Passenger Hall was also launched.

Salim bin Nasser al Oufi, CEO of the Public Authority of Civil Aviation (PACA), presided over the inaugural ceremony in the presence of government officials and representatives from the media. Al Oufi said that the new service will promote the strong ties between the two brotherly countries and will contribute in strengthening Oman Air’s network, adding that it will emphasise the company’s commitment to support the growth of the tourism sector in the Sultanate and trading opportunities between the Sultanate and KSA.

Abdulrazak bin Juma al Ra’eesi, Head of Business Affairs Department at Oman Air, said that the company will operate a weekly flight between Muscat and Al Madinah on Tuesdays, adding that the launch of this destination comes after the launch of Salalah-Jeddah route recently.

“Oman Air’s new weekly flight between Muscat and Madinah will give even more visitors from Saudi Arabia the chance to experience the outstanding services of Oman Air and discover Oman’s many attractions. It will also offer greater opportunities for travellers from the Sultanate to visit Saudi Arabia. We are confident that this addition to our growing network will prove to be a great success,” he said.

The new service will provide the passengers the possibility of a return trip whether via Jeddah or Madinah, at the same time providing more options and flexibility for passengers of Haj and Umrah. Oman Air’s commitment to increasing tourism traffic within the Middle East is paralleled by its broader expansion across the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa.

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Over 600,000 Tourists Visited Algeria In First Half 2013

ALGIERS, July 7 (NNN-APS) — A total of 631,000 tourists visited Algeria from Jan 1 to June 30, said Friday Secretary of State for Tourism Mohamed Amine Hadj Said.

“A total of 631,000 tourists, including Algerians settled abroad, have chosen to spend their 2013 holidays in Algeria,” Hadj Said told APS on the sidelines of the welcome ceremony at Algiers Port for a delegation of the Algerian community living abroad.

In this respect, the Secretary of State said that among these tourists, some 380,000 are Algerians settled abroad, up by 14 percent compared to the past year. “This shows the great interest of our expatriates in their native land,” he said.

Hadj Said also underlined the importance of domestic tourism for the expatriates, adding that its promotion is among the government’s key priorities. “We are relying greatly on the Algerian community settled abroad to contribute to the promotion of destination Algeria,” he said.

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Uganda’s Tourism Minister Hails Plan For Single Visa For East Africa

KAMPALA, July 11 (NNN-NEW VISION) — Ugandan Tourism Minister Maria Mutagamba has hailed plans to roll out single visas for people living in member States of the East African Community (EAC), saying the move will lift Uganda’s tourism potential further.

“So many tourists are visiting Kenya but they do not come to Uganda. But if they do not need another visa to (come to Uganda), they will visit Uganda too. In the end, we shall all benefit,” Mutagamba said after after opening the 2013 Routes Africa meeting here over the weekend.

Despite being blessed with immense tourism potential, Uganda lags behind its neighbour Kenya in tourism in terms of visitor numbers. The one visa proposal, which Mutagamba said featured highly in recent tripartite talks involving President Yoweri Museveni and his Kenyan and Rwandan counterparts, Uhuru Kenyatta and Paul Kagame respectively, is now at the EAC Secretariat for further consultations before it is brought to the next EAC heads of state summit.

Mutagamba also said the drive to attract more airlines to operate through Entebbe International Airport should be matched with infrastructural development. “We do not only need more airlines, we also need airports. Few of our visitors are urban tourists. The majority of them are eco-tourists, yet it takes six hours to drive from Kampala to Bwindi or Kidepo (National Park),” she said.

Works State Minister Dr. Stephen Chebrot recently told a meeting of global aviation players that Africa should up her game in the face of increasing passengers.

“In 2012, international passenger demand grew by six per cent. The strongest growth was recorded in the Middle East (15.4 per cent), Latin America (8.4) and Africa (7.5). Conversely, capacity grew slower than demand at only four per cent. The situation in Africa for capacity growth is certainly much lower. This is especially a big challenge for our airports,” he said.

“Besides capacity expansion, the other challenge we face is that of aviation safety. Africa’s accident rate almost doubled between 2011 and 2012. In 2011, we registered eight accidents. These grew to 13 in 2012.”

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Malaysia: Legoland Water Park To Open On Oct 21

JOHOR BAHARU, July 11 (NNN-Bernama) — Legoland Malaysia Resort will officially open its Legoland Water Park on October 21 this year. Its General Manager Siegfried Boerst said the water park is now 75 per cent complete.

“The Legoland Water Park will further enhance the Legoland experience for families with 2-12 years old children. It offers more than 20 unique slides and over 70 Lego models among its many attractions,” he said at a press conference here.

Some of the highlights at the 4.04-hectare water park include the hugely popular Build-A-Raft River and Joker Soaker.

“The first is a unique concept where children can customise their own raft with soft Lego bricks before floating down a lazy river and the latter is a fun interactive platform in the wade pool where children can play with water cannons as a Lego jester model tells jokes while 77 litres of water pour on them,” he said.

The water park will also feature two restaurants, private cabanas for rent and a retail store on-site.

Boerst said with the new attractions, families would want to make more visits and stay longer. It will be a unique holiday destination for the entire family to enjoy, offering adventure, education and fun.

Further information such as ticket prices can be obtained at http://www.legoland.com.my/.

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Firefly Airline Introduces Self Check-In Kiosks At Skypark Terminal

KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 (NNN-Bernama) — Community carrier, Firefly Airlines, has launched self-service check-in kiosks at SkyPark Terminal, Subang to offer a more hassle-free and user-friendly travel experiences to travellers.

In a statement, Firefly said the operational initiatives were part of the airline’s continuous effort to further enhance customer experience and minimise the inconvenience associated with check-in processes.

Its chief executive officer, Ignatius Ong, said the airline intended to alleviate most of the hassles of manual check-in and the queues especially during peak periods primarily for business people and/or commuters on the go.

“The new system allows real-time automated checks on self-printed boarding passes and passenger can proceed straight to the Customs, immigration and quarantine access point where their passes will be verified automatically by security officers,” he said.

Ong said there were currently six self-check-in kiosks in operation at the SkyPark Terminal and Firefly was monitoring the usage of the kiosks and not ruling out the possibility of introducing them in other hubs such as Penang soon.

Meanwhile, information technology manager, Jimmy Tan, said going forward, the company planned to introduce mobile check-in facility. “This will enable passengers to print their boarding passes by just flashing their smartphones with the QR code at the kiosks,” he said.

Firefly, which started operation in 2007, currently operates a fleet of 12 ATR 72-500 turboprop aircraft out of Penang and Subang, connecting secondary destinations within the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle as well as providing air linkages between Malaysia and Singapore.

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Uganda Gets $8.2m Grant From China

KAMPALA, July 7 (NNN-NEW VISION) — The Chinese Government has given Uganda a US$8.2m (sh21.1bn) grant for infrastructure development. The Uganda Government will decide its priorities for the funds, which Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka indicated will be in energy, roads, railways and “other critical areas.”

The grant, according to Kiwanuka, had been promised to President Yoweri Museveni by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa. BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Though Uganda is not a member of BRICS, President Yoweri Museveni had chance to address the summit in March and invited BRICS states to invest in the countries of the East Africa Community(EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) an the International Conference on the Great Lakes Organisation (ICGLR).

Museveni said that business with these African regional bodies would be good for them as well as BRICS states. The grant agreements were signed at the Ministry of Finance in Kampala on Friday by Kiwanuka for the Uganda and the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda, Zhao Yali.

According to Kiwanuka, China had made a number of promises to accelerate growth of the African continent including Uganda.

“I am glad today we are witnessing the fulfillment of one of those promises made at the forum of increasing aid to African countries. During the same meeting, the Chinese Government promised a further sh20bn also for development of African countries…..”

She said that China also said that it will increase assistance for promotion of food production, processing, storage and distribution. “Uganda’s economy is largely agricultural based and therefore such efforts would increase our productivity and GDP. I would like to lobby the Chinese government to consider Uganda among the direct beneficiaries of this support.”

Kiwanuka also requested the Chinese government to consider it as beneficiaries for vocational and technical training facilities “that are to be constructed in Africa in fulfillment of the FOCAC promises”.

FOCAC is the Forum for China Africa Cooperation. She said that this will improve the quality of skills in Uganda’s labour force and the country’s competiveness in the region and globally.

Ambassador Zhao said that Uganda is a gifted country whose people have not utilised its potential. “We hope that with our cooperation we will have a more tenable result from it,” Zhao said.

He said that his country is willing to help Uganda develop its agricultural potential and its skilled labour force. “The grant is there. There money is there, but we have to find good projects to which to put it.”

According to him new technologies as well faster and better yielding crops will help Uganda’s agriculture. He said that Uganda has the conditions and is positioned to maintain itself as the regional food basket.

He is due to meet with the Minister of Agriculture over assistance to the sector and possible introduction of faster yielding crops like the Chinese millet whose yields are three times more than those of the local millet.

The envoy named other areas like fish farming, maize growing and value addition. “These days food security is a very important,” he said.

He also said that his government is also looking at proposals sent to it for establishment of vocational education institutions.

“The truth is you need more skilled people to grow your economy. There is the oil industry and others. It is good to give one fish but it better to teach them how to fish for themselves,” he said.

Zhao pointed out that there are many Chinese companies in Uganda and at least 25 agriculture experts working in the country now who could help Uganda’s agricultural potential.

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Islamic Development Bank To Allocate 120mln Euros For Projects In Iran

TEHRAN, Iran, July 9 (NNN-FNA) – The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) plans to earmark 120mln euros, for construction of infrastructural projects in the north-western Iranian province of East Azarbaijan, IDB representative in Iran, Ali Fallahi said.

Fallahi made the remarks in a meeting with the East Azarbaijan Governor, General Ahmad Alirezabeigi, on the sidelines of the 4th International Forum on Investment Opportunities, in the province.

He pointed to East Azarbaijan’s development projects as water projects, saying IDB is ready in infrastructural, water resources, agricultural and industrial projects.

The 4th International Forum on Investment Opportunities of East Azarbaijan, opened in Tabriz on Saturday morning. Some 400 domestic and foreign investors from 35 countries are participating in the event.

The Main objectives of the event are exchange of technical and commercial experiences by foreign investors, merchants and business people, participating in the conference, and promotion of investment.

Earlier this year, Iranian Economy Minister, Seyed Shamseddin Hosseini, called on the Islamic Development Bank to play a pivotal role in providing financial support for a joint hydroelectric energy projects among Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

The Iranian economy minister made the remarks in a meeting with IDB President, Ahmad Mohammad Ali, on the sidelines of the 38th Meeting of the IDB in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in late May. “Iran, as main shareholder of the IDB, expects more participation of the bank in its projects,” Hosseini said.

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Malaysia Also Promoting Other Regions Besides Iskandar

SINGAPORE, July 9 (NNN-Bernama) — While Iskandar Malaysia has been a major attraction to Singapore investors, the government is putting more effort into luring investors to other parts of Malaysia, says Minister of International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed.

“I might say that they (investors) are very excited about Iskandar Malaysia for obvious reasons particularly due to its proximity (to Singapore) coupled with aggressive promotion for the region.

“Iskandar Malaysia has gained a lot of attraction in Singapore, but the republic’s investors are also in the Klang Valley, Penang, and we hope they go to the East Coast, Sabah and Sarawak,” he told reporters after meeting with six companies who are Iskandar Malaysia investors.

Earlier, Mustapa also had a luncheon meeting with the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) here today. Apart from Iskandar Malaysia, the country’s other economic regions are the Greater Klang Valley, Northern Corridor Economic Region, East Coast Economic Region, Sabah Development Corridor and Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy.

The minister said: “What is important is that we want to create greater awareness and more interest in other parts of Malaysia.”

In Sabah and Sarawak, he said, awareness is gradually building up with tourism and manufacturing investments mainly from Japan and Korea, while in the East Coast there is interest to set up a hotel in Kelantan.

Of his meeting with the SCCCI, Mustapa, who is on his third visit to the city-state this year, said: “They (SCCCI) have been asking us what additional incentives that Malaysia has to offer to motivate them to go to the other places. We told them cost would certainly be an issue, government facilitation, availability of labour would be an added advantage.”

He noted the purpose of his visit here is to continue the engagement with the Singapore business community and this has been going on for many years, adding Malaysia and Singapore enjoy very close bilateral ties.

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Iran-Iraqi Kurdistan Trade Ties Surpass $4bln

TEHRAN, July 11 (NNN-FNA) — The annual trade ties between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan region have exceeded $4bln in value, thanks to the two sides’ growing cooperation, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official announced.

“The annual trade transactions between Iraq’s Kurdistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran now stand at $4bln,” Kurdistan region’s Minister for Construction and Housing Kamran Ahmad said on Wednesday. He said that both sides, specially the Islamic Republic of Iran, are eager to further increase their trade relations with each other.

On Sunday, Iran and Iraq’s Kurdistan region signed an agreement to further expand mutual trade between the two sides.

Iranian Vice-President for International Affairs Ali Saeedlou said on Sunday that issues pertaining to joint investment, construction projects, transferring gas and electricity to Iraq and tourism were mentioned in the accord.

“Carrying out joint infrastructure economic projects with neighboring countries, particularly the friendly and brother country of Iraq, is one of the priorities of Iran,” Saeedlou added.

Iran and the Iraqi Kurdistan region have enjoyed growing ties ever since the overthrow of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, during the 2003 US invasion of the Muslim country.

A senior Iraqi Kurdish official announced in July 2012 that the value of the trade ties between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan region will exceed $4bln this year thanks to the two sides’ growing cooperation.

“This year, the maximum value of our trade activities will exceed $4bln and such a boost is certainly the result of further cooperation,” Representative of the Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Nazzem Dabbaq told FNA at the time, adding that the value of bilateral trade ties with Iran was $100mln in 2000.

He voiced Kurdistan’s willingness to boost trade ties with Iran, and noted, “The present and the future of Iran and Kurdistan are tied to each other. They should always have continued contacts with each other.”

Also in July 2012, Deputy Head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Barham Salih was in Iran to explore avenues for the further development of the bilateral relations between the two sides.

During the five-day trip, Salih discussed consolidation of PUK relations with Iran as well as the role, importance and expansion of Iraq’s ties with the Islamic Republic.

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Iran, Turkmenistan To Launch Direct Flights, Facilitate Border Transit

TEHRAN, July 11 (NNN-FNA) — Iranian and Turkmen officials in a series of recent meetings in Ashgabat agreed to launch several direct flights between the two countries and facilitate their border transit. Deputy Iranian Road and Urbanization Minister Shahriyar Afandizadeh told FNA that the agreement was made in a conference in Ashgabat on July 8-9.

“Iran raised the proposal for launching flight routes between the two countries and it was welcomed by the other side,” Afandizadeh said on Wednesday. Tehran and Ashgabat also agreed to facilitate visa requirements for the truck drivers transiting goods between the two countries, he added.

Afandizadeh said that the two sides also underlined the rapid launch of Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan- Iran railway. The joint railway network, dubbed as the Caspian Sea Eastern Rail Corridor, is more than 900 kilometers in length, including 140 kilometers in Kazakhstan, 700 kilometers in Turkmenistan, and 90 kilometers in Iran.

Iranian Minister of Road and Urbanization Ali Nikzad underlined in May that the joint railway connecting national networks of Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan will become operational soon. The railway will link Iran to Turkmenistan and then to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and will connect the CIS countries with the Indian Ocean and high seas and the Persian Gulf littoral states.

The primary agreement on the construction of the rail link among Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan was signed between presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan in April 2007 in the city of Turkmenbashi and its final agreement was signed in a summit meeting in Tehran in September of the same year by the three presidents.

The total route of the railway is 1,000 kilometers, of which 90 kilometers would be in Iran, 700 kilometers in Turkmenistan and 210 kilometers in Kazakhstan. The railway facilitates transportation of goods from the Central Asian countries to the Persian Gulf.

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Guyana, Suriname To Join Latin Mercosur Bloc

MONTEVIDEO, July 11 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Guyana and Suriname will join MERCOSUR as associate members, at the regional trading bloc’s summit Friday.

Valeria Csukasi, director for integration of Uruguay’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said, with Guyana and Suriname, an agenda in the areas of cooperation and commercialisation will be established, Prensa Latina reported.

At the summit in Montevideo, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, chair pro tempore, will transfer the chairmanship to his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro.

Paraguay’s membership will be reinstated, but the new government in Asuncion is placing conditions for rejoining the regional group.

MERCOSUR has two political statuses: Full members, defined as those who participated in its creation in 1991 — Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil — and partners: Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. Venezuela joined the organisation in July.

This is the first time that Guyana and Suriname have moved towards South American integration. The two countries were former British and Dutch colonies respectively and were more or less isolated from their South American neighbours.

To this day, there is no air connection between Guyana and Suriname with other South American countries, except with Belem, Brazil.

Ten years ago there were hardly any trade and commerce with their South American neighbours; however, this all changed after former presidents Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Lula Da Silva (Brazil) and Nester Kirchner (Argentine) initiated the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

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Uganda: Mburo Will Impress You

New Vision – 8 July 2013 – The attractions at Lake Mburo National Park will interest even the most sophisticated person. The long list comprises nature walks conducted on foot with a guide to furnish guests with knowledge about butterflies, flora and fauna. There is also the boat ride and horse riding, which are interesting activities.

For photograph fanatics, the park offers spectacular views of the park’s terrain and wildlife. Visitors ride close to the animals either with their private cars or cars on hire. The park also has the long horned Ankole cow, which is under threat of extinction.

The cattle graze along other wildlife like the burchellis zebras, buffalos, duikers, oribi, bush pigs and antelopes. There are also jackals, vervet monkeys and olive baboon. Another thriller here is exploring the eastern shores of Lake Mburo by boat at the lakeside campsite near Rwonyo.

Stay warned, though, there are huge crocodiles and hippopotamus during the thrilling two-hour voyage. The bird species include pelicans, herons, cormorant fish eagles and the shoe bill storks. Fishermen with their own equipment may fish in the Lake under an arrangement.

A network of game tracks along which a variety of savannah animals and birds can be sighted serves the eastern side of Lake Mburo. There are the zebras that frequent the grassy valley floors. This connects to the Ruroko track, which passes rock kopjes, home to the elusive klipspringer.

In the south of the park, the lakeside track passes through dense woodland. It is also an opportunity to see bushbuck and bush duiker. This gives the park a panoramic view.

Though small, this tract of forest on the western side of Lake Mburo provides a taste of the tropical high forest with closed canopy and is home to a variety of forest bird species. Rubanga can be explored with a ranger guide.

Lake Mburo National Park is right on the western highway between Masaka and Mbarara. Only 228 km away from Kampala, it measures 370sq km in size, but it is endowed with vibrant landscapes. There is gallery forest, then an open savannah and acacia woodland, rock Kopjes, seasonal and permanent swamps and open water. Given its proximity to DR Congo and Tanzania, it a favourite regional conference destination.

There are two gateways to the park from the Mbarara Road. Approaching from Kampala then turning to Nshara gate is 13kms past Lyantonde. The junction for Sanga gate is at Sanga Trading Centre, 27kms past Lyantonde. Both junctions are clearly sign posted, it is about 20 minutes drive from either gates to Rwonyo. Plans are underway to pen the Katengyeto gate from Biharwe near Mbarara Town and Igongo Cultural Centre.


Uganda Wildlife Authority provides a range of budget accommodation in the park. Permanent tents are available at the Buffalo tented camp. There is also a campsite positioned on the Lake shore. Up market accommodation are found at Arcadia Cottages and Mantana tented camp on top of a hill only 3.5km north of Rwonyo and at Mihingo Lodge.

Education Centre

The park has a Conservation Education Centre, 1km west of Sanga gate. This provides accommodation and an education hall for school groups, visitors, seminars and workshops.


For information on fees for park entrance and activities, please refer to the UWA tariff sheet. The current tariff 2011-13 is valid until the end of December 2013. 20% of all park entry fees are shared with communities living in the park boundary in order to spread the benefits of eco-tourism and generate local support for conservation

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Nigeria: ‘Tourism Corporation in Rebranding Process’

Daily Trust – 7 July 2013 – Lagos — Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs Sally Mbanefo has promised to use the agency to drive the transformation agenda of the federal government in the country. Mbanefo who spoke in Lagos at the Garden and Flower Show in Lagos said the corporation has been refocused to deliver on this mandate as well as rebrand the nation’s tourism industry.

According to her, the refocused NTDC will be at the leading edge of harnessing the rich eco-diversity to fundamentally entrench domestic tourism as a necessary condition for encouraging international tourists to visit Nigeria.

She commended the organizers of the Show for uniting the societal dimensions of the Sciences, Arts and Commerce into one event for the discerning urbanites and tourists.

She said, “The NTDC will be counting on partners like the Garden and Flower Club of Nigeria to further our re-energized focus on using eco-tourism as one of the key sustainable differentiators for brand Nigeria.”

Speaking at the event, initiator of the WinihinJemide Series, and president of the Garden and Flower Club of Nigeria, Mrs Winihin Ayuli Jemide said the garden show comes as part of efforts to encourage a culture of gardening and also to provide a platform where gardening related businesses can network with a view to evolving a plant and flower industry in Nigeria.

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Govt allocates Rp2 trillion to build Trans Sumatra

Thu, July 11 2013 – Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Radjasa here on Thursday said the government has allocated Rp2 Trillion from the State Budget to finance an early stage of Trans Sumatra toll road construction that will connect all provinces in Sumatra island.

“The government decides to accelerate the construction of Trans Sumatra toll road which is expected to start this September. The 2,700 kilometers-long road will connect provinces starting from Aceh (province in the northern tip of Sumatra island) to Lampung (province in southern tip of Sumatra island),” said the minister. He added state-owned contractor PT Hutama Kaya will be in charge to build the whole construction of the toll road.

Meanwhile Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto said a feasibility study has been conducted earlier. The government decided to divide the construction project into 23 segment where four out of the 23 will be built this September. Among the segments are those relating Medan city to Binjai area, Pekanbaru city to Dumai city, Indralaya to Palembang city and Bakauheni to Terbanggi.

Construction of the Trans Sumatra Toll Road extending between the northern and southern tips of the island is estimated to cost Rp300 trillion. The 2,000 km toll road will not use existing roads and will not need relocation of houses, a director at the public works ministry Subagyo said.

The cost will be cheaper as it would use lands belonging to state plantations and unused lands, Subagyo said. “Plantation companies would be more than eager to offer a small part of their land for the project as it would greatly facilitate the transport of their commodities,” he said.

In Java, implementation of toll roads are often delayed and costly because of difficulty in land clearing. “We have submitted proposal for the toll road construction program using mainly unoccupied lands,” he said.

The long term program to be completed in 2025 will boost economic development in Sumatra, he said.

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Silk Air opens direct flights from Singapore to Semarang

Thu, July 11 2013 – Semarang (ANTARA News) – Silk Air Airline has opened direct flights from Singapore to Semarang which the first flight will be launched on July 29. “The assurance has been conveyed by Silk Air management to Central Java administration through the Culture and Toursim Agency,” Head of Marketing at the Central Java Culture and Toursim Agency Trenggono said here on Thursday.

He explained the direct flight could boost the number of foreign tourists visiting the capital city of Central Java. The official said airport in Singapore is a transit point for many foreigners from many parts of the world.

Through opening the direct flight, he further said foreigners are able to visit Semarang directly without transit in Jakarta. The company has prepared inauguration where they will launch the first flight on July 29.

Meanwhile, Manager of Silk Air Central Java Office Larry Lim said, “The flights are on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, by using Airbus 320 airplanes with a capacity 150 people.”

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Foreign tourists interested in nautical tourism in Papua

Mon, July 8 2013 – Biak, Papua (ANTARA News) – A number of foreign tourists have showed their interest in surfing at the nautical tourism of Sarwakar village, Supiori Sub-district, Papua Province, according to Vice Chairman of the Biak Tourist Guide Association (HPI) Rudolf Boy Ronsumbre.

The foreigners praised Sarwakar for its beautiful ocean that has the best view compared to other areas in Indonesia, Ronsumbre said here on Monday.

“The potential of sea panorama in Sarwarkar village should be maintained to lure tourists to enjoy the nautical tourism,” he said.

Ronsumbre said foreigners who often visited nautical tourism in Sarwakar were from Australia, the United States and Europe countries.

Members of the Biak HPI have planned to improve the knowledge and skills of the local community in an effort to give proper services to tourists.

“Marine tourism in Sarwarkar has the potential to become a surfing paradise for foreigners,” he added. He also hoped nautical tourism in Sarwakar could bring some benefits for local and surrounding communities.

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Serbian Film Festival to showcase Iran documentaries

July 5 2013 – Tehran (ANTARA News/IRNA-OANA) – Iran’s three documentaries were showcased at the 2013 International Festival of Tourist, Ecology, Sports and Culinary Films – MEFEST in Serbia. Saeid Nabi’s Anzali Pond, Ali Shahabi’s Nesal and Mostafa Shaban’s Wonders of Desert will be screened at this year’s Serbian festival held in the town of Brus.

Produced by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), all documentaries feature a number of ecological sites in Iran. Established in 1993, the festival presents varied programs, reliable aesthetics and social orientation. The participated films in MEFEST are required to be on tourism, ecology, sport and culinary. The 2013 MEFEST was held from July 11 to 14.

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Bangladesh President urges youth to visit museum to know their roots

DHAKA, July 8, 2013 (BSS) – President Abdul Hamid today urged the youth to visit the National Museum that preserves the country’s century-old history and tradition.

“I believe the young generation will visit museum and find their roots by acquiring knowledge through observing thousand years old country’s history and tradition as well as history of Bengali, Bangladesh and the War of Independence,” he said.

The President was addressing a function marking 100 years of the National Musuem in the museum’s auditorium in the capital. The President said the role of national museum is undeniable in projecting cultural tradition of the country worldwide through making a bridge between world and Bengali cultures.

“I believe Bangladesh National Museum will advance keeping rhythm with the world culture side by side with preserving local cultural heritage for facing challenge of 21st century,” he said.

President Abdul Hamid said he came to know that Museum was enriched with modern information technology as part of the implementation of the present government’s ‘vision 2021’. It creates opportunities to portrait the country’s unique history and cultural tradition in front of world arena in a new dimension, the President observed.

“I am happy to know that the museum has opened four new galleries for presenting the Great Language Movement, Mass Upsurge, Historic March 7 Address of Bangabandhu, glorious War of Liberation and true history of the post intendance era of the country,” he said.

President Abdul Hamid recalled Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with due respect saying that ‘the Bangladesh National Museum Project’ was taken by the initiative of Bangabandhu on July 1 in 1973.

Cultural Affairs Minister Abul Kalam Azad chaired the ceremony while Chairman of Bangladesh National Museum Board of Trustees M Azizur Rahman spoke as the special guest. Cultural Affairs Secretary Dr Ranjit Kumar Biswas and Bangladesh National Museum Director General Prakash Chandra Das also spoke on the occasion.

Later, President Abdul Hamid unveiled commemorative coin, note and stamps marking the 100-year celebration of the museum.

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Bangladeshi Herbal medicine can tap global market

DHAKA, July 6, 2013 (BSS)- As the global market of herbal medicine is growing very fast with the WHO forecasts three trillion dollar market in 2020, Bangladesh can tap the potential with hundreds of its medicinal plants, said researchers.

Bangladesh has nearly 550 medical plants with more than 300 of those are now in common use in the preparation of traditional medicines in the country, they said, adding that Bangladesh has a market of about Tk 330 crore worth traditional and herbal products annually.

The researches came up with this observation at a daylong international conference that brought together renowned researchers from different countries of the world to Khulna, who discussed the latest updates of natural products in medicine and their uses in health care systems.

Prof. Dr. Mohammad Fayek Uzzaman, Vice Chancellor of Khulna University opened the conference titled ‘Updates on Natural Products in Medicine and Health Care Systems’ attended by renowned scientists from the UK, India and host Bangladesh’s different universities.

“The main objectives of the conference are to see and update the knowledge on the contributions of natural products, such as plants from the Sundarbans for example, to medicine and healthcare,” said Prof. Satyajit D Sarker, University of Wolverhampton, UK.

Prof. Sarker leads a team of collaborative research between Department of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering of Khulna University (KU) and Department of Pharmacy of University of Wolverhampton (UoW), which has been carried out by a research grant from INSPIRE of the British Council.

The three-year research collaboration has explored the bio- prospecting potentials of the plants from the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans.

In order to share the experiences and learn further from other scientists of the field from across the globe, KU’s Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Discipline has arranged the daylong International Conference on Saturday at CSS Ava Center here.

The main partner from KU’s Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Discipline and Convener of the Conference Dr Morsaline Billah said identifying recent advances in analytical techniques for natural products research and public perception and uses of natural products based traditional medicine is also the focus of the papers of the conference.

Addressing a plenary session, Prof. ABM Faroque of Dhaka University’s Pharmacy Faculty and President of Bangladesh Pharmaceutical Society said natural compounds are contributing towards medicine and healthcare systems and their uses are not really declining.

“In Bangladesh, if we consider traditional medical knowledge and home remedies as a baseline, natural products and traditional medicine is being used possibly by 80 percent of our population,” he added.

Prof Sitesh C. Bachar of Dhaka University’s Department of Pharmaceutical Technology said the government should extend more funds and other forms of support for the development of the traditional systems of medical care since these are popular for effectiveness of treatment and relative safety.

Bangladesh has a market of about Tk 330 crore worth traditional and herbal products annually. WHO has forecasted in 2020 the global market will be of 3 trillion dollar and in 2050 it will be 5 trillion dollar, he added.

In the recent years, traditional medicine and their relevance to public health have drawn considerable interests both in developed and developing countries.

Diversity, flexibility, easy accessibility, broad continuing acceptance in developing countries and increasing popularity in developed countries, relative low cost, low levels of technological input, relative low side effects and growing economic importance have attributed as some of the positive features of traditional medicine, according to Prof. Satyajit D Sarker.

In this context, mainstreaming traditional medicine into public health care to achieve the objective of improved access to healthcare facilities needs to be apprehended, he added.

The conference saw scientific papers in topics that include: Biodiversity and bioprospecting; Ethnobotany; Pharmacology of Natural Products; Isolation and Characterization of Natural Products; Synthesis of Natural Products; Bioactivity and Biotechnology; Phytochemical analysis; Metabolomics in natural products research; Product Development and Commercialization; Marine Natural Products and Other Topics; Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Traditional Medicine and Herbal Medicine.

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Peace Caravan tours southern Kyrgyzstan

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-07-10 OSH – The Peace Caravan is under way in Southern Kyrgyzstan, travelling from Batken to Bishkek (June 19 to July 19) in a bid to strengthen inter-ethnic harmony.

Conflict Mitigation through Targeted Analysis and Community Action in Kyrgyzstan (COMTACA) and France’s Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development (ACTED) are supporting the event as it passes through the country’s three southern oblasts.

“The purpose of the Peace Caravan is to attract public attention to conflict issues and to show that we can come together as friends to prevent future conflicts,” Mary-Rose O’Brien, COMTACA project manager, told Central Asia Online. “The Peace Caravan finds creative ways to show the toll that conflict takes on communities.”

The Peace Caravan celebrates the cultural diversity and traditions of Kyrgyzstan’s southern regions, raises awareness of regional issues, and promotes peace and ethnic tolerance, she said.

“Various representatives at the district, oblast and national levels are involved in our project,” she said, noting that Peace Caravan organisers work closely with them. “They help identify the conflict issues and work with community members to find ways to mitigate them.”

The main event of the Peace Caravan – a festival that includes interactive exhibitions, food-tasting, and musical performances combined with dialogue on ways to identify and resolve inter-ethnic issues – took place June 30 in Osh. The attendees included local government officials, journalists, civil society and ACTED members, as well as residents of Osh city and Aravan, Alai, Nookat, and Kara-Suu districts.

During the event, young musicians and dancers performed on stage, showing off their talents including playing the komuz (a traditional Kyrgyz guitar), performing folk dances and songs, and reciting poems.

The caravan also provided an opportunity for community leaders, government officials, residents and activists to talk and to work together on issues such as irrigation and pasture management in roundtable discussions, organisers said.

The event also encouraged involvement by the community by hosting thematic competitions, such as the drawing contest “How I Envision the Problems Caused by Conflict in My Region” and interactive exhibits, such as one involving miniature models covering topics related to resolution of social conflict at the grass-roots level.

Engagement with international projects and events like the Peace Caravan do much to build ethnic tolerance, Abdinabi Karimov, director of the Department for Social Issues of the Allya Anarov village council in Aravan District, Osh Oblast, said.

“We have strong ties and good relationships with international organisations, which help us in a variety of ways to prevent conflict and raise the standard of living,” Karimov said. “They invite us to various events that help boost friendship among ethnic groups. In our region we have different ethnic groups who live in peace and harmony as one community.”

Members of local ethnic communities play an active role in conflict resolution projects, Zuhra Hapizova, a Peace Caravan participant and a member of a conflict prevention working group from Kara-Suu District, told Central Asia Online.

“There are 16 people in our working group, including women, young people, respected elders, government officials, members of non-governmental organisations and local leaders,” Hapizova said. “We regularly hold roundtables and other meetings to identify problems and together we discuss ways to resolve them. Then we bring the problems of our communities to the attention of the oblast authorities.”

“I learned about the event on the internet, and … I came here with my daughter to watch members of different ethnicities perform together on stage,” Nazokat, an ethnic Uzbek woman, 35, told Central Asia Online. “These mini-festivals help cheer people up and improve relations between members of different ethnic groups. And besides that, it is simply fun,” she added.

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Baku to host second int’l puppet biennale in November

09 July 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Baku will host the second international puppet biennale “Fusion doll” at the Museum Center on November 5-10.

The event to be organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism aims to draw international puppetry organizations to cooperation with Azerbaijan.

The biennale will create opportunities for young Azerbaijani artists to demonstrate their works. It will also feature master classes by professionals.

We recall that the First International Baku Dolls Biennale was held at the Museum Center on Nov. 4-10, 2011. 19 doll masters from nine countries – Azerbaijan, Belarus, Czech Republic, Italy, France, Latvia (Riga Doll Museum), the Netherlands, Russia (Gallery Vahtanov), and Ukraine — joined the biennale.

Azerbaijan was represented by Elmira Abbasli, Tamilla Kurbanova, Parviz Huseynov and Irina Gundorina, as well as students of the DA ART studio — Farah Aliyeva, Nubar Shahbazova, Fidan Salakhova, and Alina Yusupova.

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3000 Saudi volunteers to serve pilgrims in Ramadan

Makkah, 29 Shaaban 1434/ 08 July 2013 (IINA) – Some 3,000 young Saudis have volunteered to provide services to Umrah pilgrims and visitors to the Haram Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan.

The services they are expected to provide include first aid, guidance, interpretation, delivery of iftar (fast-breaking) meals and any other assistance the pilgrims may need while visiting the Haram Mosque. Ibrahim Al-Zahrani, who regularly joins iftar services at the mosque, said it was a great honor to be part of the team rendering services to the visitors of the Haram during Ramadan. Mohammad Al-Otaibi has been a volunteer pushing wheelchairs of elderly and sick pilgrims for eight years continuously. Despite the fatigue from pushing wheelchairs amid huge crowds of people within the mosque complex, he feels contented, especially when a visitor supplicates for him.

Saleh Al-Zahrani has volunteered through Al-Ihsan charitable society and considers it a great honor to serve visitors to the Grand Mosque. He says the joy and happiness when a stranger from a far-off corner of the world supplicates for him is indescribable.

Wesam Fatani, a volunteer for two years, provides first aid services to visitors and cannot forget some very emotional situations he has experienced. He said once a Yemeni visitor was walking toward the Zamzam coolers to drink. He slipped and hit his head on the floor and passed out. His wife and two daughters were alarmed, and Fatani along with some colleagues administered first aid on the Yemeni and were able to revive him. Abdullah Al-Otaibi said he was overwhelmed by happiness when he was selected to serve pilgrims and visitors to the Haram.

Al-Otaibi said a visitor once handed him a child who was lost. He searched for more than two hours until he could find the child’s mother and handed him to her. He said he listened with great satisfaction when the mother supplicated for him. Al-Otaibi encourages all young men to volunteer to their services to visitors to the holy city.

The Haram mosque is the focal point of the Haj and Umrah pilgrimages and millions of Muslims from around the world visit the sprawling prayer complex throughout the year. The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and is required of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford the trip.

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China grants $700 million loan for new Khartoum airport

Khartoum, 30 Shaaban 1434/ 09 July 2013 (IINA) – China has granted Sudan a $700 million loan to build a new airport for the capital Khartoum, state media said on Monday, highlighting close ties between China and the sanctions-hit African country.

Sudanese officials signed a five-year loan with China’s Export Import Bank, a state bank which supports government policy, Sudan’s state news agency SUNA said. Work at the airport would start at the end of the year and last three years. The deal with Sudan comes at a time when airlines consider cutting back flights because of currency restrictions banning them repatriating profits. The central bank forces them to sell tickets to Sudanese in local currency, which has lost more than 100 percent against the dollar in the past two years. In March, Dutch carrier KLM, part of KLM-Air France, stopped flying to Sudan, a country under U.S. sanctions.

Until South Sudan’s secession in 2011, foreign airlines enjoyed a bonanza as Sudan was flush with oil revenues and Khartoum hosted an army of aid workers and U.N. officials, many of which have relocated to the South since then. Diplomats said China waited with the loan until Sudan agreed to allow South Sudan’s oil exports to transit through its Port Sudan port. Chinese firms dominate oilfields in both countries, and analysts say oil is partly used as payment for Chinese development aid

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Palestinian to launch $10 million Arabic online encyclopedia

Dubai, Wednesday, 01 Ramadan 1434/ 10 July 2013 (IINA) – A 75-year-old Palestinian businessman is on a $10 million mission to boost Arabic on the Internet, where it accounts for less than one percent of websites despite being spoken by one in 20 people worldwide.

If Talal Abu Ghazaleh, owner of the education and professional services firm Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization (TAG-Org), has his way, the end of this year will see the launch of Tagipedia, a free online Arabic encyclopedia with a million entries, Reuters reported.

“I see it as a means of building an Arab knowledge society, which is my mission in life … to contribute to the economic and social development of the Arab world,” he said. About 350 million people, or 5 percent of the world’s population, consider Arabic their first language, while hundreds of millions more are familiar with it through the Holy Qur’an. Yet only 0.9 percent of websites use Arabic, placing it 13th overall behind the likes of Polish and Dutch, according to the analysts W3techs.

“For a language with a great heritage and culture, that is very modest,” said the effervescent Ghazaleh, who says his company has spent more than $10 million developing Tagipedia over the past five years, and will fund its running costs, keeping it free of advertising.

TAG-Org, which has its headquarters in Jordan and 80 offices around the world, began as an accounting firm and has diversified into other sectors including education, information technology, intellectual property and legal services.

Ghazaleh describes the website as an act of philanthropy. Unlike Wikipedia, whose content is created by users, Tagipedia will have a more traditional form, with all entries vetted for accuracy and relevance before publication. Ghazaleh expects it to have 1 million entries by launch, compared to Wikipedia’s 235,000 or so articles in Arabic.

“Wikipedia is a great innovation and it helped collect, store and disseminate knowledge, but there has always been a call for enhancing the Arabic content on the Internet.” University students have been researching the entries, which are then vetted by academics and Tagipedia’s in-house experts.

The United States led the Internet’s growth, which remains skewed towards languages with Latin alphabets, and English in particular. Only 10 percent of Internet users in the Arab world can interact with English websites, according to Fadi Chehade, chief executive of ICANN, a group that manages some of the Internet’s key infrastructure.

“What about the other 90 percent?” he said. “Some don’t even have English keyboards.” This may have contributed to Arabic speakers’ relatively small online presence; in 2011, 29.8 percent of people in Arab states were using the Internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union. This compares with 69 percent in Europe and 53 percent in the Americas.

Yet cyberspace, particularly social media, played a big role in nurturing and coordinating the Arab Spring uprisings that ultimately led to the exit of long-standing rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Aware that other countries including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have tried to nip such trends in the bud by controlling Internet use, sometimes prosecuting bloggers, Ghazaleh is keen that Tagipedia should avoid political or religious controversy.

“Tagipedia is a library, no one has the right to post any information without verification. The content is vetted for data to be correct, useful and non-offensive to any person, authority, religion, culture or community,” he said. “We have always refused donations or funding because we want to keep our independence.”

From late 2013, ICANN will start to release about 1,500 new generic top level domain names (gTLDs) – existing examples include .com and .net – and the roughly 120 non-Latin script names will be given priority, including include some in Arabic.

Although a welcome development, these will not necessarily lead to a sudden increase in Arabic language websites. Some countries including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates already have Arabic country domain names that are little used. “What we’re missing in the Middle East is not so much the domain names as the industry that enables these names to actually flourish,” said ICANN’s Chehade.

Britain has thousands of Internet domain name resellers, he said, while the Arab world has about five. For a truly Arabized internet, domain names must also read from right to left, not left to right, which only some search engines allow. But above all, there is a need for Arabic content.

“The problem is that beyond newspaper websites we don’t have many other sites focusing on the Arabic language,” said Hamza Aboulfeth, the head of Genious, a Moroccan Internet domain registrar that hosts about 20 top Arabic language websites. “We don’t see new Arabic applications, we don’t see new start-ups dedicated to the language. It’s not just about having an Arabic website address – we need to create content that people want.”

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Part of expanded Haram Mosque opened

Makkah, 01 Ramadan 1434/ 10 July 2013 (IINA) – King Abdullah has ordered the opening of the ground floor, the first floor, the first mezzanine of the new expanded building of the Haram Mosque, as well as the north, south and west outer squares of the expanded area to accommodate 400,000 more worshipers during the holy month of Ramadan.

This was announced by Finance Minister Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) yesterday. “These facilities have the capacity to accommodate an additional 400,000 faithful during Ramadan, which marks the peak season of the Umrah pilgrimage,” he said. The expansion projects are being supervised by the Ministry of Finance. The new mosque structure, which is under construction, is part of the largest ever expansion in the history of the Haram Mosque, launched by King Abdullah in August 2011, at a cost of SR80 billion.

The total area of the existing Grand Mosque is 356,000 square meters with a capacity to accommodate 770,000 worshipers while the new expansion spreading over an area of 456,000 square meters will accommodate 1.2 million faithful. Courtyards of the mosque’s new expansion can hold more than 250,000 worshipers.

Assaf said the King’s order also covers making available of a total of 8,050 new toilets and ablution areas in addition to refrigerated Zamzam containers in the new building and its external courtyards. Escalators have also been readied to take people to toilets in the lower floor of the basement plaza. There is a facility for operating the air-conditioning system for the new structure in the ground floor of the building. Assaf said that the King also issued orders to open the ground and first floors of the expanded mataf (circumambulation area around the Ka’aba) for the faithful.

The temporary special mataf area for the elderly and people with special needs and those using wheelchairs will also be opened during Ramadan. Though the expansion would increase capacity of mataf from 48,000 to 130,000 per hour, the ongoing expansion work has reduced its capacity to 22,000 an hour, and this prompted the authorities to reduce the number of foreign Haj pilgrims by 20 percent and domestic pilgrims by 50 percent for the coming Haj. The new expansion will be linked with the existing mosque and masaa (the running area between Safa and Marwa) with a series of bridges.

The masaa expansion has already been completed and that increased its capacity from 44,000 to 118,000 pilgrims per hour. The Haram expansion project covers 400,000 square meters in the northwest and northeast of the Haram Mosque. It consists of three parts – construction of a new building; expansion and development of courtyards around the mosque, including walkways, tunnels and toilets; and development of service facilities for air-conditioning, electricity and drinking water. Real estate properties appropriated for the project are valued at more than SR40 billion

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‘Ramadan in Dubai’ Offers Visitors a Unique Cultural/Spiritual Experience

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), an agency of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing has announced the launch of the third successive ‘Ramadan in Dubai’, the second stage of its “Summer is Dubai” campaign aimed at positioning Dubai as the No.1 family tourism destination through a number of traditional and cultural activities inspired by the spirit and values of the Holy Month.

‘Ramadan in Dubai’ will transform the city, which is a melting pot of cultures, into a hub for Islamic, community, social and cultural activities that will focus on the Islamic values of compassion, giving and sharing. ‘Ramadan in Dubai’” will also provide people of different cultural backgrounds a valuable insight into Emirati hospitality, traditions and culture.

Dubai International Holy Quran Award

One of the main events of ‘Ramadan in Dubai’ is the Dubai International Holy Quran Award from 1-20 Ramadan, which is an annual award given for memorization of the Quran sponsored by the Government of Dubai. Dubai International Holy Quran Award will also feature a series of lectures highlighting Islamic values.

Ramadan Forum

Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing will organize the 12th Ramadan Forum from 12-23 July at Dubai World Trade Centre, featuring an inspirational line-up of educational and community activities, training workshops, and lectures by Islamic scholars in Arabic, English, Tagalog, Malayalam and Urdu.

Modhesh World

Modhesh World, the region’s largest indoor family edutainment venue, will be open throughout ‘Ramadan in Dubai’ and beyond till 28 August at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Modhesh World will be open during Ramadan from 12pm to midnight on all days except Fridays, when it will be open from 5pm to midnight.

Ramadan ambience

Visitors to Dubai will walk into a welcoming ambience right from the time they step off at Dubai International Airport with the attractive décor across the city capturing the essence of the Holy Month. Several leading hotels and other public places will be hosting Ramadan tents for those wishing to break their fast at Iftar, as well as having meals during Sohour.

A rewarding Ramadan

Visitors can continue to avail themselves of attractive discounts of up to 75% that are being offered by participating malls and over 6,000 retail outlets in Dubai. During ‘Ramadan in Dubai’, shoppers spending Dhs. 200 at a participating mall are entitled to participate in the “Summer is Dubai” Eid promotion to win a total of 1 Million dirhams worth of gold and 1 million dirhams worth of scratch and win gift vouchers. An ‘End of Season’ promotion that will follow will offer a grand prize of 1 million dirhams with the Millionaire raffle draw being scheduled for 7th September. In addition to making Ramadan shopping an enriching experience, leading hotels will also be offering family packages including one that allows children Under 12 to stay for free.

Dubai Sports World

The largest ever indoor sports festival, Dubai Sports World at Dubai World Trade Centre will offer sports enthusiasts of all ages to enjoy an unrivalled experience within a purpose built multi-sport arena throughout Ramadan till 21 August.

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Malayalam Book on Haj and Umrah launched in Jeddah

Jeddah, Thursday, 02 Ramadan 1434/ 11 July 2013 (IINA) – A book on Haj and Umrah, written by Jeddah-based journalist Hassan Cheruppa of Saudi Gazette English newspaper, was launched recently in Jeddah.

Indian Consul General Faiz Ahmed Kidwai released the book by giving a copy to Muhammad Alungal, Chairman and Managing Director of Al-Abeer Medical Group. Eminent Arab media figure and Editor-in-Chief of Saudi Gazette Khaled Almaeena was the Guest of Honor and prominent Indian scholar and General Secretary of All India Islahi Movement Dr. Hussein Madavoor was the special guest at the event, attended by leaders of a cross section of the community from the southern Indian state of Kerala. The function was presided over by Jaleel Kannamangalam, President of Jeddah Chapter of Indian Media Forum, which organized the event.

The 288-page book is titled “Haj Umrah: Makkayum Malayalipperumayum (Haj and Umrah: Makkah and the Kudos of Malayalis).” The book, written in the Indian language of Malayalam, gives readers a unique opportunity to have rare glimpses of the strong bonds that binds Saudi Arabia with India since centuries, apart from comprehensive coverage of the Haj and Umrah rituals as well as the Kingdom’s massive Haj operation.

In his speech, after launching the book, Kidwai said the book covers not only all aspects of the Haj and Umrah rituals but also a lot of history about relations between India and Saudi Arabia. “All of us know that the relations between the two great nations took its origin from Kerala thanks to the Arabs who went there for trade even before the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

“The first mosque which we had in India was in Kerala,” he said while commending the Keralites’ role in strengthening these relations, adding, “The credit for maintaining these relations also goes to the Keralite community.” Referring to the book, Kidwai said: “In India, there is a lot of literature and books on Haj, but a literature which comes from somebody who has been living here for over 15 years and who has practical knowledge and understanding is very interesting. It would benefit the pilgrims tremendously.”

Almaeena highlighted, in his speech, India’s unity in its diversity. Talking about the book, Almaeena said: “I believe the book would enlighten readers about Haj and related topics. I concur with Kidwai that this book should be translated into English and other languages so as to benefit pilgrims.”

After his receiving his copy of the book, Alungal said that the author draws an amazing picture of Haj and Umrah rituals through the book and has fulfilled a big social commitment. In his speech, Dr. Madavoor said the book touches almost all aspects of Haj and Umrah that the pilgrims should know about. He also spoke about his Phd thesis that focused on the contributions of 31 Indian scholars who migrated to Makkah and Madinah.

The author Hassan Cheruppa presented the book while V.M. Ibrahim, Executive Editor of Gulf Madhyamam daily, reviewed it. Earlier, the function started with a recitation of a few verses from the Qur’an by Hussein Baqawi. Media Forum Secretary Ebrahim Shamnad welcomed the gathering and former President Usman irumbuzhi gave the vote of thanks.

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New airport runway project will begin soon: President

Sun.mv – July 8, 2013 – President Dr Mohamed Waheed has said that major projects at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), including the construction of a new runway, will begin soon. The president said this at the ceremony held today to inaugurate a food court at the departure area in the airport.

He said that the airport was on its way to become a world class airport, and expressed confidence that the government would soon be able to acquire financing to build a new runway. “Just like world class resorts, the airport is also becoming a world class airport. And all these things are happening with the participation of Maldivians, by the new Maldivian management led by Mohamed Umar Manik and Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem,” he said.

President Waheed said that he was especially happy that the developmental efforts at the airport were being led by a Maldivian management team.

The President further stated that the food court was the first big project in a series of many projects that would follow in the development of the airport. He also expressed happiness over the fact that world famous brands are being introduced in the Maldives.

“First, it was Swensen’s that established an outlet here. Then Thai Express, Burger King and Coffee Club. We hope more brands will come here. Thank you for your work and your confidence in us,” he said.

He also underlined the developmental benefits of the project to the country, including employment opportunities, especially part-time, for many young Maldivians in the new outlets.

“A lot of students come from the atolls. There’s no way for them to earn money, and most of them don’t have enough money for their personal spending. Now, this facilitates that opportunity for those students,” he said, referring to the students of CHSE present at the ceremony.

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Qatar Airways introduces special Iftar boxes for Ramadan

Sun.mv – July 11, 2013 – Qatar Airways has announced to offer a specially designed Iftar box for guests who are fasting, for the breaking of the fast on board their flights, throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

In a press release, Qatar Airways said that the box consists of traditional and local healthy delights associated with the breaking of the fast, including water, laban, dates and Arabic sweets for the moment of Iftar.

In addition, the vegetarian’s iftar baskets include a Saaj bread wrap with char-grilled red pepper and courgette, crumbled feta cheese and spiced hummus, whereas the non-vegetarian’s iftar baskets includes a roasted chicken, peeled cucumber strips, zaatar seasoning and lemon and tahini dressing in a saaj bread wrap.

The box also includes crudities of carrot and cucumber baton, black olives and parsley featuring hummus, olives vegetables and olive oil with Arabic bread. A packet of the airline’s signature mixed fruit and nuts is also included together with a banana to complete the dining experience.

“Qatar Airways welcomes the tradition of the country whose people we represent. Ramadan is an important period for a vast number of our passengers and we are happy to meet their needs, offering them the high level of service they have been accustomed to,” said Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker.

Iftar boxes will be distributed on flights to selected destinations including Abu Dhabi, Alexandria, Algiers, Amman, Baghdad, Bahrain, Cairo, Dubai, Erbil, Istanbul, Jeddah, Khartoum, Kuwait, Madinah, Mashhad, Muscat, Najaf, Riyadh, Sanaa and Tehran.

Passengers who are not fasting will continue to enjoy Qatar Airways’ unrivalled 5-star service on all its flights to any one of the airline’s leisure and business destinations worldwide.

Qatar Airways has seen rapid growth in just 16 years of operations, currently operating a modern fleet of 127 aircraft to 128 key business and leisure destinations across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and South America.

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Explore Indonesia with Garuda new “Visit Indonesia Pass”

SINGAPORE – Indonesia’s national airline, Garuda Indonesia, invites travellers to explore the hidden gems in Indonesia with its newest promotion – the GA Visit Indonesia Pass. Travellers purchasing a Garuda ticket originating from Singapore can enjoy the unbeatable hop-on offer from now to 31 March 2014 to enjoy up to 70% off for flights to some of Indonesia’s top destinations.

With the convenient scheduling of Garuda Indonesia flights and its wide domestic network, travellers will be able to book the competitively-priced flights and travel across Indonesia with ease.

Travellers can take advantage of the ‘GA Visit Indonesia Pass’ to discover other interesting Indonesian destinations such as Makassar, Medan, Bandung, Semarang, Palembang and many more at up to 70% off on domestic flights.

Valid for travel from today till 31 March 2014, passengers will also enjoy the ‘Garuda Indonesia Experience’, which combines warm Indonesian hospitality with quality service that emphasizes both safety and comfort.

In Singapore, the special fares are available for purchase from 9am to 6pm at the Garuda Indonesia sales office at 101, Thomson Road, #12-03 United Square. Terms and conditions apply. Please call the reservation department at +65 6250 2888 for more details.

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Free meals help mosque show Islam to Japan

Kyodo, Jul 11, 2013 – As the Muslim monthlong fasting period known as Ramadan began Tuesday, Tokyo Camii, the largest mosque in Japan, began providing free “iftar” (evening meals) to 200 visitors, regardless of religion, to introduce residents to Islamic culture.

The first day began with “azan,” the Muslim call to prayer recited at dusk. Azan is called before every prayer to let people know it is going to start. Men and women from Turkey, Indonesia, Ghana and other nationalities and ages visited the mosque around 7 p.m. to pray.

The mosque in Shibuya Ward will be open to all during Ramadan, which ends on Aug. 7.

Fasting is obligatory for all Muslims during Ramadan, which requires them to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk. After sunset, all gathered in the hall for iftar, when Muslims are allowed to break fast. About 200 visitors were seated at 20 tables to sample offerings from bean soup to beef stew.

“(Fasting) allows me to improve myself,” said Benjdi El Mehdi, 27, a student from Morocco who was eagerly anticipating the meal. “In fact, it is fun.”

Iftar was originally practiced as a form of charity, as Muslims who served it to travelers and the poor believed they would be rewarded. Tokyo Camii adopted the custom a few years ago and offers the meals to people of all nations and beliefs.

“I came here because we’ve been learning about Islam at school,” said a 17-year-old high school student who was visiting the mosque with her friend. “I didn’t know the Muslims eat meat. I want to learn more.”

Iftar gave the student her first taste of Turkish food as well as a chance to communicate, albeit in gestures, with a woman from Brunei seated next to her.

The food is made by three chefs who came from Turkey just for the iftar event. They begin work before noon, and plan to serve 200 meals a day until the end of Ramadan in August.

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Three Malaysian Beaches Make It To The Top 50 Beaches In The World

KUALA LUMPUR, 9 JULY 2013: According to a survey conducted by renowned international news network CNN on the World’s 100 best beaches, three beaches in Malaysia made it to the top 50.

The three beaches are Tanjung Rhu in Langkawi, Kedah (ranked at No.49), Juara Beach in Tioman Island, Pahang (ranked at No.21), and Perhentian Kecil island, Terengganu (ranked at No.13).

The list was compiled from various sources taking into consideration feedback from travelers, colleagues and readers as well as on-site visits and research.

Tanjung Rhu in Langkawi, Kedah

According to the CNN report, “Most tourists on Langkawi flock to Pantai Cenang beach, but the quieter Tanjung Rhu has an earthy beauty and serene atmosphere. The long beach area is surrounded by ancient limestone caves, rippling waterways and dense mangroves.”

We love Langkawi for the breathtaking view from atop Gunung Mat Cincang, one of the islands highest mountains.

Juara Beach, Tioman Island, Pahang

“Less developed and less polished than Thailand, Tioman Island’s Juara Beach brings an all-natural, quiet vibe to the beach experience. This isn’t the place for parties or nightlife, unless you like your parties hushed and your nightlife nonhuman,” quoted CNN.

Tioman I sland is also a great place for adrenalin junkies who want a rock-climbing challenge at Nenek Semukut Mountain.

Perhentian Kecil Island, Terengganu

CNN wrote, “Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands are to beach bums what Kobe beef is to carnivores; once you’ve experienced it, nothing else quite matches up. The two main islands are the backpacker-happy Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian Island), and Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian Island), which has slightly more expensive accommodations.”

The highlight of Pulau Perhentian Kecil, according to CNN, is the blue waters which invariably contain turtles and small sharks.

More Fun in the Sun

Besides these three beaches, Malaysia has hundreds of tropical islands dotting its waters and countless picturesque beaches lining its shores, making it one of the region’s top destinations for sun, sea and sand holidays. Blessed with a tropical climate all year round and unparalleled natural beauty both on land and underwater, some of the world’s best islands and beaches can be found here. Here are the best beaches and islands according to the locals themselves.

Sipadan Island, Sabah

Sipadan is an internationally famous dive site surrounded by the Sulawesi Sea. The geographic position of Sipadan at the Indo-Pacific Basin (the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world) makes it a paradise for divers. The seascape is decorated with huge gorgonian sea fans, barrel sponges and gigantic soft tree corals. Steep walls form a stunning backdrop while pelagic species such as sharks and turtles swim gracefully. To preserve the delicate ecosystem, accommodation is only provided at the neighbouring islands of Mabul and Kapalai, tours must be pre-arranged. The nearest airport to Sipadan is Tawau. From Tawau, take an hour’s drive to Semporna before proceeding with a 40-minute speedboat ride to the island.

Mabul and Kapalai, Sabah

Situated just 25 minutes from Sipadan, Mabul is another gem in the Sulawesi Sea. However, the seascape in Mabul is starkly different, yet equally stunning. A diversity of tiny marine life makes Mabul a great site for macro and muck-diving. Kapalai is another great location for muck-lovers.

In fact, this little island is rated by many diving journalists as one of the best macro-diving destinations in the world. Just like Sipadan, the jumping-off point to Mabul and Kapalai is Semporna.

Cherating Beach, Pahang

Cherating is the location of Asia’s first Club Med. Fringed by the waters of the South China Sea, Cherating Beach offers a quiet holiday amidst a rustic atmosphere. The shore is lined by hotels and resorts catering to all budgets, from backpaker’s inns to luxury beach resorts. Just nearby is Kampung Cherating, a tranquil Malay village that sits prettily amidst swaying palms and tropical vegetation. Cherating Beach is about 47km north of Kuantan. Other popular beaches in the vicinity are Chendor, Teluk Chempedak and Balok.

Must do: Go catamaran sailing, try kayaking, brave the waves and go windsurfing, watch fascinating cultural activities at the Cherating Cultural Complex, visit the Turtle Sanctuary, take a river cruise along the mangroves, watch how crafts are made at the Cherating Village.

Redang Island, Terengganu

Situated about 45km off the coast of Terengganu, Redang island is the largest of the state’s islands. It is famous for its picture-postcard views and fabulous dive sites. The most popular stretch is the 800m Long Beach. It has one large resort and many smaller chalets lining the shore. Further away on the northeastern coast is Teluk Dalam Kecil, a sheltered cove that houses a five-star resort.

Must do: Go snorkeling at the Marine Park, explore the 31 dive sites on the island, take a walk along the breathtaking Long Beach, play beach volleyball, and enjoy a jungle walk to see monkeys, squirrels and birds.

Lang Tengah Island, Terengganu

Hailed as one of Terengganu’s best-kept secrets, Lang Tengah is a smaller, more secluded getaway located between the islands of Redang and Perhentian. From the time you arrive, the magic of Lang Tengah will enchant you – the waters are crystal clear, the view stunningly beautiful and the atmosphere totally peaceful. There are only three resorts on this island, giving visitors total relaxation and lots of privacy. There are about 15 dive sites around Lang Tengah, all within 10 minutes boat ride from one another.

Pangkor Island, Manjung, Perak

Tucked within this idyllic tropical island on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia are attractions such as the historic Dutch Fort, Batu Bersurat, fishing villages, traditional boatyards, places of worship and popular beaches like Pantai Puteri Dewi, Pantai Pasir Bogak and Teluk Nipah. This island can be explored on foot or by vehicle and its surrounding turquoise warm waters are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and fishing. A short boat ride takes you to the privately-owned Pangkor Laut island. Here, you will find the exclusive Pangkor Laut Resort, one of the world’s top small luxury resorts.

Must do: Savour fresh and delicious seafood, watch boats being built at the boatyards, sample seafood snacks, go for a round-island trip.

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Sheikha Arwa Al Qassimi and Sightsavers Work for Benefits of Disabled

Mumbai (PRWEB) July 09, 2013 – Sheikha Arwa Al Qassimi and Sightsavers have come together for the benefits of disabled. The duo is going to organise fundraiser events to raise money for visually disabled persons. This development has given hope to the millions of visually impaired.

“Ability of Disability – A Night of Melody” is one such event that will soon be organized in Mumbai to raise funds. The organization expects a large number of gathering to donate for this cause. The event will showcase performances by artistes who are disabled and also by some of the popular stars from the country.

A representative from the organizing committee confirmed the event and said, “The musical event is organized by Sheikha Arwa and the proceeds will help Sightsavers in its vision to eradicate avoidable blindness and provide equal opportunities for persons with visual impairments.”

The events are one of its kinds, and are predicted to collect huge amount in donations that will go to the Sightsavers for helping the visually impaired persons. Sightsavers aims to eradicate the visual disability from the country through deploying latest techniques in this field.

“We have been doing such fundraisers in many countries mainly the third world, especially the African countries. Our prime objective is to help the needy and do the best possible for them. These people are challenged by their vision and many have the curable error but cannot afford to spend on its treatment. It an effort where would try and help most of them see this beautiful world with their own eyes,” said a participant from the event.

In these times of wars and deceits all around us, this move has come as a good gesture from Her Highness and Sightsavers representing the value of humanity in today’s time. It is going to be a melodious evening for the people in the city and a large crowd is expected to attend and donate in this event. The event proves that it only takes passion and dedication of one person, no matter how small or large, to do something for one in need of help and support.

The Ability of Disability event gives hope to the marginalized. It sets an example that anybody in any part of the world could choose an important cause, support it and lead the way instead of waiting for other people to take action.

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Over 250 Reasons to Go Green This Ramadan

New York, NY (PRWEB) July 09, 2013 – The essence of Ramadan lies in complete devotion to Allah. During this period, Muslims seek forgiveness for sins and engage in charity and focus on good deeds. On the occasion of Ramadan 2013, 123Greetings.com supports the sentiments of this festival and enables everyone to send free, environment friendly wishes to friends and family. Last year, over 135,000 wishes were sent from 123Greetings.com, which goes to show that people appreciate using greener options for celebrations.

From the joyful festival greetings, enjoyable feast of Iftar to the spiritual messages and religious blessings that symbolize health and prosperity for all, 123Greetings.com has over 250 different expressions across eight different categories to enable users to send true expressions to anyone during this period.

Arvind Kajaria, Founder of 123Greetings.com, says “Ramadan is a period of devotion and dedication to Allah. It is also a time to engage in activities that benefit others. Our service enables users to benefit the environment without taking the values of emotional bond away from exchanging greetings. Our ecards help convey messages of harmony, reverence and togetherness. We wish Muslims Ramadan Mubarak and hope everyone enjoys the festival.”

123Greetings.com is the world’s leading online destination for human expressions reaching 95 million visitors annually. Drawing from its tag line “Free Greetings for the Planet” the service exemplifies the notion that the best things are free in our planet and so should wishes, greetings and personal expressions be. Its offering of over 37,500 greeting cards covers a mix of 3,000 seasonal & everyday categories.

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