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10 Mar, 2014

Australia’s First Islamic Museum Opens

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 10 March 2014 (09 Jumaada al-Awwal 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

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.





‘Indonesia Fashion Forward’ Capacity-Building Program Takes Local Designers to the Global Fashion Arena

Jakarta, Indonesia, – (ACN Newswire) – Five Indonesian designers from the Indonesia Fashion Forward program, a capacity-building program facilitated by Jakarta Fashion Week, the Center for Fashion Enterprise UK, and supported by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, will be showcasing their latest collection at the prestigious Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2014. Major Minor, Tex Saverio, Toton, Vinora, and Yosafat Dwi Kurniawan are primed to prove that Indonesian designers are ready to compete with fashion designers worldwide.

For Paris Fashion Week, Major Minor will be presenting its collection inspired by Phillippe Cognee’s painting technique combined with the abstract and asymmetrical aspects of our daily lives. The end result is a collection dominated by monochromatic and pastel colored, asymmetrical pieces. Designer Toton will be carrying his collection using the “Sengkang” tenun from an area called Legosi in Southern Sulawesi without forgetting to finish his collection with his signature floral embroidery detailing. Yosafat Dwi Kurniawan on the other hand is inspired by the motives of the “Mega Mendung” batik which is a distinction that is originated from Cirebon, West Java.

Aside from the five Indonesia Fashion Forward designers that will be showcasing at Paris Fashion Week, Muslim-fashion brand NurZahra along with Major Minor will be appearing in Asia’s anticipated fashion event, the Tokyo Fashion Week 2014/15 A/W. Major Minor and NurZahra will be starring in a fashion show on the 19th of March 2014 in Shibuya Hikarie.

Designer Windri Widiesta Dhari from Moslemwear label NurZahra said she is presenting a collection with a theme called “Layers of Fidelity” emphasizing what she termed as “a strong sense of ethnicity”. Windri also said that she would keep using the Japanese Shibori coloring method, which now has become a distinctive characteristic of her brand. She added that she is especially keen for buyers from Dubai and London to see her jackets and scarves, the mainstay of her collection.

The coming Bangkok International Fashion Fair & Bangkok International Leather Fair, which will be held on the 16th – 22nd of March 2014, will also be the perfect occasion to prove Indonesia’s competence through two Indonesia Fashion Forward designers, Jenahara and Monday to Sunday, who will be appearing in ASEAN’s largest trade fair that will be attended by Asia’s and Europe’s notable fashion buyers.

The global reach of these 8 designers is a result of the Indonesia Fashion Forward program, which provides capacity-building and mentorship for promising local fashion brands. Designers are prepped with comprehensive teaching to prepare them to compete in both the local and global fashion market. Not only are they trained to solidify their sense of creativity, the fashion experts from the Center for Fashion Enterprise UK also empowered the designers to master critical aspects of running a fashion business such as planning, financing, legality, costing and pricing, sales & marketing strategy, as well as public relations.

“The participation of the Indonesia Fashion Forward designers at Tokyo Fashion Week is one of our key programs this year. Aside from Tokyo, we are also supporting the participation of six of the other Indonesia Fashion Forward designers at Paris Fashion Week and Bangkok International Fashion Fair & Bangkok International Leather Fair. This is one of our ways in pushing local designers to have a global mindset,” said Lenni Tedja, director of Jakarta Fashion Week.

Please read more about Indonesian Fashion at –

Jakarta Fashion Week – www.jakartafashionweek.co.id

Indonesia Fashion Forward – www.jakartafashionweek.co.id/en/indonesia.fashion.forward

Indonesian designers featured at Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2014 –

Major Minor – www.majorminorstore.com

Tex Saverio – www.texsaverio.com

Toton – http://totonthelabel.com

Vinora – http://vinorang.com

Yosafat Dwi Kurniawan – www.yosafatdwikurniawan.com/content

Indonesian designers featured at Tokyo Fashion Week 2014/15 A/W –

Major Minor – www.majorminorstore.com

NurZahra – www.nurzahra.com

Indonesian designers featured at Bangkok International Fashion Fair & Bangkok International Leather Fair –

Jenahara – www.jenahara.com

Monday to Sunday – www.mondaytosunday.net

About Jakarta Fashion Week

Jakarta Fashion Week (JFW) is held annually and aims to provide direction to the Indonesian fashion industry as well as a vehicle to demonstrate its wealth in talents and creativity. Ultimately, the goal is to turn Jakarta into a major fashion hub in the region and the world. The sixth Jakarta Fashion Week will be held October 19th-25th at the Senayan City shopping mall in Jakarta in collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Ministry of Trade, the Municipal Government of Jakarta, and major stakeholders of the fashion industry as well as the media.

More than 200 of Indonesia’s leading designers will partake in the event. Many of them will present collections inspired by the country’s rich heritage in different types of traditional fabrics while simultaneously keep their eyes on the present and future. The JFW is organized by event management company Azura Activation (www.azuraactivation.co.id), part of the publishing company Femina Group (www.feminagroup.com), which since its founding in 1971 has been active in promoting the Indonesian fashion industry through various editorial initiatives as well as events.

For more information refer to





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Malaysia Plans Big Push Into Medical Tourism Market

NEW YORK, March 2 (NNN-Bernama) — Since the general character of the tourism industry is gradually compartmentalising itself into highly specialized money-spinning segments, tourism experts are busy devising strategies that wouldopen up these individual segments for them.

Malaysia, for example, is eyeing the medical tourism sector which is inherent with considerable revenue-generating potential as patients in developed western countries, particularly in the United States (US), are looking for good quality but low-cost sites which offer not only medical services but also have attractive tourism attributes.

“As a corporatised agency funded by the Malaysian Government, we are promoting health care travel and are positioning Malaysia as a preferred healthcare destination,” explained Kuala Lumpur-based Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) chief executive Dr Mary Wong, in an interview with Bernama at the ongoing three-day New York Times Travel Show (NYTTS).

At the NYTTS, she also presented at a seminar, a book titled ‘Patients Beyond Borders’ by Josef Woodmann, considered a valuable source of information about facilities along with important contacts for tests/treatment, etc., available in Malaysia.

Wong, whose organisation has participated in a number of international travel and tourism shows worldwide, in conjunction with Tourism Malaysia, believes the medical travel industry is “bound to grow tremendously” because of rising healthcare costs, heightened health awareness and better information available in developed countries about treatment options.

“Many patients in western countries have to wait before they are even examined by the medical care facilities. As you can imagine, this can be fatal if there is any terminal illness involved. We can provide good, almost immediate care. We have drastically cut down waiting time for patients,” she said.

Although Malaysia has a well-developed healthcare infrastructure, supported by state-of-the-art equipment, many experts in the US often question the availability of sufficient number of medical doctors and other experts.

“We have adequate number of doctors to support our healthcare system.

Indeed, we have 5,000 new well-trained medical graduates each year. Besides, our medical force gets an additional 1,000 specialised medical experts each year. Indeed, we are trying to target one doctor for a population of 400 people,” she maintained.

Wong said healthcare tourism would generate “substantial contribution” for Malaysia’s economy, accounting for some RM594 million, in terms of revenue in 2012. “In 2013, the revenue is estimated to reach RM688 million, according to tentative estimates,” she added.

For the health-conscious traveller, Malaysia offers a unique combination of good quality, low-cost healthcare and an attractive tourist destination, Wong observed. While visiting Malaysia, the traveller can also undergo medical check and use facilities involving preventive wellness, spas, cosmetic and dental surgery, etc.

While Singapore may have built a reputation for itself as a medical tourist destination, it is rapidly losing this advantage because of rising costs and faces fierce competition from other countries, including Malaysia, thanks to their much-lower medical and hospitalisation costs.

Five-star hotels in Malaysia are also much cheaper.

Wong said that as an English-speaking country, Malaysia also offered the ease of direct communication between patients and attending doctors and medical staff at hospitals.

“The traveller should have no problem sharing his or her concerns with doctors and healthcare staff. Malaysian hospitals also offer a combination of Eastern and Western medicine,” she noted.

The top 10 foreign nationalities which visited Malaysia in 2012 for medical treatment were Indonesia (375,499), India (22,350), Japan (17,775), China (15,407), United Kingdom (13,366), US (12,158), Libya (11,872), Bangladesh (11,594), Australia (10,369) and Nepal (10,031).

The popular treatments sought in Malaysia are cardiology, oncology, orthopaedic, obstetrics and gynaecology, urology, tolaryngology, gastroenterology, reconstructive surgery, health screening and second opinion.

Tourism Malaysia’s New York office, led by its vice-president, Ahmad Johanif Mohd Ali, had a busy Saturday at the NYTTS as hordes of American visitors descended on the show venue to witness the various cultural and culinary presentations made by the entire world vying to get a slice of the American tourism market.

He told Bernama there was “great interest” amongst American tourists for Malaysia, based on the large turnout of inquisitive visitors who not only came to witness the colourful Malaysian cultural dances at the stage but also sought information, brochures and other materials at the Malaysia stand.

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Indian star Naseeruddin Shah Shines at Pakistan Theatre Festival

KARACHI, 2014-03-07 (Dawn.com): The second day of the International Theatre Festival organised by the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) was perhaps the most eagerly awaited one. It was understandable. Renowned Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah with his Motley Theatre was to present ‘Ismat Apa Ke Naam’, precious little pieces taken from the formidable repertoire of fiction writer Ismat Chughtai. And the show was worth the wait. Shah and his team pulled off pitch-perfect performances and seamlessly transformed poignant works of fiction into meaningful dramas.

‘Ismat Apa ke Naam’, directed by Shah, is conventional theatre with a splash of unconventionality. Conventional, because it’s done in the tradition of dastaangoi or by employing the technique where narration takes centre-stage; unconventional, because Pakistani theatre-goers are not accustomed to such a medium of communication.

The show is divided into three parts. In the first, ‘Chhui Mui’, Heeba Shah tells the tale of a young woman who desperately wants to cling to her husband, and the only way to do so is to get pregnant with his child. There is another woman in the story who is diametrically opposed to her for she wants to have a love child, in a train carriage at that.

The second part, ‘Mughal Bacha’ or ‘Ghoonghat’, narrated by Ratna Pathak is an intriguing study of the wife of a man of authority, Mughal bacha. The central characters are the wedded couple Kaale Mian and Gori Bi. Kaale Mian’s wants, in the form of stern orders, that Gori Bi lift her veil herself on wedding night.

The third piece, Gharwali, is narrated by Naseeruddin Shah. It is about a good looking woman of loose morals (as per societal norms) Lajjo. She has had countless admirers. The introduction of a man named Mirza Irfan changes the track of the tale when he first keeps Lajjo as his maid and then marries her. But the sprightly nature of the young woman doesn’t gel with her marital status. When Mirza catches her with a young boy, divorce becomes the logical result. However, that’s not the end of their relationship.

Heeba Shah in the first piece gave a fair inkling to the audience that they were in for an unusual treat. Ostensibly, she was narrating a story, but the enactment of every twist in the tale through gestures and body language, childbirth for example using the dopatta as multiple props, was more than impressive.

Naseeruddin Shah had the longest part, and it goes without saying that he kept the audience engaged till the moment he left the stage. The way he explored the expanse of the arena and the infectious energy with which he told ‘Gharwali’, intelligently assuming different postures and using different accents, was nothing less than special. The master that he is, he convincingly conveyed the sadness that lurked beneath the chirpy tale. He did fumble on a few occasions, but given the scale of his act it was understandable.

The star of the show was Ratna Pathak. Her performance must be seen by all students of acting. She oscillated between the two characters of Kaale Mian and Gori Bi with unbelievable ease, topping it off with the kind of narration that reminded the audience of their grandmothers. She carried the story forward not just by virtue of the brilliance of Ismat Chughtai’s prose but also through physical movement that progressed towards the climax of Mughal Bacha simultaneously with the structuring of the sentences she so flawlessly used. To boot, she painted a touching picture of a certain period of history, the hubris and lost glory of Mughal bachas, which we often tend to overlook.

Prior to the show, Naseeruddin Shah requested the audience not to take pictures or make videos of the performance for copyright reasons.

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Nevada’s Muslim Spelling Bee

OnIslam & Newspapers Monday, 03 March 2014 CAIRO – Going through a three-hour marathon, eighth grader Amna Raza has won Nevada’s State Spelling Bee for the second year in a row, walking away with the title of the competition and a chance to compete on a national stage.

“I felt more nervous this year than I did last year,” Raza told Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I felt slightly more prepared, but I still had the pressure of winning. It was all through hard work and prayer that I won.”

The competition was held last Saturday, March 1, at the Summerlin Library Theater in Las Vegas. The competition was sponsored by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Competing with 29 middle school students, Raza from Omar Haikal Islamic Academy in Las Vegas fought through 32 exhausting rounds, including six champion rounds.

Among the words the two finalists got right: “balalaika” (a Russian folk stringed musical instrument); “edelweiss” (a European mountain plant); “mukhtar” (the head of local government of a town or village); and Anschluss (political or economic union of one government or territory with another).

Proud of their daughter’s achievement for the second year, Raza’s mother and father, Nureen and Ali Raza, attributed their daughter’s success to her hard work, her teachers and Allah.

“We’re very proud of her,” Nureen said. “We’ve always believed in prayers. First we tell Amna to work hard and then leave the rest up to prayer.”

For young Raza, Washington’s competition was her next target. “I’ve received a lot of strong support from my religious community,” Raza said. “Everyone has been really encouraging of me, which has made me confident. Now I can go prepare myself for Washington, D.C.”

The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of between seven to eight million. A recent survey found that American Muslims are the most moderate around the world.

It also showed that US Muslims generally express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see an inherent conflict between being devout and living in a modern society.

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Indonesia Fatwa Bans Wildlife Trafficking

OnIslam & News Agencies Wednesday, 05 March 2014 JAKARTA – Indonesia’s highest Islamic authority has issued a fatwa that bans illegal hunting and trafficking endangered animals, an edict widely praised by wildlife rights groups as filling a gap between formal law and crime in the resources-rich country.

“All activities resulting in wildlife extinction without justifiable religious grounds or legal provisions are haram (forbidden),” Asrorun Ni’am Sholeh, secretary of Indonesia’s Ulema Council (MUI) commission on fatwas, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Wednesday, March 5.

“These include illegal hunting and trading of endangered animals. Whoever takes away a life, kills a generation. This is not restricted to humans, but also includes God’s other living creatures, especially if they die in vain,” Sholeh added.

Announced on Tuesday, the first-ever wildlife fatwa was issued on January 22 with the aim of reducing the wildlife crimes in Indonesia that endangers the ecosystem in the Asian country.

The wildlife in Indonesia is frequently threatened by agricultural expansion, development and logging. Timber extraction in the Indonesian forests extremely endangers species such as the Sumatran tiger, orangutan, and Sumatran elephant.

The fatwa was prompted by the confusion among some villagers concerning hunting wild animals like tigers.

“This fatwa is issued to give an explanation, as well as guidance, to all Muslims in Indonesia on the shari’ah law perspective on issues related to animal conservation,” Hayu Prabowo, chair of the Council of Ulama’s environment and natural resources body, was quoted by National Geographic.

“People can escape government regulation,” Hayu said. “But they cannot escape the word of God.”

The wild life is protected under the Indonesian law as traders of protected animals face sentences up to five-year-jail and 100 million rupiah ($8,700) fine.

The wildlife fatwa was praised by a leading international wildlife rights group, considering it a positive step to protect the ecosystem.

“It provides a spiritual aspect and raises moral awareness which will help us in our work to protect and save the remaining wildlife in the country such as the critically endangered tigers and rhinos,” Nyoman Iswara Yoga, Indonesia communications director of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and the religious authorities are expected to comment on this fatwa on March 12 in a joint statement, a Forestry Ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Along with individuals, the fatwa is applied also on the government, urging authorities to review their permissions to companies that may threat wildlife.

Indonesia is the largest forest nation in Southeast Asia with 120 million hectares of rainforest. Forest fires have long been an annual event in Indonesia during the dry season, and have several times shifted haze pollution to neighboring countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, is also facing over-exploitation of marine resources in which destructive fishing and blast coral reefs has degraded not only the ecosystem, but also affected the vast number of marine species that depend on them.

In 2011, the Indonesian Ulemas Council has formed a body to protect the environment, to the welcome of environmentalists. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that Indonesia, from 2000 to 2005, lost a massive 1.87 million hectares of forest every year.

According to forest ministry data, about 3.25 million hectares of mangrove forest has been in critical condition in Indonesia out of 7.76 million hectares. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim state with Muslims making up around 85 percent of its 250-million population.

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Japan Adds More Muslim Friendly Airports

OnIslam & Newspapers Wednesday, 05 March 2014 CAIRO – Following other Japanese airports, Chubu airport in Central Japan Nagoya city has announced plans to offer prayer rooms and halal food for Muslim travelers, as the airport starts a new route to Malaysia.

“(Malaysia) is a region full of vitality, and we have great expectations that the number of visitors from there will increase,” Kenichi Suzuki, director of the company’s sales promotion planning division, told The Asahi Shimbun on Wednesday, March 5. “I hope to make the airport a place that Muslim people will look forward to visiting again.”

Suzuki’s announcement comes as airport officials announced their plan to open a prayer room on the second floor of the terminal building on March 17, the first day of the new route to Malaysia.

The carpeted 20-square-meter space will have an arrow on the ceiling pointing toward Makkah. A similar facility will be set up in the international departure area on the third floor in April, the officials said.

Narita, Kansai, New Chitose and other airports in Japan have similar prayer spaces for Muslims, the officials said. Along with prayer rooms, some restaurants in the Chubu Airport terminal building will offer halal food items in their menus to satisfy Muslims’ appetite.

The move followed earnest efforts by airports in Japan to become friendly to Muslims. The steps included increasing the number of private prayer rooms for Muslims as well as offering halal meals in compliance with Islamic rules.

The steps were announced amid plans to show the heart of Japanese hospitality as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

The new steps followed Japan’s decision to relax the rules for issuance to visas to visitors from Indonesia, Malaysia and three other Southeast Asian nations in July.

Muslims account for an estimated 90% of Indonesia’s 240 million population and 60% of Malaysia’s 29 million. A total of 28,000 people visited Japan from Indonesia and Malaysia in October, up 40% from a year earlier.

Islam began in Japan in the 1920s through the immigration of a few hundreds of Turkish Muslims from Russia following the Russian revolution.

In 1930, the number of Muslims in Japan reached about 1,000 of different origins. Another wave of migrants who boosted the Muslim population reached its peak in the 1980s, along with migrant workers from Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Japan today is home to a thriving Muslim community of about 120,000, among nearly 127 million in the world’s tenth most populated country.

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Malaysia’s Royal Belum Rainforest Highlighted As New Ecotourism Destination

BERLIN, March 6 (NNN-Bernama) — Culture and Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz presented the Royal Belum Forest as Malaysia’s new ecotourism destination on Wednesday, the opening day of International Tourism Bourse (ITB) here.

“The Royal Belum Rainforest is an exciting and new ecotourism destination for Europeans during Visit Malaysia Year 2014. It is a relatively untouched forest complex, believed to be over 130 million years old, even older than the Amazon and Congo rainforests.

“This rainforest is home to over 3,000 species of flowering plants, including the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, he said at a crowded inauguration of Malaysia’s culture and convention partner country participation.

Speaking to Bernama afterwards, he said Tourism Malaysia would be promoting the Royal Belum via a new series of ecotourism television commercials in Europe, thus complementing the global release of “Eco-Malaysia“, a special National Geographic documentary on the Royal Belum Rainforest and ecotourism hosted by British naturalist Nick Baker.

Nazri is leading a delegation of 125 people, comprising 59 exhibitors and participants to ITB, including from Tourism Malaysia, state governments, hotels and tour operators on a 12-day sales mission which kicked off in Amsterdam before embarking to Paris and Milan before arriving for ITB Berlin.

For the first time, Malaysia, which has been participating in ITB since 40 years, is participating as a convention and culture partner country.

Speaking at the inauguration of its convention and culture partner country participation, Nazri said over one million European tourists visit Malaysia anually and this year, it is expected to grow by 14.1 percent.

A total of 28 million tourists from around the world are expected to visit Malaysia this year, up from 26.8 million in 2013.

Malaysia is offering 418 VMY 2014 packages worth 56 million Euro (RM183.065 million) via Tourism Malaysia and its partners in Europe.

Nazri told a press conference in the afternoon that tourism had contributed some RM60.6 billion in revenue to the national economy. “Our long term target is 36 million tourist arrivals in 2020,” he said.

The top ten nationalities who visited Malaysia in 2013 were from Singapore, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Brunei, India, Philippines, Australia, Japan and United Kingdom.

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Night Paranormal Tourism At Kellie’s Castle Latest Tourism Product In Malaysia

IPOH, Malaysia March 1 (NNN-Bernama) — The Night Paranormal Tourism Package at Kellie’s Castle is a unique tourism product in Perak and introduced for the first time in the country.

Kellie’s Castle manager Zamari Muhyi said it was introduced to give visitors an opportunity to unravel the mystery of the castle. “It is not to frighten visitors but just to give the experience of being in a scary and dark situation and paranormal aspects that may be present in the castle,” he told reporters at the launching of the package at the castle near here last night.

During the ceremony, the media had the opportunity to experience for themselves the paranormal aspects said to be present at the castle by sitting two to a room in four rooms for 15 minutes.

He said the package would be offered four days in a month, namely two days in the first week and two days in the fourth week.

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Legoland Malaysia Bids To Lure More Indonesian Tourists

JAKARTA, Indonesia March 4 (NNN-Bernama) — Legoland Malaysia will redouble efforts to market the theme park in Indonesia following the highly eccouraging response from the people there.

Its Tours and Travel manager, Hasbullah Rosli said Indonesia, which had a population of more than 251 million people, was a very good market to Legoland specifically, and the Malaysian tourism sector in general.

He said, since May last year, the management of Legoland Malaysia visited Indonesia on alternate months to promote the theme park.

“To maintain the momentum of Indonesian tourist arrivals, we will always carry out promotions by imparting the latest information on Legoland,” he said when met at the ‘Travelmart’ tour organised by the Tourism Malaysia Office, here Tuesday.

Since Legoland Malaysia was opened in September 2012, Hasbullah said the people of Indonesia made up the highest number of foreign tourists.

He said the offer of great entertainment was the main draw in attracting Indonesian tourists to the theme park which is located in Nusajaya, Johor.

Hasbullah said there were those among Indonesians who opted to fly to Singapore, but spent a lot of time holidaying in Johor.

“Most Indonesian tourists come to Legoland Malaysia because of the cheaper holidaying cost compared to neighbouring Singapore,” he said.

Legoland Malaysia is the sixth Legoland theme park in the world after Legoland Billund (Denmark), Legoland Windsor (England), Legoland California and Legoland Florida (United States) and Legoland Gunzburg (Germany).

The theme park was developed by a subsidiary of Iskandar Investment Bhd, IDR Resorts Sdn Bhd with Merlin Entertainments at a cost of RM720 million at Medini North, Iskandar Malaysia’s lifestyle centre.

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UAE announces visa on arrival for nationals of 13 EU countries

Abu Dhabi, WAM, March 5, 2014: The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that citizens of 13 European Union member states, who hold ordinary passports, will be exempted from the need to acquire pre-entry visas to the UAE. with effect from 22nd March, 2014, in implementation of the decision taken by the UAE Cabinet in this regard.

The countries are: Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria.

As a result of the above decision, citizens of all 28 countries in the EU will be allowed to enter the UAE. without having to previously apply for a visa.

The ministry statement added that all necessary measures have been taken by the Ministry of the Interior to implement the decision at all UAE. points of entry.

The statement went on to say that these exemptions will enhance political relations between the UAE. and European Union, will help to further develop economic ties and bilateral trade and will also help to encourage mutual investment, while promoting tourism both to and from these countries.

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China’s Female Imams

OnIslam & News Agencies, 05 March 2014 ZHENGZHOU, Henan – In the central Chinese province of Henan, the scene of a woman leading prayers in a mosque for women only would not be a strange one.

“It all started because Muslim women wanted to learn basic religious studies,” researcher Shui Jingjun, who is also Hui Muslim, told ABC News Australia on Wednesday, March 5.

“That’s why they started female-only classes. Female imams began during the mid-Qing dynasty around the 18th century.”

Over the past decades, Muslim women have been leading prayer and teaching Islamic values to worshippers in Henan province mosques.

One of those imams, Ge Caixia, leads prayers for some 50 elderly worshippers who usually attend Friday prayer.

Standing at the middle of the first row, she leads all prayers in the women mosque with the exception of funeral prayer. “When we have to conduct prayers at funerals, it’s the man who leads,” Ge Caixia said. “The woman can only participate.”

According to official data, China has 20 million Muslims, most of them are concentrated in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions and provinces.

Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China — up to 7.5 percent of the population.

Assuming the religious position, Ge Caixia explained how most people treated her well. This, however, had some few exceptions.

“I met a male imam when I was in the northwest of China,” she recalled. “He said that women should stay at home, let their husbands teach them and told me their way of doing things is better. I guess it’s their practice but it’s not the Islamic way.”

In general, during Muslim prayers, women may not lead men but may lead other women, which is the case of females leading prayers in female-only mosques in China.

In Islam, the majority of jurists maintain that a woman is allowed to lead her fellow sisters in congregational prayer if there is no man to lead the congregation.

Though female imams were not new to China, finding a new generation to lead prayers was not an easy task. The four students that Ge Caixia last trained have all left to pursue other opportunities.

One of them is married to a male imam and looks after affairs concerning the Muslim women in their mosque.

“It’s not realistic to expect the young to give up their career to become a female imam,” Ge Caixia said. “Being a female imam requires special expertise, you must have a very deep and thorough knowledge of the religion and have the confidence and responsibility to fulfil this calling.”

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Malaysia Ready To Host More German Tourists

KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia is set to welcome more German tourists, talents and businesses this year as the country continuously improves its tourism infrastructure, services and industry, said Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

Speaking at the Internationale Tourismus-Borse Berlin (ITB) 2014, Germany, he said 136,749 German nationals arrived in Malaysia last year, representing a 4.2 per cent increase from 2012.

“We are targeting to grow the total tourism revenues by 300 per cent this year and the German tourist market is a very important part of our EU strategy,” he said according to a Tourism Malaysia statement released.

He also said the purchasing power of German tourists and their preference for a warm, hospitable destination, beautiful beaches, eclectic culture and food made Malaysia a natural choice for a dream vacation.

Germany is Malaysia’s second largest trading partner in the European Union (EU) with bilateral trade between Malaysia and Germany amounting to 6.55 billion euros between January and September 2013,” Nazri said.

In conjunction with Visit Malaysia 2014, Malaysia is also looking forward to invest more in its German partnership, given that Malaysia’s central location and connectivity within South East Asia is mirrored by Germany’s within Europe, both nations are hubs for their respective regions, capable of facilitating trade and travel through superior positioning and infrastructure.

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Australia’s First Islamic Museum Opens

OnIslam & News Agencies Monday, 03 March 2014 VICTORIA – Making a fusion between Islamic heritage and Australian culture, Australia’s first Islamic Museum has opened its doors to the public to showcase the Islamic culture and present the true-face of Islam.

“I think art is more universal and can really bring people from all faiths and cultures together and once you learn and understand you’ll actually celebrate these differences,” Moustafa Fahour, the Islamic museum co-founder, told ABC on March 3.

It’s about creating a “fusion between Australian infrastructure but a lot of Islamic principles, from traditional calligraphy to geometric tile patterns,” the co-founder added.

Planned since 2010, the dream of launching Australia’s first-ever Islamic Museum came true this month in a bid to highlight Muslim contributions in Australia and defy misconceptions about Islam.

Constructed in Melbourne with a budget of $10 million, the museum presents the tenets of Islam through various forms of arts. The Museum is expected to enhance Australian’s understanding of Islam and help build bridges of communication.

Moreover, it includes galleries that display Islamic contributions to engineering, architecture and arts. “To really open the doors on what Islam is and the positive contribution Muslims have made to civilization and more importantly to Australia,” Fahour added.

The iconic design of the building merges between rusted red steel and a sleek grey front decorated with Arabic script quoting a Qur’anic verse reading: “So narrate to them the stories so that upon them they may reflect”.

The museum offers visitors an opportunity to explore the true meanings of misunderstood terms like jihad and hajj. The project is an exercise in “enhancing the social cohesive and multicultural landscape,” Fahour said.

“And really give a window into the Islamic life and the Australian Muslim history and contributions they’ve made to Australia and to civilization.”

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population. Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.

For Australian Muslims, the new museum would offer Muslims a better connection with the wider community, citing the positive feedback they received during the opening.

“The support that we have tonight is phenomenal,” Fahour, the Islamic museum co-founder, said. “I heard a comment today where someone said that we as Australian Muslims feel proud that we contributed to this country.

“And to hear people from other faiths say the museum was amazing is, for me, the ultimate goal,” he added. The opening ceremony was attended by key Muslim figures, including music legend Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens.

“It is a fantastic project and it is going to grow… it is just going to grow”, Yusuf Islam was quoted by SBS. Along with arts, the museum restaurant presents Middle Eastern food for visitors.

“I have two cultures Australian and middle east so I have to represent that in my food,” said Samira El Khafir, Masterchef finalist who supervises the museum restaurant.

Opening its doors to the public, the Islamic museum has received dozens of tour request from several schools.

“They show us a video of Islam and what we do in our religion” said Meriem Ibraimi, a student. “I have learnt the different names of the prophets,” another student said.

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Modest Muslim Attire Draws Attention at Oscars

OnIslam & News Agencies, 06 March 2014 CAIRO – A young Muslim woman donning a headscarf and modest dress attracted wide attention at the Oscars academy awards ceremony last Sunday, Sayidaty.net reported on Wednesday, March 6.

Appearing on the red carpet, Zainab Abdul-Nabi, a student at Screen Arts and Cultures University of Michigan, earned a big applause from attendants, according to Sayidaty.net.

She was among six college students selected nationwide to join “Team Oscar”.

The young American Muslim made it to the Oscars ceremony after participating in a video and essay competition open to US college students with a creative video that was selected by Oscar producers and the Academy.

Donning a modest dress among holywood stars, Abdul-Nabi is considered the first ever headscarved woman to appear on the Oscars’ red carpet, Sayidaty.net added.

Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million. An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.

A recent survey found that American Muslims are the most moderate around the world. It also showed that US Muslims generally express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see an inherent conflict between being devout and living in a modern society.

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Bangladesh Hosts First Hijab Fair

OnIslam Correspondent Saturday, 01 March 2014 DHAKA – A Bangladeshi non-governmental women group has held a four-day hijab fair in Bangladesh, offering Muslim women the latest fashion of the Islamic headscarf and sending an out loud message that hijab is a part of Muslim women life.

“Our aim to organize the ‘Hijab Fair’ is to reach message all people that hiajb is sign of modesty,” Yahia Md Amin, the event manager at Mercy Mission, told OnIslam.net at the hijab fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Amin was speaking at the first hijab fair to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The fair, held from February 26- March 1, is organized by Mercy Mission Bangladesh at WVA (Women’s Volunteer Association) Auditorium in Dhaka.

The fair was attended by lucrative Hijab-stores of the city which shared their latest products of hijab and modest fashion for Muslim women. Leading hijab and Abaya makers and hijab designer firms have also participated in the Hijab fair.

Along with the Hijab stalls, other activities were marked during the fair, including offering Da`wah books, food, jewelries, and handicrafts.

“I’ve been wearing hijab for the last four years due to religious and spiritual reasons,” Dr. Nasrin Nahar MBBS, M. Phil, who works as a physician in a government hospital in Dhaka, told OnIslam.net.

“I have attended this hijab fair to see different style of hijab and buy some hijab,” she added.

Acknowledging the fact that hijab was an obligation on Muslim women, Nahar asserted that donning hijab was a personal preference by her. “My husband and anybody not to bind to me wearing hijab,” she also said.

Held to encourage Muslim women to don fashionable and modest veils, the fair gave a platform for a lucrative business in Bangladesh. “Hijab making and sales is not only my business this is way for me to boost up my Iman also,” Hanium Maria Chowdhury, owner of Tahoor and fashion designer, told OnIslam.net.

“Our aim to wearing full jilbab of woman from non-hijab through consultancy.”

Chowdhury added that the number of women donning Islamic headscarf has been increasing day by day in Bangladesh.

According to her, the phenomenon reflected a good trend among Bangladeshi women. Nusrat Rahman, partner of Identity, an online hijab sales house, agreed that the hijab fair offered them an opportunity to gain virtue.

“Hijab making and sales is my business as well as to earn sawab means virtue through the hijab sales,” Nusrat Rahman told OnIslam.net at her stall in the hijab fair in Dhaka.

Other attendants at the fair have expressed joy over the decision to hold the country’s first hijab fair.

“Hijab is my identity and Allah asked to me to do wearing hijab,” Sania Alam (18), student of eleven class, told this OnIslam.net at venue of Hijab Fair 2014 in Dhaka.

“I come to the hijab fair just to see the different fashion of hijab and abaya in the fair, Tania Anwar, who holds MA in English, added.

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Europe’s Muslim population expected to rise by third by 2030

Agencies / 07 Mar 2014 – According to the Pew Islam is growing about 2.9% per year. This is faster than the total world population which increases about 2.3% annually. The world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years. In mid 2010 the Pew forum estimated that there were 1.57 billion Muslims in the world. This represents 22% of the world’s population.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, beaten only by Christianity which represents 33% of the world’s population with a little over 2 billion adherents.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life stated that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in Europe. Driven by immigration and high birth rates, the number of Muslims on the continent has tripled in the last 30 years. Most demographers forecast a similar or even higher rate of growth in the coming decades.

If current trends continue 79 countries will have a million or more Muslim inhabitants in 2030, up from 72 countries in 2011.

In 2011 statistics tell us that 74.1% of the world’s Muslims live in the 49 countries in which Muslims make up a majority of the population. More than a fifth of all Muslims (23.3%) live in non-Muslim-majority countries in the developing world. These minority Muslim populations are often quite large.

In Europe as a whole, the Muslim share of the population is expected to grow by nearly one-third over the next 20 years, rising from 6% of the region’s inhabitants in 2010 to 8% in 2030.

In absolute numbers, Europe’s Muslim population is projected to grow from 44.1 million in 2010 to 58.2 million in 2030. Nearly three-in-ten people living in the Asia-Pacific region in 2030 (27.3%) will be Muslim, up from about a quarter in 2010 (24.8%) and roughly a fifth in 1990 (21.6%). Muslims make up only about 2% of the population in China, but because the country is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.

In Germany, the estimated 4,000 converts each year, can be compared with an annual average of 300 in the late 1990s, still, less than 1 percent of Germany’s 3.3 million Muslims are converts.

A report by France’s domestic intelligence agency, published by Le Figaro, estimated that there were 30,000 to 50,000 converts in France. The bulk of French Muslims are French citizens, and Islam is France’s second highest ranked religion.

Muslims are a minority in the United Kingdom, making up 2.7 per cent of the country’s total population of some 60 million people. The number of converts to Islam is, as expected very difficult to either predict or find hard data about. One British newspaper however, the Independent, reports that the number of Britons converting to Islam has nearly doubled in the past decade, despite the fact that the UK has witnessed a rise in Islamophobia. This is according to a comprehensive study by inter-faith think tank Faith Matters.

Previous estimates have placed the number of Muslim converts in the UK at between 14,000 and 25,000, but this study suggests that the real figure could be as high as 100,000, with as many as 5,000 new conversions each year. By using data from the Scottish 2001 census – the only survey to ask respondents what their religion was at birth as well as at the time of the survey – researchers broke down what proportion of Muslim converts there were and then extrapolated the figures for Britain as a whole.

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Sharjah to host world’s greatest oratorio on history of Islam

Sharjah, Sunday, 01 Jamada Al Awwal 1434/ 02 March 2014 (IINA) – Celebrating the selection of Sharjah as the Islamic Culture Capital of the Arab region 2014, the emirate is all set to host the world’s greatest oratorio about the story of Islam called ‘The Clusters of Light’.

The show will be performed from March 26 to April 5 at the Open Majaz Island Theater, marking the inauguration of the festivities on winning the title. Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al-Qasimi, Executive Committee Chairman for the Sharjah Capital of Islamic Culture 2014 celebrations, said that five epical performances will dramatize the journey back to the times of darkness, struggle and challenges that led Muslim believers to the beginnings of Islam and tell the story of its great early accomplishments.

“It will be a gift from Sharjah to the entire world that celebrates Islam and its history,” Sheikh Sultan said. “We are confident that the audience will witness a show so spectacular that it will remain in their memories forever.”

He said that this ground-breaking performance is the culmination of the vision of Dr. Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, to celebrate human values of Islam. ‘The Clusters of Light’ is a monumental artistic theatrical display through which the Emirate of Sharjah seeks to provide a true picture of Islam, and its human values that promote peace and love,” he added.

Termed as the largest theatrical and musical production ever to be made, the oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias. It was written by Saudi poet Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Ashmawi, and composed by Bahraini artiste Khalid Al-Sheikh.

More than 200 performers from around the world will participate in this musical composition led by four Arab stars, Hussein Al-Jasmi, Lotfi Bouchnak, Ali El-Hajjar, and Mohammed Assaf. The oratorio will include a narration of the biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

A short film about the display’s production, which will include filming tours in several Arab and foreign countries, will also be shown. The Sharjah Capital of Islamic Culture 2014 celebrations include more than 24 heritage, tourism, cultural, and construction projects, as well as more than 100 activities throughout the emirate over the year.

The Open Majaz Island Theater, the first of its kind in the region, is the official venue for the celebrations. It is a semi-circular theater, reminiscent of ancient Roman designs, covering an area of over 7,200 sq. meters. It can accommodate up to 4,500. A Dh13-million bridge between the man-made island and Khalid Lagoon Street serves as an easy access for visitors to the Open Majaz Island Theater.

Sharjah was named the Capital of Islamic Culture for 2014 on the basis of its rich history and contribution to preserving and promoting culture throughout the region. The decision was made in 2004 within the framework of the Islamic Culture Capital Program, which is sponsored and administered by the Islamic Organization for Education, Science and Culture.

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Medical city planned for special needs patients in Saudi capital

Saudi Gazette / 03 Mar 2014 – A private healthcare group has announced plans to establish a medical city in Riyadh to cater to the needs of special needs patients.

Chairman of al-Hanouf Group Dr. Mohammad al-Mehaizei was quoted as saying in a section of the Arabic press on Saturday that the medical city will be called al-Hanouf-Mount Sinai Medical City for Medical Rehabilitation. The city will cost more than SR700 million, and is expected to begin operations at the beginning of 2017.

Al-Hanouf Group has signed a cooperation agreement with Mount Sinai Hospital, which is one of the oldest and largest teaching hospitals in the United States, to operate the medical city.

The city will include a rehabilitation center that can accommodate 400-600 patients, and a medical care center with 200 beds.

It is estimated that 3.73 percent of the Saudi population has functional disabilities, which limit their independence, according to Maher S. al-Jadid, whose research on the subject was published in the Saudi Medical Journal. Al-Jadid says the countrywide data from demographic survey indicates that approximately 135,000 or nearly 0.8 percent of the total Saudi population has disability. The main causes of disabilities are cerebral palsy and developmental delay followed by road traffic accident.

He says in his research that the Ministry of Health has established several rehabilitative services for persons with disabilities and other residents in the country.

Most of these programs offer physical, occupational, speech and hearing therapy as well as prosthetic and orthotic services within the existing modern and sophisticated health care service system and infrastructure.

Rehabilitation programs and facilities, as an integral part of modern health care delivery services, have received due attention by government authorities, with services being made available to all citizens and residents.

Modern medical rehabilitation in the kingdom started in the early 1960’s following an outbreak of poliomyelitis.

In 1987, the legislation of disability (LD) passed as the first legislation for people with disabilities in the kingdom. The LD contains important provisions that assurance persons with disabilities rights equal to those of other people in society.

In 2000, the disability code was passed by the Saudi government to pledge that people with disabilities have access to free and appropriate medical, psychological, social, educational, and rehabilitation services through public agencies.

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Saudi Tourism sector to create 1.8m jobs by 2020

Arab news / 03 Mar 2014 – The tourism sector is set to create about 1.3 million jobs by 2015 and about 1.8 million by 2020, offering direct employment opportunities in its sub-sectors and indirect jobs in areas induced by tourism-related activity, according to the annual report of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) for 2012-13.

The 49th SAMA report released recently said: “The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) evaluation has confirmed the tourism sector’s ability to provide a growing number of direct jobs in the tourism sub-sectors as well as indirect employment opportunities induced by tourism activity in other economic sectors linked to the tourism sector, in addition to job opportunities that could be developed in subsequent periods as a result of the economic spending cycle in all the sectors that are related to tourism development.”

The report said the tourism sector had created job opportunities for the citizens where, according to an SCTA estimate, the number of direct jobs in the tourism sector in 2012 amounted to about 709,000, an increase of 5.9 percent from the previous year with 670,000 jobs, distributed across the tourism sub-sectors.

“The percentage of Saudization in these jobs was about 26.7 percent compared to about 26.4 percent in the previous year,” an SCTA official said Saturday.

The SAMA report covers various areas of the domestic economy, including monetary developments, banking activity, capital market, prices, public finance, national accounts, foreign trade and balance of payments.

The report elaborated that the share of domestic tourism in the the country’s GDP in 2012 increased by 6.8 percent compared to 2011 to reach SR70.2 billion as the percentage of the nonoil sector’s contribution to the GDP touched slightly higher with an “added-value” from 7.3 percent to 7.4 percent during 2012.

Although the report indicated a decrease of 8.2 percent on spending by domestic tourists “excluding expenses on international transport” in 2012 at SR32.6 billion compared to SR 35.5 billion in 2011, it however, showed that the volume of inbound tourism spending in 2012 rose by 16.8 percent to SR57.2 billion, compared to about SR49 billion in the previous year.

The report said that accommodation facilities ranked first for incoming tourists’ spending at SR19.7 billion, up by 34.5 percent in 2012, while shopping came second at about SR 15.5 billion representing 27 percent of the total expenditure for the same year.

The 49th SAMA report also refers to the SCTA’s efforts in the development of the hotel sector, as the number of hotels operating in the Kingdom by the end of 2012 reached 1,098 hotels of different grades, and the number of furnished residential units in the Kingdom by the end of 2012 reached about 1,971, distributed across various cities in the Kingdom.

“The biggest share of these are found in the Makkah province reaching 522 units (26.5 percent), followed by the Riyadh region, (26.3 percent) with 519 units,” the report added.

Commenting on the report, an SCTA official said that the commission is devoted to developing the tourism sector in the Kingdom and is working on a number of programs to boost tourism investment as the sector is considered a key tributary to the national economy and a creator of jobs for citizens.

He asserted that the Kingdom will focus on the “tourism development companies and work is under way for concluding the final procedures for the establishment of the Al-Ogair Development Company with a capital of SR2.71 billion. The destination is located in the Al-Ahsa Municipality and established as a joint-stock company by the public and private sectors.”

The sector will also establish the Saudi Company for Tourism Investment and Development as a Saudi holding Company with a capital of SR 200 million.

Furthermore, the commission has signed agreements with several public funds such as the Saudi Credit and Saving Bank, the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, Agricultural Development Fund, Centennial Fund and the Human Resource Development Fund to finance the tourism medium and small enterprises.

According to the official, the cooperation between SCTA and the Saudi Credit and Saving Bank and a number of other funds have resulted in the financing of a number of tourism and heritage projects worth over SR250 million.

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Young scientists from Turkic world to compete in ‘Science Olympics’

AA / 03 Mar 2014 – Young scientists from all across the Turkic countries will compete in the Turkic World Science Olympics in central Turkey on May 8-10.

Scientific projects from students aged between 11 and 15 will be entered into categories for invention and design, and will take part in the olympiad, held as part of a wider series of Cultural Capital of the Turkic World organizations.

The title is currently held by the central Turkish city of Eskisehir.

The Cultural Capital agency organizes the olympics in cooperation with the Turkish Volunteer Teachers Association.

Speaking at the press conference introducing the event, the project coordinator, Ibrahim Erdogan, said the idea of being a scientist takes roots more strongly if it emerges in a person`s early years.

“That is why the organization targets elementary and middle school students,” he said.

A total amount of TRY 28,000 ($12,500) will be distributed as prize money. The committee will receive applications until March 31 through its website: www.tdbo.org/en.

Contestants will provide frontal, upper and lateral photos of their projects’ prototype models, drawings and projects reports if available.

Projects will also be broadcasted on Turkey’s state-run broadcaster TRT in Turkey and other national TV channels in Turkic countries.

The countries featured in the organization are: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Moldova and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, as well as federal Russian republics of Tatarstan and Altai.

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Turkey building biggest mosque in Central Asia

World Bulletin / 04 Mar 2014 – Turkey’s Religious Affairs Ministry is working to complete what will be the biggest mosque in Central Asia, in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek.

Work on the 70 meter-high mosque began in March 2012, and is now approaching completion. Built on a land of 5 acres, the mosque covers a space of 1,300 square meters and will have four minarets, two of which are almost finished.

The mosque will also cater for a mufti’s office, an ablution area and a car park for 800 cars. It is expected to be complete by 2015.

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Dutch Muslim politician launching new Islamic party

World Bulletin / 04 Mar 2014 – Arnoud van Doorn, a former far-right Dutch politician who later accepted Islam and became a Muslim, has announced his plans to launch a new Islamic party in his native Holland.

The Islamic Party for Unity will be contending for three seats in the upcoming municipal elections on March 19.

Doorn, who once co-produced the anti-Islamic film ‘Fitna’ along with former friend and notorious anti-Muslim propagandist Geert Wilders, told the NL Times on Sunday that it was ‘only logical’ for Muslims to have political representation.

“Our standpoints are based on the Islam. We come up for minorities and the welfare of animals,” he said. Asked about what his party’s stance would be on homosexuals, Doorn said that all acts of affection in general were private affairs and thus should be kept private.

Doorn accepted Islam after criticisms of the film ‘Fitna’ encouraged him to look into Islam. Shortly after converting, he performed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. He now acts as a voice for Holland’s one million Muslims, around 15,000 of whom are like himself converts to the religion.

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Venice plans its first Museum of Islamic Art

Al Arabiya / 05 Mar 2014 – Venice looks set to welcome a new Museum of Islamic Art in the heart of the tourist getaway. The plan is in its decisive stage following a top Italian Government delegation visit to the UAE and Qatar in February during which the initiative was discussed as part of long-term investment in Italy.

Promising to take strides in bridging the cultural divide, the idea was born two years ago, following a visits by the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, to the Louvre’s new Islamic Art gallery in Paris.

“Indeed a Gallery that fascinates not only for the outstanding collection on display, but also for the architectural structure that houses it,” the mayor said.

The chosen location for the planned museum is Palazzo della Pescheria, an area known for its buzzing tourist activity.

“The building that used to host Venice’s courthouse is now immediately available and would serve perfectly for its central position and its visibility, especially to foreign visitors,” explained Orsoni, who has been one of the main supporters of the initiative.

The contents of the museum are yet to be revealed, and questions over whether the collection will be donated and bought are yet to be answered. However, the scale of the Islamic-themed collection will certainly be novel for Venice.

According to Cristina Tonghini, an Islamic art researcher at the Cà Foscari University of Venice, the Museum will have an impact on Arab – Western relations. “In terms of synergies at an International level there are no limits. Venice could become part of the network of Islamic Art museums such as Paris or London and, of course, Doha set to become the true driving force of this ambitious project with its iconic MIA (Museum of Islamic art).

An Islamic Art Museum in Venice could reopen a forgotten page and represent a chance to recuperate in a cultural key what has been an important exchange between the East and the West in the past,” she explained.

Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta supported the initiative during his recent visit to the UAE and Qatar.

“I believe it is an incredible opportunity not to waste in a bid to lay the grounds for a stronger dialogue, both cultural and economic,” said Orsoni. As he pointed out “An exchange that we all feel the need of with Venice, of course, legitimately aiming to play a leading role in this challenge.”

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Dubai Municipality to build smart city

Menafn / 06 Mar 2014 – Dubai Municipality said that it will build a smart city for Emirati residents and will be powered by solar energy, according to Arabian Business.

The new project will be located near Al Aweer Roundabout in Dubai, said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai ruler and the UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister.

The smart city will be “completely sustainable” and will produce 200 megawatts from solar panels set on the roofs of the residential units.

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Maldives tourist arrivals increase by 18% for January

Sun.mv March 6, 2014 – Tourist arrivals in the Maldives has increased by 18.5 percent for the month of January 2014 with a total of 105,296 tourists arrivals, compared to 88,869 tourists in January 2013, revealed Ministry of Tourism today.

In January 2014, a total of 30,612 holidaymakers arrived from China, making it the source of the most number of tourists in January. The number is an increase of 59 percent compared to January 2013.

Second most tourist arrivals for January 2014 were from Russia, a total of 9,289. United Kingdom stood in third place with 6.710 tourists arriving the Maldives, for the same month.

With 52,295 arrivals, Europe stood as the continent from which Maldives received the most number of tourists. Maldives received from 45,725 tourists from Asia and 3,903 tourists from the United States for January 2014.

Maldives for the first time reached the 1 million yearly tourist arrivals benchmark late last year.

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Maldives tourism attracting investor interest

Sun.mv March 4, 2014 – Expression of Interest (EOIs) have been submitted by 46 parties following the call by Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture for bids to invest in the tourism sector by incorporating a Joint Venture with the government.

The ministry called for EOIs on 24 February, as part of its efforts to fulfil President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s election pledge of opening ten new resorts every year. The ministry said that the parties that submitted EOIs were ‘experienced in the development and management of tourist resorts’.

The EOIs will be evaluated and shortlisted, and details will be revealed later, said the ministry.

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New exhibition tells ancient Antioch’s discovery

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – A new exhibition, “Antioch on the Orontes, Early Explorations in the City of Mosaics,” is presenting photographs from the first archaeological excavation seasons in Antakya, which was Antioch in antiquity.

Curated by Murat Akar, “Antioch on the Orontes, Early Explorations in the City of Mosaics” tells the story of how archaeologists unearthed findings from the most brilliant period in the history of Antioch, one of the most important political and cultural centers of the Hellenistic Orient and one of the great metropolises of the Roman Empire.

The show is being hosted by Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC).

The exhibition presents photographs from the first archaeological excavations carried out by Princeton University in Antioch between 1932 and 1939. The eight excavation seasons constitute the most comprehensive archaeological work in the region at the time, and the photographs on display document the discovery of the world-famous mosaics now in the Hatay Archaeological Museum and of other artifacts from Ancient Antioch. The photographs narrate the process of uncovering the finds that have shed light on the history of this important ancient city.

Moreover, the exhibition provides clues about the excavation methods and archiving techniques of the 1930s.

Curated to reflect the excavation diaries, the exhibition presents a selection from the Antioch Archives of Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archaeology; it also includes a video prepared by Princeton University’s Excavation Committee. The images document not only the archaeological excavations, but also daily life, local dress, as well as the urban and rural landscapes of 1930s Antioch.

A catalog, including a brief history of Antioch, a history of the excavations, as well as a selection of the excavation photographs is also accompanying the exhibition. The exhibition can be seen until April 20 in the gallery of the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations in Istanbul.

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Istanbul’s naval museum passing on culture of ages past

Yonca – MORALI ISTANBUL – After its establishment in 1897 as part of the Imperial Shipyard of the Golden Horn, the content of the museum underwent a series of relocations throughout the years before finally setting up shop in its current location in Beşiktaş in 1961.

After its establishment in 1897 as part of the Imperial Shipyard of the Golden Horn, the content of the museum underwent a series of relocations throughout the years before finally setting up shop in its current location in Beşiktaş in 1961.

Turkey’s Naval Museum reopened its doors in October 2013 after a long modernization project, but the facility is about so much more than just a catalogue of the country’s naval history, it is also a repository of Turkey’s interaction with the sea.

After its establishment in 1897 as part of the Imperial Shipyard of the Golden Horn, the content of the museum underwent a series of relocations throughout the years before finally setting up shop in its current location in Beşiktaş in 1961.

Property of the Turkish Naval Forces, the museum, however, focuses more on a culture of the royal lifestyle on the waters of the Bosphorus than on military heritage.

The main gallery, displaying 14 imperial caiques dating mainly from the 19th century, is a unique collection of magnificent boats used by the sultan and his family for inner-city travel. The spectacular artistry and craftsmanship of these caiques exposes the finest artistic styles of their epochs, suggesting the immense artisanal activity taking place in the shipyards, in the able hands of the “People of the Shipyards” as they were called. This artisanal wood craft is in fact the essential bearer of the military industrial heritage exposed in another gallery of the museum.

As there are no military ships on display, the collection of wooden artifacts, such as coats of arms, sultans’ monograms and ship figureheads are the main symbols of naval military history. Eagles, lions and the phoenix are some of the glamorous frontal figureheads that remain from the long lost battleships of the Mediterranean.

The jewel of the museum, however, is the “Historic Galley” (Kadırga) thought to have been constructed in the 16th century, making it the world’s oldest galley surviving as a whole today. The impressive 40-meter-long boat has 24 pairs of oars, each oar designed to be pulled by three oarsmen. The kiosk on top of the boat, a marvel of mother of pearl artistry, is one of the most beautiful samples of Ottoman craftsmanship to be seen anywhere.

The real mystery, however, begins on the bow and stern. Dragons and mythological sea creatures engraved on the wood seem strangely out of place on this Ottoman galley. Could these symbols be the legacy of an older Byzantine ship, somehow making its way from the time of the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 into this end of the 16th century masterpiece?

The last gallery of the museum evokes historical events of Ottoman maritime history, supported by paintings, textiles, objects and ship maquettes. Heroes of the Ottoman naval past, from Mehmet II the Conqueror to Admiral Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, are personifications of a cultural transition from Central Asian origins to a mutually rewarding synthesis with the skills of a Mediterranean maritime culture dating back thousands of years.

This museum should be considered part of a unique urban landscape on the shores of the Beşiktaş district. The story told on a bigger scale, in the square where the museum is located, in the monuments surrounding it and in the dock of inner-city ferries that cross to the Asian side of the Bosphorus, is that of a district that was once the hub of imperial maritime activity. And the most dominant figure of this hub is that of the legendary Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa.

Initially a pirate before becoming admiral of the Ottoman Navy – or “Captain of the Seas” (Kaptan-ı Derya) as appointed by Süleyman the Magnificent – Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa’s victory against the Holy Alliance at the Battle of Preveza established Ottoman supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century. His fleet used to anchor in the water inlet where the museum is located today.

He rests now in his nearby mausoleum built by none other than Architect Sinan himself. In front of the mausoleum there is a mosque built again by Sinan for yet another Captain of the Seas, Sinan Paşa, whose name was given to the vibrant commercial center near the Sinan Paşa Mosque. Thus, this unique Naval Museum is part of a cluster of maritime culture to be read and understood as a whole, complemented today by elements of urban identity such as the magnificent statue of Hayrettin Paşa built in 1942 by sculptors Zühtü Müridoğlu and Hadi Bara, engraved with Yahya Kemal’s beautiful poetry; an ode to expeditions of the past.

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Magic world of puppets to pull İzmir’s strings

İZMİR – Dha photo – The 8th İzmir International Puppet Days, considered one of the largest puppet festivals in Europe, opened yesterday. This year, 40 puppet theater groups will perform 42 shows in 27 different venues in 147 separate events as part of the festival program.

Six exhibitions from different countries will also host art-lovers, while Argentinean, Irish, Israeli and Canadian artists will hold four workshops for professional stage artists and share their knowledge. In addition, the youth will be embraced by a local elementary school puppet show contest.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the festival’s director, Selçuk Dinçer, said it was one of the two largest puppet events in Europe, with one in Russia that is held every two years. “This year we will host 40 puppet theater groups from 20 countries. Forty-two shows in the festival will be on stage at 27 venues, one is Selçuk and the other is Marmaris. They will be performed 147 times and we expect over 60,000 people,” he said.

Dinçer said the festival had to overcome the prejudice that puppet shows are only for children and they had a very rich program appealing to every age group.

“Among them is ‘Carmen,’ which is performed by Russia’s Vologda Regional Puppet Theater. All European festivals are trying to bring this. It is the Carmen opera that we know, but with puppets. It is one of the best performances for adults,” he said.

“Angels of the Chimney” will be staged in İzmir’s Historical Town Coal Gas Factory, one of the most important historical sites of the city. Such site-specific shows started as a concept in the 1960s with the idea of taking art outside of exhibition halls, museums and galleries and performing it in different environments.

“This show will be free of charge on March 21 and 22. Artists have been working for a long time for it, which will play a role in Turkey’s and İzmir’s promotion in the world,” Dinçer added.

Within the scope of the festival, there will also be six exhibitions at the İzmir Painting and Sculpture Museum Kültürpark Art Gallery. Tickets for the festival’s paid shows can be reached through the website www.izmirkuklagunleri.com and the Atatürk Culture Center.

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First Turkish drama shown in Latin America

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – Reversing a historical trend, Turkish TV production “Binbir Gece” (A Thousand and One Nights) has become the first TV drama from the country to be shown in Latin America.

The first episode of the drama was recently broadcast in prime time in Chile and drew great interest from viewers. Surprised by the drama’s high ratings, officials of local Chilean channel Mega TV said viewing figures for the first episode of the Turkish drama outstripped Latin American dramas on other channels.

Interest in Turkish dramas started when “Binbir Gece” was sold to Bulgaria five years ago, according to İzzet Pinto, who spoke at the media fair DISCOP Istanbul 2014. Speaking to Anadolu Agency about the success of Turkish dramas abroad in recent years, Pinto said they had barely persuaded Bulgaria to buy the drama.

“It was a hard process to persuade Bulgaria. Talks continued for a year. I told them ‘Please believe me, you will thank me later.’ The channel’s ratings increased fourfold and its officials thanked me. It gained such great success there that other countries, including Serbia, Croatia and Greece, began to buy it. It created a domino effect. Nearly five years have passed, and we have new countries. Now we are in China and Latin America, which are very important markets. We are exporting the series to 52-53 countries right now,” he said.

He said they had made the first presentation of “Binbir Gece” to Chile three years ago. In years past, Latin American soap operas provided a staple of Turkish television.

Speaking about a new drama, “Yasak,” Pinto said they believed they would be able to sell it to many countries, while adding that Turkish dramas still drew their largest interest from Middle East.

Pinto said they were now trying to enter the Western European market. “We are now in Italy and trying to enter Spain and France.”

By far the most successful Turkish drama is “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (The Magnificent Century), Pinto said. “It broke rating records in many countries. Turkish dramas are broadcast in prime time, which means that nearly 200 million people watch Turkey every night.”

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Government to seek establishment of economic zones

Sun.mv – March 3, 2014 – President Abdulla Yameen has announced that the government will propose to the parliament within the next month, a bill to establish special economic zones in the Maldives, to better concentrate the economic projects undertaken by the government.

The President made the announcement during the parliament inauguration presidential address delivered at the parliament today.

“Within the next month, the government will propose to this honourable parliament, a bill to establish special economic zones to implement larger infrastructure projects undertaken by the government,” President Yameen said.

He assured that the government will make every effort to make it easier for foreign companies to invest in the Maldives, and improve investor confidence in the country.

A bill on providing sustainable financial aid to the persons with disabilities will be proposed to the parliament within its first term, the President said today.

“The government is working to establish a way to provide financial assistance on a permanent basis to persons with disabilities. I would like to announce that a bill regarding this matter will be presented to the parliament, inaugurated today,” President Yameen said.

He also said that the government will continue to present the relevant bills according to the legislative agenda assembled for the next five years and noted that the government has plans to develop the airport to fulfill the capacity and needs of the country’s tourism growing industry.

“Preparations for the development of the airport are now complete. God willing, when it is completed, it will be enough to cater for the next 50 years. It will serve to be a Maldivian airport, adequate for the expanding tourism and an open economy,” President Yameen said.

Assuring that the government will focus on maintaining the state debt at a sustainable level, the President noted that the state debt stood at MVR 27.7 billion at the end of last year, of which MVR 11.6 billion accounted to foreign debt. The overall State debt can be maintained at MVR 31.1 until the end of 2014, President Yameen said.

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Topkapı Palace Museum popularity up

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace Museum, from which the Ottoman state was governed for 400 years, has a new permanent display section. Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik has decided to turn the section, where the Ehl-i Beyt exhibition was opened in 2008, into a permanent display of the museum.

Aside from the Ehl-i Beyt display room in the Hall of the Privy Chamber (Has Oda), another Ehl-i Beyt display room has been opened in the Armory Treasure Room (Silahtar Hazinesi).

In the new section, which is a continuation of the Chamber of the Secret Relics (Kutsal Emanetler), the items on display are the sword of the Prophet Ali, the sweater, coffin cover, chest and prayer rug of Fatma, the gown of the Prophet Hüseyin, the soil of holy Karbala, the soil of Madinah-al Munawwarah and the beard of the Prophet Muhammad. The pieces in this section, which is open to visits, are displayed on rotation.

Right after he took the post, Çelik initiated restorations at Topkapı Palace. With the new renovations, the palace returned to its original structure. Also, the whole holy relics in the museum were cleaned and restored for the first time in 100 years after the time of the Ottoman Sultan Reşad. In every section of the museum, one can feel the soul of the era.

After the restorations, the Topkapı Palace Museum was visited by 3.4 million people in 2013. The Harem (seraglio) section, which is located inside the museum, but is visited with a separate ticket, received 30,491 visitors. The museum also made a quick start in 2014. The number of people who visited Topkapı Palace in January increased by 23.56 percent to 227,819 from 184,375 compared to the same period of last year.

The historic Gülhane (rose garden) was also reconstructed in Topkapı Palace. Around 40,000 roses were planted in the historic Gülhane, which is separate from the park of the same name located below Topkapı Palace.

Also, half a million hyacinths and tulips were planted in the museum and special hyacinth and tulip gardens were opened. With the contributions of the Isparta-Güneykent Municipality, the Isparta scented rose garden was also opened.

Such cultural renovations increased people’s interest in the museum. The number of people who visited the palace with a Müzekart was above 500,000 this year. Overall, 635,000 people have entered the museum using a Müzekart.

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Brunei Airport Nearing End of BND$130 million Upgrade

04 March 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei International Airport now has a new look and design that comes with sophisticated infrastructure, on par with many developed countries. Since implementation of the terminal modernisation and expansion project began two years ago, more than sixty percent of all renovation work has been completed. Slated for completion in November this year, the BND$130 million-Brunei dollar project is aimed in boosting the Sultanate’s efforts to become a competitive hub for commercial flights in the region.

The BEDB (Brunei Economic Development Board) funded project puts strong emphasis on comfort and convenience in a bid to meet the demand of customers at the airport. The project was designed in accordance with international standards and regulations, with particular attention on promoting the state’s dogmatic ideology Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB).

The Director of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Communication, Pg Adnan Pg Badarudin detailed a number of developments that have been made through the project which, once completed, would enable the airport to accommodate passenger volumes of up to three million per year.

The Director of Civil Aviation cited the completion of the “P1” parking area – which can accommodate more than six hundred cars, as one of the notable developments to date. As for the terminal building itself, the new Arrival Hall is already operational, although it is in the midst of being completely filled with retail shops for the convenience of the public. The director added that the Departure Hall ticketing counter is ready and would soon be fully operational, complete with state-of-the-art computerised baggage system with security scanning devices.

The new Arrival and Departure Halls, as well as the new Gate 1 Concourse, have been in use since October 2013. These areas are equipped with CCTV cameras, an entry monitoring system, flight information board and radio communication systems, as well as a public announcement system that reaches all regions of the airport. The floor space expansion of these areas opens opportunity for more shops and services to move in, which can contribute to growth in tourism and business sectors.

With forty additional baggage handling counters at the new Departure Hall and the twenty seven existing counters, the entire baggage handling system at the Brunei International Airport is effectively upgraded, thereby further speeding up the handling process and minimising risk of delays that could disrupt flight schedules. In addition, various secondary facilities such as ATMs and a comfortable and suitable resting area would soon be provided.

The Brunei International Airport Terminal Modernisation Project also covers construction of new entrance and exit roads, layouts of which had been redesigned for users’ convenience, and spacious parking areas that can accommodate a total of 1-thousand-500 cars.

These include parking spaces located under large roofs and canopied parking spaces, all set in an attractive landscape. Persons with special needs, too, have not been left out from the project planning. The requirement for special lanes had already been taken into consideration. Construction of two lifts and escalators near the Arrivals Hall further facilitates movement of special needs individuals at the airport.

Meanwhile, construction of 11 aerobridges is well under way. This aerobridge would link the existing terminal with the new one, thereby facilitating and speeding up the passage of people heading towards the Departure Hall.

In an effort to realise Brunei Darussalam’s aspiration to become a Nation of Zikir, the airport surau project is also being carried out. The 700-square-metre surau, once completed, can accommodate 300 congregants. The surau is scheduled to be completed in November this year. Given that the modernisation project is running concurrently with normal flight operations, members of the public are asked to follow warning and directional signs that have been put up in the airport terminal.

This high quality infrastructure development project is a catalyst for Brunei Darussalam’s socio-economic activity. The infrastructure development is carried out by Changi Airport Contractor and Consultant Private Limited and AECOM Asia Limited, a Singapore-Hong Kong consortium, while the contractors appointed to the task of construction work are Sumber Trans Perbadanan Sendirian Berhad and Swee Sendirian Berhad.

The Brunei International Airport Terminal Modernisation and Expansion Project is hoped to be the beacon of Brunei Darussalam, specifically for foreign tourists, thus encouraging them to get to know the culture and uniqueness of the country the moment they step into the airport.

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Saudi Visa Service Center Launched in Brunei

Thursday, 06 March 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has contracted internationally specialized companies to take necessary measures for obtaining biometric information such as fingerprints and digital face photograph for applicants requesting visa for entering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which also includes Umrah and Haj applicants.

According to a press statement released by the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Brunei Darussalam, VFS/Tasheel International Company is one of the establishments assigned to undertake major roles in obtaining the needed information according to specific procedures aims to minimize waiting time for all arrivals of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia entry points.

VFS/Tasheel International Company office is located at the PGGMB building, Jln Elizabeth in the capital.

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Turkmenistan to buy airliners and build airports

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-28 ASHGABAT – Turkmenistan has adopted a programme to upgrade its fleet of civil aircraft by 2020, meaning more travel options for its citizens.

“The programme (part of an improvement plan determined in December) provides for the procurement of aircraft and equipment, construction of airports, training of specialists, and improvement of service quality and flight safety,” Merdan Atayev, a Turkmenistan Airlines transportation department specialist focusing on logistics, said, adding that its stage-by-stage implementation is already bearing fruit.

Turkmenistan Airlines now flies to 17 foreign cities, according to its website, including service to Paris that launched just before New Year’s Day. By 2015, it will have 10 more international destinations, Atayev said.

The airline’s fleet is growing too, according to data from Ashgabat International Airport. In 2013, three Boeing 737-800 aircraft and two AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters began service.

“In the first half of 2014, Turkmenistan Airlines will receive its first long-haul wide-bodied Boeing 777-200 LR, which will make non-stop flights to other continents possible,” Atayev said. Presently, the airline flies no farther than Eastern Europe nonstop.

By 2030, under the aviation development programme, the country will have up to 40 Boeings.

Along with international flights, Turkmenistan Airlines proposes to develop the domestic flight network. It now offers regular service among Ashgabat and the oblast capitals but is planning eventually to fly to the district capitals too.

Last December, the government decided to buy 20 airliners capable of accommodating up to 100 passengers and to build five airports in each oblast’s remote areas.

“We were interested in the 50-passenger French-(Italian) ATR 42-600 and the 19-passenger Czech Let L-410,” Atayev, who does not rule out the possibility of buying Ukrainian An-38’s and An-140’s, said.

“The number of passengers flying domestically is bound to increase,” he said. “A … state commission will have the last word on the new purchases.”

Turkmenistan Airlines employees in outlying districts welcome the planned boost to domestic air service.

“If everything that is planned comes to pass, it will be of the greatest benefit to those who live in remote districts,” Erkebai Dosmedov, a communications specialist at Dashoguz Airport, said. “Тhey now have to travel two or three hours … to their oblast capital to catch a plane.”

Each oblast has its hinterlands, the inhabitants of which would like to fly in comfort, he said.

Implementation of the civil aviation development programme in the provinces will lay the foundations for improving transport infrastructure and for creating new jobs, but profitability might be in doubt, according to the Economy and Development Ministry.

A large part of the population (about 70%) reports an average monthly wage of less than 572 TMT ($200), and citizens in this category would find it difficult to spend a fifth of their monthly income on a round-trip flight to Ashgabat, economist Rustem Vakhidov said, predicting that the majority of Turkmens will continue to take road or rail.

Flying is faster, Vakhidov said, but the cost might be prohibitive in some cases, especially since a trip by inter-city bus costs about a fifth of what the airfare would be.

“If the fares were more affordable, of course people would prefer to fly,” Khaytan Gulgeldiyev, a cotton grower from Aibovur village, Dashoguz Oblast, said. High airfares could threaten the project’s profitability, he said, agreeing with Vakhidov.

Another thing that could help the investment and civil aviation upgrade succeed would be for the country to buy airliners that suit the Turkmen climate and flying conditions, Atayev said.

But early indications are that the programme has some promise.

“The … ATR-42-600 already had test runs on the Ashgabat-Mary route,” Atayev said. “Reactions in the press and in official reports have been entirely positive.”

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Boosting Nigeria’s Development Via Arts, Culture and Tourism

2 March 2014 – Daily Trust – By most accounts, Nigeria’s mono-product economy, which is largely dependent on crude oil, is not the best. Economic experts insist that tangible efforts should be made to reduce the country’s overdependence on oil as its major source of revenue.

However, the Federal Government appears to be thinking along those lines, as it has been making efforts to develop the country’s arts, culture and tourism industry and generate revenue from it.

To that end, the government has been striving to attract tourists into the country and showcase its vast tourism potential.

In more specific terms, the Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation is striving to place Nigeria on the world tourism map by marketing the country’s arts, culture and tourism potential.

The ministry has some parastatal agencies with specialised functions that promote arts, culture and tourism. The agencies include the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN).

Others are the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) and the National Gallery of Arts (NGA). Over a period of time, the Federal Government has initiated various policies to create an enabling environment for the development of arts, culture and tourism in the country.

For instance, Nigeria is currently implementing its tourism master plan which, among other things, markets the country’s tourism centres and outfits.

Some of the tourism centres and outfits are Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort in Cross River State, Farin Ruwa Waterfalls in Nasarawa State and the Olokola Cultural Resort in Ondo State.

The ministry has also developed a cultural policy for the nation, and the policy is now being implemented in line with the current economic realities.

However, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Chief Edem Duke, said that the Nigerian Motion Picture Industry and the arts sector had become very dynamic tools for promoting Nigeria’s cultural heritage.

He, nonetheless, stressed that over the years, the ministry had performed creditably in efforts to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage.

Duke said that in 2009, the ministry initiated and developed six cultural industry centres in Taraba, Enugu, Benue, Ogun, Ondo and Sokoto states.

He said that the centres were developed, as part of efforts to harness the abundant local talents, generate employment and stimulate the growth of the national economy.

The minister said that in the same year, the Nigerian Cultural House in Salvador, Brazil, was also established to boost Nigeria’s external image.

He also said that the ministry’s Department of National Orientation, which oversaw the National Orientation Agency (NOA), had been making appreciable contributions to the socio-economic development of the country.

Duke said that the department recently carried out a survey of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones in an attempt to create understanding and harmony among the different religious and ethnic groups in the country.

Besides, the minister said that the ministry had developed a vibrant relationship with UNESCO, European Union, Africa Union and other developmental partners for the advancement of the country’s culture and tourism sector.

He said that the Nigerian film industry and the cultural sector had witnessed a phenomenal growth in the last couple of years. “Nigeria’s Motion Picture Industry is now ranked the second largest in the world and there is no debate on the ranking,” he said.

Duke stressed that Nigerian films and other cultural products were assets, which were considered to be the most influential media for entertainment, education and cultural export to other countries.

“It behoves us to take advantage of this to launder our international image and draw worldwide attention to Nigeria as a fascinating tourism destination.

“It is imperative that the stakeholders see themselves as our cultural ambassadors and work assiduously to use film as a medium to project Nigeria positively to the international community,” he said.

Duke said that the Federal Government was very much concerned about the challenges confronting the film industry. He said that government was doing everything possible to check the menace of piracy and copyright infringement to enable the stakeholders to fully reap the fruits of their labour.

“Nigerian dances, music and tourism are attracting the attention of other countries and we have a lot of exchange programmes with other countries,” he said.

A renowned artist, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, said that Nigeria had a lot of arts, cultural and tourism resources which could effectively be harnessed and utilised.

Onobrakpeya said that the time had come for Nigerian arts and culture to be rated among the best in the world. “Promoting unity through the arts is a critical ingredient for the country’s development. Arts have a lot of potential that could be harnessed.

“An art is a thought and creating it gradually to enable it to tell a story and send a message to the people is very vital. Nigerian arts and culture could be used to enhance national integration and speed up national development,” he added.

Mrs Biola Alabi, the Managing Director, M-Net Africa, underscored the need to tell the nation’s stories through the channels provided by arts, culture and tourism.

“We have a lot of tourism sites in the country that ought to be developed; we should make the sites appealing and attractive to foreign tourists.

“A lot of individuals have talents. It is how to support their arts and creativity that appears to be the missing link,” she said.

Mr Dotun Alabi, the Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), described arts as educational tools which could facilitate the country’s development.

“The Federal Government has not funded the arts sector as it ought to. In other climes, governments spend a lot of money on the development of the arts industry.

“Arts and culture cannot be relegated to the background because they can be used to make the youth look inwards. Arts can be passed from one generation to the other; pragmatic efforts should be made to preserve the people’s culture,” Alabi said.

All in all, analysts urge the Federal Government to fund the development of the country’s arts, culture and tourism industry.

They also want the government to encourage the citizens to participate in efforts to develop the industry via purposeful public awareness strategies.

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Subak ecotourism to empower farmers: Observer

Tue, March 4 2014 Denpasar (ANTARA News) – The development of ecotourism in areas where “subak” traditional irrigation method is being applied in the island resort of Bali, will positively empower the local farmers, an observer has said.

“Empowering the farmers on the basis of sustainable nature will improve their welfare, manage the wealth of the local economy, and improve the integrity of local ecosystem,” agricultural observer Gede Sedana stated here on Tuesday.

The dean of Dwijendra Universitys Faculty of Agriculture noted that ecotourism development is based on natural attraction with regard to support rural and cultural tourism.

According to him, ecotourism includes a number of important aspects concerning sightseeing tour, natural environment, local community involvement, local culture, and sustainability of the environment.

Gede Sedana then explained that subak, the traditional irrigation system in Bali, has various roles and functions to ensure food security, to control flood and erosion, and to maintain biological diversity.

Meanwhile, I Wayan Windia of Udayana University has noted that the destruction of subak will affect all aspects of life on this paradise island. “The destruction of subak due to the diversion of land for purposes other than agriculture has been discussed since a long time, but it has never been addressed completely,” Windia pointed out here on Saturday.

He noted that if the subak in Bali was destroyed, the culture of Bali that has been passed on from generation to generation will also disappear.

“The destruction of subak will destroy all economic sectors in Bali because they are all interrelated,” he added, explaining that economic sectors, particularly tourism, on the island are based on local culture and tradition.

But he pointed out that, in reality, the tourism sector has destroyed the agricultural area and the subak in Bali.

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Algeria To Modernise Airport Infrastructure

ALGIERS, March 3 (NNN-APS) — Algeria intends to invest some 30 billion dinars (about 382 million US dollars) over the coming five years to boost the modernization and the development of infrastructure at its airports, says Public Works Minister Farouk Chiali.

“Algeria has allocated huge investments to develop and modernize its airports. In the last ten years, some DZD 76 billion had been disbursed,” Chiali added during a conference on airport infrastructure here Sunday.

These investments had helped to modernize and upgrade 80 per cent of the existing national airport runways, said Chiali, who stressed the need to pursue these efforts so to meet international standards.

“For the next five-year plan (2015-2019), we expect to make a further investment of DZD30 billion,” added the Minister, adding that the objective was to preserve and extend the lifespan of the airports and improve the geometrical characteristics of airport infrastructures.

According to statistics from the ministry, 80 per cent of the 36 airports in Algeria are in “good or very good condition”.

Chiali stated that the goal of the ministry was to have all the infrastructures in “good or very good” conditions in the coming years.

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Luring Tourists To The Great Malaysia-Thailand Wall

KANGAR, PERLIS, March 3 (NNN-Bernama) — With undulating limestone hills, panoramic paddy fields and clear lakes in the background, Perlis – Malaysia’s northern state – has all that a visitor yearns for.

The ancient limestone cave formation of Gua Kelam, vineyard in Batu Pahat and the Al-Hussain Floating Mosque in Kuala Perlis are among the many added attractions that lure visitors here.

As Perlis adjoins Malaysia’s northern neighbour Thailand, it also serves as the transit point to Satun and Songkhla provinces on the other side.

The border between both countries is demarcated by a wall that is 2.4 meter in height and covers a distance of 20.9 kilometer from Bukit Batu Puteh to Padang Besar built in the 1990s to deter illegal crossings and smuggling.

Though the dividing wall may not seem people friendly and appear monotonous, there are some who feel that this national security asset could be made visitor friendly.

Some are sceptical over the idea as they feel that there is nothing interesting with the wall that is constantly monitored by the security personnel and it is not a wall of interest like the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China.

However, one should not forget that hundreds if not thousands of people who literally go through the wall at the checkpoints in Padang Besar and Wang Kelian daily.

Many will like to see the wall especially near the checkpoints made people friendly. Currently the wall is considered a security zone and therefore is off limits to ordinary people.

Among those who share this view is the Raja Muda Perlis (royalty), Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Jamalullail.

Tuanku Syed Faizuddin hitherto has contributed many ideas to develop Perlis’ tourism sector through promotional activities within and without the country.

He hoped that efforts would be taken to promote the walls that define and protect the nation’s borders as a tourist attraction.

“Maybe a stopover spot could be created close to the walls to enable visitors to snap photos,” he said during a cycling retreat in Padang Besar recently.

If the walls remain off limits to visitors, maybe a replica could be built at a strategic location to enable visitors to Perlis snap pictures.

Tuanku Syed Faizuddin also shared his experience on his visit to the Berlin Wall in Germany at the end of 2013 where the remnants of the wall has been turned into a tourist attraction.

The Berlin wall that was erected in 1961 served as a physical divider between East and West Germany for 28 years before being brought down in 1989 when Communism collapsed. Visitors to Berlin take the opportunity to snap pictures of the remaining wall as a perfect memento to take back.

Tuanku Syed Faizuddin is confident that the wall that defines the Malaysia-Thai border will help pull tourists to Perlis.

However, the idea of opening the border walls to visitors was first mooted by former Perlis Menteri Besar (chief minsiter) Shahidan Kassim back in 1999.

As for Shahidan, now the minister in the prime minister’s department, the concrete wall can be capitalised to lure in the tourist from both sides.

However, his proposal failed to see the light of the day due to security concerns.

A visitor from Penang, Norhisham Said, 34, admitted he was impressed with the border wall that came into view when passing through the Wang Kelian checkpoint.

“However, the listless wall must be injected with life,” said the businessman to Bernama when met at Wang Kelian.

And like what Norhisham wanted to see, the wall at the Padang Besar checkpoint has now been painted with colours and murals captivating visitors.

A public sector employee Zaonah Hamisan, 36, from Batu Pahat, Johor who visited Padang Besar did not waste the opportunity to snap a few pictures with the colourful wall as the backdrop.

Thus the Malaysia-Thai wall is slowly becoming a visitor friendly edifice that is set to add to the list of tourist attractions in Perlis.

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Abu Dhabi Hotels Off To A Great New Year Start

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Mar 3 (NNN-WAM) – Abu Dhabi’s 149 hotels and hotel apartments got off to an impressive start in 2014, with guest arrivals shooting up more than a third in Jan, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

Figures just released by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, TCA Abu Dhabi, showed that 276,970 guests checked into the capital of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) accommodation last Jan – a 36 per cent rise compared to Jan 2013.

In all, the arrivals delivered 855,651 guest nights – an increase of 26 per cent, on the same month-by-month comparison.

Occupancy for the month rose to 77 per cent – which was up 10 per cent from Jan last year and average room rate moved slightly upwards, by 2 per cent to Dh462.

Total hotel revenues climbed 22 per cent to 522 million UAE dirham, with food & beverage recording 21 per cent growth to 194,013,640 UAE Dirham.

“Jan reaped the benefits of the international holiday seasons and the hosting of numerous major events in the emirate, including the World Future Energy Summit and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship,” said Jasem Al Darmaki, Deputy Director-General, TCA Abu Dhabi.

“This is an excellent start to a year, in which we have stretched our hotel guest target to 3.1 million, following last year’s record breaking performance, when we exceeded our hotel guest target and achieved our original 2014 goal of 2.8 million.

“We anticipate being able to maintain this upward momentum, given the air capacity uplift, to be delivered shortly, through new Etihad Airways’ services, between Jaipur and Abu Dhabi and from Perth in Australia and Los Angeles and Dallas in the US,” he said.

He added that these new services will complement greater planned frequency on Etihad’s services from Dublin and New York, as well as airberlin’s doubling, next Oct, of its daily flights from the German capital to the UAE capital.

India remained the emirate’s primary overseas hotel guest market, with 16,221 Indians checking into Abu Dhabi’s accommodation – a jump of 29 per cent on Jan 2013. These arrivals delivered 65,937 guest nights, which climbed 15 per cent year-on-year, with the average Indian staying just over four nights.

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Uganda, Ethiopia Attracting Major Hotel Investments

KAMPALA, March 4 (NNN-NEW VISION) — Uganda and Ethiopia have overtaken Kenya as key investment destinations for global hotel chains scouting for investment opportunities in the region.

The two nations feature on the top five list, whose hotel sectors are expected to receive huge investments in sub-Saharan Africa, alongside Nigeria, Angola and Ghana, the Kenyan Standard newspaper has reported.

It quoted a new report ranking countries according to the number of jobs that new investments in the hotel sector will create this year which puts Nigeria as the hottest spot for investors in the hotel industry.

The survey by the W Hospitality Group is based on the number of signed contracts by international and regional brands as well as smaller non-branded hoteliers.

“Nigeria leads the way in sub-Saharan Africa with the creation of 53,000 jobs. It is followed by Ghana with 11,000 and Angola (9,000), Ethiopia (8,800) and Uganda with 8,500,” said W Hospitality Group Managing Director Trevor Ward.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, growth is forecast to be a much faster 23 per cent. Where there are fewer people with hospitality industry experience, HPA anticipates three major trends; an influx of top management from abroad, a war for talented middle management and substantial investment in training programmes,” he said.

Hotel Partners Africa (HPA) is an alliance of three leading hospitality consultancies, with considerable expertise throughout Africa — W Hospitality Group, Hotel Spec and Leisure Property Services.

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Uganda’s New Tourism Chief Plans To Quadruple Arrivals

KAMPALA, March 6 (NNN-NEW VISION) — Endowed with national parks, birds, primates, geographical features, the new Executive Director of the Uganda Tourist Board (UTB), Steven Asimwe, has promised to take the tourism industry in the country to greater heights, boost the numbers of visitors, attract investors and brand Uganda across the globe.

“The onus is upon everyone to paint a rosy picture of Uganda as a destination,” said Asimwe. “I appreciate the outgoing team for attracting 1.2 million visitors here annually. However, with the new team we intend to quadruple the figure.”

Asimwe stressed that during his term, he wanted to engage the whole nation and work with regional partners, conservation groups, local government, cultural institutions and the media to implement the Tourism Master Plan which forms part of the country’s ambitious Vision2040 development strategy.

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Indonesia propose Borobudur-Machu Picchu heritage links

Thu, February 27 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia will propose sister heritage cooperation between Borobudur and Machu Picchu in Peru, in a bid to enhance cultural exchange between the two countries.

“This proposal was supported by the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu,” stated Indonesian Ambassador to Peru and Bolivia Moenir Ari Soenanda during his visit to Antara News Agencys Office here on Thursday.

According to Soenanda, Indonesia’s Borobudur and Perus Machu Picchu are iconic tourist destinations with megalithic structures that can be used for promoting cultural activities, such as dance and theatrical performances.

“We proposed to perform Indonesian cultural and art performances in Machu Picchu and Peru can also use Borobudur to promote its culture,” he emphasized.

Soenanda added that the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy has urged all Indonesian Ambassadors to promote Indonesia’s tourism in the country where they are deployed.

“We do hope that the sister heritage between Borobudur and Machu Picchu can be approved shortly,” he noted.

The Borobudur Temple located in Magelang, Central Java, was listed in Worlds Heritage inscription by UNESCO in 1991, while Machu Picchu in Peru was listed in 1983.

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Guyana: Mash 2014 A Tremendous Success – Culture Minister

GEORGETOWN, March 5 (NNN-GINA) — Guyana’s rich history and cultural diversity were brought to life at the annual float parade on Feb 23 in observance of the country’s 44th Republic anniversary, celebrated under the theme “Cultural Folklore; Celebrating 44”.

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr Frank Anthony described Mash as a tremendous success as Guyana’s folklore history was highlighted in all aspects, especially through the very creative costumes.

The Mash parade was a reflection of the harmonious relations that exist among Guyanese, as thousands of people, all colourfully decked out lined the streets of Georgetown, enjoying the picnic-like atmosphere and witnessing the beautiful spectacle.

Folklore creatures like Baccoo, Massacuraman, Kanaima, Old Higue, Moongazer, Water Mama and Jumbee were showcased, as 30 bands participated in the category of full costume and semi costume, and individual male and female costumes at the Parade.

During an interview with the Government Information Agency (GINA), Anthony expressed satisfaction with the creativity shown with the costumes and floats and lauded the designers, stating that he was pleased with the participation from companies and organisations, especially in the full costume category.

“We are pleased, and it shows that our artistic talents and creativity in Guyana is alive and well, and some of the pieces that we saw out there can match anything anywhere else in the world… I’m sure the designers can go and get jobs at any carnival type of celebrations,” he said.

He said that the ministry chose this year’s Mashramani theme because a lot of young people did not appreciate Guyana’s folklore heritage, “and we thought that this would bring it back in people’s minds, and it certainly did, because many of floats depicted folkloric heritage.”

Anthony said that the Mash committee will be reviewing the celebration and looking at some new innovations for next year and will be seeking ways to deal the issue of waste disposal after the celebration.

Each year, the Ministry of Culture in association with the Mash Secretariat and the Ministry of Education organises a calendar of activities which includes the chutney, soca and the calypso (junior and senior) competitions, the Children’s Mash activities, masquerade and steel band, steel band concert and concert for the elderly, and the bright up Guyana competition, among others.

However, this year’s Mash saw a three-pronged approach being incorporated in the celebration; the commemorative, intellectual and social aspects.

For the commemorative aspect, there was the traditional flag raising ceremony held in all 10 Administrative Regions and Georgetown, and activities throughout those regions to ensure that people living outside the Capital share in the national festivities.

For the intellectual aspect, there was the Republic lecture, workshops on cultural industries and the annual exhibition at the National Museum.

Government has made tremendous investments in these activities over the years, and has gained the support of corporate entities such as Republic Bank, Ansa McAl, the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) company, Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) and Digicel.

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Sharjah’s Dh120 million Al Majaz Amphitheatre to open on March 26

Sharjah, March 6, 2014, Gulf News: Al Majaz Amphitheatre, which is phase one of Al Majaz Island project, is expected to open on March 26. The Dh120 million Roman-style amphitheatre, covering an area of 7,238 square metres, can accommodate up to 4,500 people.

The open-air amphitheatre will be the official venue for the Sharjah Capital of Islamic Culture (SICC) 2014 celebrations and other international cultural and art events. Construction on the theatre started in November 2013 and took three months to be completed.

The first of 24 heritage projects to be rolled out in Sharjah this year, the amphitheatre is expected to leave a lasting impression on Sharjah’s cultural calendar as it welcomes a litany of arts events in the years to come.

Osama Samra, Director of Sharjah Media Center (SMC) told Gulf News: “The project, which is being developed at an estimated cost of Dh140 million comprises two phases; phase one is the open-air amphitheatre and phase two will include building different facilities, including restaurants, cafes, landscapes and conference halls.”

The Al Majaz Island project will also include a Dh13 million bridge between the island and Khalid Lagoon.

The opening of the amphitheatre will kick off the Sharjah Capital of Islamic Culture 2014 celebrations with a monumental artistic theatrical display called the ‘The Clusters of Light’.

The performance, which is written by the Saudi poet Dr Abdul Rahman Al Ashmawi and composed by the Bahraini artist Khalid Al Shaikh, will be the one of the largest theatrical and musical production to be made. It will include more than 200 performers from around the world and will be led by four Arab stars — Hussain Al Jasmi, Lotfi Bouchnak, Ali Al Hajjar, and Mohammad Assaf.

The event will also include an oratorio, which is a large musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists. The purpose of the event is to create a high-ranking artistic work serving Islam, clarifying its tolerant truth and promoting its human values represented by justice, love and peace, said Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi, Head of the Sharjah Islamic Culture Capital Executive Committee in a recent statement. The opening ceremony will continue until April 5.

The SMC has also recently announced that it has signed an agreement with Live Nation Entertainment, a live entertainment and ecommerce company, for the venue management of theatre for a period of three years.

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Non-Aligned Movement NAM Ministerial Meeting To Be Held In Algiers In May

GENEVA, March 7 (NNN-APS) — A ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) will be held in Algiers from May 26 to 29, says Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra.

“The ministerial conference will be held between two summits, that of Teheran (Iran), held one and a half years ago, and te next summit in Latin America, to be held in 18 months’ time in a country that will be decided during the (ministerial) conference,” he told APS on the sidelines of 25th session of the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council here.

“The upcoming NAM ministerial meeting will allow NAM member nations to assess the situation and take necessary decisions to boost the action of the Non-Aligned Movement, which has always principles, ideals and objectives,” said Lamamra.

NAM, which comprises 120 nations and 20 observer countries, focuses mainly on issues relating to economic and social development, democracy, disarmament and peace. — NNN-APS

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Chinese Firm To Invest US$4 Million In Senegal Groundnut Project

DAKAR, Senegal, Mar 8 (NNN-XINHUA) – A Chinese company, Qingdao Golden Rock Nuts Co., has agreed with the Kaolack Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (CCIAK), to invest more than 2 billion CFA Francs (4 million U.S. dollars), in the construction of a groundnuts transformation plant, in Senegal’s central town of Saloum.

CCIAK’s Secretary General, Abdoulaye Thiam, said, the partnership was bolstered by the recent cooperation agreement signed on Feb 21 by CCIAK President, Serigne Mboup and the director general of the Chinese firm, Li Hongdong.

The officials of the two institutions signed the agreement on the sidelines of a state visit to Beijing by Senegal’s President Macky Sall.

Specialised in the transformation and export of agricultural products, Li’s firm is considered as one of the major actors in export of groundnuts to European Union (EU) countries.

The plant, to be set up in Kaolack, will be named “Sino-Senegalese Joint-Venture Agricultural Corporation SA.”

The company will create hundreds of jobs and will link local farmers to international groundnuts market.

The Kaolack groundnuts transformation unit, which will have Senegalese shareholders, will have agricultural machines, transport vehicles, husking machines, as well as other equipment for the transformation process, Thiam said.

CCIAK promised to get the necessary commitment from the government, for the 5 hectares needed for the construction of the transformation plant.– NNN-XINHUA

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Football Hijab Empowers Pakistani Women

OnIslam Correspondent Friday, 07 March 2014 KARACHI – Overjoyed with the recent decision to lift hijab ban in football pitches, Pakistani women footballers believe that the “historic” decision will boost the sport in Pakistan, particularly in the rural areas where Hijab is a must.

“This is a historic development as it will pave the way for scores of (women) footballers who could not play the sport in different parts of the country as their parents do not allow them to play without observing hijab,” Naila Khan, a member of Pakistan’s national football squad told OnIslam.net.

“We welcome this decision, which will enable girls in remote areas, where Hijab is part of our culture, to take up the game,” Naila, 23, who is also working as a sports teacher at a private school in port city of Karachi, said.

The new decision to allow hijab on football matches was announced by FIFA officials last week, overturning a 2007 ban. The ban, she observed, had not merely hit Pakistan, but various other Islamic countries too.

“It (ban) was not merely the issue for Pakistani footballers, but I know that several potential players were affected by the ban in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and even in India, where parents do not let their daughters to play with uncovered head,” she added.

“But, I hope, things will change now. When parents will see (other) girls playing football in hijab, they will and should allow their daughters for the same,” Naila opined.

“I do not wear scarf but I truly feel that it is a very good decision, and should have been taken much earlier,” she added.

Naila thinks that inner satisfaction is essential for a player. “If you force a girl not wear hijab, which wants to and used to, I think she will not be able to show her full skills in the game because she is not mentally satisfied,” she observed. “A (female) player should not be technically knocked out just because she wears scarf.”

Mehwish Khan, another female footballer hailing from Karachi agrees. “This is a welcome decision for not only Pakistani (women) footballers, but for the players of entire Islamic countries,” Mehwish who too represents Pakistan on international level, told OnIslam.net.

“The decision shows respect and honor for our religion and culture. I congratulate the FIFA for that,” an apparently happy Mehwish said.

Organizers and players expressed hope that the lifting of hijab ban will attract more females to the sport.

“The international sports authorities must understand the difference between ours and the Western culture. What is acceptable there is not acceptable here,” Ahmed Jan, a Karachi-based female football trainer, told OnIslam.net.

“Therefore, unnecessary bans and restrictions should not be imposed in sports. Various girls, who had the potential to represent the national squad, could not come forward because of this ban,” Jan said.

Having trained seven players of the national women football squad, Jan thinks that the permanent lifting of ban on hijab for women footballers will send a positive message to the Islamic world from the West.

“I do not doubt the intention of FIFA, but the ban (on hijab) had sent a negative message to the Muslim world, where it was politically exploited as well,” he opined.

Last February 2012, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, FIFA vice-president, warned that Muslim women would be driven away from soccer fields if the football’s governing body decided to ban the wearing of hijab in playgrounds.

In incumbent national football squad, only one player, Abeeha Haider wears scarf. She started observing hijab last year after performing Umrah.

Women football in Pakistan is in its early stage with 22 active clubs and some 400 players across the country. Most of the clubs are in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Multan, and Faisalabad cities.

Pakistani women football squad is going to play home and away friendly matches against Qatar in May 2014. A training camp to tune up the players is going to start from next month, the officials said.

The South Asian nuclear Muslim nation will also host South Asian Women Football Federation Cup in December this year with India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are expected to compete.

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FIFA Allows Muslims’ Hijab in Matches

OnIslam & News Agencies Sunday, 02 March 2014 ZURICH – Female Muslim footballers’ dreams of participating in international tournaments have been revived after football’s world governing body official authorization of the Islamic headscarves during matches on Saturday, March 1.

“It was decided that female players can cover their heads to play,” said FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke at a meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the sport’s lawmakers, in Zurich, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

The decision, announced by FIFA officials on Saturday, allows female players to wear the veil during games.

The permission was also extended to male players wishing to wear turbans, satisfying the needs of Sikh community as well.

“It was decided that male players can play with a head cover too,” Valcke said. “It will be a basic head cover and the color should be the same as the team jersey,” he added.

Headscarves were banned from FIFA competitions in 2007, with FIFA saying that they posed too great a risk of injury to the head or neck.

In April 2010, FIFA announced that it was planning to ban the Muslim headscarf and other religious outings during the 2012 London Olympics.

In March 2012, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) allowed women players to wear the hijab, a decision that was ratified in July 2012.

IFAB then allowed a two-year trial period starting in 2012 after a request from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which proved successful.

The trial period was a result of a decision in June 2012 by IFAB to overturn the 2007 ban, based on reports from FIFA’s medical officer.

According to FIFA officials, the decision to allow hijab followed campaigning by Prince Ali, half-brother of Jordan King Abdullah II.

“It’s a worldwide authorization,” said Valcke, who confirmed that the hosting of the 2016 women’s under-17 World Cup by the Arab kingdom of Jordan played a part in the authorization being introduced.

“It was a plus for them to have authorization from the IFAB for women to be able to play (wearing head covers). It was a request from these (Muslim) countries that said it would help support women’s football there.”

Iran too was at the forefront of the campaign to lift the ban. Iran women’s football team were prevented from playing their 2012 Olympic second round qualifying match against Jordan because they refused to remove their hijabs before kickoff.

Iran, who had topped their group in the first round of Olympic qualifiers after going undefeated, were given 3-0 defeats as a penalty which abruptly ended their dreams of qualifying for the London Olympics.

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All aboard! Pakistan’s first women-only bus

Rawalpindi, AFP, March 8, 2014, Gulf News : At 7.15am on a dusty street corner in Rawalpindi, among the dozen rickety minibuses jostling for passengers, a brand-new, bright pink vehicle stands out.

Emblazoned with the words “Ladies Transport”, this is Pakistan’s first commuter bus solely for women, aimed at those sick of wandering hands and unwanted attention on regular services.

Some see it as a welcome respite, but detractors warn it is reinforcing gender segregation in a highly patriarchal and often misogynistic country.

Sitting on one of the minibus’ four banquette seats, Azra Kamal, who works at an electronics shop, welcomes the new project, named “Tabeer” — “fulfilment of a dream” in Urdu.

Her face half-hidden behind a black veil, she tells of obscene comments and other inappropriate gestures she suffered on mixed transport.

“I have a long journey to work and when I get there it’s often only me left on board. Sometimes the driver will take advantage to give me his phone number and ask for mine,” she said during the 20-odd kilometre ride to her destination in the capital Islamabad.

Others on board described being touched by drivers, conductors and male passengers.

To add to this harassment, the tiny minibuses that ply the roads of the Pakistani capital and its twin city Rawalpindi often have only a few seats, sometimes with only one out of a dozen reserved for women.

“I used to work in a hospital. Often there would be no space on the bus and I would get told off for being late,” said Sana.

Today the 21-year-old proudly wears a pink tunic, the uniform of her job as conductor on the women’s bus, as she collects the 30-rupee (Dh1.06) fare. But the new service has not impressed everyone in a country where the forces of conservatism are seen to be growing in strength.

In a blog post for one of Pakistan’s leading English-language newspapers, journalist Erum Shaikh called the project a “complete sham”.

“The mere fact that the authorities thought it appropriate to introduce something like this should actually offend women and yet we sit there smile, look pretty and let the big, tough, muscular men build walls around us to ‘protect’ us,” she wrote.

On board the bus, bank worker Misbah agrees. “I really appreciate the service but we must tackle the root of the problem and make people take harassment seriously,” she said.

But the man behind the project, Ali Naqi Hamdani, says it is empowering women in a society where many are not permitted to leave the house without male accompaniment. “The women here are willing to go out to work, they’re willing to go out for education purposes but they don’t have such a conducive situation where they can feel secure in public transport,” he said.

“So it was very important that you provide them an environment where they step out of their homes, they feel secure before they reach their universities or their offices so they are encouraged to come out.”

The Tabeer project has been running for three weeks, with 12 vehicles in the capital, and is hoping to expand to other cities if there is enough demand.

Sana is already dreaming of moving on to drive the bus — for a shortage of female drivers means that currently the women-only bus has a man behind the wheel.

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