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17 Feb, 2014

Nigeria Plans Major Investment in Airport Development

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 17 February 2014 (17 Rabee’ al-Thaani 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



The Islamic Tourism Centre in Malaysia has launched a vibrant new website presenting Malaysia as a prime destination for Islamic tourism and a global halal hub. The website offers a wealth of information on Mosque trails, Islamic Museums, Ramadan & Eid-ul Fitr, Muslim-Friendly Tour Highlights, as well as a Muslim Visitor’s Guide, Halal Directory and Souvenirs Directory. Located strategically at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is well-known for its natural beauty and diverse cultural landscape. At its social core are three of Asia’s oldest civilisations – Malay, Chinese and Indian – as well as the ethnic communities of Sabah and Sarawak, resulting in a unique and inspiring blend of cultures. With an abundance of halal food, prayer facilities and Islamic attractions, Malaysia perfectly caters to the needs of Muslim travellers. The ITC plays a pivotal role in bringing Malaysia to the forefront of Islamic tourism. It works with industry players to build their capacity in Islamic tourism, thus ensuring that the needs of Muslim visitors are better served. ITC has also taken several initiatives in standardising industry’s best practices through research, seminars, workshops and industry outreach programmes. Now is the perfect time to experience the country’s multitude of Muslim-friendly tourism products – Islamic architectural heritage, halal gastronomic delights, vibrant Islamic festivals and world-class Islamic events – all guaranteed to give visitors an incredible time.

Click here to see the fabulous new website


The internationally renowned “1001 Inventions” is on display at the National Science Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The award-winning exhibition, which was declared the world’s best by the European museums Industry in 2011, is welcoming visitors until 28 February 2014. 1001 Inventions has already received more than three million visitors at blockbusters residencies in London, New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dhahran and recently began a new European tour in Sweden. The exhibition highlights a thousand year period of history when Muslim Civilisation led the world in scientific, technological and cultural achievement – known as the “Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation.” Ahmed Salim, Producer and Managing Director of the brand, said: ”1001 Inventions features a diverse range of exhibits, hi-tech games, interactive displays and dramatisation that bring to life historic role models from Muslim Civilisation who will serve as an inspiration for ASEAN young people to pursue careers in science and technology.” The exhibition has been immensely popular in Europe, America and the Middle East, where a dual language Arabic-English version enjoyed blockbuster residencies across the Arabian peninsula. 1001 Inventions was voted the world’s best touring exhibition by the Museum and Heritage Excellence Awards in London in 2011, and currently has more than three million online fans on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. 1001 Inventions is a partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives. Open 9am-5pm daily.

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 http://www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my

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.





Arabic to be taught in schools across Maldives: Vice President

February 10, 2014 – Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has said that the government will do everything possible to introduce Arabic as a language in schools across the country.

Dr Jameel said this while speaking at a ceremony at Hiriya School today to officially inaugurate the introduction of Arabic in schools, one of the goals included in the first 100-day roadmap of the Ministry of Education.

“The government intends to make this available to all Maldivians. We will achieve this. This involves hard work, and this is an important step taken by the government. The government is prepared to provide the funds necessary to achieve this,” he said.

Dr Jameel said that the introduction of Arabic in schools other than Arabiyya School, will strengthen students’ faith in Islam and have a positive impact on their discipline.

“Knowing Arabic will improve students’ discipline, and increase their love for the Quran. They will understand the meaning of the prophet’s teachings,” he said.

Dr Jameel said that the government will prioritise revising the education system and work towards basing the education system on Islamic disciplinary principles, as wished for by the people.

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Cricket can help Bangladesh grow tourism: Menon

DHAKA, Feb 12, 2014 (BSS) – Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon today observed that country’s tourism can be flourished utilizing Bangladesh fame in the cricket world. “Cricket familiarizes Bangladesh with the world. We can flourish our tourism utilizing this familiarity,” he said while presiding over a meeting at secretariat on sponsoring of the upcoming world T20 cricket tournament by Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB).

BTB, the national tourism organization (NTO), has signed a sponsorship agreement with International Cricket Council (ICC) as a local partner of upcoming world T20 to be held in the country. The minister said Bangladesh will get an opportunity to highlight its different exciting tourism spots before the world arena as one of the sponsors of ICC world T20. Civil aviation and tourism secretary Khorshed Alam Chowdhury, vice-president of Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB)Mahbub Anam and other high officials of the ministry, finance division and BTB attended the meeting.

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More Uzbeks take up hobby of bird-watching

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-11 TASHKENT – Uzbeks are embracing bird-watching. In December, officials announced the Big Year, a year-long bird photography contest where competitors will vie to photograph as many avian species as possible. During the past three years, the hobby has steadily gained popularity in Uzbekistan, as the Bird Protection Society reports a growing number of calls, visitors and questions from common Uzbeks regarding birds.

With more bird fans than ever before, practitioners for the first time decided to hold the contest. “The idea of holding the Big Year competition in Uzbekistan came to us after we watched a feature film with the same name (the 2011 comedy The Big Year),” Mariya Gritsina, a contest co-organiser and a spokeswoman for the bio-diversity research group Turan, said.

“So far only a small group of young people interested in nature are participating in the Big Year,” Denis Nurijanov, an official with the State Biological Control Service and another tournament co¬-organiser, said. “We are guessing that about 15 people are competing. We hope that by the end of the first month … the number of participants will have increased significantly.”

Gritsina thinks more contestants will enter as people hear about the competition, as her organisation is receiving many calls and letters from Uzbeks wanting to know more about the Big Year.

Hobbyists extol the virtues of bird-watching. “Bird-watching is great fun,” Tashkent enthusiast Dinara Adylova agreed. “It opens up a whole new world around you. … It’s also really exciting! … Finding that there are so many surprising creatures living around us was the biggest discovery for me.”

“I watch birds because I love nature and because I am interested in animals,” Rustam Murzakhanov, a regular contributor to the popular environmental website www.ecoport.uz, said. “Birds are the easiest of all to observe, especially in urban areas.”

Bird-watching is not to be confused with professional ornithology, Nurijanov said, adding that Birds of Uzbekistan, a book published in 2013, helps amateurs with the hobby. “We put together a special table with 468 species of birds known to exist in Uzbekistan,” Gritsina said about the book. “A bird-watcher photographs a bird, identifies it either alone or with other bird-watchers’ help, and fills in the time and place of the encounter on the table.”

“At first I learned how to search for places where you could see unusual birds,” Adylova said. “Then I bought a bird field guide and began to do a lot of bird-watching in the (Tashkent) Botanical Garden.”

But bird-watching goes beyond entertainment. “The Big Year is a competition, but its educational value is very important for us as well,” Nurijanov said. “We have spoken with ornithologists, and they believe that bird-watching helps science, because bird-watchers might record intriguing sightings.”

Even though the hobby only recently took off in Uzbekistan, the country has the Bird Protection Society of Uzbekistan (with 140 members), which co-operates with youth ornithology clubs.

“The Uzbek government keeps an inventory of bird species,” Nurijanov said. “Ornithologists work in the Academy of Sciences Institute of the Genofond of Flora and Fauna. We have universities involved in scientific activity, including ornithology.” The capital is not the only site of widespread bird-watching. Samarkand and Bukhara oblasts and Karakalpakstan have large number of enthusiasts too.

The Big Year will be a successful event if competitors remain interested in bird-watching and if they discover previously unsuspected species existing in Uzbekistan, the organisers say. “Bird-watchers in Tashkent recently saw a red-mantled rosefinch,” Gritsina said. “We hope for many more such sightings.”

Creating a specialised website about all Uzbek vertebrate species is a key objective, organisers say. “We need an information resource with reference information on all animal species in Uzbekistan,” Nurijanov said. The contest is also an excellent activity for schoolchildren, Gritsina said. Organisers plan to publish the best photographs in a book at the end of this year.

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Exhibition of calligraphy opened in Kazan

islam.ru / 13 Feb 2014 – The opening ceremony of the “Zerkala Pamyati.Tugra and Shajare “exhibition was held at the building of the Museum of Islamic culture in Kazan.

The Exhibition of calligraphy presents the works painted by modern artists, on families’ shajara (genealogy) and Tugra (monograms) topics of prominent Tatar literature and art persons – Gabdulli’ Tukaya , Baku Urmanche , Sarah Sadykova, Ilham Shakirova, Ildar Khanov and others.

“The exhibition reflects the growing interest of the national intelligentsia to tugra and Shajara. Artists usually receive private commissions. Attractiveness of the exhibition is that it represents original works of artists from the collections of the owners who have agreed to demonstrate them “- said the organizers of the exhibition.

The works of such recognized Tatar masters of calligraphy as Najip Nakkash, Vladimir Popov , Rishat Salyahutdinov, Alphiya Iskhakova , Zulfiya Muhammetdinova , Rinat Minnibaev, Rustem Shamsutov has been presented to visitors for the first time.

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Exhibition, depicting names of Allah, attracts pilgrims

Madinah, Sunday, 09 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 09 February 2014 (IINA) – An exhibition, titled “The Beautiful Names of Allah,” has been an attractive destination for pilgrims visiting Madinah since its opening last November.

Inaugurated by Madinah Emir Prince Faisal Bin Salman, the exhibition displays, on large posters, the names of Allah and their meanings. There are also several TV screens that show alternating scenes of nature along with relevant verses of the Holy Qur’an to indicate the power of Allah. Khadija, an Algerian pilgrim who came to the Kingdom to perform Umrah with her family, said they visited the exhibition after they saw a poster near a building where the exhibition is taking place. “There is nothing that one can say about all these beautiful pictures and videos except Subhanallah,” said Khadija.

Echoing the same view, Iqbal, a Pakistani father of three, said although he has come to the Kingdom on three different occasions with his family to perform Umrah, this is the first time he has seen such an exhibition. “We typically go to the Prophet’s Mosque, Mount Uhud and some historic mosques here, but this time we visited this exhibition as a group. We all enjoyed it as it was a new experience for all of us and it’s a nice place where children can learn and take photos.”

The exhibition, located close to the western side of the Prophet’s Mosque, was launched to celebrate Madinah as the cultural capital of the Islamic world. Pilgrims of all nationalities can visit the exhibition and choose guides that speak Arabic, English, French, Turkish, Urdu or Indonesian. The manager of the exhibition, Raja Al-Jihani, said that the exhibition will remain open for another year and be expanded to accommodate additional sections.

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Istanbul to have Turkey’s largest tourism complex

10 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – The largest tourist complex in Turkey called Tuzla Viaport Marine is being built in Istanbul, the city’s mayor Kadir Topbas was quoted saying on Feb. 7 by Turkish newspaper Sabah. The complex will annually receive 25 million tourists and staffing will reach 2500.

The Istanbul mayor also stressed that 270 million Turkish liras were allocated for the tourist complex construction project. Some 31 million foreign tourists visited Turkey in 2013. The country’s income from tourism increased by 11.4 percent in 2013, amounting to $32 billion compared to 2012, according to the Turkish Statistics Institute. Around 78.9 percent of a total volume of revenue from the tourism sector was received from foreign tourists with 21.1 percent from Turkish citizens living abroad and visiting the country.

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Sochi’s Veiled Ice Princess

OnIslam & Newspapers Tuesday, 11 February 2014 CAIRO – A young Emirati ice skating princess has drawn lights at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, exhibiting her talents in performing jumps with power and grace while proudly donning her hijab.

“When I do competitions outside of the country people are like ‘You have ice rinks?’” the Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari told The National newspaper earlier this month. “They don’t really think that we have ice rinks in a desert country.”

Lari is the first internationally competitive Emirati figure skater. “We have a few younger ones who are just starting, so once I stop we do have other people who are going to compete internationally,” she says.

The young Emirati skater, 18, started practicing when she was 11 after watching the “Ice Princess” movie. “I started when I was 11-years-old when I saw the movie ‘Ice Princess’, I liked the art of it,” Lari told The National in a video posted on YouTube.

“My coach told me that I have a natural talent, but I think even if I have a natural talent I have to practice a lot,” she said, adding that she practices for six days a week. The young veiled skater hopes to enter more competitions to improve her performance.

She has recently returned from her first International Skating Union competition, in Slovakia. Yet, she has her sight on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“Some people think of me of being like a role model, but I try my best to be a role model to people and to encourage them, especially girls, in this country to follow their dreams,” Lari said.

Scheduled for 7–23 February 2014, the 2014 Winter Olympics is a major international multi-sport event being held in Sochi, Russia.

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Shoe Festival, Grand Prix and Paragliding – Malaysia’s Tourism Highlights in March

PUTRAJAYA, 23 January 2013 – The month of March in Visit Malaysia Year (VMV) 2014 sets to bring you a combination of shopping, festive, sports and cultural tourism events. Highlights include:


Held in conjunction with the annual 2014 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix, the 1Malaysia Grand Prix (GP) Sale 2014 is all set to tempt F1 fans to stay longer in Malaysia to enjoy great bargains and attractive offers throughout the two-month shopping fest.

So let’s gear up for the race and load your shopping carts with all discounted and promotional items that you want in this shopping-paradise country!

Organiser: Shopping Malaysia Secretariat, Tourism Malaysia

Date: 15 March – 6 April 2013

Venue: Nationwide

Contact: +6 03 8891 8000

Email: enq-megasales@tourism.gov.my


Witness one of nature’s most exquisite offerings at Raptor Watch 2014 as the migratory birds of prey such as Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Black Baza, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Chinese Goshawk and Grey-faced Buzzard fly over Tanjung Tuan before continuing their perilous journey to the Northen Hemisphere.

Organised by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), this very signifficant event also aims to educate the public on the effects of climate change on raptor migration and the habitats that host them as well.

Organizer: Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)

Date: 8 – 9 March 2014

Venue: Tanjung Tuan PNB Ilham Resort, 10th Mile, Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan

Contact: +6 03 2287 9422

Website: http://mnsraptorwatch.wordpress.com/


Glide in the sky and enjoy the beautiful view of valley, villages and the majestic Mount Kinabalu at the 2nd FAI Paragliding Accuracy Championship (FAPAC) 2014, which is part of a world tour organised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

Set against the beautiful view of the valley, villages, and the majestic Mount Kinabalu, top pilots from as far as Hungary, Japan and Slovenia will gather to compete for the champion title. Now everyone can truly fly.

Organiser: Kinabalu Paragliding Club (KLUK)

Dates: 12 – 19 March 2014

Venue: Ranau Paragliding Park, Ranau, Sabah

Contact: +6 019 860 8700 (Major Haznain Ngamil), +6 010 534 7375 (Evelina Sitem)

Website: www.borneoparagliders.com/fapac2014.html

Email: flyhighconsultsb@gmail.com


Attention all shoe-paholics! Asia’s hottest shoe designers and their creations will be here at the Shoe City of Asia – Malaysia for the 5th Malaysia International Shoe Festival (MISF) 2014!

Sexy stilettos, comfy flats, stylish pumps, trendy sneakers, classic leather wear- just name it, and you will spot it at this four-day shoes extravaganza which will feature over 50 brands and more than 200 booths from international countries such as Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. It’s a one-stop shoe shopping experience!

Organiser: Malaysian Footwear Manufacturers Association

Dates: 27 – 30 March 2014

Venue: Putra World Trade Centre, Kuala Lumpur.

Contact: +6 03 9285 5382, +6 012 273 5933

Website: www.malaysiafootwear.com

Email: misfshoe@gmail.com


The empire strikes back as Darth Vader — or rather, the Darth Vader balloon from Belgium — marks its return at the upcoming 6th Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta 2014.

Besides Darth Vader, this year’s fiesta will also feature Buzzy, the green monster balloon from the United States, a pair of love ‘Bees’ – cartoon bee characters also from the United States, an ice cream cone-shaped balloon hailing from Belgium and a heart-shaped balloon from Taiwan.

Among the attractions and side events are hot-air balloon rides, Mountain Dew Extreme Zone, helicopter joy rides, and the back-by-popular-demand Night Glow event where hot air balloons and strobe lights are lit in sync to the sounds of popular music, creating a glorious atmosphere before culminating in a display of fireworks.

Admission is free!

Organiser: AKA Balloon Sdn. Bhd.

Dates: 27 – 30 March 2014

Venue: Monument Alaf Baru, Precinct 2, Putrajaya.

Contact: +6 03 7981 8769/8712

Website: www.myballoonfiesta.com

Email: myballoonfiesta@gmail.com


Watch the adrenaline-pumping action at one of the world’s most challenging tracks as the 2014 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix returns.

With the overwhelming heat and humidity condition as natural obstacles, the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) will definitely test the skills of the world’s finest racers and distinguish the outstanding from the best. Don’t miss this Hot! Hot! Hot! Race!

Organiser: Sepang International Circuit Sdn. Bhd.

Dates: 28 – 30 March 2014

Venue: Sepang International Circuit, Selangor

Contact: +6 03 8778 2200

Website: www.formula1.com


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New Algiers Airport To Handle 16 Million Passengers A Year

ALGIERS, Feb 14 (NNN-APS) — Algiers’ Houari Boumediene Airport will be able to handle 16 million passengers per year by 2018 when its new terminal with a capacity of 10 million passengers per year is completed, says its chief executive officer, Tahar Allache.

Allache told national radio here Thursday that detailed studies on the new project had been completed and the bids-opening ceremony to choose the company to carry out the project would take place in March. The current terminal, which was put into operation in 2006, can only cater for six million passengers per year.

“As the new air terminal is a large-scale project, only foreign companies have been pre-selected while Algerian ones will be greatly associated with the winner in the construction of this new infrastructure,” Allache stressed. A new control tower is also being constructed so as to provide the airport with maximum security in terms of air navigation.

“Safety and operational quality are the priorities on which we work every day,” he said, adding that drastic measures were taken to prevent animal and bird hazards. Algiers airport has the best facilities in terms of aviation safety, Allache stressed.

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Malaysia: KL City Launches Horse And Carriage Ride

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 14 (NNN-Agencies) — Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur has launched a KL Horse and Carriage Ride. Tourists can experience a tour round the city in a 20 minute ride along certain Heritage routes in the centre of the city around Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square). The new attraction under Visit Malaysia Year 2014 was launched Thursday during the Chinese New Year Cultural Festival at Dataran Merdeka. The carriage ride tour will begin on March 15 with rides in the morning and afternoon. Tickets for the ride are price at RM50 fo adults, RM25 for children and RM200 for the whole carriage and can be purchased at the KL City Gallery counter. Seventeen “Friesan” horses were specially imported from Belgium and the carriages are specially imported from Istanbul, Turkey.

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Dubai Gets First Smart Mosque

OnIslam & Newspapers Wednesday, 12 February 2014 CAIRO – United Arab Emirates has opened its first smart mosque in Dubai using the Quick response (QR) code technology which offers digital access to mosques.

“We are using the QR code technology to identify all mosques of the emirate to help develop and add more value to them,” Dr Hamad Al Shaibani, Director General of the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities (DIACA), was quoted by Khaleej Times on Tuesday, February 11. “(We) make the electronic services easier and more accessible.”

Inaugurated last Sunday by Al Shaibani, Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum mosque in Jumeirah 3 became the first Emirati mosque to use QR code technology.

The new smart mosque would allow worshippers to easily get general information about the mosque using their smart phones and tablets at any time. The digital information of the mosque would include its history, capacity, nature, area, prayer timings, lectures or courses offered by the mosque, along with information about Friday sermon.

“The QR code technology allows mosque-goers to access a special webpage of the mosque by scanning its barcode with a smart phone or tablet which are automatically equipped with this technology,” said Nassir Mubarak, head of IT section at DIACA. “Otherwise an app for QR code can be downloaded easily for concerned online stores,” Mubarak added.

The launching of Al-Maktoum smart mosque is part of the first phase of Dubai’s smart mosques project which includes plans for nine more smart mosques with similar technologies.

The smart mosques project is sponsored by the Smart Government initiative which was announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Emirates’ vice president, last year. The smart mosques project is expecting to develop better communication between mosques and Muslim worshippers, allowing them to share their comments, remarks, feedback, and complaints freely.

The new project would also allow worshippers to post their recommendations to enhance the initiative’s performance. “Electronic donation – under development, shall also be available, along with more services in the future,” Mubarak, the head of IT section at DIACA, said.

Last December, UAE’s Sharjah religious authorities announced their plans to offer Friday’s sermons in five languages, along with translating them into sign language. The multilingual mosques would allow Deaf and non-Arabic speaking Muslims to better understand their faith. Last month, Dubai has announced plans for the world’s first Qur’an park which will display 51 out of the 54 plants mentioned in Qur’an.

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Euronews broadcasts “Fly to Baku – Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan”

11 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Euronews television channel has relayed the exhibition Fly to Baku – Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan organized at the Heydar Aliyev Center by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Baku magazine.

The report provided information about the exhibition. It says the works showcased include those created by Vice-President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, author of the project Leyla Aliyeva. The exhibition presented over 100 works by Azerbaijani artists. The first exhibition was held in January, 2012 in London. It was followed by the exhibitions in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Rome and Vienna.

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IV Interfaith Forum of Muslim culture opens in Perm

islam.ru / 14 Feb 2014 – The Authorities of the Perm region, the administration and the head of the city of Perm, Exhibition Center “Permskaya Yarmorka”, with the assistance of the Fond of promoting Islamic culture, science and education, as well as Muslim Spiritual Administration of Perm region will conduct the “Muslim World” IV Interregional Forum. The forum is open from 13 up to 16 March, 2014.

The organizers believe that the “Muslim World” forum will be the first step of developing a culture of peoples, professing Islam, as well as to harmonize religious and inter-ethnic relations. Within the Forum, you will be able to watch clips about the modern life of Muslims in Prikamye and in other regions of Russia. It will be presented crafts, garments, household and “halal” products of Russian manufacturers.

The pavilion number 2 will be used as a platform for the contest among Quran reciters. There is also an exhibition dedicated to Islamic history and culture in Prikamye and in other regions of Russia.

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Madinah’s history showcased in ‘Letters and Illumination’ expo

Arab news / 14 Feb 2014 – The history of Madinah has been illuminated in words and images at a major art exhibition that opened on Tuesday in the city. Entitled “Letters and Illumination,” the exhibition includes displays of calligraphy and photographs dating back to the 19th century.

It is being held in Al-Aqeeq District, about 7 km from the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. It falls outside the haram zone, which allows non-Muslims to visit. Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman opened the event and toured the various sections on Tuesday.

Ayman Hafez, director of the exhibition, told Arab News the exhibition is being held to celebrate Madinah’s selection as the capital city of Islamic Culture for 2013. The art includes the first photographs taken in Madinah by Egyptian Sadeq Bey from 1880 and Indian photographer Mirza from 1881 as part of a chronological photographic essay up to 1920.

These photographs are from the King Abdul Aziz Foundation, the King Fahd Public Library and the archives of noted international bodies including the Royal Geographic Society and the Barakat Trust. There are also pictures of some Western Orientalists and famous Saudi photographers and young artists.

The exhibition includes the work of various Saudi artists, including Ahmed Mater, Abdel Nasser Algarm, Arwi Naimi, Adel Qureshi, and Faisal Al-Maliki, focusing on the Prophet’s Mosque, pilgrims, antiques of the region, natural scenery, and aerial photographs of the city.

Hafez said there has been a significant number of visitors including students, artists and scientists. Prominent visitors included Princess Adela bint Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Princess Fahda bint Saud, and Princess Haifa bint Faisal. Several participants in the exhibition are from Jordan, Egypt, Japan, China, Syria, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Kuwait.

All the paintings are original, said Hafez, including a painting from 1825, which includes the names of 18 sites in the Turkish language, and depicts Madinah and the surrounding areas, such as the dome, the five minarets, the surrounding mountains, the agricultural fields and key buildings.

Some of the pictures, shown in a three-dimensional display, portray the history of the area. A statement outlining its meaning accompanies each picture. The exhibition also pays homage to leading Arab and Saudi calligraphers including Shakir Hassan Al-Said, Ahmad Mustafa, Nassir Al-Salim and the Kuwaiti Farah Bahbahai.

The exhibition showcases a special collection of calligraphers obtained from the British museum including Farhad Mushiri from Iran, Abd Al-Qadir Rayyis from Dubai, Hassan Masoudi from Iraq, and Fuad Kouichi Honda from Japan. This effort was organized in cooperation with two leading galleries, Athr Gallery in Jeddah and Agial in Beirut.

Pictures taken by the Lebanese photographer Carla Salem stand out because she displays a mixture of Japanese and Arabic calligraphy. She produced a picture of the words qamar and shams, Arabic for moon and sun, on the trunk of a tree.

The event will include the publication of “Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah,” a book that presents images from well-known world photographers and edited by the photographer Humberto da Silveira.

The Islamic Education Science and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) selected Madinah as the Capital of Islamic Culture. The exhibition is open to the public until March 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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Alam Alnaydi, the most popular Arab woman in Instagram

islam.ru / 13 Feb 2014 – 30-year-old Alam Alnaydi from Saudi Arabia has become popular all over the world thanks to her “tasty” works made of polymer clay. Alam creates miniature sweets, photographs them and posts in Instagram. Copies of all sorts of goodies such as chocolates, cakes and other delicacies, which are made by using polymer clay, look like very naturally. Alam Alnaydi lives and works in Riyadh. She has more than one million subscribers. And now she is the most popular woman in the Arab world in Instagram.

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Famous Indian Composer Converts to Islam

OnIslam & Newspapers / 11 Feb 2014 – A famous Indian composer has revealed that he has reverted to Islam, adding that he is proud of the decision which got his family’s support. “Yes, I follow Islam and I’m proud about it. Alhamdhulillah,” Yuvan Shankar Raja posted on Twitter, Times of India reported on Monday, February 10.

“My family supports my decision and there is no misunderstanding between me and my dad,” he said. Several media reports have spread rumors about Raja’s reversion to Islam. Yet, the news was only confirmed by the son of legendary music director Illayaraaja on Saturday on Twitter.

A source close to him has revealed that Raja has reverted to Islam almost a year ago following the death of him mother. “Yuvan was very attached to his mother and soon after she passed away, he started missing her a lot,” the source told Times of India. “He also met a spiritual guru, but we cannot say what exactly made him follow Islam,” he added, maintaining that he was not inspired by fellow composer AR Rahman who had reverted to Islam.

Finding Islam, the famous composer started performing daily prayers. “He has been doing namaz (prayers) five times a day all these months. He is not missing his prayers even when he is at work and ensures that he allots time for it at his studio as well,” said the source.

“Currently, he is planning to convert to Islam and is also thinking of going for a change of name. But, he is yet to decide on these. Since it is his personal decision, his family members respect it,” the source added. There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India.

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Nigeria Plans Major Investments in Airport Development

Daily Trust – 12 February 2014 Lagos — Infrastructure upgrades at the nation’s 22 airports are currently underway. Some already completed and are being used and others at various stages of completion. All the airports have had their capacities doubled, in some cases quadrupled for greater profitability.

Five new international terminals are also coming up in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu – the architectural designs rival other international terminals abroad. And then, the perishable cargo terminals, 15 of them in all, rising from hitherto virgin lands across the country, exciting the government, farmers and other agricultural stakeholders down the value chain. Considering Nigeria’s current zero earnings from perishables even though she has sufficient fresh farm produce almost all year round, there couldn’t be a better offering to the farming communities.

When the terminals and the other facilities are completed, government projects that additional 80,000 – 100,000 job opportunities would have been created. The government also projects that the aviation industry will contribute an additional N300 billion to the Nigerian economy directly and indirectly in addition to the about N200 billion it currently provides. This will come from additional investments, construction of the infrastructure and FDI into the industry.

Overall, government projects that the industry will in future make a net GDP contribution of over N500 billion to the Nigerian economy annually and will support more than 200,000 jobs in Nigeria.

Thus, to ensure all of the airports are delivered on time (before May 2015) and to specification so Nigerians can begin to benefit from them, the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, has been inspecting facilities across airports in the country. The inspection which started January 31, 2013 has seen her inspect facilities at about eight airports: Yola International Airport, Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto (where they are building the biggest Hajj Terminal), Ilorin International Airport and Margaret Ekpo International Aiport, Calabar. Others are Port Harcourt International Airport, Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and The Jos airport.

At every airport, she expressed satisfaction with the pace of work and the quality. “I’m very happy and I’m impressed. We are on schedule and the quality is good. We want to say to Nigerians that there are more to come in the aviation industry. We are not just focusing on the terminals, we are ensuring that Nigeria’s aviation industry is repositioned and has the aviation industry that we deserve.”

Giving specifics on some of the terminals, she said, the Sokoto the terminal will process over 600,000 passengers when completed, Calabar 1.2 million passengers per annum. The minister said while the Hajj Terminal and perishable cargo in Sokoto have just been started, the Sokoto Airport terminal is almost ready for commissioning. She also said the perishable cargo terminals in Yola, Ilorin, Enugu, Jos and others are also underway.

At Port Harcourt, she dismissed insinuations that the airport was abandoned. “We have seen the dry cargo terminal, the perishable cargo, international terminal, the VIP and general aviation terminal under construction in Port Harcourt. So it amazes me when someone says, nothing is happening in Port Harcourt. Aviation is the economic changer. For us in aviation, we are proud and we pray for strength to achieve our goals” she noted.

She also noted that at the Enugu international airport alone, about 400 jobs are currently directly created. She explained that most of the structures have been reconstructed and not just rehabilitated. These facilities are for Nigerians so they can travel comfortably and in safety. If you take Calabar for instance, we have quadrupled the capacity. For those of you who are familiar with Calabar airport, it was tiny, ugly and unsafe for an international terminal. Calabar is a tourist destination so it’s important we make it beautiful. Our guarantee is that aviation repositioning will continue.”

“Even here in Calabar, we are building a big perishable terminal as well. The foundation has started just as on the other cargo terminals. When the cargo terminal is complete, it will enhance the socio-economic status of Cross River state,” she said.

Commenting, the Managing Director of FAAN, George Uriesi said, “we have provided capacity for Calabar for the next 10 years. Because we have provided capacity for growth of the airport, Calabar can market itself. Calabar can take several airlines now. With the cargo terminal, we can evacuate all the perishables around Calabar. In the old terminals, there were no commercial offerings but the new terminals have opportunities for commercial offerings. We have shops, restaurants; bar etc. you don’t even need to fly before you can come to the airport and shop. Same in all the airports we are building. So from a revenue perspective, FAAN would be making as much as five times the revenue we are making now.”

The Accident Investigative and prevention Bureau Boss, Captain Usman Muktar, said a lot on security had been considered in the new terminals. “Building of terminal also entails security and crowd control. There are several security details behind the scene that the passengers don’t get to see,” he said.

Though some Nigerians are apprehensive that some of these projects may not be completed. They reckon the terminals being built at the same time are quite many with huge resources needed to complete them. But the minister recently assured that none of the projects will be abandoned by this administration.

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’Jeddah among three biggest art centers in the ME’

Saudi Gazette / 12 Feb 2014 – In the Middle East, there are only three important art centers: Beirut, Sharjah, and Jeddah. Or so opines Chris Dercon, director of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art, the most visited museum in the world located in London.

Dercon was talking at a symposium organized as part of the “21,39 Jeddah Arts” opening events, which took place from February 4 to 8 all over the city and included openings of exhibitions, tours, workshops, and a symposium. He said the difference with other cities in the Middle East is that Jeddah has the “social fabric” to become a major art hub.

“There is not only a wave of enthusiasm and interest; there is not only a wave of young artists trying to produce something and trying to say something; there are also people who carry these things and take things further,” he said, referring to the organizers of “21,39” and the financial support they received from 37 prominent families in Jeddah.

While “21,39” laid the foundation of something very important, “you’re still lacking something,” Dercon continued. “What we do need here, Your Royal Highness (Princess Jawaher Bint Majed Bin Abdulaziz), as soon as possible, is art education.”

Talking on the sidelines of the symposium, Dercon said the result of the lack of art education and art schools is that the creators of art here come from many different classes. “They’re both young and old. They have odd jobs, most of the time. They’re coming a lot through science.”

Calling it a “bottom-up movement”, Dercon said artists here really want to develop a proper language for themselves. Although the “lack of rules” and the “lack of own cultural space” is a problem, artists manage to use these hindrances “as a positive kind of thing” that forces them “to do something different. That makes it another kind of art scene (in Saudi). They defy conventions about what an artist is, they defy conventions about how to produce art, and it creates something vibrant and (…) something new.”

The “21,39 Jeddah Arts” opening event, the first thing organized by the newly-established Saudi Art Council, coincided with the second edition of the Jeddah Art Week (JAW) from February 1 to 6, as well as the opening of the open air public sculpture museum on the Hamra Corniche, which saw the restoration of sculptures by masters like Henry Moore and Joan Miro that have been in the city since the 1970s.

Indeed, the notion of Jeddah as an art hub is not something new, but the recently established art weeks, councils, and galleries in addition to the new appreciation for the public sculptures are an expression of the inhabitants’ hunger for more.

“21,39” succeeded in attracting major names to the city on the Red Sea for its opening event, such as the above mentioned Dercon, Curator Catherine David, and Anne Pasternak, president and creative director of New York-based Creative Time.

This brought along high expectations for the symposium, and the result was somewhat unsatisfactory. As one curator, who requested anonymity, described it “It didn’t go much beyond congratulating each other on the success of the event.”

A few interesting comments aside, the discussion panels were merely monologues and shallow observations by the artists, curators, collectors, etc., while other subjects covered, such as the struggle most artists face between the need to make a living and the necessity to get the space and time from galleries to develop an artwork, are hardly groundbreaking in the art world.

This might have been a result of the inexperience of the organizers or, perhaps more likely, the fear to express criticism.

Without talking about the art scene in the Kingdom in particular, Dercon elaborated on the latter when he said in his speech that “the art world is the only discipline where we’re not allowed to say anymore that something is bad. When you speak critically about a work of art people take their tea and coffee and disappear, because you might offend somebody. Can you imagine? You might offend somebody when you say it’s not a good work of art!” he exclaimed.

Art is often seen as a personal expression which then evolves into telling the outside world something about identity.

This notion is especially interesting for women artists in the Kingdom, whose work is “very personal and at the same time they are incredibly aware that their work is going to be perceived by people they really don’t know,” as Dercon put it.

Artist Manal Aldowayan slightly touched upon this subject, remarking that “the local society decides to make you as the voice of the group, while in reality you are a single individual representing yourself in art. But then you become the voice of Saudi women, the voice of Muslim women, the voice of the Middle East.”

This may be triggered by the fact that Saudi art is still in its infancy, or that the Kingdom remains such a mysterious country for so many people all over the world. Art education inside the country would certainly help the Saudi population to understand their country’s art better, while establishing art schools would teach artists within the country to express themselves better and develop their work.

However, no miracles can be expected from institutionalizing art. Even in most (Western) countries with a well-established art education system, art remains something appreciated only by a small percentage of the society despite all the efforts being done to stir enthusiasm for art among children.

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International Tourism Workshop In Oran, Algeria, in March

ORAN, ALGERIA, Feb 12 (NNN-APS) — Nearly 50 international experts are expected to to take part in an international workshop on tourism to be held in this western Algerian city some 430 km from the capital, Algiers, from March 21 to 23, the organizers say. Experts from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Mediterranean Journalists and Travel Writers Organization (OMJET) are among the participants lined up for the international workshop, the chairman of the committee preparing the event, Houari Benali, told APS here Tuesday.

The meeting will also be attended by more than 350 participants, including Algerian public and private sector operators working in the field and those holding major investment in tourist and hotel projects, he said. The workshop will discuss several themes, especially the development of domestic tourist destinations. The organizers stressed the importance of Oran as a tourist destination as it is considered by tourism specialists as a promising place to visit given the number and quality of tourist investments in the province and its high potential.

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Palestinians plan for airport, seaport and railway

Ynetnews / 12 Feb 2014 – Palestinian Transportation Minister Nabil Dmaidi announced on Sunday that the Palestinian Authority intends to build an airport, sea ports and a railway to connect the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

Dmaidi said his ministry signed a cooperative agreement with Egypt’s civil aviation authority, in an attempt to utilize the professional experience of the Egyptians in the aerospace industry.

According to the agreement, Egyptian experts will travel to the West Bank to identify an appropriate location for a second airport in Area C. The first airport is to be built east of Jericho as the political peace process develops. The PA’s first West Bank airport has several design drafts, and the Egyptians are expected to prepare flight routes according to international aviation laws.

The Gaza Strip had previously operated the PA’s only international airport in Dahaniya, but it was bombed by the IDF during the Second Intifada.

In the past year, Palestinians have re-started flight operations with the small Palestinian Airlines, from El-Arish in Sinai to Amman in Jordan.

The transportation minister also said that plans were drawn up for a railway to connect the Gaza Strip to Egypt. He added that the last train station in Egypt is only 70 kilometers (43 miles) away from the Strip.

The Palestinian minister further noted that there is a plan for the construction of a future, modern sea port in the Strip.

Dmaidi’s announcements of new infrastructure projects in the Strip appear unrealistic considering the freeze in reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah and the fact that Hamas is suffering record low approval ratings in Egypt.

Palestinians demanded the construction of an airport in the West Bank from the opening of the negotiations. They also demanded to revive a tourism project and the planned hotel site near the Dead Sea, as well as a request for Israeli approval for natural gas exploration off the shores of the Strip.

Additional demands were made by the Palestinian delegation relating to industrial expansions and infrastructure construction, the development of tourism areas in the Jordan Valley, increasing the number of work permits issued for Palestinians in Israel, and a similar increase in entry permits for Palestinian businessmen.

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Women no longer need identifiers at Saudi courts

Arab news / 13 Feb 2014 – The Supreme Judicial Council has decided that Saudi women no longer have to have males identify them at court hearings, and would only require their identity cards.

The council issued a circular to all the courts on Monday to announce its decision.

The move has been welcomed by Saudis.

“This has brought an end to the dilemma that both women and judges used to face when trying to identify women who appear in court. Sometimes the identifier would be the plaintiff or the defendant in the same case,” said Ali Al-Alyani, a columnist and editor in chief of Ya Hala talk show.

“The previous practice gave men the upper hand in cases where they would either refuse to identify the woman or give false information in some cases,” he said.

Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen, a social activist and member of the National Society for Human Rights, said the ID cards of women previously had no value in Saudi courts.

“A judge once told me that this was a decision taken by the Ministry of Interior. I was surprised because the ID card was issued by them but was only accepted when produced by a man,” she said. Al-Abideen said many women have lost their rights in cases.

For example, a woman’s brother would take her inheritance by presenting his wife in place of her in court, she said.

She said males in these positions are the “worst financial abusers.”

Al-Alyani said other ideas suggested by the Ministry of Justice were never implemented by the courts and judges. “They talked about hiring women at the courts whose only job it would have been to verify women with their photo IDs.”

“Another idea is to use fingerprints to identify women. The Supreme Judicial Council is currently requesting this,” he said.

Lawyer Abdul Kareem Abdul Wahed said the decision would ensure justice for many women and reduce cases of identity theft. He said the courts have a backlog of cases involving women because they failed to bring males to identify them.

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Malaysia moves to maintain Halal edge

Eat-halal / 10 Feb 2014 – The halal industry in Malaysia is fast becoming a magnet for international investment, as major players move to acquire a share of a growing global market. Malaysia is carving a niche as a key producer and exporter of halal products. However, with regional competition growing, its domestic players have been urged to seek out new opportunities beyond their borders, in line with a national drive to boost growth and transform the industry into a pillar of the local economy.

New facilities to open US food manufacturer, Kelloggs, announced plans in January to build a US$130 million halal facility in Malaysia which will create 300 jobs when the first phase is completed in the middle of next year. The news comes after international dairy giant Nestle said it planned to expand its operations in Malaysia by opening a plant in Shah Alam in mid 2014.

US confectionery firm Hershey also outlined plans in 2013 to construct a US$250 million plant next year in Johor. The emergence of new players is a welcome boost for the Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC), which is looking to position the country as an international player in the market.

The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim), the industry regulator, hopes that a bid to have Malaysia’s M1500: 2009 Halal standard adopted as a global benchmark will raise the country’s profile across the industry. Competing standards are offered by counterparts in Dubai and Indonesia.

A total of 73 organisations, comprising 57 NGOs and 16 government bodies, have been granted permission to carry the Jakim certification, which verifies the traceability of ingredients and raw materials. Muslims are required to eat, drink and take medicinal halal products in accordance with religious requirements.

Competition on the rise According to government figures, Malaysia exported RM15.7 billion (US$4.69 billion) worth of halal products during the first half of 2013, outpacing the other countries in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, an international group with 57 members. However, regional competitors are also ramping up their activities in the sector. Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, revealed plans last October to establish a centre for the halal industry by 2015.

The market is also expanding in Thailand, where more than a quarter of food factories are now participating in halal production. In January, HDC managing director, Jamil Bidin, suggested that local manufacturers would need to look beyond Malaysia’s borders if the country is to retain its competitive edge.

Companies based in Malaysia should invest in overseas operations to take advantage of the procurement of raw materials and the proximity of markets to catapult the export industry onto the global stage, he told the local media. Bidin said countries such as China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia not only offered huge potential as markets for Malaysia’s halal products, but could also provide raw materials. However, critics believe domestic producers will need to increase their focus on developing marketing strategies if they are to compete globally.

A 2013 report published in the Malaysia Journal of Society and Space concluded that some halal food suppliers were insufficiently informed about the legal, social and cultural environment of importing countries. “They are not able to identify consumer needs accurately in terms of taste and preferences,” it said. “They enjoy little strategic and long term alliances with importers or distributors or private market agents to promote their products.”

Any marketing weaknesses are likely to be exposed further as Malaysia steps up its efforts to expand the halal industry. Expanding the market Plans include a push to attract non-Muslim consumers to halal foods as healthier and higher-quality options. The strategy is already proving successful in Asia, where food scares have sparked major fears and an increasing focus on safety, hygiene and quality. The halal food industry offers significant potential for expansion.

However, Malaysia’s domestic firms may need to enlist the support of international investors with marketing and branding expertise if the country is to fully reap the benefits of its early investment in the sector.

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Youth Ministry launches project to develop Sultan Park

February 8, 2014 – Ministry of Youth and Sports has launched a project to develop Sultan Park, under which the park has been cleaned by officials today.

Minister of Youth and Sports Maleeh Jamal told reporters that further efforts will be made to restore the park to its previous state.

He said that this includes putting a fence around the park, and developing it to facilitate holding weddings and children’s parties.

Maleeh Jamal said that a Tourist Information Centre will also be established at Sultan Park for visiting tourists.

He said that the project is aimed at making the park a tourist attraction, and a cleaner place with more greenery.

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Project under way to place dustbins in Male’

February 10, 2014 – Male’ City Council has kicked off a project to place dustbins on the streets, as part of its efforts towards waste management in Male’.

The council said that under this project dustbins will be placed in 17 regions in Male’, and the placement of the first 100 dustbins will be completed by the end of today.

Dustbins will be placed in parks, near government office buildings and blocks of flats, and at ferry terminals.

City Council said that the project to place dustbins will be carried out under an agreement with the council, by Business Image Group (BIG).

The Waste Management Regulation enforced on 5 February states that dustbins must be placed at all public places, and failing to use these bins could result in a fine of MVR 100.

Failure by the institutions responsible for maintaining public places to place dustbins can mean they are fined between MVR 10,000 and MVR 100,000.

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SR36 billion projects for northern Saudi city

Turaif, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, 05 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 05 February 2014 (IINA) – The King Abdullah Project for the Development of Waad Alshamal City in the Northern Border Region got a major boost on Tuesday, with the awarding of several mega construction and infrastructure projects and setting up of investment projects worth a total of SR36 billion.

The contract signing ceremony was held under the aegis of Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Bin Mosaed, Emir of the region. The awarded projects included construction of a number of factories, 1,000 megawatts power plant, a main road and other projects. The contracts also covered projects for linking the city of Waad Alshamal with Saudi ports along the Arabian Gulf, as well as raw material supplies and sanitary water treatment. The contracts included an agreement on a feasibility study of constructing a factory for solar panels and a training center.

Minister of Finance Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi, Minister of Water and Electricity Abdullah Alhussayen, Minister of Transport Jubarah Al-Suraysiri, Prince Saud bin Abdullah Bin Thunayan, Chairman of the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, and several other senior officials and top company executives also attended the signing ceremony.

Speaking on the occasion, Prince Abdullah said that the King Abdullah Project will give abundant investment opportunities for Saudi contractors and open up a large number of jobs for Saudi youths. Al-Naimi highlighted the efforts to diversify sources of national income, saying that the expected investment in factories and infrastructure signed at the city would reach SR36 billion. The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) are implementing the projects in cooperation with a number of government agencies and leading Saudi and international companies.

Maaden signed the contract for building a sulphuric acid plant and a power generation facility, valued at SR 2,865 million ($764 million) with SNC-Lavalin International Inc. & Sinopec Engineering (Group) Co. Ltd. SNC-Lavalin Arabia LLC (SLA) & Sinopec E&C Middle East Co.Ltd will implement the project. The sulphuric acid plant, consisting of three sulphuric acid lines, will have a production capacity of 4.9 million tons. The contract includes detailed engineering, procurement, and construction, and will take 35 months, starting from the date of the award, with completion expected in the fourth quarter of 2016.Maaden also signed the contract for building a phosphoric acid plant worth SR3,506 million ($935 million) to Hanwha Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd & Hanwha Saudi Contracting Co. Ltd. The phosphoric acid plant which will consist of three phosphoric acid lines when completed will have a production capacity of 1.5 million tons.

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Istanbul’s City Theaters celebrate 100th year

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s City Theaters will hold a series of activities in the coming months to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

“With the activities we organize, our aim is to make the people living in Istanbul realize the city has a 100-year-old distinguished theater tradition,” City Theaters Artistic Director Hilmi Zafer Şahin said in an interview with the Anadolu Agency.

Founded in 1914 under the name “Darulbedayi-i Osmani,” which means “Ottoman’s House of Beauty,” the theater was established a century ago by former mayor Cemil Topuzlu Paşa with world famous French actor Andre Antoine, who was both the director and the founding instructor.

Today, Istanbul has 11 city theaters, including two children’s theaters and one open air theater in various districts, including Harbiye, Kadiköy, Fatih, Gaziosmanpaşa, Üsküdar, Kağıthane, and Ümraniye.

“Every day, approximately 2,000 people watch plays in Istanbul,” said Şahin, adding Istanbul city theaters had hosted more than 500,000 people last year.

“Some plays have also been staged in Turkey’s different provinces, as well as abroad,” Şahin said. “Even foreign audiences come to watch our plays when they realize we stage worldwide classics.”

The theater’s “The Play” was invited to BOZAR in 2013, the most prestigious art center in Brussels, to perform.

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Punjab introduces e-Learning

By Amna Nasir Jamal

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-10 LAHORE – The future became a reality for Punjab Province students in January when they became Pakistan’s first to use internet-based learning tools in school, known as e-Learning.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif at a ceremony at Arfa Karim Software Technology Park in Lahore January 7 launched a free online repository of digitised science textbooks for classes IX and X, augmented with videos, animations and simulations to enhance students’ learning experience.

“We are making our textbooks and supplementary material available online for free,” Punjab Information Technology Board Chairman Dr. Umar Saif said. “We have also made this platform to crowd-source content for our users, which will make textbooks richer and enhance the overall learning experience.”

The e-Learning initiative aims to provide free access to open educational resources with a mere click of a button and promises to help deliver quality education, Saif added.

“The literacy rate in Punjab stands at 60%; the government has a long way to go before it achieves 100% literacy by 2020 to meet international commitments and its own goals,” he said, adding that the move should help the province achieve its aim.

Improving the learning, teaching experience

The benefits are far-reaching, Saif said, noting that both students and teachers will benefit from the move.

“The online repository will revolutionise the e-learning concept in Punjab as well as across Pakistan,” Shahbaz said during the ceremony. “The scope of the e-programme would soon be extended to books for students of classes VI, VIII and XII along with videos, animations and simulations to educate students as well as teachers.”

Presently, the Punjab government is providing e-books only in natural science (physics, chemistry and biology) and in mathematics.

All related educational materials, including 2,000 videos, will come online within a month, Shahbaz said. “Resources allocated for students are not only an expenditure; they are useful investments in a prosperous future for the country.”

“Technology is evolving faster than ever before,” University of Punjab Institute of Education and Research Director Dr. Mumtaz Akhtar said.

“The e-Learning (system) can be more cost effective … than classroom-based training, especially for those who can’t afford to buy books,” he said. “Students can study anywhere they have access to a computer and an internet connection.”

The shift to online learning also furthers students’ computer skills, which will benefit them throughout their lives and careers, he said, noting that it will allow students to connect with the classroom curriculum even if they live far from campus.

“It is the need of the time to provide remedies, so that we produce competent and knowledgeable professionals,” Akhtar said. The Punjab government has provided billions of rupees to develop education and to promote IT, he said.

Students and teachers have mixed feelings about the switch but for the most part they welcome the free access to learning materials. “The world is changing consistently,” Lahore mathematics teacher Zikria Ikram said. “With rising fees and heightened living costs, students are looking to the digital world to find cheaper course materials.”

Even though not all students have internet access outside the classroom, he said the government’s investment was worthwhile because it will lower education costs.

The initiative will also reduce the opportunity for the “tuition centre mafia” (the term used to describe public school teachers who refuse to educate children unless the parents pay them) to extort parents and will enable students to learn on their own, Nadia, a Government Central Model School girls’ branch student, said.

“Electronic books, or e-books, have changed the way many of us read for pleasure,” Farhan, her classmate, said. “We are happy to do course-related reading on a device.”

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Islam 2nd Largest Religion in Italy

OnIslam & News Agencies Wednesday, 12 February 2014 ROME – Members of the Italian Muslim community have come together to discuss problems facing the religious minority, highlighting Muslim contributions to the Italian economy and complaining about lack of official status for the second largest religious group in the country.

Figures from the national statistics agency “Istat tell us that there are currently about 1,700,000 Muslims in Italy,” said Izzedin Elzir, Florence imam and head of the Muslim umbrella group Unione delle Comunità e Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia (UCOII), ANSA news agency reported on Tuesday, February 11. “There are over 700 mosques,” Elzir added.

The Florence imam comments came during his meeting with other members of the Muslim community at the special conference for Muslims held on Tuesday in Rome. The conference was held at the Niccolò Cusano University and was attended by leading members of the Italian Muslim community.

Speaking at the conference, Elzir referred to Muslims contributions in the Italian economy. “Muslims account for 4-5% of national GDP. In other words,” Elzir said. “Islam constitutes added value for Italy.”

Despite the “added value” the Muslim community brings to Italy, they have no official status, the imam added.

“Despite the fact that freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution, the absence of a resulting law had led to the Muslim community’s de facto not being recognized by the Italian State, with which there is no agreement”, in the likes of those regulating relations between Italian institutions and religions other than Catholicism (with which relations were set down in the Concordat).

Similar agreements were entered year ago with other minority religions, such as Judaism and Buddhism.

Agostino Cilardo, expert in Islamic law at the Naples Orientale University, shared a similar concern. “The problem of a lack of representation is a concrete one, not only an official one,” noted Cilardo. “When you draw up an agreement, the counterpart is a unified organization. But who can speak on behalf of Muslims in Italy,” he said.

The lack of official status means Muslims organizations are not eligible for funding through the Italian law that allows taxpayers to allocate part of their taxes to a religious group of their choice.

Efforts to recognize Islam in Italy, even unofficially, are often slammed by the separatist Northern League. Plans by former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta to establish a museum of Islamic art on the banks of the Grand Canal in Venice has also sparked angry reactions from separatist Northern League. Plans by regional councils to build more mosques have also been slammed.

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Pakistan installs 72 solar-powered water heaters

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-11 MARDAN, Pakistan – New solar-powered water heaters will improve public health and the standard of living in four Pakistani districts.

The Agahi Foundation, in collaboration with Philip Morris (Pakistan) Ltd., installed 72 solar-powered water heaters in public schools, community centres, healthcare facilities and other buildings in Swabi, Mardan and Charsadda districts (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Sahiwal District (Punjab).

The installation will benefit more than 6,000 residents in those districts, reduce fossil fuel emissions, and promote alternative energy, officials say.

“The new initiative is not only cost effective but will raise the living standards of the communities,” Agahi Foundation President Puruesh Chaudhry told Central Asia Online.

This initiative will go far in raising the living standard of marginalised communities, partly by making solar-heated water more widely available, Muhammad Sarwar Nasim, a community leader in Sahiwal District, said. Having hot water available all the time will reduce the incidence of colds and other ailments, he said.

Pakistan is one of 10 countries that face a severe energy crisis, according to a 2013 UN report. About 1.3 billion people in the world live without electricity, and two-thirds of those without power are clustered in Pakistan and nine other countries, the UN said in its Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific-2013.

The Agahi Foundation is working on using institutionalised sustainable structures in Pakistan to raise living standards, Asif Farooqi, the executive director of Agahi, said. The foundation sets workflows, guidelines and a benchmarking mechanism as well as training programmes so that relevant institutions can take ownership, he added.

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Bangladesh plans national anthem singing for Guinness record

DHAKA, Feb 13, 2014 (BSS)- The government has taken an initiative to assemble thousands of enthusiastic people at the National Parade Squad in the city on March 26 to sing the national anthem, aimed at including Bangladesh in the Guinness Book of World Record. A coordination meeting of Steering Committee was held at Dhaka Cantonment’s Armed Forces Division with Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor, MP in the chair, according to a handout. The meeting was attended, among others, by Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque, MP, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, MP and senior army and civil officers, the handout said. The meeting discussed the latest progress, budget and the next course of initiatives, it added.

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Month-long folk festival begins in Sonargaon on Feb 14

DHAKA, Feb 12, 2014 (BSS) – Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor today said the government has undertaken various initiatives to protect country’s folk art and heritage. “To this end, recommendations have been made to increase allocations for the cultural affairs ministry in the next financial year,” he said at a press conference at Press Information Department (PID) on the occasion of Fine Arts Fair and Folk Festival 2014.

Folk and Fine Arts Foundation will hold the month-long festival on the premises of Fold Art and Craft Museum in Sonargaon under Narayanganj from February 14. The cultural affairs minister will inaugurate the festival in the morning on February 14.

The minister said the objective of the fair is to introduce folk products to the people in a bid to preserve the fold arts and heritage. He stressed the need for fair prices of folk goods and said the government has a plan to hold such more fairs in rural areas to encourage folk art and craft.

As part of this, a SAARC art exhibition will be held in Bandarban, the minister added. Cultural Affairs Secretary Dr Ranajit Kumar Biswas,Additional Secretary Mahbuba Mashkur and Folk and Fine Arts Foundation Director poet Rabindra Gop also spoke at the press conference.

Forty-four craftsmen from different areas of the country will make different folk products on the spot in the fair in Sonargaon. Besides, there will be cultural functions, including different types of folk songs and indigenous dances. Eight seminars will also be held during the festival. The fair will have 184 stalls.

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IT village to be set up in each district: Zunaid

DHAKA, Feb 12, 2014 (BSS) – State Minister for Post, Telecommunication and ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak today said IT village will be set up in each district of the country to supplement the concept of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by expanding the IT industry. “The process is on to establish the IT village, which will help flourish IT based economy by involving the rural people,” he told a meet- the press at Bangladesh Computer Council(BCC) here.

Senior officials of the ministry and journalists from different print and electronic media were present on the occasion. The country witnessed a remarkable progress in the field of ICT in the last five years due to time-befitting initiatives taken by the government, Zunaid said.

Zunaid said the government has envisioned its philosophy Vision 2021: Digital Bangladesh leading towards use of ICT to leverage economic growth and development to transform Bangladesh into a middle- income country by 2021. “We all should work from our respective position by adopting knowledge on information technology (IT) to build ‘Sonar Bangla’ as dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,” he added.

Referring to potentiality of software industry, he said the government has set up a software technology park at Kawran bazaar in the city to boost software industry in the country.

A project involving Taka 180 crore has been taken to expand ‘Learning and Earning Programme’ to create IT skilled people, he said adding 13,454 youths have already been given training under the programme.

“The country has a huge potentiality of earning foreign currency from outsourcing. The youths can earn money from outsourcing, if they are given training under the learning and Earning programme, Zunaid added.

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Simpor Pharma to See First Export of Shariah-Compliant Products

Thursday, 13 February 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: Simpor Pharma has produced some twenty five million Syariah-compliant capsules, mostly fish oil supplements – and is now looking forward to shipping its first export in three to four months from now. Simpor Pharma is the first halal and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) pharmaceutical and nutraceutical company in the Sultanate whereby it aims to exploit the growing halal market.

It is focused on exporting halal-certified natural health products as well as over-the-counter and prescription drugs to the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Western Europe and United State markets. Edward Ko, Managing Director of Simpor Pharma, yesterday said fish oil supplements, a product that is very popular in North America, would make up the bulk of the initial export and revenue.

He added that the company would eventually utilize its one hundred thousand square feet state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to produce an array of items including vitamins and herbal products. “We also hope to come out with several products, such as those for the treatment of high-cholesterol and diabetes, for the local market soon” he said.

Ko also said that after meeting a group of local pharmacists who produce cosmetics, he was optimistic of “possible cooperation in the area”. Despite the bright prospects that lie ahead, Ko did concede that the company was facing some challenges. According to him, certain foreign agencies do not recognize “Brunei Halal”, meaning that the company has to apply for licenses from the regions of export. Brunei’s GMP certification is another area of concern as it is not recognized in North America and Australia, he said, adding that the plan was to bring both sides to Brunei to do the GMP auditing.

“These licenses would greatly facilitate our business activities as we would then be able to export our products to just about anywhere in the world” he said, adding that once the North American GMP licence was granted, the company would immediately start shipment to the region. “We will first start exporting to the United States and Canada, with the Middle East and Southeast Asia region to follow suit.”

Simpor Pharma – a joint investment company between Canadian Viva Pharmaceutical Inc, private equity fund Aureos (Brunei) Capital Sdn Bhd and a group of local investors – has set up a US$26 million facility to produce halal pharmaceutical products. Recognised by the World Economic Forum (CGI 2010/11) as the world’s most stable macroeconomy, the Sultanate is ideally positioned as a hub for exporting halal pharmaceutical products and health supplements to the global market.

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Azerbaijani universities rising in World Rankings

08 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – In recent years, several Azerbaijani universities have begun to be earn places in the world-wide rating tables of reputable organizations working the field of ranking universities. However, online and printed news reports given in the mass media about these ratings have been incomplete and inaccurate at best.

One of the well-known organizations which ranks world universities is QS. The QS rating compares universities according to factors such as their reputation around the world, graduate employment rates, international partnerships, faculty-student ratio, academic publications, and percentages of international students and faculty. In the most recent QS World Rating for 2013-2014, only 3 Azerbaijani universities were listed. Khazar University and Qafqaz University took places in the 651-700 tier of world universities. Besides these two universities, a third Azerbaijani university—Baku State University—was ranked a bit lower, in the “701+” tier (meaning it fell somewhere below 700th place).

These ratings are carried out by specialized global organizations. They research the quality of education processes and determine the levels of world institutions based on extremely varied and significant factors.

Aside from international ratings, the Azerbaijani State Students Admission Commission (SSAC) has begun to publish its own rating tables in recent years. However, the SSAC rating is simply based on the admission campaign of the previous year. It is a listing according to admission examination results, but not a comprehensive rating reflecting universities’ multifaceted activities.

The education that a student receives in the university where he or she studies should be viewed as more significant than his or her admission examination score. A student who scored lower on the exam but receives a good-quality education makes a stronger graduate than one with a high exam score who received a poor-quality education. The ratings of universities should be based on factors that reflect the comprehensive activities carried out by the universities, not just on the admission scores of students.

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Some 60 Indonesian traditional markets revitalized in 2014

Fri, February 14 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Ministry of Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises will revitalize some 60 traditional markets in a number of provinces, and build 88 locations for street vendors (PKL), in 2014.

“One of our programs this year is to revitalize around 60 traditional markets and to build 88 locations for street vendors in a number of provinces,” Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises Minister Sjarifuddin Hasan stated here on Friday. The minister noted that the program is the follow-up of a similar one in 2013, when 254 locations for PKL were built and 472 units of traditional markets were managed by the cooperatives.

“Revitalization of traditional markets and good management of street vendors by the cooperatives will help solve the problem of trading and giving double benefits to the traders,” he explained.

Sjarifuddin noted that the revitalization is expected to develop domestic economy and to increase regional revenue because it was in line with the efforts of the regional governments to improve the locations of street vendors. According to him, the presence of traditional markets and the management of PKL locations will improve the image of trading because of the certainty of business places and the creation of jobs.

“It is a fact that more than 5.5 million workers in the trade sector were absorbed as traders in traditional markets,” the minister affirmed.

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Saudia targets 200 destinations

Arab News – 13 February, 2014 – Saudi Arabian Airlines has announced plans to expand its operations to more than 200 destinations worldwide with minimum connections. “We want to reinforce our presence in Europe, North America, Asia, especially in China and Indonesia as well as to open new markets in Russia, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and Czech Republic,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Hazmi, CEO of Saudia.

He was addressing a joint press conference with Michael Wisbrun, managing director of SkyTeam.

He said Saudia joined SkyTeam, a 19-member global alliance of airlines in May 2012, as part of its efforts to offer high quality services to passengers.

“We have implemented the alliance’s premium service SkyPriority in almost all its stations and its value customers have started enjoying it,” he said. With the launch of SkyTeam’s Round the World booking tool, Saudia customers are now able to book their round the world tickets in a couple of clicks on the alliance’s website for attractive prices, including a 10 percent fare promotion currently running until March 31.

“Within a month we will be resuming our flight to Manchester and later to Los Angeles, operating three flights weekly to both destinations,” Al-Hazmi told Arab News. “We are also consolidating our network with the support of SkyTeam.”

He welcomed the arrival of two domestic operators. “This an opportunity for passengers to compare our services with that of other airlines.” He said the new operators would help meet the growing domestic demand. The CEO emphasized Saudia’s plan to make more seats available on its flights in the domestic sector.

“We know the demand is more than our capacity,” he added. Saudia has set out a strategy to capture a market share of 22 million from 28.5 million domestic passengers by 2020.

Wisbrun emphasized the important position of Saudia in his alliance as it offers connections to Saudi, Middle Eastern and Asian markets. SkyTeam membership helped Saudia to increase its revenue, he said and disclosed plans to establish a SkyTeam Lounge at Dubai airport in January 2015.

“At SkyTeam we seek to improve the customer experience by implementing network-wide customer products and services that deliver seamless travel.

He said the total number of passengers carried by SkyTeam member airlines reached more than 550 million. “We offer 15,000 flights daily to more than 1,000 destinations in 178 countries,” he said.

Garuda Indonesia will join SkyTeam next month as the alliances 20th member. Wisbrun spoke about consolidation of airlines in the US, Europe and other continents while stressing the importance of airline alliances to improve customer services and reduce corporate expenditures.

SkyTeam flights cover about 90 percent of the globe, providing easy connections to destinations worldwide, he said.

Asked whether the alliance has plans to admit more members, he said: “Our focus now is on improving services provided by existing airlines and their cost-effectiveness and ensuring smooth transfer of passengers between the member airlines. Increasing the number will create complexities.”

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Kuwait approves $12bn for clean fuel projects

The Peninsula – 13 February, 2014 – Kuwait has approved bids worth a total of $ 12bn for major upgrades at two oil refineries, the state-run oil company said, in a sign it is moving ahead with large infrastructure projects.

The Clean Fuels Project is a specification upgrade and expansion of Kuwait’s largest refineries as part of the Gulf state’s economic development plan, which has faced delays partly due to political instability.

A consortium led by Japan’s JGC Corp won a tender for work worth KD1.361bn ($ 4.82bn) at the 460,000-barrels-per-day (bpd) Mina Ahmadi refinery, a Kuwait National Petroleum Company spokesman said, citing a decision from the country’s central tenders committee.

Britain’s Petrofac, in a bid worth KD1.07bn, is expected to carry out work at the 270,000bpd Mina Abdullah refinery, and US-based Fluor Corp will also work on Mina Abdullah after a bid of KD962m, he said.

Contracts for the work are expected to be signed with the companies in April and construction work should begin shortly afterwards, the spokesman said.

Kuwait awarded Foster Wheeler with the management and service contract for the clean fuels project in December 2012 in a deal worth around $ 500m. Foster Wheeler said at the time that the project would increase the amount that the refineries can process per day by 264,000 barrels to 800,000 and be ready in 2018.

Apart from the Clean Fuels Project, worth around KD4.6bn in total, Kuwait also wants to build a new KD4bn refinery called Al Zour and then shut its third, older 200,000 bpd Shuaiba refinery.

Such projects in Kuwait’s 30 billion dinar development plan, announced in 2010, are a test for a country which has struggled to invest in infrastructure and attract foreign investors, partly due to the political instability and bureaucracy.

Last week Kuwait’s parliament voted to investigate a contract awarded to a GDF Suez-led consortium for a power project and a deal between the state carrier and Airbus to buy and lease aircraft, in a sign that lawmakers will continue to question state investment decisions.

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Infrastructure spending to boost tourism

Gulf Daily News – 13 February, 2014 – After a year of steady growth, Bahrain’s tourism industry is on the cusp of a dramatic upturn, with government plans to invest heavily into travel and tourism infrastructure. Acting under-secretary of tourism Shaikh Khalid bin Hamood Al Khalifa recently revealed that a dedicated policy had been developed to attract more tourists as well as additional investment into Bahrain’s tourism industry.

Capital investment in Bahrain’s travel and tourism sector reached approximately BD196.3 million in 2012, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). This figure increased by around 13.2 per cent last year and is expected to rise 4.9pc per annum over the next 10 years to BD358.2m in 2023.

Travel and tourism’s share of Bahrain’s total national investment will increase from 7.8pc last year to 8.7pc in 2023, the WTTC claims. The direct contribution of the sector to GDP in 2012 was BD538.3m (5pc of GDP) and was forecast to rise by 6.3pc to BD572m last year as a result of a surge in the economic activity generated by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transport services, as well as restaurants and additional leisure industries supported by visiting tourists.

Bahrain is keen to develop more hotels to increase its available room stock to over 12,000 rooms by 2015, after Shaikh Khalid revealed hotel room bookings surpassed the 10,000 mark last year, up from 9,000 rooms in 2012, an 11pc rise.

“Accolades such as Manama being declared the Capital of Arab Tourism 2013 have also given the kingdom a boost,” said Reed Travel Exhibitions portfolio director Mark Walsh.

The company is the organiser of Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2014, scheduled to be held from May 5-8 at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre. Bahrain was one of the six Middle East destinations visited by the ATM team during its week-long roadshow which kicked off last week. It also takes place in Kuwait, Beirut, Muscat, Dubai and Doha.

“Bahrain has great potential – it’s an ideal short break destination for GCC residents, especially those from Saudi Arabia. It is also a relaxing place for Europeans looking for winter sunshine, with some of the best beaches in the Gulf. It has a major cruise terminal and of course hosts the Formula One Grand Prix,” said Mr Walsh.

New ATM features include the introduction of an annual theme, with spotlight on the luxury travel sector this year. The seminar programme in particular will focus on this important theme, which is particularly relevant to Dubai and the rest of the Gulf region. Around 75pc of Bahrain’s inventory is dominated by hotels in the four- and five-star categories.

The future pipeline remains focused on the luxury sector, with hotels such as the 260-room Wyndham Grand Manama which recently opened its doors, in addition, to a 50-storey JW Marriott which is scheduled for completion in 2016.

Bahrain’s Culture Ministry’s tourism department is planning to have a strong presence at this year’s ATM with a 200 sqm national pavilion.

Major exhibitors include the ministry as well as a host of five-star hotels including Gulf Hotel Bahrain and the Ramee Grand Hotel and Spa. Last year, ATM welcomed more than 21,000 visitors from 165 countries, covering 22,000 square metres of floor space.

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Abu Dhabi Airports invites retailers

Emirates 24/7 – 13 February, 2014 – The spectacular new international airport project – Abu Dhabi Airports’ Midfield Terminal Building (MTB) – is inviting bids from potential commercial partners to deliver “the jewel in the crown” of global aviation.

Abu Dhabi Airports on Wednesday announced that its subsidiary company, Abu Dhabi Duty Free, has launched its commercial process to attract global bidders to move into the new airport.

Retailers, food and beverage operators, and leading brands from all around the world are being invited to submit bids for commercial opportunities for the MTB which is due to open in July 2017. The process offers commercial partners the challenge of providing a sensational experience for travellers who are increasingly making the UAE an ever-more important destination.

Encased within a spectacular design, a total of 28,000 square metres of space will be available, comprising 18,000 square metres of retail and 10,000 square metres for food and beverage outlets.

As a completely new commercial development, bidders will have the opportunity to build and brand their chosen space from a blank canvas, rather than work under the constraints of an existing outlet. The commercial space offered represents a rare opportunity for outlets, as it will expose them to the 30+ million passengers who are forecast to pass through the Midfield Terminal Complex in a few years’ time.

Abu Dhabi Duty Free will allow successful bidders from the retail and food and beverage sectors to work with international consultants to optimise allocated space and create them to their own bespoke designs.

The overall objective is for the MTB to be the most modern, attractive and innovative airport terminal in the world, while offering passengers an abundance of choice and a memorable travel experience.

This in turn will help further promote Abu Dhabi as a global transport hub, persuading passengers to make it their preferred destination or transit route. The opportunity for successful bidders – whether high-end luxury brands or those providing every-day essentials – is to become an essential ingredient in what will become an iconic landmark.

Mohammed Al Bulooki, Chief Commercial Officer of Abu Dhabi Airports, said, “Abu Dhabi Airports is calling on ambitious, innovative retailers, food and beverage operators, as well as leading brands from all over the world, to participate in this commercial process. Few opportunities like this exist to take advantage of such a unique and extensive commercial space, whose size and footfall make it so compelling. Abu Dhabi Airports looks forward to working with such partners to make Abu Dhabi’s Midfield Terminal Building the jewel in the crown in the UAE’s transport infrastructure.”

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Emirates and Jetstar sign codeshare agreement

Khaleej Times – 14 February, 2014 – Emirates and Jetstar, Asia Pacific’s fastest growing and largest low fares network by revenue, have announced a codeshare agreement that is set to open up new destinations for the world fastest growing UAE national carrier’s passengers across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia.

Emirates’ code will now be placed on a number of routes operated by Jetstar Airways in Australia and New Zealand, and Jetstar Asia. Jetstar Airways is part of Qantas Group with which the UAE airline has already a codeshare agreement in place. The alliance is expected to give passengers access to 27 new routes and six new destinations such as Bali in Indonesia, Byron Bay in Australia, Dunedin in New Zealand and Siem Reap in Cambodia, Emirates said in a statement.

Members of Emirates Skywards, the airline’s frequent flyer programme, will be able to earn Miles for flights on Jetstar-operated routes which have the Emirates code, they will also be able to use their Miles to purchase reward flights on any Jetstar operated route, starting from just 7,025 Skywards Miles.

Emirates, currently flying to 141 destinations in 78 countries across six continents, maintains codeshare agreements with many other airlines around the world. Its partners also include JetBlue, Air Malta, Air Mauritius, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, Korean Air, Oman Air, Philippine Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, South African Airways, Thai Airways, and V Australia Airlines

“This new link between Emirates and Jetstar offers our passengers a number of benefits including new routes to destinations that are not part of the Emirates network today,” said Adnan Kazim, Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President, Planning, Aeropolitical & Industry Affairs.

“The link between Emirates and Jetstar is also fantastic news for our Emirates Skywards members, giving them more options to use their miles to explore new countries and cultures,” added Kazim.

“This agreement will see us bring our extensive Asia Pacific network consisting of some of the most popular leisure destinations, to the doorstep of Emirates passengers across the globe,” said Lisa Brock, Jetstar Group Chief Commercial Officer. The Jetstar Group carried more than 23 million passengers in financial year 2013. Jetstar branded carriers operate more than 4,000 flights a week to more than 60 destinations

“Working with Emirates we have created a product and a network offering that will provide Emirates passengers with new holiday options throughout South East Asia including Bali, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and new destinations across Australia and New Zealand.”

“Emirates customers travelling on Jetstar will enjoy a range of full service fare features such as food and beverage options and the same luggage allowance they would have on Emirates.” From 6 April, all Emirates’ passengers on Jetstar flights will receive boarding passes on check-in at their first international departure point for connecting international services.

The codeshare includes seven domestic routes in Australia to add to the 50 that Emirates already codeshares with cornerstone investor in the Jetstar Group, Qantas; four new routes in New Zealand, six new routes between Australian and New Zealand over the Tasman Sea and ten international routes out of Singapore to Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong.

UAE two largest legacy carriers, including Etihad, have been on an expansion spree by inking codeshare pacts from major airlines. Etihad, the Abu Dhabi based carrier, has also been driving its growth though stake acqusitions in other international carriers.

In 2013, Etihad’s code shares with other airlines and its equity partners brought 1.8 million passengers onto Etihad flights, helping total passenger numbers rise 16 per cent to almost 12 million. Emirates carried 39 million passengers in its 2012/13 fiscal year, also recording a 16 per cent increase.

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Moroccan minister lauds Saudi Arabia’s tourism progress

Arab News – 14 February, 2014 – Moroccan Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad, who is here to attend the 29th Janadriyah heritage and cultural festival, met Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) at the SCTA headquarters on Wednesday. The two officials discussed mutual relations and means to bolster bilateral ties in the field of antiquities, museums, urban heritage and eco-tourism.

During the visit, Haddad also attended a presentation on SCTA’s programs and projects in tourism and national heritage. Prince Sultan welcomed the Moroccan minister’s visit, praising the historic and strong relations binding the Kingdom and Morocco in different areas, especially tourism.

“We are pleased with the visit of our special guests from Morocco. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, are paying special attention to the relationship with the Kingdom of Morocco. Our cooperation with Morocco began since the early stages of SCTA’s foundation, and we seek to benefit from Morocco’s experience in tourism,” said Prince Sultan.

“We agreed to expand our cooperation efforts, especially after the issuance of several resolutions by the government recently, the most important of which is the “King Abdullah Project for Caring of the Cultural Heritage in the Kingdom,” the SCTA president added. “We will continue to cooperate in the enhancement of tourism investments in both the countries, as Morocco is a powerhouse in this field and we expect to benefit greatly from it,” he noted.

In his turn, the Moroccan minister thanked Prince Sultan for the invitation and praised the progress reached by the Kingdom in the field of tourism.

“We exchanged opinions on the proper ways of developing the antiquities sector, as the Kingdom is witnessing great progress in the field of tourism and heritage. There are important projects and great efforts are being made to boost Saudi tourism,” said Haddad, adding, “We will benefit and be part of the Saudi experience and place our humble experience within the reach of Saudi hands. Also we want to benefit from their international experience and from Saudi investments in Morocco. We will set a mechanism to ensure our partnership is put into effect for the benefit of both countries.”

The meeting was also attended by a delegation of high officials from the two sides.

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Japan, U.S. To Return Fossil Collections Back To Iran

TEHRAN, Feb 11 (NNN-MNA) — Head of Natural History Museum and Genetic Reserves Bureau of Department of Environment said the US and Japan have agreed to return collection of fossils back to Iran after 35 years.

Shahabeddin Montazemi was quoted by Department of Environment official website as saying that northwestern Iranian vertebrate fossils provided evidence about the genealogy of modern mammalians and conditions of pre-historic physical environment, which made access to these fossils important to interested parties around the world.

“Before the Revolution, US and Japanese archeologists working on Iran’s northwestern vertebrate fossils had taken with themselves all important fossils to be displayed in the universities and museums,” he added.

“After years of expert-level negotiations and filing a complaint to International Court in the Hague, Japan and the US agreed to return these fossils to original country,” Montazemi said, “ the collection consists of the skull of saber-toothed tiger and different bones and skulls of antelopes (deer family).”

On another development, historical windcatchers are among the tourist attractions still going unnoticed by the Qeshm Free Zone Organization cultural heritage officials.

The historical village of Laft was registered in the list of national monuments in 2006 thanks to traditional parts of the city which included some historical windcatchers. The historical village is located in northern coasts of Qeshm, 2Km from the mainland.

Tropical forests and traditional boat making workshops and traditional wells to catch the water are the tourist attractions. The village as the first Iranian eco-museum is a collection of cultural heritages in Qeshm Island, which would be a source of income for the Organization and local community if properly organized.

Edris Kashari the head of village council told Mehr News that the village is a tourist attracting place and had been registered as Iran’s first eco-museum.

Abdolreza Dashtizadeh, the head of cultural heritage office of the Organization said that windcatchers were among the important elements of local architecture. It is not only highly important as a cultural heritage, but also would help local communities in terms of producing income. “Several quakes in recent years along with the lack of proper and sufficient education, many of windcatchers are left to disintegrate. The issue should be addressed through cultural programs,” he added.

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Mideast Aviation Outperforms Global Counterparts: IATA

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Feb 8 (NNN-WAM) – The Middle East civil aviation posted a strong increase of 12.1 percent in passenger traffic year on year, outperforming its global counterparts, according to a review released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The Association said, the carriers in the Middle East have benefited from the continued strength of regional economies, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the solid growth in business-related premium travel, “particularly to developing markets such as Africa.”

However, the growth did not break the 15.4-percent increase recorded in 2012. The strongest overall growth, domestic and international combined, was recorded in the Middle East (11.4 percent), which was followed by Asia-Pacific (7.1 percent), Latin America (6.3 percent) and Africa (5.2 percent).

The slowest growth was recorded in the developed markets of North America (2.3 percent) and Europe (3.8 percent).

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Malaysian Railway Holiday Offer Under VMY 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 (NNN-Bernama) — Ever thought of going for a Malaysian holiday on a train ? For those looking for a new holiday experience altogether, there is good news. In conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY14), Railway Tourism Association (RTAM) has introduced railway holiday packages across various parts of Peninsular Malaysia in collaboration with Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) and the Ministry of Tourism.

The rail holiday packages will help the ministry achieve its target of seeing 28 million local and international tourists during VMY14. One can now choose a 3-day-2-night package under customised homestay programmes covering north and east of the Peninsula. Apart from offering up to four daily tour packages ranging from RM200 that include tourist attractions like as hot spring retreat and heritage trails, RTAM also offers more than 20 homestay packages in Kedah, Melaka and Kelantan starting from RM500.

These attractive packages bring travelers on a relaxing train trip to various parts of Peninsular and gives them a taste of authentic Malaysian rural life. While enjoying magnificent panorama along the journey, visitors can also learn more about the locals and their cultures.

Tourists will be amazed with Malaysia’s natural flora and fauna treasures, made up of 8,000 species of flowering plants that comprises of 2,000 tree species, 800 types of orchids and 200 types of palms. Our natural rainforest is also a home to more than 200 species of mammals, 600 types of birds, 300 species of fresh water fish, 140 species of snakes, 80 types of lizard and thousands of insects.

Besides that, Malaysia has many beautiful landscapes that include beaches, Rainbow Falls at Sungai Lembing in Pahang, Royal Belum Forest and Pangkor Island in Perak, Beris Dam and Langkawi Island in Kedah.

While having a spectacular holiday trip here in Malaysia, visitors can embark on a journey of knowledge by learning the customs, cultures and religions of various ethnic groups here – the Malay, Chinese and Indians. There is a variety of traditional games like congkak, gasing or batu seremban that one can play and see the traditional attires like the baju kurung, cheongsam, saree or sarongs.

Malaysia is know for its gourmet where tourists can enjoy a combination of modern and traditional local food such as lontong, laksa, soto, roti canai, nasi lemak and nasi kerabu. And one should not forget the sweet deserts such as ais kacang or cendol, and the many kuih including koci, lopes or even seri muka.

Abdul Razak Mohamed Adan, 24, from Somalia studying at Almadinah International University (MEDIU) here said the affordable homestay trip provided him a new experience and the opportunity to meet the locals face to face.

“The trip is a totally different experience than your usual hotel stay as you don’t really get that feeling of warmth and comfort especially when being far away from home. I had a foter family, stayed with them for the entire trip, experiencing new and exciting things such as taking part in a Malay wedding ceremony and observed Malaysia’s determination in preserving and restoring historic architecture like the Victoria Bridge in Kuala Kangsar which was built in 1897 during the era of Queen Victoria,” he said.

He said that the homestay provided a totally different experience unlike the usual hotel stay as it came with the warmth of the friendly foster family. Yunia Vivi Kartika Surianto, 20, a student from Jakarta said she was attracted by the packages offered by RTAM and joined a homestay programme in Ipoh.

“It was an interesting trip filled with excitement where we visited and captured memorable photos of beautiful scenery, locations and historical buildings such as the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, Ubidiah Mosque and Istana Bukit Chandan. “During our vacation, we were greeted by the friendliest locals, learned many knowledgeable facts of the citizens here, tasted the delightful delicacies and had been given the opportunity to feel the ambience of a rural area,” she said.

She is planning for a return visit to venture into other unexplored places here in Malaysia.

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Atapupu port can become border trade center

Sat, February 8 2014 Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (ANTARA News) – The Atapupu seaport in Belu district, East Nusa Tenggara, could become a border trade center for Indonesia and Timor Leste, an official said.

“Located at the border between East Nusa Tenggara and Timor Leste, the Atapupu port is very strategic as a border trade center for the two countries,” local Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) Chairman Abraham Paul Lyanto said here on Saturday. He noted that selling along the border should be strengthened in the interest of the residents in East Nusa Tenggara and Timor Leste.

Lyanto said if the port is turned into a border trade center, it would increase trade for small and medium industrial products between the two countries. “Therefore, we need government assistance to provide the people in Belu district with facilities and infrastructure at the Atapupu port,” Lyanto noted.

Meanwhile, Belu District Head Joachim Lopez said the port would become a transit port for international trade with the people of Timor Leste. “Therefore, we have taken a concrete step to expand the container vessel berthing pier and container terminal at the Atapupu port,” Lopez said.

Atapupu port is situated 230 km east of the East Nusa Tengara provincial city of Kupang, and 20 km north of Atambua, the main town in the district of Belu, which runs along the border with Timor Leste.

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Indonesia to develop 561 tourism villages in 2014

Sat, February 8 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Creative Economic and Tourism Ministry plans to develop 561 tourism villages in several provinces in Indonesia during 2014. According to the People Empowerment Director in the Ministry, Oneng Setya Harini, the first phase of creating the village will be carried out in 19 provinces.

“We will improve the tourism services offered by the area’s residents and conduct several training sessions,” Oneng said here on Saturday. The Ministry will train people in foreign languages, art, as well as culinary and culture skills, Oneng said. The development program will be funded through the People Empowerment Independent National Program in the tourism sector.

Oneng noted that each tourism village will receive funding ranging from Rp75 million to Rp100 million. The program aims to teach the public about the tourism potential in their villages, so they can preserve the area to be developed to attract tourism.

There are several criteria which are considered when determining whether a village should be developed as a tourism village, such as having tourism potential and accessibility for tourists, as well as whether tourism will help low-income residents and the level of tourism activity in the village.

“We will consider a village that can become a tourism village by observing the tourism potential in the area,” the Director said. The Ministry will also develop a network of tourist villages to improve community-based tourism and specific cultures. The network will connect at least 1,400 tourism villages and the Ministry will seek to connect even more villages. This network will then allow the exchange of experiences and information, as well as provide options for tourists.

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Padang’s airport railway to operate in 2015

Wed, February 12 2014 Padang (ANTARA News) – Deputy transportation minister Bambang Susantono said airport railway linking Padang railway station and the Minangkabau International Airport (BIM), in the regency of Padang Pariaman is expected to be in operation in 2015.

“Our target is to operate the 25 kilometer airport railway next year,” Bambang said here on Wednesday when inspecting the railway station in Padang. Construction is still underway but land clearing is yet to be settled for 4.2 kilometer part of the railway track from the Duku station in Padang Pariaman to the BIM, he said.

Construction of Padang’s airport railway followed the operation of the Kualanamu airport railway in North Sumatra and that of Jakartas Soekarno Hatta now in the process of development. Bambang said all airports of international class need efficient and convenient access facility that could be provided with railways.

He said the government has set aside Rp126 billion from the state budget for the Padangs airport railway project including telecommunications infrastructure. The fund for land clearing is to be provided from the regional budget.

Bambang said land clearing and construction the remaining 4.2 kilometer part of the track is expected to wrapped up in July this year that work would be finished by December.

He said the railway station in Pulau Air, Muara Padang, would also be put into operation again in the next two months to link it with the railway station in Padang.

Currently the Communications Ministry is auditing safety assessment about the railway security and safety and minor repairs. In addition, the Communications Ministry is planning a program to reactivate railway transport between Padang Panjang and Payakumbuh in the province, Bambang said.

“The main function of railway is to ease the burden of highways and traffic jams as well as to save energy or reduce consumption of expensive oil fuel,” he said. In addition, railway transport causes less pollution, he added.

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Dearth of tourism infrastructure in Enggano Island

Thu, February 13 2014 Bengkulu (ANTARA News) – The Enggano Island in the district of North Bengkulu, Bengkulu province, is in need of adequate infrastructure facility in order to support the island tourism, an official stated.

“The island has a vast marine and ecotourism potential, but it lacks the necessary supporting infrastructure,” Zulvan Zaviery, a developer of the Enggano island tourism industry noted here on Thursday.

Zulvan explained that the North Bengkulu district government had proposed to build the requisite supporting infrastructure including accommodation, communication network, transportation facility, and electricity.

According to him, transportation from Bengkulu to the island is very difficult on normal days and it tends to pose an even greater challenge during bad weather.

“The Enggano Island is accessible by a local ferry and a one-way trip usually takes around 12 hours, though it depends on the weather conditions,” he remarked, adding that the tourists, who arrive there by ferry often face difficulties in finding an accommodation.

Zulvan emphasized that the Enggano Island, with its bountiful great reefs off the coast, is also one of places in Indonesia to enjoy surfing.

But, so far, many foreign tourists who enjoy surfing, come to the Enggano Island by cruise ship, rather than by ferry from Bengkulu.

He added that the tourism potential of the Enggano Island can be used as an alternative to improve the livelihood of the local people. The island has five ethnic communities with a wealth of customs and cultures that can be showcased to the tourists.

“Besides this, the island boasts several tourist sites and dense mangrove forests that naturally serve as a barrier and prevent coastal erosion,” he stated.

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Flynas introduces Madinah-Khartoum flights

Arab News – 12 February, 2014 – flynas, Saudi Arabia’s National Carrier, has added a third destination to its flights between Saudi Arabia and Sudan with the launch of three weekly flights from Madinah to Khartoum, which start from April 2, 2014. The launch is being promoted by special low fares of SR399 for Madinah to Khartoum and SR424 from Khartoum to Madinah.

“We already operate flights from Riyadh and Jeddah to Khartoum and now we are very pleased to add the Madinah-Khartoum route to our services between Saudi Arabia and Sudan,” said Raja Azmi, CEO of flynas. “Coming as part of our promise to make flying more convenient, comfortable and cost-effective, this latest destination will be of great advantage to business and domestic passengers as well benefiting pilgrims visiting the holy city.”

Since its launch in 2007, flynas has carried more than 15 million passengers on 140,000 flights, with the highest rate of growth recorded in 2013 when the airline carried 3.3 million passengers.

With a young fleet consisting of 27 aircraft with Business and Economy class services, the recent re-branding and services development has given flynas the capability for further growth as the airline continues to expand by adding more key destinations to its local, regional and international route map as part of its 20X20 strategy targeting 20 million passengers a year by 2020.

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Arabian Travel Market roadshow arrives in Oman

Times of Oman – 12 February, 2014 – The annual Arabian Travel Market (ATM) roadshow arrives in Muscat today at the City Seasons Hotel, bringing together key industry players to discuss marketing opportunities to showcase Oman’s tourism ambitions.

Oman is raising awareness of its tourism-related developments at this year’s Arabian Travel Market, where exhibitors will include the Oman Ministry of Tourism, Oman Airways and for the first time, Muriya Tourism Development.

Developing new hotels and resorts and bringing them to market is one of Oman’s top priorities.

A number of large-scale transport infrastructure developments will be coming to fruition over the next few years at a cost in excess of $ 50 billion. This was demonstrated by figures from global research company Aranca, which revealed that as of July 2013, Oman had the largest growth in its active hotel development pipeline of all the Middle East and North African countries, up 59.9 per cent on July 2012, with 4,577 rooms.

“Oman is a country with a fine-tuned vision for its tourism industry and is forging ahead with plans to build a premium destination targeted at discerning travellers,” said Mark Walsh, portfolio director at the Reed Travel Exhibitions.

The hospitality sector has already rolled out a number of properties in the recent past, across Oman including the Best Western Premier Hotel in Muscat, the Holiday Inn Muscat, Salalah Rotana Resort in the Dhofar province, the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Duqm and niche resorts in Omran, at Khasab (Musandam) and Jebel Al Akhdar.

Maitha Al Mahrouqi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman, expects hotels and restaurants to contribute 5 per cent of Oman’s GDP by 2020, with the tourism sector’s total contribution reaching a ‘much higher figure.’

A World Economic Forum (WEF) report claims Oman’s travel and tourism industry was worth an estimated $ 2.11 billion in 2012 and anticipates average growth of 5.2 per cent between 2013 and 2022.

“Predicted growth of the tourism sector could be modest given the raft of projects pipelined and the rapid development of Oman’s aviation sector, with national carrier Oman Air expanding its route network plus regional operators such as Air Arabia, flydubai and Qatar Airways adding more flights to Muscat and Salalah,” added Walsh.

Targeting international visitors is high on the agenda for Oman Air, which plans to go double-daily on its Muscat-London route and branch out into other medium- and long-haul markets when new A330 and B787 aircraft are delivered, taking its total fleet size to 50 by 2017. To cater for a surge in travellers visiting the Sultanate, a new $ 1.8 billion passenger terminal is under construction at Muscat airport, boosting its capacity from six to 12 million passengers annually.

Arabian Travel Market 2014 will take place between May 5 and 8 at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre. Last year, ATM welcomed over 21,000 visitors from 165 countries.

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