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5 Aug, 2013

Turkish Immigrant Develops Prayer Mat for Knee Problems

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Muqbil

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 05 August 2013 (28 Ramadaan 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



Eid Ul Fitr Mubarak to all readers. Kul A’am Wa Antum Bekhair. May you be blessed with peace, prosperity, good health and happiness.


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.



Islamic smartphone ready for launch

RIYADH: Arab News, 3 August 2013 – The soon-to-be-launched “Peace Mobile,” an Islamic smartphone, is a useful media gadget that reconciles Qur’an with modern science. The smartphone was invented by Dr. Zakir Naik, an internationally renowned public speaker on Islam and comparative religion, and is ready to be launched internationally in the last week of Ramadan.

Demand for the Islamic handset is scaling among Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Thousands of people have already ordered the gadget online, while hundreds are talking about it on various media platforms.

A breakthrough technological initiative by Naik, founder and president of the IRF (Islamic Research Foundation), the phone will facilitate the implementation of Islamic ethos in daily life. Peace Mobile is completely customized with authentic Islamic apps and software and helps practicing Muslims stay connected with the Islamic world. Naik was in Riyadh recently speaking at a Ramadan forum organized by the IICC (India Islamic Cultural Center), where he urged knowledge and unity.

The Islamic scholar has always stressed the need for both religious education and modern education, considering both as essential. The Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) is a nonprofit organization that owns the Peace TV channel, a major Islamic satellite television network that recently exceeded a record global viewership of 200 million.

Featuring over 80 hours of Naik’s videos, 50 Islamic applications, hundreds of Islamic wallpaper and 200 Islamic ringtones, the phone contains numerous books on Islam and comparative religion written by Naik, apart from other Islamic programs. Okasha Mujahid, international business manager at Darussalam, a Riyadh-based Islamic publishing house, welcomed the smartphone and said, “Darussalam has earnestly worked to spread the word of Islam through its publications. Peace Mobile can help become an extension for this.”

“People will be able to experience the difference, as communicating through technology will make life easy and convenient par excellence while fostering an intimate relationship with the Creator,” read an official statement by the IRF.

Competing with the most prominent of smartphones, Peace Mobile is equipped with advanced specifications in a stylish design, including a 4.6-inch screen, capacitive multi-touchscreen tablet, a dual 32-GB SD SIM card and 4-GB internal memory dual core processor, 5-megapixel auto-focus camera, in addition to Android Gingerbread 2.3.5 OS, upgradeable to Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.

The IRF has officially announced that the dispatch of the mobile phones will start by the last week of Ramadan. The handsets will be available worldwide from UAE through online purchase and delivery will be completed via DHL or FedEx. The handset is priced at $240, equivalent to SR901 and AED882.

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AirAsia launches direct flights between Kota Kinabalu and Hangzhou

4 August 2013, Kota Kinabalu, Insight Sabah – Budget airline AirAsia had its inaugural flight from Kota Kinabalu to Hangzhou, China yesterday, marking its 9th direct flight from Kota Kinabalu, which now has direct Air Asia flight with 8 cities, namely, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Taipei, Jakarta, Singapore, Manila and Bali.

Acording to AirAsia Chief Executive Officer, Aireen Omar, the passenger load both ways between Kota Kinabalu and Hangzhou was ‘very encouraging’, as high as 93 percent. This shows that there is a considerable volume of tourist traffic between the two cities.

Aireen also revealed that AirAsia has produced a travel guide called ‘Discover Borneo’ which can be downloaded for free worldwide. She said since its introduction in May this year, 10,000 copies of the travel guide have been downloaded by people in Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, Spain, China and Malaysia itself. She added that AirAsia will be working closely with the Sabah Tourism Board to promote Sabah more aggressively especially to the Chinese market.

She said the immediate plan following the KK-Hangzhou inaugural flight is to have road shows to attract more tourists from China to Sabah. Commenting on the inaugural flight Minister of Tourism, Culture & Environment, Datuk Masidi Manjun said that he was very happy with the establishment of the new route between KK and Hangzhou. He pointing out that China already accounts for the most number of tourist arrivals in Sabah.

“In 2012, Sabah received over 200,000 Chinese visitors. According to the latest record in April this year, the number of Chinese visitors is 75 percent higher over the same period last year,” said Masidi, adding that Sabah is expected to welcome more visitors via chartered flights this coming summer holiday.

“The Sabah government is working very closely with AirAsia to further increase the number of visitors to Sabah, targeting 3.55 million arrivals and RM8 billion in tourism receipts by 2015,” Masidi said. – Insight Sabah

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Turkish Immigrant Develops Prayer Mat for Knee Problems

BERLIN: ARAB NEWS, Saturday 3 August 2013 – A Turkish man living in Germany has invented a prayer mat that takes the strain off the knees which, he said Friday, he hoped to now sell worldwide. At first sight, the rug looks like other prayer mats, but it is designed with special cushioning for under the knees, feet and forehead, said Adnan Pirisan, 50, who himself suffered from painful joints.

Apart from saying the padding is a special kind of foam that “doesn’t get damaged,” he refused during a telephone interview with AFP to reveal its composition. “Production secret,” he said. “I registered my patent in 2009 and since, we’ve been producing in three towns in Turkey. We sell about 3,000 rugs a year,” Pirisan, who arrived in Germany at the age of 10, said.

Sales of the orthopedic rug, which folds up into a cushion or small bag, are mostly made online but Pirisan’s company, Pirisec, also has sales points in Germany, Turkey, Kuwait and Dubai. But he said he had already sold his rugs, which come in standard (39.50 euros, $52), luxury and child categories, as far afield as Singapore and the US.

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Proms to host talented young Palestinian musicians

theguardian.com, Friday 2 August 2013 – It is the dream of many young musicians: to perform at the Proms in London alongside a world-famous star before an audience of 3,500 people and millions of television viewers.

But for 17 members of the Palestine Strings, an ensemble of youngsters mainly from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, next Thursday’s appearance at the Royal Albert Hall will be more than simply the highlight of their fledgling musical careers. It is also a chance to present a face of Palestine that is in stark contrast to the prevailing image of dusty refugee camps and stone-throwing youths.

Led by British violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy, the group will perform Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, in an arrangement which includes some sections of Arabic music. “We are musicians first and foremost, but we are also performing as Palestine,” said violinist Layth Hanbali, 20. “So there’s that element of trying to represent Palestinians culturally.” The young musicians, he added, were considering wearing black and white chequered keffiyehs, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, for their 65-minute appearance.

The ensemble felt honoured to be invited to play at the Proms, said Hanbali, who was born in the West Bank city of Nablus. “It’s an amazing opportunity, and we’re all feeling nervous.”

Kennedy met and performed with the young musicians on a visit to Jerusalem last summer. “I was very moved by that performance and thought it would be wonderful to share that artistry with a larger audience,” he told the Guardian. He was struck by the “down-to-earth but phenomenally positive attitude that the kids were displaying, and that’s reflected in their music as well. It has such deep soul, whole-hearted commitment and a value attached to every moment of music-making and life itself.”

Kennedy also hoped that the Proms appearance would help foster a fresh image of the Palestinian people. “They don’t have to be only portrayed in the way that Fox News and even CNN sometimes portray them. One concert can’t change everyone’s perception, but it’s vitally important that Palestinian people are seen in the rest of the world as creative, positive, artistic, soulful people. This group is perfectly equipped to represent their people and their culture in a positive way.”

The group – whose ages range from 12 to 23 – arrived in London on Friday and will spend the coming days in intensive rehearsals. Even though it is the first visit to the UK for most members of the ensemble, they did not expect to have time for sightseeing, said Hanbali.

Palestine Strings was formed in 2011 by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, named after the late Palestinian intellectual and musician. More than 1,000 young Palestinian musicians study at branches in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Nablus, Bethlehem and Gaza City. Palestine Strings toured in the US last year.

“Not everyone (in Palestine) has access to the conservatory,” said Hanbali. But he hoped the Proms performance would “promote classical music in Palestinian society”.

Kennedy intends to pursue further projects with Palestine Strings, including possible performances in other European countries. “It is a chance for them to be recognised not just as a small group of string players but as human beings with fantastic sentiments and an amazing ability to communicate.”

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Pakistan to export sugar to Iran

Kuwait News Agency – 31 July, 2013 – The government of Pakistan has decided during a meeting for the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to allow exporting sugar to Iran in return to electricity imports.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar chaired the meeting of EC and approved the export of sugar to Iran against the import of electricity to overcome the energy crisis. The ECC approved export of 30,000 tons of wheat as well to Iran as part of a barter trade agreement with Iran.

Iran has been facing economic problems due to the sanctions imposed on the import of oil by the United States. Pakistan has been facing immense energy crisis and thus the deal with Iran is part of Islamabad’s policy to tackle the problem.

Sugar mills in Pakistan have asked the government to allow the export of an additional 500,000 tons as a bumper sugarcane harvest this year led to an exportable surplus of sugar. The former chairman of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA), Iskander Khan asked that the government to immediately allow export of another 500,000 tons of sugar as the country’s stock was higher than the local demand.

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Dubai’s 20m tourist aim on track

Khaleej Times – 01 August, 2013 – Dubai received more than 5.58 million visitors during the first half of this year, recording an 11.1 per cent year-on-year increase indicating that this sought-after global tourism destination is on track to achieving its goal of hosting 20 million visitors per annum by 2020.

The first half, the busiest-ever period for Dubai’s flourishing tourism sector, also saw hotel and hotel apartment operator revenues rise 18.6 per cent to Dh11.6 billion. Total guest nights also recorded impressive rises, up 13.1 per cent to 21,715,848 from 19,209,037, or more than 2.5million, according to Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, or DTCM.

The upswing was felt across all key indicators, including hotel establishment guests, hotel and hotel apartment revenues, room occupancy and average length of stay, the DTCM said in a statement.

Dubai’s Tourism Vision for 2020, unveiled early this year, had set out how the city would double its annual visitor numbers from 10 million in 2012 to 20 million in 2020.

Helal Saeed Almarri, director-general of the DTCM, said the department’s strategy is to position Dubai as a foremost destination for both leisure and business travellers by continuously evolving Dubai’s broad and diverse tourism offering, and attracting visitors from a range of source markets, including targeting a new generation of first-time travellers from emerging markets.

“The figures for the first half of 2013 are extremely encouraging and indicate that we are on the way to achieving our Tourism Vision for 2020,” said Almarri.

Guest numbers across all hotel establishments (hotels and hotel apartments) in the first half of the year reached 5,583,379, an 11.1 per cent increase on the 5,027,223 in the first half of 2012. Dubai’s top 10 tourism source markets remained the same as those for the first half of 2012, with some slight changes in positioning, and reflect the diversity of visitors who are attracted to the city. Saudi Arabia, India, the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Kuwait, Oman, China and Iran made up the top ten for January to June 2013.

The DTCM said Saudi Arabia experienced the most growth, with visitor numbers swelling by 31.6 per cent to 710,472. Australia, ranked 13th, also recorded a sizeable rise in visitor numbers, with growth rates of 24.3 per cent reflecting the increased flight volume resulting from the partnership between Emirates and Qantas, formalised in April. The Netherlands entered the top 20 source markets for the first time, at number 20, with a 17 per cent increase in visitors.

“Guests from the world’s two most populous nations, China (ranked ninth) and India (second), continued to show strong increases, with visitors from both markets up by 15.8 per cent,” the DTCM said.

“Saudi Arabia, China and India are markets that the DTCM has put significant focus on, as we believe they provide substantial opportunities for growth,” said Almarri.

The occupancy rate for hotel rooms and hotel apartments saw steady growth during the first half of the year. Hotel room occupancy averaged 84.6 per cent over the six month period, up 2.8 per cent from 81.8 per cent in the first half of 2012, while the occupancy rate for hotel apartments was 85.8 per cent, up 6.5 per cent from 79.3 per cent in 2012 first half.

A new report by MasterCard, which shows that Dubai is on track to become seventh in the list of the world’s top destination cities this year, said that the emirate was likely to climb the rankings, surpassing Singapore, New York and Paris by 2017 to become a top-three destination.

A recent report released by STR Global predicted that Dubai’s hotel sector is expected to see double-digit capacity growth in 2013 as the Middle East and Africa region is set to grow its hotel room capacity massively. STR Global also predicted that Dubai’s hotel room capacity would grow 28.6 per cent in 2013 with 17,409 rooms currently in the pipeline.

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Turkey says trade with Iran could reach $30b in 2013

Tehran Times – 31 July, 2013 – Trade volume between Iran and Turkey could grow by a third to reach $ 30 billion in 2013, the Hurriyet Daily News quoted Turkish Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici as saying on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as the U.S. threatens further economic sanctions on Iran, while NATO member Turkey has made it clear that it will continue, and even step up, trade with Iran.

“We want to carry the trading volume one step further. The two countries have great responsibilities and roles with regard to elevating our bilateral trading volume, which was $22 billion in 2012, to $30 billion in the forthcoming period,” Yazici said after a meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Turkey Ali Reza Bikdeli. The forecasted increase is greater than 36%.

“We, as the Customs and Trade Ministry, endeavor to achieve this target in consideration of works in revenue administration and reciprocal agreements in the field of customs between the two countries,” he added.

Yazici also announced that Turkish Cargo, an affiliate of national flag carrier Turkish Airlines, planned to launch cargo flights to Tehran. Under the administrations of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran the trade ties between the two neighboring countries have been growing considerably.

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Saudi metro projects to shift economy beyond oil

Arab News – 31 July, 2013 – A $22.5 billion plan to build Riyadh’s first metro rail system aims to achieve more than improving the quality of life in the congested Saudi capital: It is part of an ambitious effort to shift the country’s economy beyond oil.

The government awarded contracts for the system to three foreign-led consortia on Sunday. Six rail lines carrying electric, driverless trains and extending 176 km are to be completed by 2019.

Similar projects are underway in other top Saudi cities; last August the government approved a $16.5 billion plan to modernize the transport system in Makkah, including construction of a metro, and Jeddah is preparing plans to build a metro that would cost around $9.3 billion.

In the longer term, the world’s top oil exporter is trying to diversify its economy away from oil, to reduce its vulnerability to the next big drop in global energy prices.

The metro systems could aid that drive by changing the way Saudi cities operate, helping them develop easily accessible commercial and light industrial districts. “I think the metro will transform Riyadh. With 170 km of rail, people will always be close to the metro. It’ll not just solve the traffic problem but also connect the financial hub, airport, malls and other parts of the city,” said Miguel Jurado, head of Spanish firm FCC Construction, which will help to build the project.

Ibrahim Al-Sultan, head of the government body which supervises the project, estimated that each riyal spent on it would generate an indirect economic return of 3 riyals.

The metro systems may also help Saudi Arabia manage its oil resources more efficiently; only about 2 percent of Riyadh’s 6 million population currently use public transport, leaving most of the rest dependent on gasoline-guzzling cars.

“The metro will drive down energy requirements for the transport sector, if the metro is incentivized by the government as a replacement to motor vehicles, and reduce environmental pollution,” said John Sfakianakis, chief strategist at investment firm MASIC.

The Riyadh metro is projected to carry 1.16 million passengers daily when launched, increasing to nearly 3.6 million within 10 years – a significant fraction of all trips in the country, which currently has a population of about 28 million.

Saudi Arabia now consumes about 500,000 barrels per day of oil in the form of gasoline, and exports under 8 million bpd. While the metros are unlikely to persuade some Saudis to abandon their love for the automobile, others may welcome the chance to escape severe traffic congestion in the big cities.

But assembling the labor force to complete the project on time may be a challenge, because the country has been tightening controls on its large population of foreign workers in an effort to reduce unemployment among Saudi citizens.

A crackdown on illegal foreign workers caused tens of thousands of people to be deported or decide to leave the country this year. Fees designed to encourage companies to limit their use of foreigners, who are cheaper to hire than Saudis, have hurt profits at some Saudi construction firms.

“The work force will be a challenge…We will need about 15,000 people during the whole period of work,” FCC’s Jurado said. “We have a period of eight to ten months to arrange for all these workers.”

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Qatar tourism jumps in second quarter 2013

Saudi Gazette – 29 July, 2013 – Qatar tourism industry continues on its strong upward trajectory, Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) said in its second quarter of 2013 report, compared with the same quarter last year. All key indicators of the tourism sector demonstrated improvement and growth from the previous year comparable period.

Hotel occupancy rate rose from an average of 58 percent to 67 percent, despite there being a 4.5 percent increase in the number of rooms available. Total revenue in four and five-star hotels increased by QAR155.9 million with a staggering 20 percent increase in revenue at five-star hotels alone.

The total number of hotels under construction increased to 121propertiesin the second quarter 2013 from 110 at the end of 2012; with a total 20,955 rooms to expected to be delivered.

QTA Chairman Issa Mohammed Al-Mohannadi said “we are seeing strong growth in all aspects of Qatar’s tourism sector. Qatar Tourism Authority is proud of these developments and the strides being made towards a record year of tourism in Qatar. As tourism becomes increasingly important to diversifying the national economy we look positively on these developments.”

Visitors increased from most corners of the globe, with particularly good performance coming from within the GCC countries. Overall, GCC tourists were up by 15 percent, with Saudi Arabia the largest single source of visitors with 144,491 travellers. Overall visitors from other continents rose by 6.6 percent, with particularly impressive growth of 12 percent in visitors from Asia.

The leisure tourism sector saw a 10 percent increase from international markets, aided by a diverse range of events and activities in Qatar during the second quarter of 2013. This includes the first-ever Middle East performance of Disney on Ice, as well as the sold-out performances of the Broadway hit show STOMP at Qatar National Convention Centre.

During this period Qatar Tourism Authority achieved a range of accomplishments and agreements aimed at continuing the sustainable growth of the tourism sector in Qatar. In June, QTA launched its upgraded website, providing tourists and those planning visits to Qatar easy access to information needed.

Earlier in July, QTA signed an agreement with the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to collaborate on the development of a consistent and locally relevant monitoring and quality control system across a wide range of tourism activities. And recently QTA recognized six hotels with the first-ever awards as part of the “Hotels Quality Rating Program” aimed at improving the quality of services in the hospitality and tourism industry and creating a national benchmark of high standards.

Al-Mohannadi further said “looking to the third and fourth quarters of the year, the offerings and programs underway should continue to drive interest and visits to Qatar, including the Eid Festival coming next month, and the return of Cirque du Soleil in September to Aspire Dome. Our events, promotional campaigns and unique and developing offer is having the desired effect of increasing interest within the region and internationally in Qatar as a destination.”

The scene is set for infrastructure to aid the growth of the sector, with Doha Exhibition and Conference Center under construction and Hamad International Airport opening by year-end 2013.QTA is also readying the launch of a new phase in Qatar’s tourism industry with the release of its new strategy that will serve as the road map for national tourism sector development occurring in the country.

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Qatar Luxury Group to launch first fashion boutique

The Peninsula – 26 July, 2013 – Qatar Luxury Group will launch the first boutique for its luxury brand Qela in Doha in late September, selling leather goods, shoes, jewellery and made-to-measure clothing designed with Qatari heritage in mind. It will be followed by a unit in Paris in coming months, a company statement said. An opening in New York is also being considered, a spokeswoman said.

Qatar Luxury Group, owned by the Qatar Foundation and headed by former LVMH executive Gregory Couillard, made its first acquisition by buying an 85.7 percent stake in the Paris-listed leather goods company Le Tanneur et Cie last year.

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has been one of the world’s most active investors with assets ranging from stakes in German sports car maker Porsche to shares in British bank Barclays. It bought the London department store Harrods in 2010 from Egyptian-born businessman Mohamed Al Fayed in a deal reported to be worth around £1.5bn. In July last year the fund announced plans to take the Harrods brand global to cities such as Paris and New York.

It also bought a 1.03 percent stake in luxury conglomerate LVMH. The Qatari royal family bought Italian fashion house Valentino last year in a deal reportedly worth ¤700m ($ 857.5m).

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Turkey exempts GCC investors from tax

Saudi Gazette – 28 July, 2013 – The Turkish government announced exclusion of GCC investors from paying taxes, according to Turkey’s Consul General in Saudi Arabia, reported Al-Yaum newspaper.

Turkey witnessed a notable surge in projects by Saudis and other investors from the GCC, which led to the decision that primarily aims at maintaining a welcoming environment for investors in Turkey, Fikret Ozer, Turkey’s consul general in Saudi Arabia, told the newspaper.

Many Saudi investors refrain from foreign investments because of the taxes imposed by foreign governments, Ahmed Al-Marbai, member of the Industrial Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who invests in Turkey, told Al-Yaum as he welcomed the decision.

The numbers of Saudi investors in Turkey are on the rise after the government facilitated regulations and amended a few laws, allowing Saudi nationals to register owned lands and residences under their own name rather than a company name, as previously the case, added Al-Marbai.

Turkey’s interest in maintaining relations with the Kingdom over several sectors is undeniable, as the country announced its aim to double the number of Saudi tourists from 200,000 in 2012 to 400,000 tourists by the end of 2013, reported another Saudi Arabic newspaper.

Separately, Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım announced recently that at least 2,500 kilometers of high-speed rail line would be built in the next five years to connect 14 different cities.

The Turkish State Railways will announce a record tender of 6 billion Turkish liras in a bid to buy new trains, its director Süleyman Karaman said.

“The tender will include a total of 106 train units. As it is such a big tender, we will include the condition of establishing a train factory in Turkey and impose a 51 percent minimum local purchasing condition,” Karaman told daily Hürriyet.

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Saudi Tourism generates SR17bn in revenues

Arab News – 28 July, 2013 – Tourism festivals in the Kingdom have generated more than SR17 billion in revenues over the past eight years, said Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).

“In 2000, only three tourism festivals were held in the Kingdom. Since the establishment of a special department for this purpose eight years ago, the number of festivals has increased every year,” he said. In the same period, 450 tourism activities were organized across the Kingdom, creating 55,000 permanent and temporary jobs.

“These festivals drew a record crowd of 55 million over the past eight years,” said the SCTA chief. He said the SCTA had spent SR60 million to organize the festivals. “This amount is very small compared to the revenues earned from the festivals.”

The SCTA organized a number of training programs for 1,500 Saudis to make nine visits to other countries to learn about best international practices in holding such events. He also announced a comprehensive development program for tourism in the Kingdom for the period 2014 to 2018 and promised to expand the tourism calendar to events all year round. This would create more jobs for citizens.

Prince Sultan said the SCTA has a long-term plan to ensure tourism benefits citizens economically and culturally. He said citizens are demanding local events that will cater to families, the youth and children.

He said statistics compiled by the SCTA’s center for information and tourism research at festivals over the past five years, showed there was a 72 percent satisfaction rate with the events and that tourism numbers had grown substantially.

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Malaysia Tourism Industry To Be Boosted Through VMY 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 (NNN-Bernama) — The Tourism and Culture Ministry will boost Malaysia’s tourism industry growth through the Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 promotion campaign at the local and international level.

National Resources and Environment Deputy Minister Dr James Dawos Mamit said the year-long campaign wound be a proactive initiative to ensure that Malaysians were prepared to strive together to achieve the VMY 2014 targets.

Responding on behalf of the Tourism and Culture Ministry, Dawos said high expectations were placed on the people, especially the frontliners such as taxi drivers to welcome tourists with a positive image and attitude.

“The responsibility of wooing tourists is not only the ministry’s, but also all the state and private travel agencies’ and all Malaysians’ to act as the country’s ‘tourism ambassadors’,” he said when winding up the debate on the royal address in the Dewan Negara (Upper House of Parliament), here, Monday.

He said 4,000 taxi drivers had been given a course under the Taxi Ambassador programme, as well as taxi operators on their role in promoting the country and increasing tourist arrivals in Malaysia.

“The ministry is also drawing up a tourism action plan to achieve the target of drawing 28 million tourists to the country so that our tourism industry will be able to move in tandem with that of other Asian countries,” he said.

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Iraq Seeks To Promote Tourism Despite Conflict

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug 1 (NNN-NINA) – As it trundles down busy roads, the minibus packed with tourists would be unremarkable except for two things — its passengers are Westerners and the city they are in is Baghdad.

Iraq is no stranger to tourism, with countless pilgrims visiting its religious shrines, but now the country that touts itself as the “cradle of civilisation” also wants a different kind of visitor.

Though almost entirely dependent on oil exports for government income, Iraq does play host to millions of Shiite Muslim pilgrims annually, who visit its multiple shrines and holy sites, from Samarra in the north to Basra in the south.

Keen to ease reliance on Iranian pilgrims — most of the population of its enormous eastern neighbour is Shiite — officials in Baghdad want to promote tourism from elsewhere, and believe visitor numbers can be increased threefold.

While tourists must struggle through Iraq’s decrepit infrastructure and often-frustrating bureaucracy, including a difficult-to-navigate visa system, a handful of tour operators is bringing groups to the country.

“Every area that we’ve been to has been totally, totally, different,” said Lynda Coney, one traveller on a trip organised by Britain-based Hinterland Travel. “The Arab people, history, the archaeology… have absolutely grabbed me with interest,” the Briton said while trudging through Baghdad’s main railway station.

Since 2009, Hinterland has been taking visitors on tours of Iraq lasting nine and 16 days, with prices starting at around $3,000 (2,265 euros) for the shorter trip, plus flights and visas.

The group travels in an unmarked air-conditioned van with Geoff Hann, Hinterland’s owner, who has himself been making trips to Iraq since the 1970’s, an Iraqi policeman for security, and a small team of drivers and guides.

They mostly try not to be noticed, do not announce where they are staying or headed, and generally have low-profile security. By contrast, officials, diplomats and foreign company staff, typically travel in heavily armed convoys of vehicles, with tinted windows, that zoom through Baghdad’s streets.

They travel from Iraq’s north, where they take in the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra, down through Baghdad to Babylon and on to the port city of Basra, before returning to the capital.

While in Iraq, Hinterland customers stay at hotels, though the quality of the establishments varies enormously. None of the tourists who spoke expressed any complaints about accommodation.

Hann’s tour operator is one of the few that has approval from the government to organise trips. Individual tourists often struggle to obtain visas to the Arab-dominated parts of the country. Much of Iraq’s security-focused infrastructure is ill-prepared for Western tourists.

While moving through Baghdad, for example, Hann’s group was stopped at a checkpoint outside a cemetery, with federal policemen demanding authorisation papers, typically only required of journalists, from the capital’s security command centre for the tourists’ cameras.

For “most of our tours, under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, we were restricted with minders”, Hann said.

More recently, “it’s been difficult here because of the security situation. We’ve had to have a different sort of minder”, he said, referring to the policeman escorting the group. “That’s still there, it hasn’t gone away, because the security position for everybody here is difficult.”

Officials admit that while they hope to promote tourism, they also lack the funds for advertising campaigns, since much is budgeted for physical reconstruction after decades of war, and resources are also lost to widespread corruption and incompetence.

Visas, meanwhile, are the domain of security officials, who are loathe to reform a complex system that prioritises entry permits for pilgrims over other tourists. But that is all almost academic when compared to Iraq’s main problem — its reputation for poor security.

The country has been through decades of conflict, from the 1980-88 war with Iran to the bombings and shootings that continue to plague daily life. “When Iraq is mentioned in Europe, the first things that people think of are terrorism and violence,” Baha al-Mayahi, a senior adviser to the tourism ministry, told AFP.

“We need to put in place major efforts in order to change this, and to tell people that Iraq is not terrorism and killing, that Iraq is history and civilisation.”

Maya said Iraq averages around two million tourists annually, but that with some basic improvements that figure could increase to six million. By contrast, Hong Kong, with a population less than a quarter the size of Iraq’s, brought in more than 48 million tourists last year, according to its official data.

Zein Ali, a worker at a private house cleaning company, said an influx of foreign tourists would help change Iraq’s image. “I think tourists should come more often. There is violence here of course, but you can be killed anywhere in the world,” Ali said. “Baghdad is not how we see it on TV. Tourists should come here, see this city, and I am sure they will come back again,” the 21-year-old added.

But the violence, if anything appears to be worsening, with a surge in attacks and car bombings in recent months hitting much of the country. Upwards of 2,000 people have been killed since April — a level not seen since 2008.

For now, Hinterland is planning trips from September onwards after Iraq’s boiling summer concludes, but Mayahi admitted that security problems could scupper plans to promote tourism. “If security worsens, tourism will decrease,” he said. Despite the difficulties, few on the Hinterland tour expressed reservations about their trip.

“For a long time I’ve really wanted to come here,” said Greg Lessenger, a 32-year-old from Washington state in the United States. “There was no possible way for me to go travelling (to Iraq) on my own. But then I found out about this, and I thought, maybe I have got a chance, and I took advantage of it. If you’re a real traveller, you have got to see some of these places.”

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Qatar Tourism Authority to start regional Eid campaign

The Peninsula – 26 July, 2013 – Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is launching a regional campaign to promote Qatar as the Eid destination in the region in preparation for the coming Eid Festival. “We are going to launch a regional campaign on Sunday across all platforms including television, radio, online and outdoor advertisement,” said Hend Zainal, Director for Marketing and Public Relations at QTA.

For the second edition of the festival, QTA has prepared more events to provide residents and tourists a fun-filled experience this coming Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. Activities at the Lusail shooting range and paragliding are among the new events that were added to enhance this year’s Eid celebration, Zainal told the local media.

A number of travel packages would also be launched to attract more tourists from neighbouring countries for the Eid celebration. The packages, especially for Eid, will be a combination of air ticket, hotel and tours in cooperation with Qatar Airways, hotels and travel agencies.

The campaign will cover all GCC countries with focus on Saudi Arabia, which is a big market for Qatar’s sector as a big chunk of tourist arrivals come from the Kingdom.

Malls including City Center, Al Khor Mall, Lagoona, Hyatt Plaza, Landmark and Villaggio in addition to Doha Exhibition Centre and Heritage Village will be filled with free live entertainment from acrobats, mascots, musicians and a variety of performers from Qatar and the region.

The festival, which caters to all ages, will open on the first day of Eid Al Fitr in shopping centres, Doha Exhibition Center (DEC), Souq Waqif, Katara and other locations outside Doha such as Aqua Park, Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum and Al Dosari Garden. While some events would run for 10 days, others would last for 35 days.

The main highlight of the activities is the Entertainment City which will open from the first day of Eid Al Fitr till September 15 at a 15,000sqm area at DEC. A variety of events and activities will be held at the air-conditioned area including theatre shows and games for children, in which prizes will be at stake for winners and participants.

There will be play areas for children as well as places where they can draw, read, and paint. Rides will also be available at the venue with minimum of QR5, QR10 and QR15 in addition to restaurants which will offer food at fair prices. A total of 150 shops selling household items, clothes, perfumes, toys and accessories coming from Qatar, China, Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Turkey among others could be found at the Entertainment City.

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Algerian Companies Invited To Participate In Moroccan Halal Fair

ALGIERS, July 29 (NNN-APS) — Algerian companies interested in the market for halal (permitted, in Islam) goods and services have been invited to take part in the 2nd International Halal Expo to take place in Meknes, Morocco, on Sept 26 and 27 this year. Held this year under the theme “Halal Products for Export: Research and Innovations”, Africa’s only professional halal products-related event will shed light on the best initiatives to promote innovation and research, the Algerian Agency for Export Promotion (ALGEX) says on his website. The expo is a professional event at the service of all international players in halal markets for producers of food and food components and by-products, those working in agro-industries, distributors, professionals in related services, including banks and insurance companies.

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Malaysia’s Resort Island Langkawi To Have 45-Room Hotel By Year-End

LANGKAWI, July 30 (NNN-Bernama) — The Langkawi District Development Cooperative, one of the most active cooperatives in the country, will open a hotel called “KPD INN” that will be operational by year-end. Chairman Ismail Yaakob said a building adjacent to Langkawi Mall in Kuah, near the cooperative’s office, has been acquired to be developed into a hotel.

He said renovation work to build rooms and related facilities would start after receiving approval from the authorities. He said the hotel would have 45 rooms for tourists coming to this tourist haven. “This is one of the initiatives by the cooperative to diversify its participation in the tourism industry, besides increasing its revenue,” he told reporters here today. Ismail said the hotel would help meet requirements for hotel rooms in Langkawi particularly during school and festive holidays. The cooperative is engaged in diverse businesses including operating petrol kiosks, as a wholesaler and as a motorcycle agent.

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Egypt: Minister – 5.7 Million Tourists Bring Egypt $4.4 Billion

Aswat Masriya – 29 July 2013 – Tourism Minister Hisham Za’zou’ said that 5.7 million tourists visited Egypt during the first six months of 2013. Tourism revenues during this period reached 4.4 billion USD, the minister said during his meeting with Italy’s ambassador to Egypt.

Average tourist spending dropped to 67 USD instead of more than 100 USD in 2012, the Middle East News Agency reported Za’zou’ as saying. The minister cut the 2013 tourist forecasts due to travel warnings several countries issued after the June 30 revolution. Around 12 percent of Egypt’s work force is employed in tourism. According to tourism ministry data, tourism constitutes around 11.3 percent the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Egypt’s position at the bottom of the list of countries unable to provide safety and security for its tourists has caused severe losses in the tourism sector.

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Uganda: Kabaka Launches Tourism Expo

New Vision – 31 July 2013 – Thousands of people Wednesday afternoon turned up to express their joy as the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, kicked off activities to mark the main celebrations of his 20th coronation anniversary. The climax of the celebrations will be on Saturday with a grand party at Kabaka’s main palace situated on Mengo Hill in Rubaga Division.

Accompanied by Nnabagereka Sylvia Nagginda, their children Princess Katrina Ssangalyambogo and Prince Jjunju Kiweewa, the Kabaka arrived at the Kabaka Anjagala Road at about 11:00am amidst ululations by his jubilant subjects. He planted two trees along the road that stretches from Bulange, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, to his palace. The road has just been reconstructed by KCCA.

The Kabaka, accompanied among others by the Katikkiro, Charles Peter Mayiga, Lubaga mayor Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo and Omutaka Ndugwa Ssemakula, then proceeded to the historic man-made Kabaka’s Lake in Ndeeba.

Kabaka’s entourage also included the Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, Buganda ministers, MPs, clan leaders, Lukiiko MPs and leaders of Buganda counties. The Kabaka, together with the Nnabagereka, sailed in a boat around the tiny lake that was dug during the reign of his great grandfather Ssekabaka Mwanga II in the 1890s.

The Kabaka then drove through queues of his enthusiastic subjects to the palace to tour and launch the Buganda Trade and Tourism Expo that has attracted hundreds of exhibitors. At the Expo, the Kabaka was entertained by school children before he addressed the gathering. He said Buganda Kingdom is a major tourism destination which is strategically located in and around Uganda’s capital city.

“This is the fifth time the kingdom is organising this event. Many of Uganda’s major tourism sites are found in Buganda,” the Kabaka said. He urged his subjects to take advantage of the opportunities created by the tourism sector.

The Kabaka who was in a jovial mood thanked Ssebugwawo and KCCA for repairing the Kabaka Anjagala Road. Earlier, the Katikkiro called on Buganda’s youth to support efforts being made by the kingdom to promote tourism in Buganda.

“Over the past 20 years, a firm foundation for the kingdom has been established by the Kabaka. It is now time for every Muganda to make a contribution towards the building of a glorious kingdom,” Mayiga. He thanked the Kabaka for leading the kingdom with courage amidst challenges. Mayiga urged the young people to be at the forefront of building a new Buganda.

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Australia supports Indonesian islamic schools to gain national accreditation

Wed, July 24 2013 – Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Australian Government through Australian Aid (AusAID) has provided 500 million Australian dollars to support 1,500 Islamic schools in Indonesia to gain the national accreditation.

“We understand that 20 percent of children in Indonesia are educated in Islamic schools or madrasah, so its significant part of the Indonesian education. Importantly, there are parts of the system that needs to support so it can be accredited to the national system," said Australias Deputy Ambassador to Indonesia David Engel during the breaking of the fast dinner at Al Fauzain VI “Madrasah Ibtidaiyah” or elementary school in South Jakarta on Tuesday night.

According to Engel, the national accreditation for madrasah that to be gained through the education partnership with the Indonesian government would significantly raise the quality of Islamic schools and make possible of its students to have the same competency with the public schools. “What we are doing is to support the madrasah to gain the national standard. So all students in Indonesia, and wherever students, can have the education that its diploma are nationally recognized,” he said.

The AusAIDs Director of Education, Hannah Birdsey, said there are four programs in order to support the madrasah gain the national accreditation, namely through teachers capacities training, increasing the learning and teaching mechanism process, gaining the curriculum standard, and improving the school`s infrastructures and facilities.

“We want to make sure that this partnership program will be right on target, so we choose the school selectively, besides to choose it directly from the Religious Affairs Ministry`s data,” she said. Through this partnership, Birdsey said about 72 percent of madrasah which has not yet been accredited would be able to accelerate their efforts to gain its national recognition.

The Head of Religious Affairs Office of South Jakarta, Kasa Sukarsa, said the AusAID had very selectively chose the madarasah to be supported between 2011 and 2016. In South Jakarta alone, the Al Fauzain VI Madrasah Ibtidaiyah got ten thousands Australian dollars or Rp 90 millions to improve school`s facilities and increase the learning teaching mechanism process.

“From the profit point of view, the Al Fauzain which has six classes with only 85 students is obviously unprofitable that almost impossible to meet the national standard. Hence, this funds is very incredible and helpful to gain the accreditation,” he said.

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Railway company to build Yogyakarta-Solo electric train lines

Tue, July 30 2013 Yogyakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian Railway Company (KAI) is planning to build electric train (KRL) lines connecting Yogyakarta and Solo.

“The results of a study and detail engineering design for the construction of electric train lines has been proposed (to the House of Representatives). We are waiting for the DPR`s approval to ensure the fund for the project,” director general of train safety at the Transportation Ministry Hermanto Dwi Atmoko said here on Monday.

He said if the plan is approved by the DPR, the construction of 120-km electric train lines can be started in 2014. The construction of every kilometer of electric train lines will cost Rp3.5 billion, he said. “If the construction work can be carried out according to schedule, the electric train lines will go into service in 2017,” he said.

The fares of the electric train will be cheaper than those of short-distance commuter trains which currently serve the lines, such as Prambanan Express and Sriwedari, which reach Rp10,000 and Rp20,000 respectively. After the Yogyakarta-Solo electric train lines have been completed, KAI will develop similar lines connecting Yogyakarta and Kutoarjo, he said.

Meanwhile, KAI will also resume the construction of Kutoarjo-Kroya double tracks in November. The project is expected to completed in three years. “We will also resume the construction of Purwokerto-Cirebon double tracks so in 2018 the railway lines linking Jakarta to Solo will be double tracks,” Haryanto, head of the ministrys work unit for Javas southern railway lines Haryanto said.

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Indonesian Islamic Students to organize ASEAN Youth Assembly

Wed, July 31 2013 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian Islamic Student Movement (PMII) will organize ASEAN+9 Youth Assembly in Jakarta on August 26-29. The four-day meeting was part of the movements efforts to build foreign relations networks and help address international issues particularly in the lead-up to the formation of ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, chief of the events organizing committee Addin Jauharudin said in a press statement released on Wednesday.

Besides leaders of youth organizations in 10 ASEAN member states, the PMII would also invite delegates from ASEAN partners, namely China, India, European Union, Timor Leste, South Korea, Japan, the United States and Australia, as observers, he said. The activity was the movement`s initiative to forge people-to-people relations between ASEAN and its partners, he said.

“The idea of organizing such forum did not come from the government, donor institutions and non-profit organizations but purely from the PMII after studying the dynamics of geo-politics and economy in the ASEAN region,” he said.

He expressed hope the theme of the forum “ASEAN +9 Youth Assembly for ASEAN Community 2015” would be able to absorb participation from both domestic and foreign parties particularly government agencies. “The formation of the ASEAN Economic Community will affect the entire ASEAN peoples,” he said. The forum would produce ASEAN Youth Charter in response to the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community, he said. The PMII last held an ASEAN youth leaders forum in Jakarta in 2002.

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Arab artists to compete in Brazilian contemporary art festival

Ahram Online, Tuesday 30 Jul 2013 – Videobrasil has invited four artists from Lebanon to compete in The 18th Contemporary Art Festival dedicated to the southern artistic productions from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia and Oceania. Videobrasil is a Brazilian cultural organisation that highlights the promotion of contemporary art and cultural dialogue.

The Arab artists to participate in the Southern panorama show are Akram Zaatari, Ali Cherri, Mahmoud Khaled and Roy Dibwere. Each work of art was chosen out of 2,000 competing projects. According to Brazil-Arab News Agency, featuring Arab artists in the festival enriches the art scene of North America and Western Europe.

The total number of competing projects reached 94 pieces of video installations, drawings, sculptures, paintings, artist books, and videos, according to the Videobrasil website. The artists’ creative background influenced by the Arab political identity showcases the diversity of the festival and exposes the Arab art scene internationally.

Akram Zaarati is a Lebanese photographer and filmmaker; his photographic work excels in explaining the state of image making. Many of his videos are influenced by the Arab political and cultural situation. He is also one of the founders of Beirut’s Arab Image Foundation.

Alo Cherri is a visual artist and designer. He studied graphic design at The American University in Beirut. According to Brazil-Arab News Agency, His work is a combination between political issues and personal memories. This is his second time participating in the festival as he won a prize at the 15th Videobrasil Festival.

Mahmoud Khaled is the third competitor at the festival. His background and experience adds a cultural appeal to the festival as he lived between Lebanon and Egypt. According to his website, in his work “we are subjected to the conceptual effects of an inspective eye primarily concerned with the boundaries and in-between zones of public life and its personal counterpart.”

Lebanese artist Roy Dib, according to Brazil-Arab News Agency, holds a degree in Theatre from the Lebanese University and is one of the founders of theatre group Zoukak. He also works in cultural journalism. According to the Videobrazil website, not only will the Brazilian international festival host and highlight Middle Eastern artwork, but it also celebrates its 30-year anniversary of artistic experiments and contributions.

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Egyptian pop culture project to be featured in Beirut

Ahram Online, Tuesday 30 Jul 2013 – Through multi-disciplinary presentations, a book, a documentary film, and an audiovisual performance, the project “My Nineties: A Panorama of Collective Memory Televised” tries to recapture the epic televised popular culture that came to a rise during the period of the 1990s.

The show will take place in Beirut’s Metro Al-Madina Centre on 14 August, where the makers of the project will exhibit their work, consisting of video footage, a book launch, a documentary screening and an audio-visual live performance.

Addressing the media in era of Nineties, project manager and director Mohamed Allam started to gather material from different individuals who recorded video footage using VHS tapes. The collected archive ranges from various entertainment programs, kids shows, Western soap operas, to circus shows and newsletters from national television represented in over 4,000 tapes. The tapes were collected from markets and other places but not from archives.

The project aims not only to document the history of televised content but also to answer questions of how the identity of those who were raised in the era of the nineties came to be formed by popular culture. It also aims to reflect on how this generation reacted to the unheard-of flow of information and entertainment that occurred during that time period.

The project also includes a book, where Hassan El-Halwagy, a journalist and a researcher, offers an archive of the material gathered. He also researched and provided a literature review of some academic projects that dealt with the Egyptian media, especially television during the nineties, to create an overview of the reaction of the masses to television and the discourses that surrounded the scene.

In the documentary film, director Emad Maher features several TV personalities, directors, camera-men and sound engineers to comment on how Egyptian TV was like in the nineties. The video exhibition is to mix video footage from the recorded tapes to music of vintage popular advertisements, soundtracks of programs and pop songs, and even news reports and football matches.

As in the Cairo opening, Mohamed Allam and Ramy Abadir will present an audio-visual performance placing a modern twist on the archive’s footage and sounds to bring audience to their feet. The project, as thought-provoking as it is, strives to evoke nostalgia for that era and to dig into the collective memory of this age group.

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In Memorium: Shafiga Akhundova – legend of Azerbaijani music

31 July 2013 – AzerNews – Shafiga Akhundova, the first professional female author of an opera in the East and a legend of the Azerbaijani music history, passed away on July 26 at the age of 89. Akhundova, who succeeded in opening a magnificent page in the Azerbaijani music art, creating a myriad of beautiful and valuable works, was buried in the second Alley of Honor after a three-hour farewell ceremony on July 27.

She was a composer with a broad range of creativity and her works have played an important role in the education and upbringing of the new generation in Azerbaijan. Akhundova, who was born on January 21, 1924 in Sheki, a magnificent and historical town of Azerbaijan, devoted almost 70 years of her life to the culture and art of her home country.

Shafiga was a lucky person, because her mother Zuleykha and elder sister Zumrud always supported her in her choice. Her mother loved to play the accordion and the family enjoyed listening to her. Shafiga’s sister also played an important role on her way to composing. At an early age her musical talent was obvious to the family, and especially when little Shafiga played the piano she made miracles happen. Music became an integral part of her life.

However, during those times, it was unusual for a woman to be engaged in music and to be a singer or a composer. Most of the people didn’t accept this due to the stereotypes that were widespread at the time.

Therefore, her father didn’t want his daughter to be a musician and was very dissatisfied with her choice. According to Shafiga Akhundova, he wanted to see her as a doctor. Her father was a very serious man and was not so addicted to music. Although they had a piano at home, he always kept it locked to prevent little Shafiga from playing it. He even had hidden his wife’s accordion in order to make Shafiga forget music. Listening to music and even saying the word “music” was forbidden in their family.

But despite her father’s dissatisfaction and all the troubles she was determined in her choice and after finishing school she submitted documents to the Conservatory and was admitted. Her composing skills rose to a professional level.

When her father learned that Shafiga attended the Conservatory, he got angry with her and didn’t let her come home. She even had to stay at her neighbors’ place for a while. Although she stayed out of home in snowy and cold weather because of her father’s decision, the love for music wouldn’t let Shafiga go back on her dream and she enriched her musical experience even more.

On this path, the first professional composer in the Azerbaijani music history, the one with outstanding personality, Uzeyir Hajibeyov, supported her. She was lucky to have had such a great and attentive teacher.

Shafiga said, “I realized that no one and nothing could keep me away from this work. I was born for this art. The presence of the great master, Uzeyir Hajibeyov, further increased my strength.” She valued the acquaintance with this great composer as a precious gift of life.

Shafiga received her primary education at Baku Music School named after Asaf Zeynally, where she had been taught by Uzeyir Hajibeyov for eight years. Then, in 1956, she continued her education at Azerbaijan State Conservatory named after Uzeyir Hajibeyov, from which she graduated from the class of prominent composer Boris Zeydman.

Later the composer recalled: “Uzeyir Hajibeyov opened training courses within the Conservatory and three times a week he was giving us lessons. He either taught the fundamentals of the Azerbaijani folk music to young composers in the general group, or individually was engaged in the work we composed; also, we copied mughams to our notes. Uzeyir Hajibeyov invited the distinguished professor of the Leningrad University Zeydman to Baku in order to teach the classical rules of the composing art more thoroughly. We learned the secrets of composing from this great master.”

In 1972, Akhundova composed her first opera, “Galin gayasi” (Bride’s Rock), and became the first female composer in the East. This opera’s combination of the classical music with the oral traditional classical mugham confirms the preservation of the composing style of Uzeyir Hajibeyov and shows her unique talent and musical skill.

Many prominent musicians expressed positive opinions about this opera. Also, the performance of this opera won the acclaim of the people and brought great success to its author.

Akhundova is also the author of the wonderful songs “Leyla”, “Happy Land”, the operetta “Our home, our secret” (1965), pieces for a string quartet, the dramatic plays “Aydin”, “Farewell to India!”, “What do you live for?”, etc. and music for children’s plays such as “A tale of a clown”, “Birthday of a rabbit”, etc. She is the author of more than 600 works and composed music for more than 30 spectacles staged in state theaters.

Despite her grief and health problems, at the age of almost 90 she was full of love for life and continued to write beautiful songs with the enthusiasm of a young creative person. Music was a source of vital energy for her, it was her true love and true world. Shafiga Akhundova always wrote only about what touched her heart and expressed the highest human feelings. Therefore, her music remains the best for many artists to this day.

Her compositions were performed by the outstanding Azerbaijani singers of the time, who perceived her music as a gift and fell in love with them once and for all. Her works were also very famous in foreign countries, such as Turkey, Central Asian states, and were lovingly performed abroad.

Shafiga Akhundova had a unique personality, she was a kind and straightforward person, and her pure soul was open to everyone. She became a lovely composer of the Azerbaijani people with her beautiful music and rare personality and will always hold a special place in the hearts of the Azerbaijani people.

Akhundova has been awarded by the government for her merits. In 1998, Akhundova was conferred the title of People’s Artist of Azerbaijan and in 2005 she received the Shohrat (Glory) Order.

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Celebrated Azerbaijani writer’s play staged in London

30 July 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Theatro Technis in London has hosted the premiere of Citizens of Hell, a play by Azerbaijani Peoples Writer Elchin Afandiyev. The staging was sponsored by Azerbaijans Ministry of Youth and Sport and supported by Azerbaijan`s Embassy in the UK.

Speaking to the launch ceremony, producer David Parry provided an insight into the play.

Azerbaijani Ambassador Fakhraddin Gurbanov emphasized the importance of culture diplomacy. He said cultural events played the role of a bridge between nations, bringing people closer to each other. The Ambassador spoke of Elchin`s life and career, saying he has authored more than 100 books with his works translated into more than 40 languages.

Citizens of Hell at Theatro Technis was a world first: the first time it had ever been performed either in the West or in English, according to the UK media. Set in Baku during WWII, the play is described as a surrealist nightmare exploring the grim mechanics of moral paralysis, sexual frustration with an undertow of the primal fear of strangers.

The play has only three characters: a husband and wife, and a mysterious visitor to their 5th floor apartment on New Year’s Eve 1937-38.

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Historic Bank of Alexandria building registered on Egypt’s Heitage List

Al-Ahram – Thursday 1 Aug 2013 – The presidential palace of French architect Baron De Gillian in downtown Cairo was officially registered on Egypt’s Islamic Heritage List on Thursday following almost two decades of court cases.

The controversy started in 1995 when the antiquities ministry listed the De Gillian building on Egypt’s Heritage List as an Islamic monument. The palace is located on one of the Bank of Alexandria’s premises. The bank refused to relinquish ownership of the property. Instead, it filed a lawsuit against the ministry and requested LE140 million in compensation.

The Supreme Administrative Court issued on Thursday its last verdict stipulating that the palace is to remain on Egypt’s heritage list as one of its monuments. The ruling also rejected the requested compensation by the bank.

According to the director of Historic Cairo Mohamed Abdel Aziz, the historical building was originally built by French architect Baron De Gillian who was known by Leo-Paul II. He was a lover of Occidental monuments and travelled all over the globe until he died in 1899 at the age of 56.

The palace is located on Mohamed Farid Street in downtown Cairo. The building includes three floors with two façades, a large reception on the first floor, and several halls and rooms on the two other floors.

The presidential palace was built more than 100 years ago. It has a very distinguished Islamic architecture façade and its inner rooms are decorated with European designs, motifs and natural scenes depicting different places all over the world.

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United Airways to operate Dhaka-Bangkok flight from Aug 25

DHAKA, July 30, 2013 (BSS)- United Airways (BD) Limited, the country’s leading largest private airline, will fly Bangkok with cheapest fare from August 25, next from Dhaka. Weekly three flights from Dhaka to Bangkok will be operating on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday departs from Dhaka at 10.40 hrs and departs from Bangkok at 16.30 hrs, said a release here today.

Dhaka-Bangkok-Dhaka special return fare is Taka 17,989 (inclusive of all taxes and surcharges). United Airways, the first ever public limited company in the country’s aviation sector, is now operating more international routes from Dhaka to Jeddah, Dubai, Muscat, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Katmandu and Kolkata and also from Chittagong to Muscat and Kolkata.

Besides, the airline is operating domestic flights from Dhaka to Chittagong, Sylhet, Jessore, Cox’s Bazar, Saidpur, Rajshahi and Barisal. The release said that hopefully Dhaka-Singapore and Dhaka- Doha flight will start in September this year. United Airways has 9 aircrafts — one Dash-8-100, two ATR-72, four MD-83 and two Airbus-310.

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Dhaka, Seoul to sign MoU for tourism development

DHAKA, July 27, 2013 (BSS) – Dhaka and Seoul have agreed to identify possible areas to work together for development of the two-way tourism and hospitality industries. The decision came when Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister of Bangladesh Lt Col (Retd) Faruk Khan met South Korean Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Yoo Jin Young at the latter’s office in South Korean Capital of Seoul.

Meanwhile, Faruk Khan held a meeting with Chief Executive Officer of Youngone Corporation Kihak Sung, the world’s second largest Readymade Garment (RMG) maker.

During the meeting, the minister said Bangladesh and South Korea have long been maintaining good bilateral trade relations and many South Korean business units like Youngone are in operation in Bangladesh and they are contributing to Bangladesh’ economy.

Bangladesh government has declared various incentives and lucrative packages to foreign investors to invest in Bangladesh, he informed. The minister also invited South Korean investors to invest in Bangladesh enjoying these facilities. On July 24, Faruk Khan left here for Seoul on an invitation of Korean Government and will return home tomorrow (Sunday).

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Tajikistan certifies halal food

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-07-29 DUSHANBE – Food that meets Tajikistan’s halal standards became available for public sale July 20, authorities told Central Asia Online. “(Eating halal food) is one of the main rules for observing Sharia,” Council of Ulema Deputy Chairman Abdulbasir Saidov told Central Online.

Six Tajik food producers already meet the new standards, said Narzullo Sharipov, chief of Tajikstandart, the government agency for overseeing compliance with various standards, and the food is expected to gain prevalence.

The government developed the halal standard over the past two years with help from the Tajik Council of Ulema, the Health Ministry, the Committee for Religious Affairs and the Agriculture Ministry Veterinary Service, as well as by reviewing neighbouring countries’ experience, Sharipov said.

Halal food may not contain any haram (forbidden) components, such as pork or meat from animals slaughtered by suffocation, electrocution or a blow; and a Muslim must perform the slaughter, with him or someone else pronouncing Allah’s name during the process, Saidov said.

The requirements apply across food categories, including meat, bread, baked goods, dairy products and non-alcoholic drinks, Tohir Mudinayev, another Tajikstandart official, added.

“Permission to use the halal label for one year is granted by a special Tajikstandart committee, including specialists from Tajikstandart and from the Tajik Council of Ulema,” Sharipov said. “Today, Tajikstandart quite strictly monitors certified Tajik halal producers’ compliance with the requirements. They have to sell off all their older food before using the label.”

Two factors drove Tajikstandart to develop its own halal standard, Sharipov said. First, some food carrying haram components – like genetically modified organisms and chemical dyes – appeared; second, customers demanded it.

Although Tajikistan previously produced and imported food called halal, no official Tajik body set a standard, meaning some food might have been called halal by mistake, he said. The Council of Ulema welcomes the move, Saidov said.

“Many Tajik residents constantly run into the problem of buying halal food,” he said. With limited producers and distributors of halal food and no proper certification process, consumers in the past often turned to foreign suppliers. “First, this impairs the growth of Tajik producers, and secondly, imported food costs much more,” he said.

Enforcing the standards will give consumers “some sort of a guarantee … against dishonest producers,” Akhad Sadykov, a journalist who writes commentary on religious matters, told Central Asia Online.

“Producers of halal food are working not just to make some money but also to improve their image,” he said. “This is particularly important in Tajikistan, where most of the population is Muslim.”

Many Tajik producers were complying with halal requirements even before the government issued a standard, 29-year-old Dushanbe resident Sitora Nazarova told Central Asia Online.

“For a long time now, I have been buying only meat and dairy products labelled ‘halal.’ … My husband strictly adheres to the requirements, so our family observes them all,” she said. However, she said she is happy it will now be regulated.

Abdudzhalol Shodiyev, who has been producing “Pokiza” sausage for 15 years, marked his products as halal almost from the start. “Though Tajikistan hadn’t adopted the standard when I started making sausage, as a devout Muslim, I observed all the requirements,” he said.

Shodiyev intends to expand production now that the standard has taken effect. “I’m thinking about re-equipping the entire plant to meet the new requirements,” he said. “I think the cost will be high but recoverable, because the demand for halal food is growing in Tajikistan every day.”

One place selling halal food is the modest-sized Mekhrob shop, which has enjoyed a strong reputation for many years. Last year the shop owner performed the Hajj. Now, with the introduction of the official halal standard, he has decided to sell only halal food. “All our food, which is mainly produced in Tajikistan, meets the halal standard,” shop assistant Nosir Khamdanov said.

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Turkmenistan aims to hit grain target harvest

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-07-26 ASHGABAT – Turkmen farmers are poised for the first time to reach a long-standing national goal in wheat harvesting, officials say. By mid-June, 1m tonnes of wheat had already been brought in, state media reported, and the state-owned Turkmengallaonumleri (Turkmen Cereal Products) predicted that the country would reach its target of at least 1.6m tonnes entering the grain stores this year.

Turkmenistan has been dependent on imported wheat for years, and the hope is that reaching the tough-to-reach level set back in 2007 will enable it to reduce imports. “We have wanted to reach this target since 2007,” Kakamyrat Esenov, a Turkmengallaonumleri procurement specialist, told Central Asia Online. “But each time, for various reasons, we have failed to do so.”

But farmers and Esenov alike agree that conditions are ideal for a strong harvest this year. “The harvest largely depends on the weather, on the level of water in the irrigation system, the reproduction level of pests, the quality of the seeds and the work done with them, availability of equipment to farmers, and finally, economic incentives,” said Resulberdy Charyyev, a tenant farmer in Mary Oblast, one of Turkmenistan’s chief grain-producing oblasts.

“All these factors have combined favourably for us this year,” he told Central Asia Online, adding that his yield has increased more than 17% from last year to 3,500kg per ha.

The trend is consistent across the oblast, said Amman S., an agronomist in the agricultural department of the Mary Oblast government, noting that about 340 Mary farmers were harvesting an average of about 10% more than they did last year. Mary and Lebap oblasts were the first two to fulfil their part of the grain production plan and Dashoguz Oblast is having a solid year, he said, but he didn’t have data from that oblast.

Domestic and international sources give different figures of how much grain Turkmenistan needs to harvest to be self-sufficient. The goal of 1.6m tonnes should be enough for the country to feed itself and to export some surplus grain, said Arslan Tekayev, an independent analyst in Ashgabat. However, international organisations project that Turkmenistan needs to harvest 2.5m tonnes per year to be self-sufficient.

Farmers came close to the 1.6m-tonne goal in 2012 but fell short at only 1.2m tonnes. The 1990s were particularly difficult for the country’s wheat harvests because the country had just become independent and was struggling to get a handle on how to manage agriculture and other national services.

This season’s results are particularly encouraging compared to the shortages, which forced flour and bread rationing, Charyyev said.

“Allah be praised, we came through that nightmare period,” Charyyev said, adding that the struggle “taught us to cultivate wheat, restore bygone ploughing traditions and eat our own bread.”

Farmers this year also have an extra incentive to produce as much wheat as they can. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in April announced a prize of US $1m (2.9m TMT) to the highest-yielding agricultural district, Amman S. said. That award would be earmarked for the district to further help farmers. “So this is a contest not only for the harvest but also for this prize,” he said.

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Maldives included among Asian countries with strongest investment in tourism

Sun.mv – July 24, 2013 – The Maldives has been included among Asian countries with the strongest investment in the tourism sector. Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) has revealed in a new report that hotel investments in Asia are at their highest level since 2008. The report states that hotel transaction volumes in Asia reached $1.3 billion in the first half of 2013, an 85 percent increase compared the same period in 2012.

JLL said that this rise was due to increased investment in Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo, as well as “opportunistic deals in emerging markets such as Thailand and the Maldives”. The report also mentioned the sale of Angsana Velavaru for $71 million.

Mike Batchelor, JLL’s managing director of investment sales for hotels and hospitality, said, “During the first half of 2013, we have seen a growing number of transactions, including those at the portfolio level, and improved investor sentiment translate to increased sales. The divergence between vendor and purchaser expectations that served to restrict investment activity in 2012, has improved this year leading to a number of landmark transactions in the first half.”

JLL said that transaction volumes in Asia could reach $3 billion by the end of the year.

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Turkey’s tourism income increases by 22.8 pct in Q2

ANKARA – Hurriyet – Turkey’s tourism income reached $8.68 billion in the second quarter of 2013, a 22.8 percent increase compared to the same quarter of the previous year, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) announced yesterday. While 84.6 percent of the tourism income was obtained from foreign guests, 15.4 percent was obtained from the locals living abroad.

A guest spent an average of $825 in the mentioned period, although a foreign guest spent $766 on average and a local living abroad spent $1.335 in Turkey. The number of departing visitors increased by 12.8 percent compared to the second quarter of 2012, having reached 10.5 million. Turkey’s tourism income was $4.9 billion in the first quarter of this year.

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Tourist arrival numbers up in Istanbul despite protests

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – While foreign tourist numbers reached 4 million last month in Turkey, in a 5 percent rise on the same month last year, Istanbul also showed a 2 percent rise despite Gezi Park protests. However, transfer passengers who came through Istanbul to travel to other cities might raise the number

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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Hollywood star Russell Crowe discovers new places in Cappadocia

NEVŞEHİR – Anadolu Agency – Australian Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe has arrived back in Turkey for a new trip preparatory to a film to be shot in the country, taking in the highlights of Cappadocia in Central Anatolia.

The actor arrived in at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport over the weekend before heading to Edirne and subsequently Cappadocia, where he has visited fairy chimneys in the province’s Ürgüp district. On July 27, one day before his visit to Edirne, he tweeted: “Sun’s coming up. 4 a.m. call to prayer woke me. This place is amazing. At least once in your life, you have to experience Istanbul.” During his recent trip to Edirne, Crowe conducted some research for a new movie that will focus on the life of a father who lost his sons at the Battle of Gallipoli. “Been all over Edirne. Interesting place, some great potential locations for filming. Met the Governor and the Mayor, big day,” he tweeted.

This is not the first time Crowe has come to Turkey, as he visited the northwestern province of Çanakkale on May 22 with U.S. producer Keith Rodger and Britain’s Dene Jesham. The famous actor, who was traveling on a luxury yacht named Latiko, had come to Çanakkale after visiting the Greek island of Mikonos. He and others visited Anzac Cove and the New Zealand monuments and graveyards in the Gallipoli National Park.

At the time, the famous actor tweeted about his visit, saying, “The Turkish coastline is so beautiful.” He also tweeted a picture with the caption: “The sun rising over the Gallipoli peninsula.” “In 1915 we would have been in earshot of the Turk guns for the last hour. Lest we forget,” he said in another tweet.

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Bodrum Ballet Festival begins with Hürrem Sultan show

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency – Starting from Aug. 7, ballet will reign on Bodrum Castle stage. The 11th International Bodrum Ballet Festival will stage Spartacus, Amazons and Hürrem Sultan shows. The festival will continue until Aug. 21.

The festival will open with Hürrem Sultan Ballet, which is about Sultan Süleyman’s taking the crown and his love Hürrem. The show will be performed by Istanbul State Opera and Ballet artists. The Samsun State Opera and Ballet will present “Bach Alla Turca” on Aug. 10 and 11. The festival will host the Ankara State Opera and Ballet on Aug. 14 with the show “The Amazons.”

One of the foreign ballet troupes at the festival will be the South Korean Universal Ballet, which will present the show “Black Cake, Floresta Tango” on Aug. 17. The festival will end on Aug. 20 and 21 with the Siberian State Ballet’s show “Spartacus.”

Spartacus will be on stage accompanied by composer Aram Haçaturyan’s music. The ballet is about the gladiators and the slaves. Bodrum Mayor Mehmet Kocadon said the town had been presenting itself in recent years through various culture and art events, festivals and concerts. “This is why the International Bodrum Ballet Festival is eagerly awaited by both Turkish and foreign tourists. The municipality did its best to host the best examples of Turkish and international ballet in the town. The festival, organized in one of Turkey’s most popular tourism spots, is the favorite event of Bodrum’s art lovers. We expect that some 20,000 people will attend the festival this year.”

The ballet show “Amazons” is the work of chorographer Nugzar Magalashvili and will be on stage on Aug. 14.

The South Korean Universal Ballet team’s choreographers Hans van Manen, Nacho Duato and Young Soon Hue will be staging the show “Black Cake, Duende, Tango” trio, which tackles the problems facing the society.

Bach Alla Turca, which takes a different approqach to the works of J. Sebastian Bach, will be on stage with Marco Cantalupo and Katarzyna Gdaniec’s choreography and costumes. The musical arrangements will be done by Anjelika Akbar. “Bach La Orientale” is another event that will be on stage. Çağla Şikel will be taking the stage with Mehmet Akatay. Speaking about the festival, Mayor Kocadon said the municipality would bring the best examples of world-renowned ballet repertoires and unique works of Turkish ballet to the town.

State Opera and Ballet General Director Rengim Gökmen said that art lovers found the depiction of the life stories of legendary figures from their own history in opera and ballet fascinating, adding, “Such works enable us to appeal to other audiences besides the classical ballet audiences. For the first time in Turkey, a ballet festival’s tickets have been sold out,” he added.

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Investment partners sought for Kyrgyzstan airports

Kyrgyzstan’s airport operator is seeking investment partners for six airports and is inviting bids to build a food service outlet at the country’s main gateway. Amid a flurry of initiatives, the joint stock company Manas International Airport – JSC ‘MIA’ – is looking for investors to take charge at six of the country’s airports.

The six airports in the tender request are Issyk-Kul, Batken, Isfana, Jalal-Abad, Kazarman and Naryn. Meanwhile, JSC MIA is inviting bids to set up a food service area on the first floor of Manas International Airport, the country’s main gateway at Bishkek. Investors should submit bids by August 15 for outlets to start operation by October 1.

For the six smaller airports, Asybek Arstanov, chief financial officer at JSC ‘MIA’, told Airport World that the company is seeking investors to manage all aspects of the gateways. At Issyk-Kul airport, JSC MIA estimates a project cost of about $69m to construct airport facilities, so that the investor could then construct resort and tourism infrastructure.

Reconstruction at Batken to cater for near-medium-haul planes is estimated to cost $11.5m. A project at Isfana airport is valued at $10m and would include runway reconstruction. An overhaul at Jalal-Abad airport for near-haul aircraft is put at $6.4m.

Renovating Kazarman airport, where JSC MIA sees tourism opportunities from UNESCO registered rock paintings, is priced at about $6.5m. At Naryn, a centre for hydropower, required investment is put at about $6.6m. JSC MIA’s revenues are now being hit by a fall in US military traffic through Bishkek to supply operations in Afghanistan.

But the company is set to remain profitable, said Arstanov. “In 2012, 47% of Manas’s revenue came from the Americans,” he told Airport World. “In the first quarter of 2013 the drop in traffic from the Americans has been 32%… Net profit will drop – it was 43% in 2012 – but we will stay in the black.”

Traffic through the country’s airports can be sustained by five sources of growth, he added. Tourism is a driver for traffic in the north of the country while the country’s second main gateway, Osh, serves economic migration to Russia, also from nearby countries, he said.

In addition, the company sees opportunities in transit flights, such as Turkish Airlines flights via Bishkek to Ulan Bator. Technical stops also hold potential as Kyrgyzstan can supply jet fuel at prices as much as $300/tonne cheaper than neighbouring countries, added Arstanov.

A fifth target area is cargo traffic, with air freight being transported by ground to Kazakhstan and Russia, he said. While the overwhelming majority of Kyrgyzstan’s air traffic – set to top 2 million passengers this year – is through Bishkek and Osh, JSC MIA sees potential to develop Batken into an international airport, said Arstanov.

“We are now co-operating with Russian federal immigration to set up immigration service centres in Batken and the other two main airports,” he said. “People will be much better prepared, which will attract more traffic.”

JSC MIA is now engaged in 20 projects including pushing for Open Skies deals, establishing economic zones and easing anti-trust laws to enable deeper discounts for carriers, he said. Political pressure for quick results is also driving fast decisions, he added.

“Normally, you’d need a year to decide a duty-free contract,” he said. “In our conditions, it took two months to set up a contract and get management.”

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SEA Games 2017 to be held in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, July 30 (NNN-Bernama) — A budget of RM116 million is needed for Malaysia to host the SEA Games 2017, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister M. Saravanan told the Senate. He said the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s proposal for Malaysia to host the Games, including the budget, would be tabled to the Cabinet next month for approval. “It should be Brunei’s turn to host the 2017 Games but it wants to host the 2019 edition instead as it is not ready for it.

“So, Malaysia has been offered to host the 2017 edition,” he said when responding to a question from Senator Baharudin Abu Bakar during question time. Malaysia was given the right to host the regional biennial event in 2017 by the SEA Games Federation as there was no other country bid for the host job. Saravanan said the Cabinet’s approval would depend on the government’s financial capability, athlete performance and adequate sports infrastructure.

“In terms of athlete performance, we will ensure that Malaysia take in sports that it has the competitive edge like lawn bowls, cycling, karate, silat, squash and tenpin bowling,” he said, adding that SEA Games would be Malaysia’s preparation for the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

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Six more foreign carriers to fly to Indonesia

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, July 27 2013 – A least six more airlines from foreign countries — mostly from the Middle East — will begin their direct flights to Jakarta later this year to tap into the growing air traffic from Indonesia and there respective countries. Transportation Ministry air transportation director Djoko Murjatmodjo said in Jakarta on Friday that the carriers would include Egypt Air (Egypt), Jordan Aviation (Jordan), RAK (United Arab Emirates), Oman Air (Oman), Air Niugini (Papua New Guinea), and British Airways (UK).

“They are currently processing their air slots to fly to Indonesia, and most of them will begin their flight service to our country in November,” Djoko told The Jakarta Post. The route permits that are being processed are Cairo–Jakarta, Amman–Jakarta, Abu Dhabi–Jakarta, Muscat–Jakarta, Port Moresby–Jakarta and London–Jakarta.

He said that the carriers have been calculating the routes for the past four months. Each carrier is requested to fly between the routes three times a week to once per day. “New service from these carriers will better connect Indonesia to international destinations and not only to their hubs. As well as provide more choices for passengers, both domestic and international, when they want to travel. This will bring more advantage for us and them,” he said.

He also said that competition among the Middle Eastern airlines to serve the Indonesian route was growing due to the sharp increase in the number of minor haj pilgrims (umrah) to Mecca and other people wanting to travel to Jerusalem and Alexandria. Recently two gulf carriers, Qatar Airways and Kuwait Airways, announced their plans to add more flights to Jakarta in September and October, respectively.

In addition, he said that several non Middle Eastern airlines that have entered the country are applying for more flight frequency. Thai Airways is one such airline that plans to increase its Jakarta–Bangkok route. The number of air travelers in Indonesia has increased significantly in the last few years thanks to the solid growth in the economy.

The ministry said that the number of air travelers reached 72.6 million throughout 2012, a rise of almost 15 percent from the previous year. This year, the figure is projected to hit 83.4 million passengers.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian National Air Carriers Association (INACA)’s scheduled airline division chairman Syafril Nasution said that the new flight connections would help boost the tourism sector, trade, and investment in Indonesia.

“The carriers will provide more international seat capacity to and from Indonesia; this will surely impact our tourism sector and other businesses. From a business perspective, this gives Indonesia more opportunity to invite tourists and investors and vice versa,” Syafril told the Post.

However, he said that the government should immediately accelerate aviation infrastructure in the country otherwise the growth would decline in the future.

“We are facing the ASEAN single market in 2015 that will open the flow of goods and people across Southeast Asian countries. If we want to be competitive and maintain our healthy growth, we need to fix the infrastructure,” he continued. Infrastructure bottlenecks remain a huge problem to help sustain the country’s economic development.

In Soekarno-Hatta, for instance, the number of passenger passing through the airport has reached 54.7 million last year while it was originally only designed to accommodate 22 million passengers annually. State run airport firm Angkasa Pura II is working on a “facelift” project to triple the capacity of the airport to 66 million and build a new apron to handle 33 wide body planes. The 7.8 trillion project is expected to finish by the end of 2014.

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India and Senegal sign Executive Programme for Cultural Cooperation

New Delhi, Ministry of Culture, 29-July, 2013 – India and Senegal enjoy age-old friendly relations and to reaffirm their commitment to have sustained cultural exchanges by signing “Executive Programme for Cultural Cooperation” between India and Senegal for the period 2013-2015 on 29th July 2013 at New Delhi. The Executive Programme for Cultural Cooperation was signed by Mrs. Chandresh Kumari Katoch, Minister of Culture on behalf of India and by Mr. Abdul Aziz Mbaye, Minister of Culture, on behalf Senegal. The Executive Programme for Cultural Cooperation is valid for three years. Thereafter, however, it will continue to be in force till a fresh Exchange Programme is signed.

The Executive Programme for Cultural Cooperation seeks to exchange Experts in the field of theatre; Training in the areas of artistic heritage, creative activities, audio visual, music, dance, theatre and puppetry; publications on cultural heritage; experts in the field of prehistoric archaeology; experts reciprocally with a view to promoting library activities and expertise in the fields of publishing, printing and binding; programmes depicting various facets of life and culture in the two parties through their respective Radio and TV organizations; experiences in the field of sports and explore the possibilities of exchanging sports teams/coaches in diverse disciplines.

India will provide Laboratory training in the field of restoration of cultural properties and monuments. It will also organise cultural week featuring various aspects of its culture.

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Turkish Airlines Adds Boston As Sixth U.S. Gateway

Turkish Airlines announced the expansion of its route network with plans to add Boston (BOS) as its newest U.S. gateway, establishing Logan International Airport’s only non-stop service to Istanbul. The carrier will operate the route between Boston and Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport (IST) five days a week from May 2014 with a 289-seat Airbus A330-300 aircraft and increase the service to daily in June.

“Our hope is that these new flights will not only make travel more convenient between Boston and Istanbul, but that they will also facilitate economic and cultural opportunities for both cities,” said Temel Kotil, CEO of Turkish Airlines. “We are thrilled to add Boston as our sixth U.S. gateway as we continue to expand our services throughout the U.S.”

Boston will be the sixth U.S. destination for Turkish Airlines, joining Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK) and Washington Dulles (IAD). The new route will connect Boston to the 236 destinations Turkish Airlines currently serves. Istanbul will become Boston Logan International Airport’s 34th international destination, following the launch of service to Panama (PTY) operated by Copa Airlines and Japan Airlines’ service to Tokyo (NRT), introduced last year.

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Middle East: Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre Development Gathers Steam

July 25, 2013 By: MeetMiddleEast – It is an exciting time in the development period of the upcoming Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC) in Muscat. As MEETME reported in June, AEG Ogden is currently recruiting for a General Manager for OCEC – AEG Ogden’s seventh convention and exhibition centre in the Middle East and Asia Pacific region.

AEG Ogden Group Director, Convention Centres, Geoff Donaghy said: “This is a unique opportunity to oversee a pre-opening team in a ‘greenfield’ destination. The Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre offers both a rewarding and challenging experience and the opportunity to work with a number of internationally credentialed professionals.

“The beauty and diversity of the Sultanate of Oman has not only gained strong interest from international organisations to host future congresses and exhibitions at the Centre, but has also attracted strong interest in career opportunities on a global scale.”

Construction is underway with Carillion Alawi appointed as the contractor to build the Exhibition Halls, three-storey carpark and Energy Centre.

OCEC is being built in two phases with the 22,000 square metres of Exhibition Halls completed in 2015 and auditorium, banquet halls and meeting rooms scheduled for completion in late 2016. The Centre’s design architects have created a stunning building that, due to its elevated position, will become an iconic landmark for the country. In turn, AEG Ogden has utilised its years of global venue management expertise to ensure the overall design is flexible, functional and accessible to meet the demands of not only global convention and exhibition organisers but also the standards of the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification.

Although the main purpose of OCEC is to host world-class congresses, its design flexibility extends to exhibitions, concerts, entertainment, banquets, functions and a wide range of special events.

As venue manager of OCEC, AEG Ogden is tasked with positioning the Sultanate of Oman – in collaboration with the Oman Ministry of Tourism – as a serious contender to host international and regional congresses and to attract exhibitions that would not have been possible if not for the development of the venue and its supporting precinct.

“Oman already has a sound reputation for hosting conferences and exhibitions. Together with the Oman-based convention industry suppliers, we will use our global expertise to offer a memorable event that showcases the Omani hospitality that the country is already well-known for,” said AEG Ogden’s Group Manager, Convention Sales Development , Rochelle Uechtritz.

AEG Ogden is also aiming to reshape the Omani community’s mindset towards a career in hospitality. This will be achieved by expanding jobs within event management such as lighting, rigging, audio visual technicians, concert production, large-scale catering and functions to open the doors for global opportunities within the AEG Ogden network of venues.

The project in its construction phase will create approximately 6,000 employment opportunities. More than 50 percent of construction expenditure will be spent in the Sultanate, creating businesses and jobs up and down the supply chain.

OCEC is working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism on a number of promotional activities including attendance at the major global business convention and meetings industry tradeshows such as IMEX in Frankfurt, EIBTM in Barcelona, AIME in Melbourne and GIBTM in Abu Dhabi. A portable architectural designed venue display model has been produced to showcase the high level of detail, flexibility and scale of the venue to potential clients.

“To further maximise our attendance at these lucrative events, the Centre has hosted joint client breakfasts, luncheons and dinners to promote Oman and the new venue with excellent results and which have generated new business leads,” said Uechtritz. “These collaborative activities are an ideal platform to present both Oman and the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre as a new and emerging option for future business events with many clients stating they would now consider Oman after learning more about the destination and all it has to offer.”

During the pre-opening phase and beyond, AEG Ogden will continue to identify and target potential congresses which are suited to the Sultanate’s key economic sectors such as oil and gas, health, transport and communications, environment, marine, logistics and education.

Uechtritz added that there is enormous confidence in Oman as a convention destination: “Oman has a solid foundation of active Omani associations and societies that are crucial to the support with bidding for international conventions with submissions being lodged to host medical and scientific congresses in 2017, 2018 and 2019 that will attract thousands of specialists to the capital city of Muscat,” she said.

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Xinjiang tourist arrivals surge 28 pct in H1

URUMQI, July 31 (Xinhua) — Tourist arrivals surged 28 percent to reach 22.25 million in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the first half of the year, regional authorities said Wednesday. Tourism revenues grew 23 percent year on year to hit 23.8 billion yuan (about 3.86 billion U.S. dollars) during the period, said the Xinjiang Tourism Bureau.

Domestic tourists reached 21.62 million in Xinjiang, and more than half of them drove their own vehicles there, said Yang Limin, an analyst with the bureau. Tourists from Kazakhstan accounted for more than 70 percent of overseas tourist arrivals in the region, the bureau added. In 2012, tourist arrivals in Xinjiang reached 48.6 million and the sector’s revenues totalled 57.6 billion yuan.

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Ramadan Night Market returns to Dubai

Dubai, July 31, 2013, Gulf News: The second edition of the Ramadan Night Market will be opening on August 1 and will run for 10 days providing visitors with a wide product range and new entertaining additions. The market, located at Dubai World Trade Centre, Hall 7 and 8, will run until August 10 and will be open from 8pm to 2am everyday during Ramadan, and from 5pm to 12am during Eid.

This year’s Ramadan Night Market is said to be twice the size of its inaugural edition with five pavilions featuring 400 outlets. The event will witness exhibitors offering products ranging from apparel, gifting, electronics, perfumes, cosmetics, jewellery, household items and much more from around the globe.

The market is also expected to have about 100,000 visitors over 10 days. Sunil Jaiswal, CEO Sumansa Exhibitions, organisers of Ramadan Night Market said this year’s fair includes new features such as Arabian Souq, Fashion Pavilion, Food Pavilion, Health and Beauty Bay and a Special kids Zone.

“The huge demand from retailers and encouraging response we had in our last edition which saw around 50,000 visitors, has inspired us to produce a bigger and better market this time with loads of new and exciting attractions,” he added.

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Islam in Jakarta’s Chinatown

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Jakarta | Mon, July 29 2013 – Along with its unique name, Lautze Mosque does not look like most mosque’s in Jakarta. The four-story building, in the Chinatown area of Pecinan in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta, was formerly a shop-house. The mosque’s architecture is in the Chinese style and its doors and windows are painted red. Excerpts from the Koran are written in Arabic script and Chinese kanji are hung on the walls.

With a width of 100 square meters, the mosque can accommodate 400 people on its first and second floors, while its third and fourth floors are for Haji Karim Oei Foundation — which manages the mosque. Besides being a place to pray, the mosque is also a place for Chinese-Muslims in Pecinan to assemble and teach mualaf (converts) about the religion.

“Lautze, in Chinese, means teacher or wise man,” said mosque spokesman Yusman Iriansyah. “Our main activity is to deliver information about Islam to people, especially Chinese descendants who live in this area.” Lautze Mosque was founded in 1991 by a group of friends, including Ali Karim Oei, the son of the prominent Chinese-Muslim businessman Oei Tjeng Hien or Abdul Karim Oei.

Abdul Karim was a member of the early generation of nationalists who fought for Indonesia’s independence with the country’s founding father, Sukarno, and prominent Muslim leader Buya Hamka.

Yusman said that the mosque established to introduce Islam to the Chinese in Jakarta because they often kept their distance from the majority indigenous Muslims. “Even though the majority of Chinese people are not Muslims, they need to understand Islam so that they can eliminate their bad perception of Muslims,” he said.

Yusman said that around 90 percent of residents in Pasar Baru area were Chinese; some of them had become mualaf and the mosque assisted their conversions. According to him, from 1997 until now, the mosque had assisted more than 1,000 people to convert to Islam. “We try to be flexible because they need to understand about the religion first,” he said. “For example, if a married person wants to be a mualaf, we will not force his or her spouse to follow. Or if someone asks whether Islam allows Muslims to say Christmas greetings to family members, we will say yes.”

Amin Ali Nurdin, a convert and regular visitor to Lautze Mosque, said he was grateful that the mosque was close to his house and he only hoped it would stand forever. “Islam does not teach Muslims to force other people to follow their path,” he said. “The most important thing is to do good things to each other.”

He said the mosque also held religious services, Koran readings and Mandarin lessons. “During Ramadhan, every Saturday evening we provide iftar and then hold tarawih (extra prayer services),” he said. To encourage mualafs to improve their understanding of Islam, the mosque management encourage them to lead tarawih prayers, he said. “Unlike in other mosques, we change imam for every set of prayers,” he said.

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SITA Signs 10-Year Agreement With Bangladesh Airlines

DHAKA, BANGLADESH – 02 August 2013 – Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the national flag carrier of Bangladesh, has signed a 10-year agreement with SITA to transform and manage its infrastructure as it prepares to double its passenger numbers. Under the multi-million dollar agreement, SITA will upgrade Biman’s global network and operational messaging and harness the power of the Air Transport Industry (ATI) Cloud to transform its workspace, helping the airline achieve substantial savings.

Kevin John Steele, Managing Director and CEO, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, said: “Over the next two years, we plan to double both our fleet and our passenger numbers, while also improving customer service and significantly reducing our operational costs. SITA will help us upgrade our systems architecture, which will enable us to launch new user-friendly products, as well as innovative tools for our staff. In addition, SITA will proactively manage our network infrastructure in line with our specific business objectives, so we can focus on our growing business, while remaining up-to-date with the latest technology.”

SITA will also provision infrastructure at the airline’s global locations and deploy a new PABX with enhanced functionality at Biman’s offices in Dhaka, which will be integrated into the airline’s call center. In addition, SITA will offer flexible, on-demand IT services and industry software through the ATI Cloud. The ATI Cloud will deliver a comprehensive suite of standard and ATI applications, specifically adapted to the airline’s needs, to any location and any device. It will also create efficiencies across data, servers and applications, contributing to operational cost savings.

As part of the 10-year deal, Biman will introduce SITA’s CrewTablet http://www.sita.aero/product/crewtablet , which will enable its crew members to use tablets integrated with its business applications to enhance inflight services to customers. CrewTablet allows crew members to quickly and easily access passenger and operational data, making them more responsive and improving onboard operations. In addition, with use of digital forms and reports, CrewTablet helps reduce operational costs, creating fuel savings by decreasing the weight of traditional paper reports and manuals carried onboard.

The new agreement is designed to support Biman’s aggressive transformation plans and organic growth strategy, while enabling the airline to better manage IT costs in line with its business requirements. For example, all network charges will be based on the total number of passengers boarded.

Ilya Gutlin, SITA President Asia-Pacific, said: “SITA is focusing on helping the airline meet its overall business objectives through the effective use of technology. We’ll help the airline innovate and continually improve its IT and communications to support its ambitious growth plans, while also driving cost savings and improving service levels to meet both current and future business needs.”

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Handicraft council to mass produce iconic Jakarta souvenirs

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, August 03 2013 – The Jakarta Council for Handicrafts, which regularly holds the Jakarta Souvenir Design Award, plans to massively produce the winning products from this year’s competition. Organizing committee chairman Handaka Santosa said on Thursday that the committee planned to cooperate with private firms to produce and market the winners products, so more people would be aware that Jakarta had iconic souvenirs.

Handaka said the goal of the Council (Dekranasda) and the competition was to establish a Jakarta souvenir center, but it could not be achieved if the city did not have the products yet. “We realized that after holding the competition for three consecutive years, we need to produce the merchandises massively. What’s the point of winning the awards while the products are unknown to the public?” he said during the opening ceremony of the exhibition of the 20 finalists’ products at the Senayan City in South Jakarta.

Unlike other tourist destination regions, Jakarta hardly has signature icons or items that local and foreign tourists search for when looking for souvenirs. Dekranasda has been holding the Souvenir Design competition to search for a new icon for the city’s tourism since 2010. However, the winners’ products are not well-known as they are produced in limited numbers, and sold only in a few number of outlets and exhibitions.

Handaka said that Jakarta should have signature souvenirs as it was good for the city’s image and tourism business. “If we go to Singapore, for example, we easily find images of the Merlion (lion head statue) — the city’s landmark — in almost all kinds of merchandises,” he said.

Handaka said in order to achieve the goal, the committee set a special clause to the participants of this year’s competition. “The rights of production of the winners’ products are in the hands of the committee,” he said. The finalists’ products exhibited from Thursday to Aug.18 include Betawi batik clothes, Ondel-Ondel puppets and candy tasting of a traditional Betawi herbal drink, Bir Pletok.

There are also monopoly board games featuring Jakarta’s iconic places. The committee will announce the winners from three categories — general public, university students and small and medium industry owners on the last day of the exhibition.

The head of the Jakarta Tourism Agency, Arie Budiman, who also attended the opening ceremony, said the committee hoped that many private manufacturers and shopping center owners would be interested to produce and sell the souvenirs.

Arie said a souvenir business was actually very promising in Jakarta with around 28 million domestic tourists and 2.1 million foreign ones who came to the city every year. “We also try to improve the quality of the products, so they will meet the standard of the market,” he said.

Senayan City chief operations officer Henny R Udy said that the mall planned to provide a special space for a booth selling Jakarta iconic merchandises. She said, however, that the quality of the products must meet with the standard determined by the market and the availability of the products should also be guaranteed. “If the products are good and affordable, malls and shopping centers will be happy to provide spaces for them to be sold,” she said.

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Volunteers put up longest iftar trail at Grand Mosque

MAKKAH: ARAB NEWS, Saturday 3 August 2013 – More than 1,300 volunteers work daily during the holy month of Ramadan to serve food on a plastic trail extending 4 kilometers along the ground of the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The table is always full of coffee and dates to feed the crowds of pilgrims and visitors from inside and outside the Kingdom.

The administration at the Grand Mosque has also offered around 100,000 kg of de-pulped dates distributed inside 1,922,160 containers, with coffee on the side. This giant table brings together many thousands of pilgrims from different nationalities, languages, ages and other features within safe and comfortable atmospheres.

Dr. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Musleh, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League for the Scientific Miracles in the Qur’an, said this table represents an honored and proud image of the highest degree of hospitality that prevails every year during the holy month.

Dr. Saleh bin Muhammad Al-Taleb, imam and preacher at the Grand Mosque, said that there are over 1,300,000 meals being distributed to pilgrims during Ramadan, with the total length of the trail extending to 129 kilometers.

Mansour bin Amer, chairman of the Hadiyat Al-Haj wal Mu’tamir Charitable Society, said that his society is the first one of its kind that specializes in serving more than 15 million pilgrims every year. He stressed the need to consolidate collective work in such a field to revive participation and teamwork within the integrated work of government agencies and charities.

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Pakistani President-elect Mamnoon Hussain hails from conservative Muslim family

KARACHI, July 30 (APP): President-elect Mamnoon Hussain, was born to a conservative Muslim family in Agra city of undivided India on December 23, 1940. After Independence, his family migrated to Pakistan in 1949. Mamnoon Hussain got his basic education at home. His father Haji Azhar Hussain hired the services of the best teachers for him, having command on Arabic, English, Persian, Maths, Algebra, and calligraphy.

He passed Matric examination as a private student in 1958.He did graduation in 1963 from Government Commerce College, affiliated with Karachi University. He did MBA from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi in 1965. After completing his MBA, he joined his father’s business. In 1983, he associated himself with textile business. Mamnoon Hussain has three sons.

After entering politics as a worker, he was elected joint secretary of Muslim League, Karachi in 1967 when thenoted politician and former foreign minister Zain Noorani was the president of Muslim League, Karachi. Mamnoon Hussain was also sworn in as Governor Sindh on June 19, 1999. He has also served as PML-N Sindh’s General Secretary.

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Pakistan-China Economic corridor to connect Kashgar with Gwadar

ISLAMABAD, Jul 29 (APP): Chinese Ambassador, Sun Weidong Monday said that the landmark agreement on the construction of an economic corridor stretched over a thousand Kilometer would connect Kashgar with Gwadar.

The Chinese Ambassador called on Federal minister for Finance, Senator Muhammad Ishaq Dar here and said that the corridor will have great impact on the trade and bilateral relations between the two countries, besides economic impact on the region. He termed the recent visit of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to China very successful. The Ambassador said that it was unprecedented that the Prime Minister of China and the Prime Minister of Pakistan met twice within six weeks, “We cherish our friendships with Pakistan which has lasted for decades” he added.

Sun Weidong said that China was keen to work closely with Pakistan on infrastructure and energy projects and informed about his meetings with provincial authorities in Punjab. The Chinese Ambassador said that establishment of economic zones along the corridor will help create employment and generate economic activity which will be mutually beneficial.

In this connection a high level Chinese delegation including representatives of Chinese financial institutions is expected to visit Pakistan shortly to discuss the project with their counterparts in Pakistan. China has always done its utmost and extended all possible cooperation to Pakistan, he emphasized.

While talking to Chinese Ambassador Senator Ishaq Dar said that both the Chinese and Pakistani Prime Ministers are on the same length and we admire the vision of the Chinese leadership. He thanked Chinese leadership and government for waiving off 6% compulsory insurance which speaks volumes of the friendship between the two nations and Chinese cooperation and assistance to Pakistan.

Senator Ishaq Dar said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already chaired a high level meeting on the economic corridor as this project was very close to his heart. Senator Dar appreciated the idea of creation of economic zone along the economic corridor and said that this will be a win-win situation for both countries. He accepted an invitation to participate in the Euro-AsiaForum which is being hosted by China and would be held in September, this year.

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