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29 Jul, 2013

Ramadan in Turkey in the eyes of an Indonesian

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Muqbil

A compilation of stories of interesting events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 29 July 2013 (21 Ramadaan 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.



Pakistani businessman sets up first sect-free mosque in Islamabad

Islamabad, Saturday, 11 Ramadan 1434/ 20 July 2013 (IINA) – A Pakistani businessman has set up what he calls the first sect-free mosque in Islamabad — to enable worshippers to perform prayers under the same roof without discriminating along sectarian lines.

Zahid Iqbal reportedly conceived the idea in 2010 but it took him a long time to realize his dream after he bought a plot for the project at the foot of the Marglla Hills near Islamabad. At first, authorities refused to register it as a sect-free mosque as under Capital Development Authority rules, every mosque has to declare its sect following before being granted permission to build the mosque. To bypass the rules, he registered a trust and then sub-registered the mosque under the trust’s banner: The Al Kitaab Foundation Trust. With the support of other businessmen and overseas Pakistanis, the 2-kanal compound has been built at a cost of Rs30 million.

According to a newspaper report, Iqbal has already found an Imam for the mosque — Qari Jehangir, who is currently doing his Master’s degree at the Islamic University. The coordinator of the mosque is doing his MBA from Preston University. Both men are in their twenties and are from different sects — and the mosque administration says it will have no problem if a Shia Imam leads prayers. The businessman told the newspaper that branding Islam along sectarian lines has done much to damage the religion. “By branding ourselves on sectarian lines we have even put non-believers to shame through violence and unruly conduct,” the businessman said. He believes that there are elements who turn religion into a business for personal gains.

Calling his prayer hall a ‘model mosque’, said: “This is God’s house. Even non-Muslims are allowed to come and seek the light.” In addition, the mosque, located in Islamabad’s E-11/2 sector, not only invites all sects, but also has a separate section for women and a library filled with religious books from all sects.

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New Delhi hosts exhibition of Holy Qur’an calligraphy, Islamic arts

Jul 27, 2013 – Indian capital city of New Delhi has hosted an exhibition on Holy Qur’an and Islamic arts held at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, Press TV has reported. A collection of calligraphy works along with different crafts featuring Qur’anic arts were showcased at the event.

The exhibition also presented some other art pieces such as illumination, book decoration, engraved and embossing elaborate designs, patterns and shapes on metals. Rare collection of longest and smallest types of Qur’an with inscribed verses on animal skin, paper, metals and bones were exhibited.

The exhibition was organized by the Centre of Iran Culture House in New Delhi in collaboration with Noor International Microfilm Center. It was held to highlight the significance of the holy book Qur’an as well as to introduce calligraphy as a real art that represents the cultural heritage of India and Iran.

The exhibition was also to show how calligraphy developed in the Muslim world.

See Pictures: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/07/27/315793/new-delhi-mounts-quran-exhibition/

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Kelantan Tourism Malaysia To Promote Uniqueness Of Ramadan

KOTA BAHARU, July 28 (Bernama) — Kelantan Tourism Malaysia in cooperation with Firefly airlines is organising a Ramadan Ihya programme to promote the uniqueness of Kelantan in conjunction with Ramadan, this year. Its deputy director, Kamal Azam Kamaruddin said among the contents of the programme would be a visit to the Tomb of Tok Selehor and Kampung Laut Mosque.

The programme is aimed at promoting products which can be of attraction to foreign tourists,” he said when met after the flagging off a Volkswagen convoy from the compound of a hotel, here, Sunday. Kamal Azam said 30 participants from the department nationwide are touring several places of interest around Kota Baharu and Tumpat in Volkswagen Beetle cars and Kombis, in cooperation with the Kelantan Classic Volkswagen Owners Club.

The programme which started on Thursday will end today.

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Obama hosts Ramadan dinner, salutes Muslim Americans

AP, Friday 26 July 2013 – WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama saluted Muslim Americans on Thursday for their contributions in helping build the United States as business entrepreneurs, technology innovators and pioneers in medicine.

Obama spoke at a White House dinner he hosted to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The meal, or iftar, breaks the day of fasting when Muslim families and communities eat together after sunset.

Obama said Ramadan is “a time of reflection, a chance to demonstrate ones devotion to God through prayer and through fasting, but it’s also a time for family and friends to come together.”

He said it is a White House tradition to celebrate sacred days of various faiths, adding that these occasions celebrate diversity that defines the country and reaffirms the freedom to worship.

Obama said Americans and people in the Middle East also have a common goal for economic opportunity and entrepreneurship.

“We work a little harder, we aim a little higher and we keep striving to create more opportunity for our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Of course this isn’t just the American dream, it’s the aspiration of people around the world. It’s the basic, human desire for progress, to find dignity that comes from work to give our children something better.”

He said these yearnings for economic freedom and opportunity, just as much as political freedom, “are at the root of so much of the change we’ve seen around the world in the past few years, including in North Africa and in the Middle East.”

Obama was joined by members of his administration, elected officials, religious leaders and members of the diplomatic corps as he hosted his fifth iftar in the State Dining Room.

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Mecca To Be Smart City – Mayor

MECCA, July 23 (Bernama) — Mecca, one of Islam’s holiest cities, is being turned into a smart city through a massive upgrading exercise carried out by the Saudi Arabian government since the end of last year’s Haj season.

The plan that includes housing, transportation, catering, shopping and historical sites will ensure that Muslims from all over the world can have a safe and nice journey when they perfom Haj or Umrah in this holy city.

Mayor of Mecca, Dr Osama Al-Bar said as part of the plan to make Mecca a modern city, two mega projects were being undertaken for the city as a whole, besides special projects such as the expansion of the Masjidil Haram (Grand Mosque).

He said the first project was to complete all the road construction that had started in 2010 and expected to be completed by 2017.

“Another project is the public transportation network for metro lines and buses. The metro network will consist of four lines. Hopefully, the first phase of the execution will start in June 2014.

“The total link of the network is around 182 km and it will have 88 stations. That will cover the whole of Mecca..north to south, east to west. Every place will be covered by this network,” he told Malaysian reporters when met at his office, here.

He said for the metro lines, two-thirds of the network would be over ground while one-third, which is in the central area and near Masjidil Haram, would be underground.

As for the Masjidil Haram, Al-Bar said after certain parts of the great mosque had been expanded since last year, it could now accommodate 400,000 people for prayers during this Ramadan.

The three-year expansion work started just after Haj in mid-November last year. When the whole expansion project is completed, the capacity will be for more than 1.5 million people up to a total of almost two million.

The mayor believed that the capacity of the expanded mosque could accommodate the congregation for at least 20 years.

“There is an increasing number for Muslims coming here from all over the world for Haj and Umrah, as the financial situation of the Muslim states and our Muslim brothers is good.

“This is the most comprehensive expansion for the Masjidil Haram in history. When King Abdullah was appointed as the King of Saudi Arabia in August 2005, the first project he started was the expansion of the Mas’aa (an area to perform Saie).

“The project was completed two years ago. After that, the capacity of the Mas’aa was increased from around 28,000 pilgrims per hour up to 130,000 per hour,” he said.

Al-Bar said increasing the capacity of the Mataf, an area for tawaf around the Ka’aba, had also now become crucial.

“This is a new project. When completed, the Mataf can accommodate around 48,000 up to 130,000 pilgrims per hour.”

On the project for a high-speed train between Medina and Mecca which would be completed in two years’ time, Al-Bar said it would reduce the travel time to two hours compared to five hours by road.

“Mecca and Medina are always special. King Abdullah, as the custodian of the two holy cities, knows these are the most important places for Muslims.

“It is an opportunity to help our fellow Muslims in their journey when they perform Haj or Umrah. This is an investment for the future for all Muslims, and not only for the Saudi Arabians. Saudis represent only a small portion,” he said.

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Medina To Be Redeveloped After Haj This Year

MEDINA, July 25 (Bernama) — The Saudi Arabian government will redevelop Medina in line with the development currently being carried out in Mecca as part of efforts to provide better services to Muslims all over the world that come to the two holy cities to perfom the Haj, Umrah And Ziarah.

The massive upgrading of Medina City, especially the Prophet Mosque (Nabawi), will start immediately after the Haj season this year.

Ministry of Haj Deputy General Manager (Madinah) Mohammad Al-Arabi said following the three-year redevelopment exercise started in Mecca after the Haj season last year, it was time for Medina to see the same massive upgrading process.

“As you know, there have been great projects in Mecca, the expansion of the grand mosque, now it’s time for Medina (Nabawi Mosque). The expansion plan has already been approved by the king (King Abdullah).

“It will continue in parallel. It will be a full expansion. From 800,000 people (congregators) to 1.6 million in the mosque. The early process actually had started. It will continue without taking a toll on the capacity of people staying in Medina,” he told Malaysian reporters here.

Earlier, he had a discussion with Tabung Haji group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Ismee Ismail.

Mecca is currenty undergoing a massive redevelopment plan. This involves the expansion of Masjidil Haram, including demolishing part of the Grand Mosque to extend the praying space.

The ‘mataf’, an area around the Kaabah, will also be expanded to enable the number of pilgrims performing the tawaf (circumbulation) around Kaabah to increase from 48,000 to 130,000.

Due to the upgrading of haj facilities in Mecca, Saudi Arabia had to reduce the number of pilgrims from all over the world this year by 20 percent and its pilgrims by 50 per cent to ensure the safety and comfort of the pilgrims.

Meanwhile, Al-Arabi said the Ministry of Haj had taken all the comments from previous haj pilgrims and trying to improve services for the coming haj season.

“This year we concentrate mainly on how do we really want the haj pilgrims to be fully satisfied. We want to get closer to the pilgrims…with due respect to the haj affairs. We are listening to them as our customers.

“We really want their trip to be safe. We also don’t want them to spend much time on procedures especially at the airport and reception counters. We want them just to head straight to their hotel. We just want them to feel linked directly to Allah. Pilgrims come from all over the world just to achieve this,” he said.

He said as part of the process to improve their services, they wanted to be close to the pilgrims and they also wanted to know the impact on and value of the services provided to the pilgrims besides the pilgrims’ opinion.

“We also want to know their problems. There will always be some problems. We want to improve the procedure,” he said.

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Malaysian Airlines Offering Over 13,000 Extra Seats For Eid-Ul Fitr Travel

KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 (Bernama) — Malaysia Airlines will be operating 80 extra and 36 upgraded flights between Kuala Lumpur and cities within Malaysia and South East Asia to meet increasing air travel demand for Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations. These flights, to operate from Aug 3 to Aug 18, will offer an additional total capacity of 17,310 seats.

Travellers can book their tickets effective today, the national carrier said in a statement Friday. Among the destinations to enjoy the extra flights are Kota Baharu and Sibu, with a total of 3,168 and 1,660 seats, respectively, it said.

“A further additional capacity of 1,404 seats are available through the upgrade of existing flights between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. Flights to five sectors departing from Kuala Lumpur, namely Bali, Kunming, Taipei, Kota Kinabalu and Kuantan will be flying with upgraded aircraft,” MAS said.

The national carrier will also provide extra capacity to enable Malaysians to return home or for a short holiday during the festive season. Bookings can be made via all MAS distribution channels.

However, for the codeshare arrangement to Fuzhou, travellers will have to call the 24-hour toll-free number 1 300 88 3000 or visit its ticket offices or appointed agents nationwide.

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Keeping alive the tradition of the Ramadan Cannon

Dubai, Tuesday, 14 Ramadan 1434/ 23 July 2013 (IINA) – The firing of the cannon in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was to notify worshipers that it was time to break their fast. Although the cannon is still used in many cities in the Arab world, it no longer serves its main purpose but rather is a symbolic tradition, according to a report in Al-Arabiya.

“The method of firing the cannon was to announce it was iftar time, because at that time there were no watches on hands and clocks in houses,” said Dr. Mohamad Ouedi, professor of Modern Arab History at the Institute of Diplomatic Studies in Saudi Arabia. “Also, modern technology, such as devices that amplify sound, did not exist at the time.”

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of Islam’s five pillars. Worshipers must refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until dusk. The Muezzins in Saudi Arabia would call for prayer from four minarets, each in a different direction – North, South, East and West, said Ouedi, who wrote a book in Arabic entitled “The ruling of Mecca in the era of the Ottomans”. Those responsible for shooting the cannon would observe Mecca and wait for the call, following which they would fire the weapon from a higher region or cliff, he added.

There weren’t a lot of residents at that time, so the sound would resonate and reach them through the mountains… the (sound) of the cannon would reach most of the city (of Mecca),” said Ouedi, adding the Ramadan cannon is still fired in Saudi Arabia to signal it is time to break the fast in Islam’s holiest city but it is only a matter of “honoring tradition.”

It is not clear when exactly Muslims started using the cannon. Some say it started during the era of the Mamelukes, while others argue that the tradition started during the rule of the Ottomans. “The tradition started during the Ottoman period because the cannon was not properly created and used until then,” Ouedi said, adding that if in fact cannons were used to signal the end of fast during the era of the Mamelukes, then it must have been at the end of the period. “I would expect that if (the tradition) were present at the time of the Mamelukes, then it must be at the time when they coexisted with the Ottomans.” “The Ottomans built and used cannons to conquer Constantinople.”

However, according to professor of Social and Religious Affairs at Egypt’s Al Azhar University Abdel Ghani Hindi, the tradition of the Ramadan cannon was first used during the time of the Mamelukes. “It started during the time of the Mamelukes and continued into the Ottoman period,” he said without specifying when exactly the tradition began. But Hindi shed some light on Ramadan traditions before cannons were used, saying that at the time of Prophet Mohammed, Muslims would “observe the shadows.”

“They would observe the shadow of a stick-like object, and in that way, they would be able to tell if it were time for prayer,” he said, adding: “They would also be able to tell (if it was time for Iftar) if they were not able to differentiate between the colors of a white thread and a black one.” Hindi said that the tradition of the cannon still takes place in Cairo, where they also fire the weapon at sunrise to signal it was time to start the fast.

As for other traditions of Ramadan, such as the lantern, he said that this all falls within the “spirit of the holy month.”

“The lantern, for example, is still used today as one of the symbols of Ramadan. In the old days, it was actually used to light the way for people heading to prayer,” Hindi said. “Who knows, maybe in the future, we’ll have an electronic cannon (to signal it is time to break the fast).” The United Arab Emirates used the cannon to announce the time of iftar for the first time in Sharjah under the rule of Sultan Bin Saqr al-Qasimi, who ruled from 1803 until 1866, Director of the Emirates Center for Heritage, History and Culture told Gulf News.

“The exact date when the cannon was introduced is not known, but it is common knowledge that it was used to announce the breaking of the fast at one point during the reign of Shaikh Sultan Bin Saqr,” Al Badi said. He, however, also said that he believed that cannon no longer had “practical reasons” but was a matter of preserving tradition.

“The Ramadan cannon has become symbolic and it is an important aspect of our folklore,” Al Badi said. In this day and age when we can simply download an app on our smartphones to tell us when to break our fast, some may believe that the Ramadan cannon no longer serves a purpose. However, in the Arab world, where people hold on tightly to their traditions, the Ramadan cannon seems to be one that will not be going anywhere.

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Oman Air Supports SQ Univ Students’ Achievements On International Stage

Oman Air’s ongoing support for young Omani people who aim to achieve their full potential has helped students at the College of Economic and Political Science, Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), to gain international recognition. This comes as part of Oman Air’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme, aimed at the welfare of the community and the citizens of the country.

Three senior students from the Department of Information Systems, Elham Al-Mukhaini, Wafa Al-Qayoudhi and Abir Al-Harrasi, under the supervision of Dr Ali Al-Badi, have had five papers published at one of the most prestigious academic international conferences, the Clute Institute International Academic Conference 2013, which was held in Paris recently.

Oman Air was pleased to provider transport and logistical support for the students, as Paris is one of the airline’s six European destinations. There the students gave impressive presentations in support of their papers, each of which focused on the impact of social media on different aspects of life.

Furthermore, one of the five papers, titled ‘The Adoption of Social Networking in Education: A case study of the use of social networks by higher education students in Oman’ and written by Elham M. Al-Mukhaini, Wafa S. Al-Qayoudhi and Ali H. Al-Badi, was awarded the “Best Paper Award” at the conference.

Senior Manager Government Relations & Sustainability, Dr Khalid Al Balushi, commented: “Oman Air was pleased to be able to support the outstanding academic achievement of Elham Al-Mukhaini, Wafa Al-Qayoudhi and Abir Al-Harrasi and we would like to add our congratulations to the international acclaim that has been received by the students. We would also like to thank Dr Ali Al-Badi and the Department of Information Systems at the College of Economic and Political Science, Sultan Qaboos University, for shining a spotlight on the world-class standards offered by the Omani education system.

“Oman Air has long had a policy of supporting, wherever possible, young people from Oman to achieve their full potential, whether it be in the worlds of academia, sports, culture or the creative arts. It has been a pleasure, therefore, to once again assist in showcasing Omani talent on the world stage.”

Oman Air contributed as well to the success of the ‘Tab for Giving’ campaign initiated by Safa Mazhoud AL – Abrawi, a student of the Mass Communications Department in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at Sultan Qaboos University, which involved collecting tabs or ring-pulls from aluminium drinks cans that were sent to the Prosthesis Foundation of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother in Bangkok, Thailand, for use in the manufacture of artificial limbs. The limbs were then provided to the deserving Omani patients who would not otherwise be able to afford an appropriate prosthesis.

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Al-Jazeera America to launch on August 20

New York, Tuesday, 14 Ramadan 1434/ 23 July 2013 (IINA) – The U.S. news channel of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera will be launched on August 20, the group said Monday as it unveiled its top executive team. Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director for international operations, has been named interim chief executive officer of Al-Jazeera America, and ABC News veteran Kate O’Brian has been named president, a statement said.

Shihabi is a five-year veteran of Al Jazeera who has overseen the network’s worldwide bureaus and has participated in the creation and launch of Al-Jazeera’s Balkans and Turkish channels. Shihabi previously spent 12 years as a management consultant at Arthur Andersen, Andersen Consulting and Deloitte and holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University.

O’Brian has been responsible for ABC’s newsgathering operations, including all ABC News bureaus worldwide, since 2007, according to Al-Jazeera. She has 30 years of experience with the U.S. network and has won an Emmy, a Peabody and an Alfred I. duPont award. She will be based at Al-Jazeera America’s headquarters in New York and “will have full responsibility for defining and implementing the editorial strategy and operations across the network, including news, documentary and all other programming,” the statement said.

“Al-Jazeera America will demonstrate that quality journalism is alive and well in the United States,” she said. “I’m looking forward to showing the Al-Jazeera viewers that there is a strong demand for the type of in depth reporting for which Al-Jazeera is so well known.”

Al-Jazeera named CNN producer David Doss as senior vice president for news programming and former CBS News veteran Marcy McGinnis as senior vice president for newsgathering. McGinnis was most recently associate dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Shannon High-Bassalik, from CNN, will serve as senior vice president for documentaries and programs.

Al-Jazeera has announced plans to open offices in a dozen U.S. cities, including Detroit and Chicago, as it seeks to gain a foothold in the U.S. market. Al-Jazeera in January acquired Current TV, a struggling cable channel that will give the Qatar-based broadcaster the access to millions of U.S. homes it has long sought.

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Emirati artist embodies Ramadan spirit in sculpture

July 26, 2013, Gulf News, Dubai: An Emirati artist has embodied the spirit of Ramadan through a unique collection of sculptures using the idea of the different phases of the moon.

Known for his talent in painting, sculpturing, and photography, Mattar Bin Lahej was commissioned this year to create an art piece associated with Ramadan, to be placed at The Dubai Mall for everyone to see.

Following the brief, he created “Moon Reflection,” an artwork made of pure stainless steel with about 1,200 Arabic letters showing the different phases of the moon during its monthly cycle.

It is embellished with Arabic calligraphy of Surat Al Ikhlas, a chapter of the Quran, used over 10 times in the masterpiece.

Speaking to Gulf News, Bin Lahej talked about the idea behind the movement he tried to create in the art piece and the meaning behind having the different phases.

“I would describe this piece as an explosion of art calligraphy. I wanted to do something very unique and that would amaze people by them just seeing it from far away. I always try my best to come up with ideas that have a specific meaning and could create a reaction by the viewer,” Bin Lahej said.

“The idea behind the ‘Moon Reflection’ can be linked to a typical Muslim’s life during Ramadan. The circles emphasise the moon and the letters inside indicate what a person does during Ramadan. In Ramadan, people always try to clear themselves from any sins by reading the Quran and so the different phases of the moon – changing shape from small to big then back small again – indicate that (spiritual) movement,” he added.

Bin Lahej also pointed out that the reason he made the first phases of the moon in silver and bronze and the last phase in gold is because “gold is the achievement or reward from God and it also marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid.”

The artist has become well-known locally and internationally for creating sculpture masterpieces using metal and also for doing several artistic paintings.

”I never let anything come in my way. I worked on my self by always trusting my skills, and by the time art began gaining attention in the UAE, there was a big explosion in my life as an artist. I started to know what type of art work I want to work on” he said.

Bin Lahej has his own gallery, Marsam Mattar, that provides art services and nurtures young talents through his annual kids’ summer camps.

“Art is about getting people integrated and not reaching out only to specific people. My target is to reach everyone and I like my work to speak for itself.”

What: A calligraphy sculpture exhibition by Mattar Bin Lahej

When: July 8th – August 15th 2013

Where: Dubai Mall, Waterfall Atrium.

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURE: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/emirati-artist-embodies-ramadan-spirit-in-sculpture-1.1213531

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Djibouti seeks Dhaka’s support for top UNESCO post

DHAKA, July 24, 2013 (BSS) – The tiny Muslim majority trading nation of Djibouti at the horn of Africa has sought Bangladesh’s support for its candidature for the UNESCO, seeking to expand the UN body’s role for further development of southern hemisphere.

“UNESCO will be 70 years old in 2015. If we want the organisation to remain active for another 70 years, most of its objectives should be focused on the challenges facing the South,” a career diplomat of the country, Rachad Farah, told a media interaction here today as he is in Dhaka to rally its support for the position of UNESCO director general.

A former envoy of his country to Japan and India, Farah said the Muslims of the current world now needed more unity to ensure their stake in the UN systems while added, “I am an African and Arab but I also represent other countries of the South.”

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni recently visited Djibouti while foreign ministry officials said the request of the country was under active consideration of Dhaka.

Two other candidates from Bulgaria and Lebanon were also vying for the position as the race for a new director-general for UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization entered its final stages. Djibouti is represented in Dhaka by its honourary consul Abdul Haque.

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Lagos Lawmakers Hail Supreme Court’s Ruling On Tourism, Hotel Registration

Premium Times – 23 July 2013 – The Lagos State House of Assembly on Tuesday lauded the Supreme Court’s ruling granting state governments the right to regulate hotels, restaurants and tourism. The Speaker, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, said in a statement that the judgment was a “resounding victory for states”.

The Supreme Court had on July 19 dismissed a suit filed by the Attorney General of the Federation, seeking the control of the hospitality industry by the National Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). The court upheld the contention of the Attorney General of Lagos State that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, only empowered the National Assembly to regulate tourist traffic and not hotel registration or licensing.

The Lagos State Government and the Federal Government had been embroiled in a controversy over the proper authority to license and grade hospitality establishments. This resulted in the NTDC and the state government setting up parallel registration and regulation structures in the state.

Mr. Ikuforiji said: “I commend the ruling of the justices of the Supreme Court which gave a unanimous victory to the Lagos State Government for the Hotel Licensing Law and the Restaurant Consumption Law. With the judgment, the issue of clear separation of powers between states and the federal government has now been finally settled.”

“It is pertinent to put on record that the Supreme Court has been proactive and consistent in discharging its enormous statutory responsibilities,” Mr. Ikuforiji said.

He noted that the apex court had since 1999 ensured that Nigerians towed the line of constitutionality and obedience to the rule of law. He said that there was the need for the three tiers of governments to practise true federalism to further deepen the nation’s democracy.

“It is high time we returned to the path of true fiscal federalism and the rule of law in order to uphold the country’s democracy,” he said.

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Mauritanian artist mixes traditional music and modern rhythms

Al-Ahram – Saturday 20 Jul 2013 – On Thursday, 18 July, Mauritanian artist Noura Mint Seymali gave a concert at El-Geneina Theatre in Al-Azhar Park, opening this year’s Hayy Festival organised annually by Cultural Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy). This is the first time for Seymali to perform in Egypt, as well as the first time that El-Geneina Theatre hosts a musician from Mauritania.

Noura Mint Seymali was born in Mauritania in a musical family, where she started as a backing vocalist with singer Dimi Mint Abbas, one of the most renowned singers of the country. Seymali’s father was a music professor, known for composing music for Mauritanian artists.

While developing musically, in her early 20s, Seymali launched her own music ensemble. At the beginning, she performed traditional Mauritanian music only, but soon moved to fusing a variety of genres. “By 2004, I started to mix between two types of music: Western music and African/Eastern music,” Seymali told Ahram Online.

Seymali’s goal was to spread Mauritanian music around the world and to make it available for diverse kinds of audiences. She performed internationally at Festival au-Desert in Mali, Festival Pirineos in Spain, and Festival Timitar in Morocco.

After gracing the Egyptian audience with her performance in Cairo, 18 July, Seymali’s plans include playing the Francophone Festival in France before embarking on a tour of the United States later this year. Seymali blends several musical genres, her music carrying distinctive elements from folk, reggae, blues, hip hop and zouk.

However, she asserts that sometimes this fusion can be risky, as some people do not accept this kind of experimentation, preferring traditional tunes.

But Seymali explains that she is still strongly linked to the traditional music by keeping authenticity in mind and “reflecting heritage through rhythm,” in her words.

“In Mauritania, for example, it is difficult for local audiences to accept Western music because they really love and respect their traditional music. Nevertheless, this blend attracts some audiences,” Seymali said.

During the Cairo concert, Seymali engaged with the audience asking them to join her on stage and dance. The blend of tidinit (the traditional lute) with electric guitar and drums encouraged the audience to answer Seymali’s call. The audience’s enjoyment was evident in cheerful crowds asking Seymali for several encores.

But Seymali’s concert was not only about captivating music. Her lyrics address critical topics, such as the role of women in Islamic society, desertification, economic development, national unity, terrorism and romance, in addition to religious chanting and historical folk narratives.

“The choice of the theme is important to consider before making the music. Music carries messages to the people and that’s what I do, so that people develop better understanding on various topics,” Seymali revealed.

Currently, Seymali is working on new song dealing with the issue of breast cancer, which was the reason of death of her mother.

Seymali’s concert was the first one in the Hayy Festival series organised by the Cultural Resource. This year, the festival includes five concerts from various countries to promote Arab-African cultural heritage, including artists from Tunisia, Palestine, Iraq and Morocco.

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How to keep workplace productivity high during Ramadan

July 26, 2013, Gulf News – Human resources experts and office managers say that the reduced office hours are making workers more focused and efficient. Employees are also able to adjust to a new work rhythm by prioritising important projects

It’s no secret that everyone moves into a different beat during Ramadan. Business hours are shortened, daytime food intake is discouraged, and the evenings are packed with banquets and social gatherings. The month is also a time of year when a lot of people jet off for their annual holidays.

During the month-long observance, when the Muslim faithful cut themselves off from worldly desires during the daylight hours, the law stipulates that UAE companies allow employees to work two hours less. It is also customary to stay up late for fast-ending feasts and get up early before sunrise.

Some say that reduced business hours could lead to rescheduling meetings or putting off major decisions, while changes in sleeping and eating patterns can take a toll on a worker’s ability to deliver good results. Economists have said that overall productivity during Ramadan declines by about 30 per cent. However, this isn’t always the case.

Human resources (HR) experts and office managers said that the reduced office hours, for one, are making workers more focused and efficient. Employees are also able to adjust to a new work rhythm by prioritising important projects, holding meetings in the morning and keeping discussions short and concise.

And, if there’s only one thing that the working population can learn from the month, it is that flexible or shorter office times can inspire workers to work just as hard.

Annalinde Nickisch, HR consultant at The Thought Factory in Dubai, said that staff shortage can indeed lead to lower business transactions and affect day-to-day operations, but the employees can utilize the quiet time to get their house in order or focus on reviewing their internal processes. Some good examples include annual budgeting or creating collaterals, marketing and sales plans.

“The major impact (we’ve felt) is on our day-to-day operations, but since we knew that most projects won’t start until after Ramadan, we have allocated all resources to completing existing projects. Most of our client meetings are scheduled in the evenings during Ramadan. Also, most communications we receive from clients these days usually start around 9pm as opposed to 9am,” Nickisch explained.

Kory Thompson, country manager at Regus, a provider of flexible workplaces, said that while they have seen many people taking their annual holidays during Ramadan, the shorter working days can have a positive impact on the attitude of those who have decided to stay behind.

“We actually see that allowing shorter working days mean that employees can get home early and take a short nap, meaning that they will feel better and more productive when at the office,” said Thompson. “Companies offering flexible working will definitely see the benefit during this month of celebration.”

David Robert, CEO of Great Place to Work Gulf, said it is not fair to generalise that Ramadan takes its toll on workplace productivity.

“Typically, companies and staff get into a different rhythm during the month, but this also means that meetings and activities are more focused and efficient. Meetings that may have taken an hour are completed in 30 minutes without any negative impact on productivity,” he said.

“The month is an important time for reflection and this can apply in the workplace, too. Often, companies will use the month to consolidate their positions and business strategies, which is why some decision-making may appear to slow down. The fact that Ramadan coincides with summer this year may also be impacting the rate at which decisions are made,” Robert added.

Sharon Pereira, an Indian expatriate working for a public relations company in Dubai, said she doesn’t feel like work has diminished at all, although it can be challenging to try and wrap things up within a shorter timeframe. “It can get unnerving at times, but is manageable,” she said.

“We try and not reschedule or cancel any meetings because work has to go on. My Muslim colleagues are very professional and with the first two days being quite a trying time for them have continued to work with gusto because at the end of the day, clients pay for the work delivered and I think they understand that,” she added.

Fast tips

It’s three weeks into Ramadan and if you feel like you’re being sluggish at work or falling behind deadlines, here are a few things to do, to stay motivated and keep your energy up:

(+) Avoid staying up all night. Ensure your to-do list is done and you are aware of what is urgent for the following day.

(+) Schedule meetings and work on critical tasks in the morning, when employees are more refreshed and attentive.

(+) For managers, keep the team motivated by creating a list of tasks for the week and rewarding the star performers.

(+) Keep emails to a minimum. Talk with the team face to face or on the phone to save time.

(+) Don’t set unrealistic goals. Bear in mind that the working day is reduced.

(+) Think twice before traveling between office locations. You could save time if you just pick up the phone or send an email.

(+) People celebrate Ramadan differently with some enjoying the late evening suhoors or attending Al Fajr prayers. Managers could consider breaking the day into morning and afternoon shifts to accommodate different lifestyle preferences.

(+) Keep the staff motivated and engaged by organizing recreational activities during Ramadan. For example, you can hold a company iftar.

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1.7 million TV viewers watched Holy Qur’an award

23 July 2013, Khaleej Times – As many as 1.7 million people have been watching the activities of the 17th Dubai International Holy Quran Award across five continents via satellite channels in the last ten days of Ramadan.

Ahmed Al Zahid, Head of the Media Unit, said more than 9,000 people had also watched the award activities on smartphones and computers, more than 36,000 watched the same on YouTube and over 5,000 had watched the archived videos.

Al Zahid said the award had, for the first time, launched an official application on smartphones operating on the IOS system, such as Apple and Sumsung products. “The new application has made it easier for all people to follow the activities of the award on YouTube, apart from the interactive images.”

Al Zahid said the award was developing year after year in line with the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. “We are also giving more attention to all posts and news about the award on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social networking websites.”

The award activities are being telecast on five satellites: ArabSat, NileSat, IntelSat, Galaxy, and HesbaSat. “Statistics show that over 25,000 people visited the award website in the first five days.”

The Dubai International Holy Quran Award will move officially into its new Dh60-million headquarters after the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Dr Saeed Hareb, Deputy Chairman of the organising committee, said the new headquarters was donated by Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

“The 17-year old Award has turned from just a competition for encouraging memorisation of the Quran into a full-fledged foundation for all Quran awards regionally and worldwide.”

Meanwhile, 60 out of 82 contestants have so far sat for final tests in the 17th session since the competition started on July 16.

Tests are held on a daily basis at 10.30pm, at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The 11-category award, which is aimed to serve the Holy Quran and promote the general standard of the Quranic performance, has contacted over 160 countries to participate in the competition, held under the patronage of Shaikh Mohammed.

The first prize is Dh250,000, the second prize Dh200,000 and the third prize Dh150,000. All get a bonus of Dh30,000.

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Ramadan in Turkey in the eyes of Indonesian

Istanbul (ANTARA News) July 29 2013 – “Sharing Starts from Our Table” seems to be the motto of every Turks especially during the fasting month of Ramadan as they tend to implement even more this of the motto.

This year’s Ramadan is the first time for me to be alone and far from my family. Usually, in Indonesia, I dine “suhoor” and “iftar” with my family at home.

But this time, I am doing it in Turkey with my Turkish friends for two months under an AIESEC student exchange program, thus changing my Ramadan routine activities I usually have in Indonesia.

One major difference could be seen in the fasting time. In Indonesia, we start fasting at 5 am and break the fast at 6 pm, approximately 13 hours of not eating and drinking.

While in Turkey, the break-fasting time (the sunset) is at 8.30 pm, while the sunrise is at 3.30 am, so it is around 17 hours of fasting, 4 hours difference than the usual fasting duration in Indonesia.

At first I was quite worried and thought of not fasting during my exchange time in Turkey, with an additional fact that we do so much walking in Turkey’s hot sunny summer weather.

But luckily some of the other exchange participants were Moslems, so they also fast during Ramadan. The first day of Ramadan came, I survived, so I continued fasting on the next days.

One thing in common for Turkish and Indonesian custom during Ramadan is the use of drum rolls before the suhoor time. Drummers boys and men go around the neighbourhood, making loud noises with their drums to wake people up for the pre-fast meal.

It is a reminder to wake up and eat something before the fast begins. After suhoor, people answer the prayer to call and rush to the mosques for morning prayer.

Turkey has a population of about 70 million. Almost all Turkish people are Muslims, while 0.7% of the population believe in the other religions. The people that do fasting in Turkey have a very special tradition in Ramadan. They invite other people to do iftar in their houses.

During my visit to Ankara, I never had iftar at home. I, along with my Indonesian roommates, were always invited to do iftar in different places.

Once I had iftar at a Turkish family’s house, we did not know who the family was. They said that Turkish families like to invite people, especially students to have iftar at their house.

“Turkish families want to share with the students, especially in the holy Ramadan month, since we are living far from our families,” said Utami (22), an Indonesian student who graduated from Gazi University, Ankara.

At the Turkish family’s house, we were treated as if we had been a part of their family. The smiles and greetings, we felt the warm hospitality of Turkish people. The food they served were also perfect, a complete meal with appetizer, main course, and dessert, as if they were serving their own family, not a stranger.

Turkish people usually eat a complete three type of meal during iftar. They usually eat orba (Turkish soup) as the appetizer, some main course such as pilav (Turkish rice) and chicken, and some tatl (Turkish desserts) or fruits.

Not only families who like to invite people for iftar, but also some organizations and schools. I sometimes had iftar at a fund-raising event held by a social non-governmental organization, such as PASIAD and Sevgi Eitim ve Dayanma Derne’i (SEVDADER, Education and Solidarity Association). PASIAD and SEVDADER held a fund-raising event to build schools and education facilities in foreign countries like Senegal and Indonesia.

That event was supposed to be for businessmen, but they also invited yabanci (foreigners) and misafir (visitors). It is clearly shown that Turkish people love to share their food to people, especially in the Ramadan month, because sharing starts from our table.

Secular Country

Another difference between Ramadan in Turkey and in Indonesia is the feeling of being in a secular country. The restaurants in Turkey are open as usual as if it were not in Ramadan.

They also do not do the same thing as what we often see half-covered window with curtains of many restaurants in Indonesia in order to respect the people who are fasting.

I once had iftar at a cafe by the seaside in Istanbul and the food was great, serving Turkey’s usual appetizer-main course-desert, also with dates they served complimentarily on the table, to fulfill Prophet Muhammad’s sunnah to eat at least three dates during iftar.

But about an hour later after I finished my meal, the cafe started to turn on some loud high bass dance music with the usual dim nuance of a night club, with sparkling colorful lights reflected from a disco ball. Now I realize that I am having iftar at a night bar.

Alcoholic drinks were sold in spite of Erdogan’s highly-protested policy to ban alcoholic drinks at night. The sound of prayer calls (azan) and dance music plays together, showing the secularity of Turkey.

In Turkey, the seculars and the observant Muslims live together in harmony. They respect each other’s beliefs and hold on to their beliefs with high tolerance. What a unique Ramadan in Turkey.

*) Nadira Puteri Kusaeni is a participant of Association internationale des étudiants en sciences économiques et commerciales (AIESEC or International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences) students exchange program in Kocaeli, Izmit, Turkey.

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Azzad meets South African Ambassador in U.S. to promote Islamic Finance

FALLS CHURCH, Va., July 24, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Representatives from Azzad Asset Management met today with Ebrahim Rasool, Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the United States, at his offices in Washington, D.C.

Azzad requested the meeting to discuss potential investment in South Africa as part of the portfolio held by the Azzad Wise Capital Fund. The Azzad Wise Capital Fund (NASDAQ: WISEX), America’s first halal fixed-income mutual fund, invests in Sukuk, or asset-based Islamic bonds, as well as deposits and notes from Islamic banks that comply with specific socially responsible and halal financial guidelines.

In recent years, South Africa has made strides in Islamic finance. The nation has one full-fledged Islamic bank, and its four largest conventional banks offer Islamic financial products, including vehicle and asset financing. In addition, pension funds offer participants Islamically compliant investment options.

During the meeting, Ambassador Rasool noted that despite representing only 3% of the population, the Muslim community has leveraged its 300-year history in South Africa to persuade the country’s major financial institutions to open their doors to Islamic finance. He also explained that South Africa’s robust regulatory and legislative structures, strict risk management frameworks, as well as governance and compliance structures make it a possible springboard for companies into the rest of the continent.

In a statement, Azzad Asset Management said: “We remain dedicated to finding the highest quality investments from a variety of countries in order to enhance the Fund’s yield, while minimizing volatility and undue risk. Today’s discussion with Ambassador Rasool is part of a painstaking process we undertake when surveying all new investment opportunities. We look forward to future conversations with His Excellency and his partners.

During his tenure as Premier of the Western Cape, Ambassador Rasool was instrumental in attracting USD $1 billion in foreign investment to the province, helping the area achieve the highest provincial economic growth rate in South Africa at the time. In addition, the Ambassador has a long history of involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle, driven by his Islamic faith.

Azzad Asset Management, advisor to the Azzad Funds and sponsor of the Ethical Wrap Program, has been committed since 1997 to providing investment services designed to help clients enjoy optimum performance without compromising their values. The firm, based outside Washington, DC, is a registered investment advisor with the SEC.

Please consider a Fund’s objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before you invest. The prospectus contains this and other important information. For a hard copy, please call 1-888-350-3369. Read the prospectus carefully before investing or sending money. The Azzad Funds are self-distributed. Azzad Asset Management serves as the Investment Advisor.

Contact: Chief Compliance Officer, Manal Fouz, 703-207-7005, ext. 115, manalf@azzad.net.

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Singapore Airlines launches daily flights to Surabaya

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, July 26 2013 – Singapore Airlines will take over one of two daily Surabaya flights currently operated by regional subsidiary SilkAir.

The Airline will operate 285-seat Airbus A330s for the daily Surabaya flights, increasing combined SIA and SilkAir capacity on the route by 48 percent.

“We are pleased to launch new daily flights from Surabaya starting on July 26. The new flights are a part of our commitment to always providing our customers with more flight choice to suit their travel needs,” Singapore Airlines Indonesia general manager David Lau said in an official release.

“We are confident that these new flights will go a long way to meet our customers’ requirements for travel between Singapore and Indonesia, as well as travel beyond Singapore to other destinations in our global network.” Lau added.

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Expatriates to get property ownership rights in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, July 26 2013 – The government is currently revising a regulation that would enable foreigners to own property in Indonesia, says an official. The regulation, Government Regulation No. 41/1996 on residential property ownership by foreigners, as of now only enables a non-national to occupy a building or land for 25 years.

“The decision on the draft bill will have to wait for approval from the House of Representatives and the Coordinating Economic Ministry,” Deputy for area development at the Public Housing Ministry Agus Sumargiarto said on Thursday, as quoted by Kontan.co.id.

To acquire property ownership rights, however, according to Agus, foreigners will have to comply with tough requirements. For example, they would have to own a business in Indonesia and should they want to sell their property, they would only be allowed to sell it to the government.

The government expects the bill to boost economic growth when the ASEAN single market is implemented in 2015.

Agus added that the kind of property that could be owned by foreigners, according to the draft bill, would be premium housing with a maximum of 50 to 60 years occupancy.

The draft bill, however, has the potential of breaking Law No. 5/1960 on agrarian issues. Therefore, Agus said that the government would let the National Land Agency (BPN) and the House handle the matter as the two institutions were currently revising the law.

Association of Housing Development in Indonesia (Apersi) chairman Eddy Ganefo said the decision to allow foreigners to own property clearly violated the Agrarian Law as it states that land in Indonesia can only be owned by Indonesian nationals.

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Mataf bridge open for pilgrims

MAKKAH: ARAB NEWS Friday 26 July 2013 – At the orders of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, President of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, on Thursday opened the temporary mataf bridge for disabled and elderly worshippers.

Al-Sudais said that he was opening the bridge experimentally and the operational opening would take place today. He said the 12-meter wide and 13-meter high bridge can accommodate 1,700 wheelchairs in one hour.

He added that one more level will be opened later and it will be linked to the first floor of the Grand Mosque. The bridge will be used by disabled people until the completion of the expansion work, the sheikh added.

The expansion of the mataf started on Nov.15. The expansion is being undertaken at the orders of King Abdullah with the aim of increasing the comfort and safety of pilgrims. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Haj and Umrah Studies prepared a study on how to implement the expansion project.

The study recommended using the available space and potential of the mataf to the maximum while maintaining the architectural features of the Grand Mosque using advanced technology.

After the completion of the mataf expansion work, its capacity will increase to 105,000 pilgrims per hour. The capacity fell to 22,000 pilgrims per hour during the expansion period from 48,000 pilgrims.

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURE: http://www.arabnews.com/news/459255

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Nigeria: MBGN Turns Bayelsa Into Tourism Hub

Leadership – 24 July 2013 – The 2013 Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria Pageant (MBGN) has confirmed Bayelsa State as the new tourism destination in Nigeria as it successfully hosted over 2,000 local and foreign visitors in Yenagoa in an event won by 18 year old Miss Anna Ebiere Banner.

The newly crowned Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, according to Silverbird Group, is expected to represent Nigeria in the Miss World Pageant later in the year in Jakartar, Indonesia. She was also handed a brand new car and appointed the Special Assistant on Culture and Tourism to the Bayelsa State Governor.

The event which was held at the Banquet Hall of the Bayelsa Government House in Yenagoa, was keenly contested by 32 contestants drawn from across the country. Miss Ebiere Banner defeated her closest rival, 19 year old Miss Imo State, Stephanie Okwu, to emerge the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria.

Okwu Stephanie emerged as first runner up. Others include second runner up, (Miss Adamawa) Powede Lawrence was second runner up while Miss Kaduna, Enoma Agboniko, clinched third runner up.

Miss Abuja, Imelissa Devidal, who could have given the Bayelsa beauty a serious challenge for the coveted prize, emerged fourth runner up due to her poor showing in the question and answer session.

Bayelsa State,according to the Minister of Culture,Tourism and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke has also been chosen to host over 7,000 Nigerians and foreigners for the National Tourism, Arts and Culture Festival, the UNESCO UnderWater Community Conference for over 70 world experts for the African Centre for Underwater Imaging.

High Chief Duke said the 2013 MGBN is one of the most colorful and well attended events hosted in the country in recent time,” the successes recorded is brought about by partnership between Bayelsa and the Silverbird group. Dickson has become a great Icon of tourism.Tourism is one of the top three economic investments in the world. If we want to be among the top three economically viable countries and states, we better start doing what Bayelsa is doing.”

The toursim minister said the 2013 MGBN is a spectacle of colour and beauty. “It is a clear display of the beauty in the Nigerian Woman and the values of Woman.”

The event also witnessed the presentation of the Silver Bird Unique Personality Award to Nollyhood star actress, Mrs. Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, for her contributions and consistency in acting and show biz.

Jalade-Ekeinde, who is also known for her pet project on Child Right advocacy, took the opportunity to slam the leadership of the National Assembly for the passage of a bill approving early marriage. She described the bill as a “death” sentence passed on a child instead of providing the Nigerian children with an enabling law that will ensure proper and quality education, health care and protection against paedophiles and sex criminals.

An elated host and Governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Seriake Dickson,while affirming his appointment of the Miss Nigeria as his Special Assistant on Tourism and State Ambassador on Tourism,said “Playing host to these two historic events, the prestigious Africa Movie Academy Award (AMAA) and MBGN awards within a space of just four months gives credence to the fact that Bayelsa State is fast growing to become the next tourism hub of the country and Africa,”.

According to him, it was a testament to the existence of peace and security in the state, adding that his “restoration government is geared towards the promotion of gender equality as enunciated in the national gender policy of the country.” Dickson said his administration will ensure that lives and property of investors are secured, noting that investment on security would drive the state economy to greater heights.

Describing the contestants as worthy ambassadors of Nigeria, Dickson saying 32 contestants had been in the state for the past two weeks and had visited historic sites in Brass, the first oil well drilled in 1956 at OLOIBIRI and other tourists sites.

In his speech,the Vice President of the Silver Bird group, Mr. Guy Murray-Bruce, commended the Bayelsa State Government for the decision to sponsor the 2013 edition of the MGBN and said such sponsorship has exposed the beauty contestants to life-time memories that will be shared among family and friends for generations to come.

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Nigeria: Cross River to Get Legislation On Heritage Tourism

This Day – 21 July 2013 – As Cross River State consolidates on building a full – fledged, all -year-round tourist destination, the state has turned its attention to the proper preservation and promotion of all its heritage sites through legislation, which is expected to bring heritage tourism within the existing framework and structure of the state tourism market.

According to sources, the state executive council has approved a bill to provide for the preservation of the state heritage for the consideration of the state House of Assembly through the office of the state’s Attorney General.

Some of the provisions of the 2013 heritage bill include the preservation of buildings, objects, cultural materials (tangible and intangible) and structures considered to be of historical, cultural as well as economic significance to the people of the state and utilize their potential for tourism development.

To ensure proper preservation, management and promotion of these heritage sites and cultural icons, the bill will also provide for the establishment of a body of trustees made up of people with the requisite professional skills and experience who will take custody of these properties to restore and preserve them and manage their utilization and maintenance. These trustees will be expected to bring to bear their vast wealth of experience and skills on the proper identification, demarcation, profiling and preservation of these sites and items.

If the bill is passed into law, it would open a new vista for tourists to the state to experience a most cherished aspect of the state tourism assets, which over the years have suffered neglect with little attention paid to it.

The Special Adviser to the State Governor on Tourism Development, Mr. Wilfred Usani sees this new move as a welcome development and a step in the right direction, as it is aimed at not only properly documenting and giving legal status to the various historical, heritage and cultural assets of scattered across state but also boosting and enriching its tourism offerings.

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Int’l Home Furniture Exhibit planned in Iran

Tehran, July 27, IRNA — The 22nd International Home Furniture Exhibit (Hofex 2103) will be held in Tehran International Trade Fair from August 13-16.

Executive director of the exhibition, Hossein Norouzi, over 300 Iranian and Foreign participants will display the latest achievements and technologies in the field during the four-day event.

Stating that this years motto is Export Platform, he noted that given the intense recession in furniture imports, the exhibition is an opportunity for the industry owners to go ahead with marketing during the upcoming exhibition.

Referring to Iranian suitable status in the field in the world markets, Norouzi further noted that extensive investment by the industrialists in the past two decades, high quality and competitive pricing have helped Iran to gain such as position.

Commercial delegations from several countries including Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Iraq and Afghanistan have been invited to the exhibition, he said.

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Muslim televangelist Dr Zakir Naik to receive Islamic personality award

27 July 2013 (Gulf News) – The Dubai International Holy Quran Award, on Friday night changed the Islamic Personality of the Year, for the first time ever in the award’s 17-year history. Earlier, the award had announced Grand Imam of Al Azhar Dr Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayyeb as Islamic Personality of the year.

Ibrahim Bu Melha, Chairman of the organising committee of the award, said due to the unstable situations and political unrest in Egypt, the award organising committee has decided to postpone honouring Dr Al Tayyeb to later years in response to his request.

“Instead, the award has chosen the popular Indian scholar Dr Zakir Naik as the Islamic Personality of the Year in appreciation to his tireless effort in the service of Islam and Quran.”

Dr Zakir, who is also a surgeon, is the founder and president of the Islamic Research Foundation. He has written two books on Islam and comparative religion.

In an interview with Khaleej Times last year, Dr Naik said all of his children – one son, 18, and two daughters, 16 and 14, have memorised the Holy Quran in full, have black belts, speak Arabic fluently, and study Islamic sciences. They are combining religious and world knowledge together.

“My son is even better than me; I only give lectures in English and Urdu, but he additionally speaks Arabic and sign language fluently. He also fully memorised the Quran unlike me. Also, my wife is giving Dawa in English and Urdu. Thanks to Allah, all my family members are calling from Islam.”

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British Muslims donate more to charity than other religious groups: survey

Jul 27, 2013 (Gulf News) – A new survey has found that British Muslims, although small but fast-growing, donate to charity much more than other religious groups.

The survey commissioned by the London-based polling agency, ICM, shows an estimated 280,000 Muslims in the UK give more money annually to charity than Jews, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs.

The survey, conducted on behalf of JustGiving, an online giving platform, also found a 70 percent rise in giving over the past two years from among Muslims to the charity-giving site.

“Our data shows many of Britain’s Muslim communities are at the forefront of digital giving, driving an increase in zakat donations,” said Zarine Kharas, JustGiving’s CEO.

Zakat is the Muslim practice of donating to charity to help the poor. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and donations typically rise during the holy fasting month of Ramadan when giving fulfills a religious obligation.

In 2012, British Muslims gave $307,046 in donations to a variety of causes through JustGiving, compared to $144,311 in 2010.

The donations went to various Islamic-oriented charities, including Muslim Aid, Islamic Relief and the Zakat Trust.

Muslims also donate to individual mosques and earmark sums of money to non-Islamic causes. In 2010, Muslims in Manchester donated $79,831 to develop a United Reformed Church building in a rundown part of the city.

The ICM survey showed that Muslims say they donate about $567 per person per year, with Jews (also numbering around 280,000 in the U.K.) A in second place, with $412 per person annually. A Christians gave considerably less – just over $300 per person, and atheists were at the bottom of the list, with $177 donated.

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A sanctuary to better protect Sabah’s Borneo elephants

Kota Kinabalu, Insight Sabah, July 24, 2013 – The first phase of the Bornean Elephant Sanctuary project, which costs RM1.8 million, has now been completed. This project was undertaken by the Borneo Conservation Trust.

According to the Trust’s head of conservation and research, Raymond Alfred, the first phase of the sanctuary project was funded by their conservation partners from Japan, namely the Asahiyama Zoo, Suraya, Hunting World, Tokio Marine, NTT Data Kirin, Taiseh and Yusen Logistics. They described this joint-venture project as ‘ongaeshi’ – ‘giving back to nature’.The completed project comprises an elephant handling paddock, staff quarters and a storage building.

Alfred said the second phase of the sanctuary costing between RM25 million and RM30 million on a 25-hectare land has already begun and is expected to be completed by year end.”For this project, the Malaysia Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has already allocated RM5.2 million.,” Alfred said.

He added that the MPOC is also providing financial support for the preparation of the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary master plan covering Lot 8 of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Alfred explained that MPOC’s contribution and support for the project was very important, as the delineation of the project is likely to involve some land acquisition as well as negotiations with oil palm companies that were found to have encroached into riparian reserves.

“It will entail consulting the local communities as well for the development of a long-term tourism programme following the re-establishment of the sanctuary and wildlife corridor. Likewise, it is necessary to work closely with the relevant government departments to carry out the Sanctuary’s monitoring and enforcement measures to secure the wildlife corridor and protect the wildlife habitat,” he said.

According to Alfred, the development of the corridor master plan is expected to cost more than RM60 million. The corridor covers the area from the Lot 8 Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary all the way to Batu Putih and Segaliud Lokan Forest Reserve.

Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife Department director, Datuk Laurentius Ambu said the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary will be able to accommodate 12 to 16 elephants at a time – mainly injured ones that are to be released into the wild.

Aside from elephant rehabilitation, the animal sanctuary will also serve as a rehabilitation centre to treat injured sun bears, proboscis monkeys, orang utans, clouded leopards and the banteng (wild cattle). Dr. Ambu stressed however that the primary role of the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary is to support the implementation of the Elephant Conservation Action Plan in Sabah and provide treatment and care for injured elephants.

“It will also function as an education and awareness centre as part of our elephant conservation programme,” he said.

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RAK Airways opens 2 new routes

Saudi Gazette – 24 July, 2013 – RAK Airways announced Tuesday the opening of the first two of five new routes as part of it’s expansion program. This brings to 11 the number of its operational routes out of 40 in the pipeline by 2015. The new routes will link Ras Al Khaimah with Islamabad on Aug. 5 and Amman, Jordan on Aug. 7 2013.

This follows RAK Airways early-July announcement by the airline President and CEO Murabit Al Sawaf of an expansion, as part of a strategic growth plan that will see new destinations and major increase in its fleet in the medium term

“We announced the expansion when we felt that the arrangements were properly in place and were no longer just visionary hopes,” said Al Sawaf. “Two weeks on, two routes confirmed; we did what it says on the box.”

The new Islamabad route is the airlines’ third destination in Pakistan, augmenting its twice-weekly flights inaugurated in 2011 to Lahore and Peshawar. Increase in passenger demand led to a three-per-week schedule to each destination.

Al Sawaf said with over 600,000 Pakistan nationals contributing to the UAE’s economy, RAK Airways was delighted to respond to the demand for reliable and competitively priced travel to Pakistan. “Key to our success on the routes has been the free shuttle service to RAK International Airport,” he said. “That and keen pricing has delivered results.”

The good number of Jordanian nationals in Ras Al Khaimah prompted the addition of a direct route to Amman. “This is the first entry of RAK Airways into the Levant region. With the inauguration of RAK-Amman route and an attractive one-way, we look forward to encourage more passenger traffic – leisure, business and tourism from Ras Al Khaimah to Jordan and from UAE to Jordan as well, thus positively impacting the tourism and industry of both economies.” RAK Airways has successfully carved a niche in the ultra competitive Gulf airline market, which is home to five major airlines operating full size aircraft.

“Ras Al Khaimah is growing in an aggressive way, so we should be as aggressive as the government,” said Al Sawaf. “In five years I want the company to be one of the major airlines in the region. In five to 15 years, we’ll be on a curve to go upwards to have a worldwide position and international identity.” His buoyant stance is supported by the sums. The carrier attracted 300,000 customers in 2012, predominantly migrant workers and tourists, and is targeting a profit in 2014 after a boost in the first-half passenger traffic of 40 percent.

“It’s the right time,” Al Sawaf said. “The potential here, especially the Middle East and Far East, the boom we see, compels us to keep up with the development.”

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Dubai Center for Islamic Banking and Finance launched

Emirates 24/7 – 25 July, 2013 – HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Chairman of Dubai Executive Council and President of the Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University (HBMeU), has launched the Dubai Center for Islamic Banking and Finance as a new step in support of the efforts towards establishing Dubai as the world’s capital for Islamic economy.

The centre is a collaboration between the Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University and the emirate’s initiative: ‘Dubai: Capital of Islamic Economy’.

“The launch of the Dubai Center For Islamic Banking and Finance is a significant boost to the Islamic economy sector in the UAE, and a major step forward in the economic development agenda of Dubai, in line with the vision of Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for transforming Dubai into the capital of Islamic economy,” said Sheikh Hamdan.

The announcement follows the unveiling of a plan in January by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, for the emirate to become the “global capital” of the Islamic economy.

“Through this partnership between HBMeU and the emirate’s initiative: ‘Dubai: Capital of Islamic Economy’, we underscore fruitful cooperation between the different sectors in the UAE based on investing in the best international expertise and experiences of Islamic economy, in order to benefit this sector, in general, and to consolidate the global economic stature of Dubai, in particular,” Sheikh Hamdan added.

The new centre will provide support to the initiative through three academic programs on human resources development, scientific research and community service.

The offerings of the Dubai Center for Islamic Banking and Finance rest on three premises: Human Capital development, research, and community service.

In the area of Human Capital Development, the Centre offers programs and courses to all learners along the Center’s lifelong learning model based on Masters programme in Banking and Finance which is accredited by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

On the research front, The Centre conducts and facilitates research to advance the professional and theoretical foundation for Islamic Banking and Finance.

The Center will also play a vital role in widening access to Islamic banking and finance education to the wider community. The Center offers several major services including short term courses in both English and Arabic provided on a special track within HBMeU Cloud Campus, seminars and webinars for professionals, businesses, and educational institutions, as well as consulting on Islamic.

Sheikhs, ministers and senior officials attended the launch ceremony.

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Turkish Airlines outlines growth plans

Saudi Gazette – 25 July, 2013 – Turkish Airlines is further strengthening its focus on the Saudi market, one of the airline’s largest growing markets in the world, with a 41 percent increase in passenger traffic in the last two years, Dr. Temel Kotil, President and CEO of Turkish Airlines, said.

During a meeting with a number of regional media representatives at Turkish Airlines headquarters in Istanbul, Kotil said “Saudi Arabia is the largest market for Turkish Airlines in the Middle East, with increased passenger demand spearheading new frequencies and destinations as part of planned regional expansion.”

“As Turkey’s national carrier, we are thrilled at the rising popularity of Turkey as a tourism destination, the diverse all-year round offering of beautiful natural scenery, historical marvels, stunning coastlines and exhilarating adventures, all less than 5 hours away from most countries in the Gulf region. The county boasts a unique blend of Eastern and Western influences and attraction for GCC tourists is highlighted by cultural linkages with the Middle East,” he noted.

He announced that Turkish Airlines will expand operation in Saudi Arabia this year, with the launch of its Abha route soon.

Speaking proudly about the phenomenal growth of his company, Kotil said “this success comes because we really love our passengers and we have to do our best to satisfy all their needs and make them forget that they are flying in the air.”

He added that his company excels by offering top of the line service, but also benefits from its geographical position. “We are in the center,” he explained, which makes it easy to connect growing markets in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East with established areas like Europe.”

Asked how the carrier plans to continue that pace of growth, Kotil said “our target is to have the strongest network in the world, with more destinations than anybody else. I still hope to carry 50 million passengers this year, but with my 100 million passengers by 2020, we’ll be very profitable.”

To continue this growth, he noted that they will be adding destinations and buying planes. “We already reached more than 230 airports in 103 countries and more to come,” he added.

Along with more destinations come more airplanes. Today, the carrier has 228 aircraft. “Still not enough,” Kotil said.

He also announced that plans are underway to construct a new $ 9.3 billion airport near the Black Sea coast in central Istanbul, which will have the capacity to handle 150 million passengers when completed.

“The new airport will have no problem making lots of profits for us and it will significantly benefit the aviation sector and is in line with our strategy to develop Turkish Airlines as the best in the world by 2023,” he said.

In regard to any challenges ahead, he confidently said “we are well equipped and if we follow our strategy, we will meet any challenges that face any other airlines such as fuel-price rise or any other issues.”

Speaking of tourism in Turkey, he pointed out in his presentation that over 800,2000 tourists visited Istanbul in the first three months of the year.

“Turkey enjoys a great demand from millions of international tourists and continues to be one of the most preferred spots in the world because of its central location to all continents.”

On the protests which started in Turkey on May 28, 2013 to initially contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, Kotil said it had no affect at all and the airlines’ operation was running smoothly. “However, many of the reservations were postponed to another time,” he added.

Kotil started his career with Turkish Airlines in 2003, as the deputy general manager in Turkish Technic, Inc. He became the CEO of Turkish Airlines in 2005. He has served on the Board of Governors of IATA since 2006 and on the Board of Directors of AEA since 2010. “ As the CEO of Turkish Airlines, I love my business, I love my team and I love my passengers,” he declared.

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Air Arabia adds Ha’il to Saudi network

Khaleej Times – 25 July, 2013 – Air Arabia, the first and largest low-cost carrier in the Middle East and North Africa, has announced the addition of its ninth Saudi Arabian destination, Ha’il.

Starting August 1, 2013, the airline will run three services each week from its hub in Sharjah to Ha’il. Operating on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, according to a statement on Wednesday.

The service will depart from Sharjah International Airport at 16:30 and will arrive at Ha’il Airport at 17:50. Return flights will depart from Ha’il on the same days at 18:30 and arrive in Sharjah at 21:45. “Ha’il is our ninth destination within the Kingdom,” said Adel Ali, group chief executive officer, Air Arabia. “Saudi Arabia is a key focus for us as we continue to expand our routes and destinations, three more flights on a weekly basis is another step in this plan. At Air Arabia, we are committed to ensuring flexibility and convenience for our customers travelling on all our routes. Adding Ha’il to our significant network further reinforces this commitment.”

In addition to Ha’il, Air Arabia operates non-stop flights to Riyadh, Jeddah, Madina, Dammam, Qassim, Yanbu, Taif and Abha, making it the leading low cost carrier operating in the kingdom.

The city of Ha’il is the capital of the Ha’il province in the north west of the Kingdom. Ha’il is a historic Oasis city famous for its beautiful mountain scenery as well as its link to historical Hajj routes.

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Qatar keen to help create jobs for Palestinians

The Peninsula – 26 July, 2013 – Small investments can make a big difference in Palestine which can help address the sordid realities on the ground that ordinary Palestinians have been grappling with, said a senior member of Palestinian Business Forum (PBF) at a seminar on “Investment opportunities in Qatar in the upcoming phase” hosted by PBF in collaboration with Qatar Chamber (QC) here yesterday.

“We can generate employment opportunities for Palestinians by outsourcing IT and IT-related jobs that do not necessarily require big physical presence in the country. This will not only help stop educated Palestinians leaving the country in search of jobs, but also improve the condition of crippling economy to grow and diversify,” said Mohamed Ghazal, CEO of PBF.

PBF has more than 1,000 members spread across 25 countries. It has many important objectives that include, providing platform for networking to enhance mutual cooperation, and encouraging businessmen of Palestinian origin to invest in Palestine and friendly countries such as Qatar to generate employment opportunities. “Qatar has given the Palestinian cause more support than any other country and it has always supported the Palestinian people,” Ghazal said.

Given the ground realities as a result of the ongoing Palestine-Israeli conflict, high rate of migration is one of the biggest challenges the country has been facing since the inception of “Israeli aggression”. The actual number of expatriate Palestinian community is 25 million, according to Ghazal, which is much higher than the official statistics of 11 million.

In addition to migration, high rate of unemployment is also a big problem in Palestine. Nearly 17 percent (2010) of its labour force remain unemployed throughout the year.

Cement production, quarrying, textiles, soap, olive-wood carvings and food processing are some of the main economic activities in the country with a GDP of about $ 6bn. Over 65 percent of its workforce (including Gaza and West Bank) are engaged in the services sector, while the industry and agriculture sector provide about 23 and 12 percent of employment, respectively.

Other speakers in the Seminar were Nasser Al Meer, Board Member QC, Dr Abdel Rahim Al Hurr and others. Al Meer said: Qatari economy is full of investment opportunities. We are ready to welcome investments by Palestinian companies with open arms. The QC will extend its full support and cooperation to facilitate investments for, both individual as well as partnership businesses.”

He noted that Qatar, after the adoption of business-friendly legislations, offering huge investment opportunities to local as well as foreign companies in line with Qatar National Vision 2030 as the country is preparing to host mega events such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Al Meer also extended his appreciation for the achievements made by the Palestinian community in Qatar and their contribution to the economy. He said that relations between Qatar and Palestine are strong and deep-rooted. In his concluding remarks, Ghazal said that the PBF receives active support and cooperation from Islamic Development Bank, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other international organisations. It also enjoys good relations with business entities in 20 countries around the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.

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Saudi Arabia strong growth offers chance to create jobs, says IMF

Saudi Gazette – 26 July, 2013 – Saudi Arabia’s economy continues to perform well, with growth of 5.1 percent in 2012, thanks to high oil prices and output, strong private sector growth, and government spending, say IMF on its website, citing economists.

In its latest annual assessment of Saudi Arabia, the IMF said that while growth is likely to slow to 4 percent in 2013 as oil output declines relative to last year, activity in the private sector will remain healthy.

“The outlook for Saudi Arabia’s economy remains positive,” said Tim Callen, IMF mission chief for Saudi Arabia. “The country should continue to take advantage of this opportunity to create jobs, address housing shortages, develop the small and medium-sized enterprise sector, and further strengthen the fiscal position.”

The main risk to the outlook stems from the oil market, although the government has prudently used the period of high oil prices to build substantial fiscal buffers, which provide plenty of scope to smooth government spending over the medium term in the event of a decline in oil prices.

One of the best performing of the Group of Twenty leading industrial and emerging market economies, Saudi Arabia has supported the global economy in recent years through its stabilizing role in the global oil market, the IMF said.

Increased oil production in 2011 and 2012 helped prevent supply disturbances elsewhere from having a detrimental impact on global growth. The government has also provided significant financial support to other Middle Eastern countries.

In addition to playing an important global and regional role, the IMF report notes, Saudi Arabia also needs to focus on domestic reforms to reap the benefits and address the challenges being created by its young and growing population.

It said a large number of young people will enter the labor market in the next decade and beyond, and creating a sufficient number of rewarding jobs for them in the private sector will be a challenge. The authorities are thus giving priority to labor market policies aimed at improving skills and raising private sector employment of Saudi workers.

On housing and expanding population, the IMF said urbanization and population growth in the Kingdom have boosted demand for housing. The lack of affordable housing saw a sharp increase in rents during 2007-11, which was one of the main drivers of inflation, the IMF said.

Efforts to expand access to housing are appropriate and could make an important contribution to inclusive growth in the future, it added. The lending institution said that Saudi Arabia, with its growing population, is likely to see domestic energy consumption rise sharply in the absence of policy reforms.

While acknowledging that the government is taking steps to contain the growth of domestic energy demand and explore alternative sources of energy, it said, quoting a report. The report said Saudi Arabia will need to continue to maintain macroeconomic stability as it works toward long-term development goals.

Ensuring that labor market policies are carefully coordinated with macroeconomic policies will be important in this regard, it said, adding that the government’s fiscal policy looks set to appropriately slow the pace of spending growth this year after large increases in 2011 and 2012.

“This will help contain demand pressures. Were signs of inflationary pressures to emerge, then either spending projects would need to be slowed or macroprudential policies tightened, or both,” it said.

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Iran, Turkmenistan trade transactions to rise to $ 10 billion

Tehran Times – 22 July, 2013 – The Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkmenistan seek to increase their trade exchanges to $ 10 billion in the near future as the two countries’ businessmen and merchants are considering a 100-percent growth in the value of trade exchanges. The current value of annual trade transactions between Tehran and Ashgabat is $5 billion, while the figure stood at $ 1.3 billion in 2006.

A recent report by the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran on Iran- Turkmenistan trade relations shows that the two countries held six mutual cooperation meetings between 2001 and 2012.

The most important documents exchanged between the two countries were trade agreements on encouraging and supporting investment, agreements on avoidance of double taxation, and memoranda of understanding on business cooperation. Iran is reportedly Turkmenistan’s second largest trade partner after Russia.

The Islamic Republic exports machinery, construction materials, sedans, buses, food stuff, agricultural and petrochemical products, electrical products and home appliances to Turkmenistan, and imports natural gas, electricity, textiles and agricultural products from its northern neighbor.

In July 2012, the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkmenistan signed a memorandum of understanding to increase trade volume and economic relations between the two countries.

“We will make our utmost effort to fulfill the wishes of the two countries’ presidents to improve the volume of trade and economic ties to $ 10 billion within the next years,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters at the time.

Iran and Turkmenistan have had official diplomatic relations since Turkmenistan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Iran was the first nation to recognize Turkmenistan as an independent country. The two countries have maintained good relations ever since and have cooperated in the economic, infrastructure and energy sectors.

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GCC hospitality industry on the upswing

Saudi Gazette – 23 July, 2013 – The average occupancy rate for GCC is estimated to be 68 percent for the year 2012 and expected to reach an average occupancy of 73 percent by 2016, a recent report by Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz) estimated room revenue in the GCC hotel sector for the year 2011 stands at $ 17.83 billion, and is expected to reach $ 24.92 billion by 2016 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.93 percent.

The report analyses the hospitality industry’s supply-demand dynamics, estimates the current and potential market size, discusses the various investment opportunities while analyzing the major players involved. It also discusses the key drivers of growth, identifies existing and emerging trends and illustrates the challenges in hospitality industry.

The report said skewed supply of hotel rooms toward upscale and luxury segment is a key trend in the hotel industry. These hotels provide services including spa and gymnasium facilities for which the demand is on the rise. Also, some of the big international hotel chains are increasingly showing willingness to form tie-ups with local players and the latter are being recognized for their remarkable and novel services. Service apartments have grown in the GCC region with the rise of business travellers and expatriates who look for longer stays at reasonable prices.

The possibility of a negative shift in the socio-economic and political instability of countries in the Middle East could impact revenues of the region’s hospitality industry. Other issues like oversupply in countries like UAE, Qatar and some parts of Saudi Arabia affected the OR and ADR values in the region. The high employee turnover and the labor laws in the region are a cause of concern for the hoteliers. The rising cost of construction coupled with stringent lending policies is some of the other key challenges in the industry.

“2012/13 has been one of the strongest tourist seasons in Dubai’s history. Tourism arrivals from all regions have shown significant growth as the city’s leaders have ensured that both capacity and connectivity matched the growing tourism demand and visitor requirements. Dubai is now home to the world’s second busiest airport, further proving Dubai’s position as a primary destination as well as a major international transit hub. Specifically in March, most of the prominent leisure destinations in the GCC including Dubai seem to have benefited strongly from the school holidays”, said Peter Goddard, Managing Director of TRI Hospitality Consulting in Dubai.

Meetings and exhibitions organized in the region have boosted business tourism, which has emerged as the primary business tourism driver for countries like the UAE and Qatar. Governments are taking initiatives like roadshows and events to showcase their conference and exhibition facilities to encourage business travel. The UAE has hosted events over the years, making it the top MICE destination in the Middle East.

Oman’s $1.8 billion convention and exhibition center project, which is under construction and expected to be completed by 2015, primarily aims to capture the demand for business travel. Qatar also has two major convention centers and plans to open one more in 2012.

Sports tourism is also gaining credence in the region, with the UAE leading the way. Along with being a major destination for desert sports, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also known for water sports. Dubai also hosts the world’s richest horse race event at the Meydan racecourse, which can accommodate over 60,000 spectators in a 1-mile long grandstand. When not used for races it serves as an integrated business and conference facility.

Further, Qatar will be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Medical tourism is gaining importance as the high cost of healthcare and increasing procedure time in the US, Europe and Asia are forcing patients to look for other viable options. The healthcare market in the GCC is likely to increase at a CAGR of 11.4 percent to $ 43.9 billion by 2015. The medical tourism sector in the UAE is driven by Dubai Healthcare City, while that for Oman is led by Apex Medical Group’s $1 billion medical city.

Cultural and ecotourism also continues to remain a driving force as various options are available across the region for visitors. Ecotourism, aimed at showcasing the region’s culture and heritage, is gaining traction in the region.

Theme parks, amusement parks and various entertainment options in shopping malls attract several tourists from within the region each year.

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Islamic financing rises 27% to $1.1trn in 1 year

Saudi Gazette – 21 July, 2013 – Islamic banking sector would witness an increasing demand as Islamic financing jumped 27 percent in one year to $ 1.1 trillion from $ 800 billion, said Adil Dahlawi, CEO and Managing Director of Itqan Capital, at the recently held Al Baraka 34th symposium for Islamic Economic.

He noted that the fact that countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation possess an impressive 98 percent share of the global Islamic finance assets, necessitates the development of solutions that “commensurate with this increase and steady growth.”

Moreover, Dahlawi said “this years’ 34th Symposium on Islamic Economics has connected jurisprudence with contemporary economic issues to find solutions to challenges faced by the Islamic banking industry.” He said one of the most prominent topics discussed was zakat on debt, especially with the widespread presence of financial institutions specialized in financing from private companies and banks, in addition to the increase in demand for private and public financing, whose notable effects are apparent on the financial statements of various companies and institutions.”

“Recently, the Islamic banking sector has been witnessing a remarkable growth, with an increase in Islamic financing by 27 percent in one year from $800 billion to $1.1 trillion,” he pointed out.

He noted that global Islamic financing centers are mostly concentrated in the Middle East, including Iran, whose share is estimated at 35.7 percent of the total Islamic financial assets, followed by Saudi Arabia with 13.9 percent, the United Arab Emirates with 8.7 percent, Kuwait with 7.3 percent, Bahrain with 5.3 percent, Qatar with 4.8 percent, and Malaysia with a 12.3 percent share.

Dahlawi further said the Islamic banking sector would witness an increasing demand, “especially with the expected solutions and outcomes of Islamic banking and financing specialized seminars such as this one.”

Standard & Poor’s earlier forecast that sukuk sales are to double and reach $ 3 trillion by 2015 in light of companies which are working to capitalize on this growing and promising market.

itqan Capital, a member of Al Baraka Banking Group, and one of the leaders in providing investment offerings and opportunities to high net worth individuals in Saudi Arabia, participated in the recently held Al Baraka 34th symposium for Islamic Economic. The two-day symposium, held under the patronage of Al Baraka Banking Group’s Chairman Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, highlighted and discussed a number of emerging banking and financial themes.

The 34th symposium in Jeddah was attended by a number of Itqan Capital’s top clients, who were attentive to the lively discussions on various Islamic financing and economic topics, with the participation of a large number of global experts and scholars specialized in the Islamic banking and financing sectors.

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Kuwait, Qatar to increase Jakarta flights

Saudi Gazette – 20 July, 2013 – Gulf carriers Kuwait Airways and Qatar Airways intend to increase flight frequencies to Jakarta in the fourth quarter this year to benefit from the rising number of travelers from Indonesia to the Middle East, the Jakarta Post said on Friday.

Jeanete M. Gerung, Kuwait Airways manager at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, told the Jakarta Post that the carrier plans to add one more flight between Kuwait City and Jakarta in October this year.

“Demand is rising from Indonesia, both from travel agencies and individuals who want to visit Kuwait and other destinations across the Middle East, Europe and North America,” Jeanete told The Jakarta Post.

“Our passenger load factor is very healthy and sometimes we don’t have enough slots to accommodate the demand, particularly from travel agencies who want to bring travelers to Makkah, Jerusalem and Alexandria.”

She said the firm was preparing a new direct flight as it wanted to better serve customers in Indonesia as well as its global clients who wanted to go to Indonesia.

The full-service carrier entered Indonesia on Dec. 1, 1993 and is currently connecting the capital city to Kuwait three times a week — Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays — with an Airbus A340-300 plane outfitted with 18 and 254 seats for business and economy class, respectively.

On the other hand, Qatar Airways said it would add three more flights for its Doha–Jakarta route from its current 11 weekly flights, the Post said.

“After almost 12 successful years of operations in Jakarta, we are absolutely delighted to be able to continuously increase our capacity to and from Indonesia,” it quoted country manager Chan Cheong Eu as saying.

The Post said that all flights on this route will have a modern-mix fleet of Boeing B777-300 and A330 aircraft.

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Halal Congress to be held in Sharjah

Khaleej Times – 21 July, 2013 – The importance and rising acceptance of halal meat will be highlighted during the upcoming Halal Congress Middle East that will be held alongside the second OIC Halal Middle East Exhibition in Sharjah.

Halal meat is gaining popularity across the world due to its scientific and hygienic slaughtering and processing methods, and is spicing up the $600 billion global halal meat market impressively. Globally, the halal market that spans from food to finance and tourism is worth $ 3 trillion. According to latest estimates, halal products have two billion consumers worldwide that are growing at over 20 per cent annually.

Studies have shown that halal slaughter methods protect consumers from a number of diseases, which is not possible with the conventional methods used in many countries.

Ahead of the key halal conclave in Sharjah, experts declared that the halal slaughter of animals has a great role in preventing infectious diseases, and is seen as one of the main reasons for the popularity of the product even among non-Muslims.

“The way the slaughtering process is carried out is of significant importance for both human health and safety and quality of the meat. Halal slaughter involves cutting the jugular veins, throat and esophagus, which facilitates draining of blood from the animal and thus prevents growth and multiplication of harmful micro-organisms,” said Dr Ibrahim Hussein Ahmed Abd El Rahim, professor of infectious diseases at the Umm Al Qura University in Makkah.

He will be attending the upcoming congress that will be held at Expo Centre Sharjah from December 16 to 18.

A panel discussion will be dedicated to the science behind halal during the three-day congress. Chaired by Shawky Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, Grand Mufti of Egypt, the discussion will take up issues of stunning, mechanical slaughtering, tasmiah and animal feed, among others.

Panelists for the discussion include Mufti Taqi Usmani from Pakistan; Mufti Mustafa Ceric from Bosnia; Mufti Shaikh Ravil Gainutdin from Russia; Nabil A. Molla, secretary-general of the GCC Standardisation Organization; and Dr Abdulqahir Mohammad Qamar of the International Islamic Fiqah Academy in Saudi Arabia. It will also feature representatives from the Standards and Metrology Institute for the Islamic Countries; the UAE’s Emirates Standards and Metrology Authority; Pakistan’s National Accreditation Council; Malaysia’s Halal Certification Authority; Majlis Ulema-Indonesia; and Thailand’s Halal Science Centre.

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Nigeria To Host Caribbean Arts Festival

YENAGOA, NIGERIA, July 22 (NNN-XINHUA) — Nigeria’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke, says the country’s oil-rich Bayelsa State has been chosen to be the host of the African-Caribbean Festival of Arts and Culture.

Duke announced this at the 26th edition of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) pageant on Saturday night in Yenagoa, the state capital.

The state was chosen to host the event as a result of its growing profile as a tourist destination, he said, adding that Bayelsa had also become one of the top tourism destinations in Africa.

“This is why Bayelsa has been designated as the host of the African-Caribbean Festival of Arts and Culture to be held from Sept 5 to 25, 2013,” he added. “Over 7,000 people from around the world will gather here in Bayelsa for the event.”

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First UK exhibition of UAE artists

Ahram Online, Monday 22 Jul 2013 – Three Generations is the first UK exhibition by established and emerging artists from the United Arab Emirates. It is curated by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation and will take place at Sotherby’s in London from 23 July until 9 August.

The exhibition is held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, ruler’s Representative of the Western Region of Abu Dhabi. It will include 12 works by 12 artists, focusing on three generations of Emirati visual artists.

According to a press release by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, the artists use a wide range of media in expressing a dynamic cultural identity that is both rooted in the traditions of the past while firmly focusing on the present and the future.

Three Generations presents a snapshot of the breadth and depth of creative expression in the United Arab Emirates rather than seeking to mount a comprehensive overview of Emirati visual arts practice.

Artists presenting their works include: Mohammed Al-Astad, Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Maitha Demithan, Mattar Bin Lahej, Jalal Luqman, Najat Makki, Dana Al-Mazrouei, Shamsa Al-Omaira, Azza Al-Qubaisi, Hamdan Buti Al-Shamsi, Karima Al-Shomaly and Sumayyah Al-Suwaidi.

The exhibition will be on display between 23 July and 9 August at Sotheby’s Galeries, 34-35, New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA, UK.

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All wharves ready to accommodate holiday travelers

July 24 2013 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – All wharves, operated by the state-owned inland waterway transportation service PT ASDP Indonesia Ferry, are ready to accommodate the 2013 Lebaran holiday travelers, official said.

“All wharves at the ports are ready to accommodate the travelers and their vehicles with a maximum capacity,” ASDP President Director Danang S Baskoro said here on Wednesday.

He noted that ASDP would give better service than it did in the previous years by improving the reliability of the ships and port infrastructure, better services and coordination with various parties at the ports.

Danang noted that ASDP this year would operate new ships and ferries to carry the holiday travelers to their expected destinations. “We have prepared 28 new ships to carry the passengers during this year`s Lebaran holiday season,” he said.

Besides, he added that ASDP would also provide other supporting infrastructure such as security command posts, information centers, health service rooms, and breast-feeding rooms.

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Excavation of 4,500-year-old boat at Giza pyramids begins

Al-Ahram, Tuesday 25 Jun 2013 – A joint Japanese and Egyptian team began on Tuesday the work of removing a 4,500 year old pharaonic boat from the pit on the Giza pyramid plateau where it is buried.

Restorers removed a wooden beam, part of a boat built for King Khufu which was buried in approximately 2,500 BC. The boat was discovered in 1954 along with another identical boat in a separate pit; the latter was removed and restored, and is now on display in a purpose-built museum on the site. The beam is the first of several which will be removed for restoration.

Since 2009, the boat’s wooden beams inside the pit have been subjected to laboratory analysis to determine the types of fungi, insects and viruses that are affecting the boat, as well as the amount of deterioration that has taken place, so that an appropriate method can be selected to restore it and place it on display beside the other boat, known as the Khufu ship.

“The lifting of the beams is the third phase of a long restoration project carried out by an Egyptian and Japanese scientific and archaeological team from Waseda University, in collaboration with the Japanese government,” said Ahmed Eissa, minister of state for antiquities.

He explained that the cedar beams of the boat will be removed and restored in a special laboratory constructed at the site, and when all the beams are restored, Khufu’s second solar boat is to be reconstructed and put beside its twin at the entrance to the Grand Egyptian Museum which is being built overlooking the Giza plateau.

Eissa said that over the last five years the team had cleaned the pit of insects, but found that water had leaked from the nearby museum which housed the first boat. This had affected a small section of the wood, hence the necessity to finish the studies quickly and restore the wood.

The Japanese team inserted a camera through a hole in the chamber’s limestone ceiling to transmit video images of the boat onto a small television monitor on the site.

Images screened showed layers of wooden beams and timbers of cedar and acacia, as well as ropes, mats and the remains of limestone blocks and small pieces of white plaster. The camera allowed an assessment of the boat’s condition and the possibility of restoration.

A large hangar has been constructed over the area surrounding the second boat pit, with a smaller hangar inside to cover the top of the boat itself. The structures were put in place to protect the wooden remains during analysis and treatment. A laser scanning survey also analysed the area and the wall between the Great Pyramid and the boat pit.

The second was discovered along with the first one in 1954 in a different pit, when Egyptian architect and archaeologist Kamal El-Malakh along with Zaki Nour was carrying out routine cleaning on the south side of the Great Pyramid.

The first boat was removed piece by piece under the supervision of master restorer Ahmed Youssef, who spent more than 20 years restoring and reassembling the boat.

The second boat remained sealed in its pit up until 1987, when it was examined by the American National Geographic Society in association with the Egyptian office for historical monuments. The excavators bored a hole into the limestone beams that covered it and inserted a micro camera and measuring equipment. The void space over the boat was photographed and air measurements taken, after which the pit was resealed.

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Azerbaijani music and dance take stage in Canada

24 July 2013 – AzerNews – A concert of Azerbaijani music and dances was held in the framework of the international music festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, on July 21. Speaking at the event, Executive Director of the festival, Christopher Blake, said the demonstration of Azerbaijani culture in Canada has become a tradition, the Azerbaijani Embassy in Canada said.

Blake welcomed the fact that Canada has close links with the Azerbaijani community of the country. Azerbaijani Ambassador to Canada Farid Shafiev said culture plays an important role in the expansion of ties between the two countries. Shafiev also briefed attendees on Azerbaijani music and dances.

The Araz Dance and Music Ensemble from Toronto performed at the concert held as part of the Music Niagara festival. The Araz ensemble, which was founded in Toronto in 2006 by Samad Pourmusavi, could gain admiration for Azerbaijani dance and music as well as Caucasian dances thanks to their brilliant performance.

The band managed to contribute to the diverse culture of the city of Toronto and surrounding areas. Currently the exciting performances of the ensemble can be seen frequently at different cultural events such as the Toronto Turkish Festival, the Carassauga festival and other community festivities.

The Music Niagara festival is taking place from July 12 to August 11. The festival has an international reputation for presenting a variety of music genres on the highest level and is recognized as a world-class summer music festival, attracting tourists from around the world, as well as local music lovers.

The festival showcases amazing music in Ontario, Canada, in its 15th season. The exceptional musicianship is expressed in a wonderfully diverse concert program, ranging from classical music to jazz, from choral to country.

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Creative youths from Turkic states come across in Baku

25 July 2013- AzerNews – Baku hosts an international festival of creative youths from Turkic-speaking countries devoted to the 90th anniversary of Azerbaijani national leader Heydar Aliyev, which has opened at the YAY Gallery.

The festival, organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, takes place on July 23-25. The event was joined by prominent public figures, representatives of culture and art and diplomatic missions.

Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Intigam Babayev in his remarks said that the main purpose of the festival is exchange of cultural achievements and development of international relations among young people, as well as promotion of culture, national and moral values ??and traditions of Turkic-speaking countries.

“We have the same roots of a large tree called the Turkic world. This festival will contribute to further rapprochement of our nations,” Babayev said.

Secretary of the Azerbaijan Union of Artists Agali Ibrahimov said that works reflecting the national culture of the Turkic peoples indicate the peculiarity and ancient culture of each nation. An exhibition that is part of the festival features works by young artists and masters of arts and crafts from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

The festival is being held in six categories – vocal, dance, design, fashion, photography and decorative arts. It includes a gala concert featuring talented and creative young people, an exhibition of works by young photographers and samples of arts and crafts, as well as a fashion show.

The fashion show of young stylists and fashion designers will take place in the Art Garden at 8 p.m. on July 24. The gala concert and the exhibition will be held at the State Philharmonic Hall at 8 p.m. on July 25.

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WB predicts Azerbaijan to be core ICT country

26 July 2013 – AzerNews – The World Bank offers Azerbaijan to develop the information and communication technologies transforming Azerbaijan into a regional ICT center, increase the domestic demand and develop the regulating environment.

The WB chief economist for Europe and Central Asia Mona Prasad and the bank’s Country Manager for Azerbaijan Larisa Leshchenko met with Azerbaijani ICT Minister Ali Abbasov in Baku on July 25.

Prasad said that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the issues outlined in Azerbaijan’s Diversification Report and study advice and comments on the results of discussions and exchange views.

Prasad highlighted the effective work carried out on ICT, telecommunications, Internet, and the satellite industry in Azerbaijan over the past 10 years, saying achievements in this field contribute not only to the economy of Azerbaijan, but also to the economy of regional countries.

“Diversification in the ICT sector is regarded as a right step towards diversification of the economy. The World Bank supports diversification in three directions: physical capital, human capital and reforms of state institutions. These very directions are deemed as factors that ensure sustainable development of the economy of countries,” she said.

Minister Abbasov, speaking about the relations between the ministry and the WB, cited the creation of suitable conditions for the development of financial services in Azerbaijan by using the existing platform of national postal operator Azerpost LLC, providing free access of the population in rural areas and small urban centers to banking and financial services, and successful work on offering customers a wide variety of services through local post offices.

He expressed hope that the cooperation with the World Bank would be continued in the coming years. In June, the WB expressed interest in cooperation with Azerbaijan in the fields of broadband Internet, cyber security and e-government.

As of January 1, 2013, Azerbaijan held talks with the WB under 56 projects on financing credit agreements totaling over $3.122 billion. The implementation of 36 projects worth $894.1 million is complete, and the execution of 20 projects worth more than $2.228 billion is underway.

As of January 2013, WB loans in the amount of over $1.714 billion, constituting 54.5 percent of the total amount of the attracted credits, were used. In 2012, Azerbaijan spent $393.4 million from the allocated funds. In addition to these loans, the WB allocated 44 grants totaling $41.37 million for Azerbaijan in 1995-2012.

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Tourists flock to Pakistan Kashmir valley in rare boom

Neelum Valley, Saturday, 11 Ramadan 1434/ 20 July 2013 (IINA) – Success stories can be rare in Pakistan, but business is booming in one Kashmir tourist spot as the region rebuilds after a devastating earthquake and shrugs off associations with violence, according to an AFP report.

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani tourists drawn to the lakes and glaciers of the Neelum valley are injecting desperately needed money into one of the poorest parts of the country. Westerners stopped coming to the Himalayas of Pakistani-Kashmir years ago, put off by its reputation as a training ground for Islamist militant groups and the risk of sporadic conflict with India. But with a new road built by the Chinese after the 2005 earthquake killed 73,000 people and a ceasefire holding with India, Pakistanis are discovering the snow-capped peaks, glaciers, lakes and lush-green meadows of the Neelum valley.

Known locally as “Paradise on Earth,” the valley is 114 kilometres (70 miles) east of the base camp where gunmen shot dead American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Slovakian and Ukranian climbers in June. It was the worst attack on foreigners in Pakistan for a decade, but in neighbouring Kashmir, few Pakistanis are worried.

“There is a bit of fear there, but overall we are enjoying ourselves and we will stay according to our plan,” said Mohammad Amir, a lawyer on holiday with his family from southern Punjab. Munazza Tariq, a university student from Karachi, agrees. “This was carried out by enemies of Pakistan. After it happened, we received a lot of calls from our relatives from Karachi, but we are safe and enjoying ourselves,” said Munazza.

Local tourism ministry official Shehla Waqar says 600,000 people visited Neelum last year compared to 130,000 in 2010, before the Chinese built a road linking the area to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. “There is an influx of tourists in the area because we have a very beautiful road from Muzaffarabad to the Neelum Valley,” she said. The nearby Line of Control slices apart the Indian and Pakistani-held zones of the Himalayan region where a ceasefire has held since November 2003. “This area is very peaceful and there is no fear of terrorism,” said Waqar.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region claimed in full by both sides.

Sporadic clashes killed six soldiers in January and February, but officials on both sides have kept tensions in check and Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has put improving relations with India at the cornerstone of his foreign policy. By contrast, Taliban attacks in the northwest — where mountain resorts have in the past sucked domestic tourism away from Kashmir — and the impact of crippling power cuts pushing people towards balmier climes is also driving visitor numbers higher, Waqar said. There are now 115 registered guest houses in the Neelum valley, local deputy commissioner Mohammad Farid told AFP, compared to none in 2010.

The authorities say they have stepped up security after the climbers were killed in Gilgit-Baltistan, but because tourists in Kashmir are Pakistani rather than foreign, they are not braced for a serious knock-on effect. “We have strict instructions that all government and private guest houses are to close their main gates at 10 pm,” Kashmir tourism minister Abdul Salam Butt said. “No doubt this incident has damaged international tourism in Pakistan, but it won’t affect Kashmir because we host domestic tourists,” he added.

Raja Zarat Khan, who owns a private guest house, said he was fully booked into the next week and he had no cancellations. “I’m having a great season,” he said.

Mohammad Awais, 44, runs a restaurant, a string of guest houses and now also takes tour groups to the Neelum Valley. “This business has changed my life. Last year I did excellent trade because I gave tourists a lot of incentives: hiking, trekking, fishing, boating. The environment in Neelum Valley is very good. Once you enter the valley, no one wants to leave.”

He also doesn’t expect the Gilgit shootings to have a major impact. “It hasn’t made a big difference — perhaps four to five percent because the elite class, who come here, feel insecure, but no one has cancelled any bookings. People are still coming,” he said.

The boom is welcome in a region where many men have traditionally left behind their families to work in Pakistan’s largest cities. Awais has hired cleaners, cooks, drivers and tourist guides: all men who would otherwise be unemployed. Suppliers have benefited. Villagers even sell their freshly grown cherries, apricots and plums to tourists. But others warn that more needs to be done to sustain the boom across the rest of Pakistani-Kashmir. “There are some beautiful places in our area, but there are no proper roads available and the tourists can’t go to these areas,” said Khawaja Abdul Samad, who is thinking about opening his own hotel.

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Istanbul art scene and artists in focus in Switzerland

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – HOT SPOT ISTANBUL at Museum Haus Konstruktiv is the first comprehensive exhibition of Turkish abstract, concrete and conceptual art in Switzerland, with works from over 60 years. The project’s starting point is the development of Turkish abstract-concrete painting since the end of the 1940s and the impact that it has had on a young generation of artists who are active all around the world in a broad network.

For some years, a very special, energetic and inspiring art scene has been establishing itself in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. This divided city on the Bosporus generates a productive atmosphere for creative forces, as new stimuli emerge between tradition and innovation. This is drawing an ever-increasing number of young artists to Istanbul from other Turkish cities. New galleries are appearing and new art spaces can be discovered everywhere. Istanbul is the place where a lot of what brings the present in its wake today just seems to happen in a highly condensed manner.

Museum Haus Konstruktiv has set itself the goal of bringing Istanbul’s vitality to Zurich, focusing on Turkish art history from the 1940s onward, as well as on contemporary Turkish art, by means of selected examples. This latest exhibition project is based on close cooperation with the participating artists, as well as with collections and private individuals who provided the museum with substantial support during realization.

HOT SPOT ISTANBUL is shown on four floors and subdivided into five sections. In group projects and solo exhibitions, it presents paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos, installations and environments, while addressing the subtle gray areas between abstract, concrete and conceptual art, as have developed over the past decades and up to the present day. The earliest painting is by Fahrelnissa Zeid from the year 1947, and the most recent works were conceived directly for the exhibition – by Renée Levi, Ebru Uygun, Arslan Sükan, Ekrem Yalçındağ and Can Altay.

Works by pioneers of post-1945 Turkish abstract art can also be seen, including present artists from the “middle generation,” who left Turkey long ago, or who live in two places. Works by internationally networked minimalists are shown, as well as by quite young artists who, like the pioneers, gather their impressions from everywhere.

What is Turkish art anyway? The curators have repeatedly asked themselves this question. One thing we agree on is that Turkish art today is just as heterogeneous as any other national attribution of art, and that it can nevertheless be illuminating to think about its roots. This is why the title does not focus on a country, but deliberately on a city that is a construct of its past and its present. A hot spot is a focal point, a hub.

HDN For the first floor, artist Can Altay, who lives in Istanbul, developed a walk-through room installation, in which works from the late 1940s onward can be seen, e.g. works by Adnan Çoker (1927), Nejad Melih Devrim (1923–1995), Burhan Doğançay (1929-2013), Renée Levi (1960), Abdurrahman Öztoprak (1927-2011), Ahmet Oran, Mübin Orhon provide a multifaceted and informative inventory.

For years, Museum Haus Konstruktiv has occupied itself with a cross-generational dialog between artistic positions of the past and their continuation into the present. For this reason, the course is supplemented by six key works from the museum’s collection, works that can be described as the DNA of the museum, and that have contributed to the history of constructivist, concrete and conceptual art, or in other words the thematic realm where Museum Haus Konstruktiv is at home.

The second floor presents Ekrem Yalçındağ, who studied art in Izmir and in Frankfurt. Today, Yalçındağ lives and works in Berlin and Istanbul. He develops his works in the two studios set up in these two locations, where his assistants paint according to precise specifications. Like in an apprenticeship, he meticulously teaches them his specifically developed painting technique and shows them how they can continually optimize it.

Ekrem Yalçındağ is a conceptual artist and a real painter, in equal measure. As a conceptual artist, he does not consider it absolutely necessary that the “magic hand” of the artist is involved. For him, it is much more important that a work is accurately thought-out, and that the technique is faithfully implemented – only the two of these together produce the desired result.

Yalçındağ’s stringently conceived paintings emanate from an examination of flower blossoms. In a way, these provide a vocabulary of abstract forms that he has since used in many of his works as a basic structure or coordinate system for the subsequent application of paint.

In his large-format tondi, he draws inspiration from his environment: the color sequences of the ring structures are always based on specific color observations that the artist has made in everyday life. Yalçındağ finds them on packaging or on advertising posters, in cafes, in restaurants or on the street.

They are color constellations that spontaneously please him. He perceives these color combinations, takes note of them or photographs them and subsequently transfers them to his paintings.

In the large columned hall, the exhibitions presents artists who, in their works, address the connections (on the one hand) and the discrepancies (on the other hand) between intellectually abstract and aesthetically vivid concepts.

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Tourist arrival numbers up in Istanbul despite protests

Hürriyet – ISTANBUL – Turkey welcomed around 4 million foreign visitors in June, marking a 5 percent rise from the same period a year earlier while Istanbul posted a 2 percent rise despite the Gezi protests which lasted throughout the month. However, the increase in Istanbul may be due to its serving as a transit point, sector professionals said.

While foreign tourist numbers reached 4 million in Turkey in June, in a 4.9 percent rise on the same month last year, numbers increased to 14.5 million for the first six months of the year, marking a 14.3 percent rise when compared to the same period of the previous year, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.

The transfer passengers might have increased the number of foreign visitors in Istanbul, the Turkish Hotels and Investors Association (TUROB) President Timur Bayındır said. The occupancy rate of Istanbul’s hotels did not show an increase, said Bayındır, adding that their hypothesis was that the rise in foreign tourist numbers was related to passengers who came through Istanbul to travel to other cities.

The hotels’ occupancy rate in the Talimhane area of Taksim, which was most affected by the protests, fell significantly in June. The 2 percent increase for June in Istanbul seems to be related to the foreigners who entered Turkey through Istanbul. The occupancy rate in Talimhane decreased to around 50 percent in June and 35-40 percent in July, said İsmet Öztanık, a board member of Talimhane Hoteliers Association.

“It is very important that Istanbul is a connection point. It is the transit point between south and north, and east and west. Eventually, there will be transfer passengers that come to Istanbul and they will raise the number,” Turkish Hoteliers Federation (TÜROFED) President Osman Ayık said.

While the number of foreign visitors in the country rose by 27 percent in February, 26 percent in March, 13 percent in April and 18 percent in May, this number showed only 5 percent rise in July, the data show.

“There is a rise in June when compared to the same month a year earlier despite the Gezi Park protests. But, the perception created by the protests along with recent alcohol code (that brought restrictions on alcohol sale and consumption) lessened the rate of increase,” said Ayık.

The coastal areas weren’t affected by the recent Gezi Park incidents until July because the early reservations were made by the New Year, Ayık said. The rate of increase in Antalya is expected to decline to 1-2 percent in July from 6 percent in June. Their forecast for the annual rise of foreign tourist numbers in Turkey might be revised from 14 percent to 10-11 percent, he said.

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Tourism in Kyrgyzstan defies predictions, starts off well

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-07-22 ISSYK-KUL, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan, after several disappointing tourist seasons, is hoping for a rebound this summer.

The industry, which accounts for 4% of the country’s GDP, has struggled to attract tourists after revolution and ethnic riots in April and June 2010, but it expects those troubles to fade this year.

Nadejda Simonova, owner of the Nadejda guesthouse on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, said she is banking on many tourists coming to the country’s top tourist destination.

“If (they) don’t come, the losses will be catastrophic,” she said. “The whole year, we live off what we make in the three months of summer. It would be good if we could earn at least half of what we would in a normal season.”

The tourist season should be fine, the government contends. “There is no reason to believe that the tourist season will be a flop,” Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev told the cabinet in early June. “Issyk-Kul Oblast is stable. … We just need to stay calm and keep working.”

Tourist numbers are fine and mass cancellations aren’t occurring, Tokon Mamytov, Kyrgyz government representative in Issyk-Kul Oblast, told Central Asia Online.

“I have personally been to a few guesthouses and sanatoria,” he said. “People are visiting us, and some sanatoria are full. The most popular of them are expecting large groups of tourists from South Korea and Germany. … The hotel owners also said they won’t even reduce the prices.”

In fact, tourism officials predicted growth in the numbers this year. “In 2012, 3.365m tourists visited Kyrgyzstan, while this season we expect 3.5m,” Nurzada Yraliyeva, senior tourism specialist in the Culture, Information, and Tourism Ministry, said. “This season is not a failure, as some claim. We have held marketing campaigns, participated in tourism exhibitions and fairs, and invited tour operators here.”

In comparison, Kyrgyzstan received 2.4m foreign tourists in 2008, the last tourist season before the global economic crisis.

Taxes collected from tourism will increase compared to last year’s total, Culture, Information and Tourism Minister Sultan Rayev said.

“All the relevant agencies, including the Culture and Foreign ministries, worked hard in the off-season to attract tourists,” Rayev said. “Last year, direct taxes from tourism amounted to 344m KGS (US $7.167m). This year, those revenues are set to reach about 500m KGS (US $10.42m). So far there have been no cancellations from foreign tour operators.”

Mikhail Halitov, independent tourism specialist advising the government’s Council for Business Development and Investments, also had optimistic predictions.

“If in 2010, when Kyrgyzstan had a revolution, people were ready to come here and not one tourist had a problem linked to the (unrest), there’s definitely no reason to worry this year,” he said. “With the events in Europe, Turkey and Egypt, it is a hundred times calmer here.”

Kyrgyzstan typically attracts tourists with its low prices and unmatched natural beauty, Rayev said, adding that the country needs to raise the quality of service to compete with destinations like Turkey and Egypt. “We have to improve the infrastructure,” Halitov said.

The government has drawn up a strategy to develop the tourism sector, Rayev said, adding that ministries and agencies are reconciling various versions of the strategy and that the document eventually will be available for public review.

Roads are another problem, Satybaldiyev said. In July, reconstruction of the southern part of the lake’s ring road began, he said, adding the government has allocated US $6m (293.6m KGS) this year for the job.

“The bad roads are one of our major concerns,” Simonova agreed. “The drive time from the capital has gotten longer. We’re the same distance from Bishkek that Cholpon-Ata on the north bank is, but it takes two hours longer to reach us from Bishkek.”

One partial remedy will be the arrival of Tamchi Airport. Charter aircraft will be able to land on the shore, enabling tourists to avoid having to fly to Bishkek and drive 300km to the lake. The airport is scheduled to open in 2014.

“The authorities are gradually straightening things out,” Halitov said. “If we can keep things going as they are, then we will undoubtedly be successful.”

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Kyrgyzstan aims to strengthen knowledge of Kyrgyz

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-07-25 BISHKEK – Talant, 24, an ethnic Kyrgyz and Bishkek resident, has always spoken better Russian than Kyrgyz.

“Last year, I found work in one of the major cellphone companies answering subscribers’ calls. … But since many of these calls came from the countryside, I had to use Kyrgyz. … So it was essential to learn the language fast,” Talant said, “and … for the first time, I suddenly realised to my shame that I didn’t know my native language.”

His situation exemplifies how years of Russian-language dominance have eroded the Kyrgyz citizens’ mastery of their own language. Now a push is being made for people to improve their Kyrgyz-language skills, but roadblocks are making that difficult.

One of the challenges is the cost.

“I give private lessons in Kyrgyz, but one-on-one lessons are expensive; not everyone can afford them,” schoolteacher Bermet Koshimova, from the ethnic Kyrgyz part of Bishkek, said. “We are a poor country and need to offer low-cost or free courses.”

Now, though, the government is making a push for its citizens to attain fluency in Kyrgyz, and more opportunities might be on the horizon.

Discussions on promoting the use of Kyrgyz have been going on for years, but finding solutions has taken on urgency since July 1, when President Almazbek Atambayev signed a decree on increasing the language’s use.

A little less than two-thirds of the country’s 5.5m residents are fluent in Kyrgyz, according to the National Commission on the State Language. Fluency is said to be rare among ethnic minorities, and in Bishkek, even ethnic Kyrgyz – especially the older generation and those with higher education – often speak minimal Kyrgyz because Russian is still the official language (Kyrgyz is the state language).

“Without proper respect for the Kyrgyz language … it’ll be impossible to build stability and friendship,” Atambayev told the Defence Council March 18.

Parliament responded by carving out a language bill, but Atambayev sent it back for revisions in June, saying it needed refinement.

His July 1 decree envisages doubling the funding available for expanding use of Kyrgyz within government agencies, creating an all-Kyrgyz TV channel and opening 100 schools for intensive Kyrgyz-language instruction.

A number of organisations also will be offering courses in Kyrgyz, according to Atambayev’s office. Other agencies also are working in parallel with the government’s effort.

The Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan, a consultative entity formed by the government in 1994 to give the country’s minorities a voice, will begin offering free Kyrgyz courses this summer, Aliya Bekesheva, a teacher of Kyrgyz language and literature at Issyk-Kul State University, said.

Students of the language can look at www.tili.kg, a website that launched in 2012, she suggested.

“The internet also has quite good video courses in Kyrgyz,” Bekesheva said. “I have heard from many friends that various mosques, community centres and palaces of culture are talking about wanting to open courses. On the whole, I see great interest in Kyrgyz now. But we must not forget the rights of ethnic minorities to use their own languages.”

Another hurdle is the culture itself. Kyrgyzstan is still recovering from the Soviet-era priority on learning Russian, Bishkek history teacher Abdykul Japarov said.

“There was no provision for the study of Kyrgyz in Russian classes,” he said. “And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, any initiative to promote Kyrgyz ran into resistance – not only from ethnic (minorities) but also from ethnic Kyrgyz with a Russian education who spoke (Kyrgyz) poorly.”

For Kyrgyz to regain its stature, a change in the public mind-set is needed, Jumabek Musuraliyev, an adviser to the chairman of the National Commission on the State Language, said. “I can understand why the generation that grew up in Soviet times … was unable to study Kyrgyz,” he said. “But now, learning Kyrgyz is possible.”

He supports efforts to broaden the opportunities, provided the country doesn’t ram through change too fast, he said.

“We are doing a great deal, but as the proverb said, ‘A small man’s steps go unnoticed,'” he said. “Our efforts might be equally unnoticed (because) our commission has only 14 employees, which I think is very few for the whole country.”

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Bangladesh opens commuter train on Mymensingh-Joydevpur Route

MYMENSINGH, July 21,2013 (BSS)- Railway Minister Mujibul Haque, MP, today inaugurated a new commuter train with Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) on Mymensingh-Joydebpur route with festive mood at Mymensingh Station Chatter here.

After inaugurating the service as the chief guest, he urged to ensure better, smooth and low cost journey for the passengers to reach their destination ahead of holy Eid-ul-Fitr.

A cross section of people of Mymensingh and Gazipur districts will get the additional facilities for traveling by train on the route through opening the new train service.

On the occasion, Bangladesh Railway organized a function at Mymensingh Railway Station Chatter this afternoon. Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Railway Abul Kalam Azad presided over the inaugural function.

The function was addressed, among others, by State Minister for Social welfare Promod Mankin, State Minister for Health Capt (Retd) Mujibur Rahman Fakir, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railway Ministry Principal Motiur Rahman, Dr M Amanullah MP, Reza Ali, MP, Hayatur Rahman Khan, MP, Director General (DG) of Bangladesh Railway Abu Taher, General Manager (GM) Tofazzel Hossain and Deputy Commissioner Mustakim Billah Faruqui.

Mujibul Haque said the present government has achieved massive development and made significance change in Railway sector with a view to ensuring better service for the passengers.

The minister said that the ministry made a Master Plan for modernizing the Railway adding with new engines, bogies, expansion of lines in different parts of the country.

The government has taken 38 projects and sanctioned Taka over 18,000 core under the programme.

Railway sources said, over 600 passengers could travel by this DEMU commuter train that consists of two units with four engines. The railway authority has already fixed the fair at Taka 45 from Mymensingh to Joydebpur. The Commuter train will take its regular journey from July 23.

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