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17 Mar, 2014

German tour operator reports major Iran tourist boom

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 17 March 2014 (16 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.





Saudi Arabia’s Islamic sites to be developed in 3 years

Jeddah, Sunday 9 March 2014 – Arab News – The development of historic Islamic sites in the Kingdom would take three years, according to Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).

In a statement issued at the second Tourist Guides Forum hosted by Al-Ahsa municipality recently, Prince Sultan said this deadline was set by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. The Cabinet recently gave the go-ahead for the projects.

“The SCTA has been working over the past two weeks to restructure its executive bodies in accordance with the requirements of the resolution.”

He said the SCTA is working with the authorities in Madinah and Makkah to rehabilitate these sites, including where battles took place at Al-Khandaq, Uhud and Badr.

He said the tourism body was also working with the governor of Makkah to develop Jabal Al-Noor (Mountain of Light). This includes educating guides to ensure tourists are given correct information at the site. He said the King Abdullah project includes many Islamic and pre-Islamic sites.

Prince Sultan said he participated in the forum because he has been a qualified tour guide since 2004. He said the tourism sector has the potential to create many jobs for Saudis. The SCTA has so far licensed over 229 tourist guides in different categories.

Prince Sultan said Al-Ahsa is a “beautiful place with wonderful weather,” and has the potential to become a major tourism spot in the country, especially after the completion of the Al-Uqair and Al-Hofuf development projects.

“The Kingdom has thousands of natural and heritage sites in addition to marine, mountain and desert environments. But the most important thing is that the government believes that tourism is a job creator.”

Meanwhile, American Express (Amex) Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement with the SCTA to become the official and exclusive sponsor of the Saudi Excellence in Tourism Awards for the next three years.

The SCTA organizes the annual awards with the Saudi Voyager and Terhal magazines. It has become one of the most significant measures for quality standards in the tourism and hospitality sectors in the Kingdom.

The awards will for the first time this year have a series of regional qualifiers.

The candidates will compete for prizes in the 13 regions of the Kingdom to advance as winners to the national finals. A jury of national and international experts will assess the final winners.

Fahad Al-Gathami, chief executive officer of Amex Saudi Arabia, said he was pleased to have an opportunity to support the efforts of the SCTA in developing tourism in the Kingdom.

“The Saudi Excellence in Tourism Awards, for the fourth year, has proven to be a perfect measure for excellence in the tourism and accommodation sectors, and a means to recognize the efforts of excellent people who are devoting themselves to improving services and facilities in the Kingdom. Many of them are in fact customers of American Express in the Kingdom.”

Majed bin Ali Al-Sheddi, director general of information and public relations at the SCTA and editor in chief of the Saudi Voyager and Terhal magazines, welcomed the sponsorship because it would help develop the industry.

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Borneo Jazz Festival 2014 to be held May 9-10

MIRI, SARAWAK, March 10 (NNN-Agencies) — Borneo Jazz has announced its lineup for 2014. The annual jazz festival, now in its 9th year, will be held in Miri, Sarawak from the 9th to 10th May.

The impressive line-up this year includes acts who have really made it big in the world of jazz. This is in line with year of ‘double celebration’, the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY 2014) and Visit Sarawak Year 2014. Bands from Georgia, Cuba, Germany, Indonesia will be among the foreign participants.

From the local scene we have Diana Liu, the Sarawakian born artist who plays pop, jazz, bossa nova, gospel and funk/soul. She and her band members will represent Malaysia/USA/Taiwan. Among members of her band will be Malaysia’s very own drum virtuoso, Lewis Pragasam.

Entry tickets will go on sale in the last week of January 2014. More can be read at www.jazzborneo.com. Updates also available via STB’s Twitter account @SarawakTravel and Facebook at Sarawak Travel.

This annual event is organized by Sarawak Tourism Board, supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism Sarawak; and endorsed by Tourism Malaysia.

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Tourism Malaysia Targets Three Mln Indonesian Tourists

JAKARTA, Indonesia March 11 (NNN-Bernama) — Tourism Malaysia has targeted to get three million tourist arrivals from Indonesia in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year (TMM) 2014. Its director-general, Mirza Mohammad Taiyab said Indonesia, which has a population exceeding 200 million, has always been an important market to the Malaysian tourism industry.

He said the Indonesian tourist arrivals had increased in the last few years, making the republic the second highest tourists to visit Malaysia after Singapore last year.

“We hope the VMY2014 which offers over 260 activities and events could entice more Indonesian tourists to Malaysia,” he told reporters after launching the ‘Go More to Malaysia & Drive a Proton Home’ contest for Indonesian tourists visiting Malaysia here Tuesday.

Mirza said the Indonesian tourist arrivals were record high last year at 2.54 million, an increase of 6.9 percent compared to 2.38 million in 2012.

Meanwhile, Mirza said Tourism Malaysia targeted to woo 28 million tourists, apart from three million from Indonesia, and rake in RM76 billion in tourism revenue during the VMY2014 themed ‘Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia’.

He said in 2013, the Malaysian tourism revenue reached RM65.44 billion, up 8.1 per cent from RM60.56 billion in 2012 while tourist arrivals increased by 2.7 per cent to 25.7 million from 25 million in 2012.

On the contest, he said various prizes, including the grand prize of a Proton Preve, were up for grabs by Indonesian tourists during the VMY2014 from Jan 1 to Dec 31.

Other prizes are 10 United Bike bicycles, five Galaxy Note 3, 40 Malaysia Airlines air tickets, and 59 vouchers from Malaysia hotels.

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Malaysia: Sabah’s Danum Valley – Abode Of Naturalists And Tourists

LAHAD DATU, SABAH, March 14 (NNN-Bernama) — Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) — about 82 km from Lahad Datu town in Sabah state Borneo – is a nature’s heritage that not only hosts nature’s flora and fauna but also naturalists and tourists.

While researchers come to study the living forms and enjoy the pristine panorama of the 170 million old primeval rainforest, the visitors come to unwind in true natural settings far away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

Due to the uniqueness, the conservation area receives at least four scientists every month from various countries like Australia, United Kingdom, Germany and Netherlands to carry out various scientific studies and not to mention the loads of tourists who appreciate nature.

Located on the edge of Danum Valley Conservation Area, the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) established in 1986 has evolved into one of the foremost rainforest research establishments in South East Asia.

It extensive facilities include permanent research, well-equipped analytical laboratories, computer and email facilities, a library, climatic station data, phenology monitoring data base, trained field staff, and an extensive jungle trail that lures international and local naturalists.

A visitor from Germany, Franklyn Monte who came with a group of researcher said they went through an amazing experience in Danum Valley as it was different from other world heritage.

“The rain forest is one of the oldest in the world and in the morning you will find the place just stunning. We woke up before sunrise everyday to enjoy the jungle scenery with many animals in the canopy. Though, the accommodation was relatively very basic, but that did not bother us at all. It made our experience even more authentic. Danum Valley Field Center is not a tourist resort, it is a research and scientific facility allows visitors to explore the best of Borneo’s nature.

“We loved it and certainly we will come back again in the near future”, he said.

There is something therapeutic being surrounded by big and tall trees and singing birds and insects along the journey, this is especially for nature lovers.

“We were lucky enough to see few otters in one early morning on the river banks. Many birds, which we had never seen before and a variety of primates including, the red leaf monkey and the silver leaf monkey with babies, the amazing gibbon, the shy buck, butterflies and wild orchids and the wild orang utans that we got so close to was fascinating.

“The giant hornbills were another highlight and so is the elusive pygmy elephants. The jungle noises were amazing and something we felt from out of this world,” said Monte.

Meanwhile, Danum Valley ranked 3rd from the 98 attractions in Sabah by Trip Advisor with the place named the third most recommended World Heritage Site to visit.

A local and nature lover, Martin Chen, 42, said this was fantastic news and proved that the conservation area was a unique must-see destination.

Tourists consistently mentioned Danum Valley as one of the world’s heritage as a primary reason for visiting, and once here they find wild animals and flora and fauna, which are the most impressive aspects in eco-tourism.

This vote provided further proof of just how important the world heritage site for the next generation, and how efforts to preserve and promote serve as the key to Danum Valley’s future success, said Rezal Abdul Latiff, a local visitor.

Being a local, Rezal said rain forests were not alien to him and to many Malaysians, but what was really unique was that Danum Valley remained untouched.

Most of the trees there were of the ‘skyscraper’ variety and thus incredibly awe inspiring. “We had many amazing tracks through the forest, which cuts through incredibly thick jungle. There is a challenging and difficult trail called the “Nagatak Trail” or the “Disappearing Trail”, which was so overgrown”, said Rezal adding that visitors should engage a to avoid getting lost.

One solo traveler I chatted casually said; “I used to think the forest being a collection of trees, but I came away astonished that the forest is basically functions very much like a single living organism.

“I did not visit Danum Valley for the wild animals, but I was lucky enough to spot many wildlife like orang utan, flying squirrel, mousedeer, samba deer, a flying lemur, hornbill, an owl, singing sharma and a small herd of Borneo elephant.

Some it is not surprising when they say a trip to Danum Valley Conservation Area is a trip of a lifetime.

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Remittances to Pakistan rise to $10 billion

KARACHI, The Newspaper, 2014-03-12 : Remittances sent by overseas Pakistanis crossed $10 billion during the first eight months (July- Feb) of this fiscal year, indicating that the figure may reach record high during FY14.

The country received $13.9bn remittances during the last fiscal year. That was considered as a big figure which enlisted Pakistan among the top few countries like China, India and Philippine who receive large amounts from their citizens residing abroad.The State Bank reported on Tuesday that remittances during the eight-month period increased by 11 per cent to $10.2bn compared with $9.2bn in the same period of FY13.

Remittances, a key source to support the foreign exchange reserves of the country, improved to $3.92bn from $2.84bn during last month.

The increased remittances would further enhance the reserves level and reduce the current account deficit. Trade deficit, the real reason for higher current account deficit, also narrowed during the eight months, declining to $12.5bn from $13.2bn in the year-ago period. The details showed the remittances increased equally from all the countries, but mainly from the Middle East and United States.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the country’s forex reserves had improved from $7.59bn on Feb 7 to $9.37bn on March 7.

“The efforts of the government have started to show positive results and are on track to deliver what we had announced earlier that our forex reserves will reach around $10bn by the end of March,” he said.

He said larger inflows from multilateral and bilateral resources, forex flows through the capital markets and higher remittances have helped lift forex exchange reserves.

During the first half of FY14, Mr Dar said, there was some drain on the foreign exchange reserves, due mainly to the timing of large debt repayments. Some “speculative tendencies” were also seen putting pressure on the rupee’s value, he added. He said the government was following a carefully planned strategy to attract forex inflows from different sources. These inflows would further help improve the reserves position and channelise liquidity to private sector, the minister added.—APP

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German tour operator reports major Iran tourist boom

Berlin, March 12, IRNA – There is a major surge in the number of German tourists visiting Iran, according to a German tour operator.

Talking to IRNA on the sidelines of the just-concluded 48th ITB Berlin Tourism Fair, the director of the Germany-based Orient Express Travel Agency, Hartmut Niemann said, “The number of Iran bookings has risen four times more than the past and I expect that the number to increase even further over the next months.”

The great influx of tourists in Iran has apparently surprised Iranian tourism officials as there appears to be now a shortage of hotel rooms and experienced tour guides, he added.

Niemann stressed that German tourists to travel to Iran to witness not only modern urban Iran but also the ancient places in the country. German tourists also want to experience the unique hospitality and warmth of Iranians, he said.

Niemann pointed out that while historical cities like Shiraz and Isfahan remain the top destinations for German visitors, there is also a mounting interest in Iranian ecotourism.

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Mali Begins Rebuilding Mausoleums From Timbuktu’s ‘Golden Age’

United Nations, (UN News Centre) Mar 14 2014 – Local masons in Timbuktu today started to lay down the first earthen bricks to reconstruct World Heritage mausoleums damaged when militants occupied the northern part of the country in 2012.

“The rehabilitation of the cultural heritage of Timbuktu is crucial for the people of Mali, for the city’s residents and for the world,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), marking today’s ceremony.

“The very name Timbuktu sparks the imagination of millions of people in all parts of the planet,” she added. Timbuktu was an economic, intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa during the city’s golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries. According to UNESCO, the three mosques and the sixteen mausoleums comprising the property are part of the former great city of Timbuktu that once numbered 100,000 inhabitants.

The site was heavily destroyed by occupying extremists after fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels. The conflict uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and prompted the Malian Government to request assistance from France to stop the military advance of extremist groups.

The reconstruction of the mausoleums is being carried out by Malian masons under the supervision of Imam of Djingareyber.

The reconstruction, financed by Malian authorities and UNESCO, with contributions from Andorra, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Croatia and Mauritius, as well as logistical support from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), is expected to last one month.

“Today’s start of the reconstruction of Timbuktu’s mausoleums is important as they constitute an inalienable feature of the city’s identity whose very purpose is to protect its inhabitants,” said Albert Gerard Koenders, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MINUSMA.

The fighting also destroyed parts of the Djingareyber Mosque, one of three madrassas comprising the University of Timbuktu. It is believed to have been built around 1327, mostly out of straw and wood with some limestone reinforcements.

The emblematic El Farouk independence monument in the shape of a horse at the entrance to the city was also razed.

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Oman Air Named Second In List Of World’s Best Business Class Airlines

Oman Air has achieved second place in American Express Executive Travel’s 2014 Top 12 list of the Best Airlines for Business Class. In announcing the accolade, which was also published by CNN, Executive Travel praised Oman Air’s exemplary service, as well as its Business Class cabins and seats. Oman Air was beaten only by Singapore Airlines.

In compiling their list, Executive Travel established a number of baseline criteria, such as fully lie-flat beds, the amount of space between seats and easy access for passengers to the aisle. In addition, the magazine consulted a range of industry experts, including SeatGuru.com and Skytrax, which operates the World Airline Awards, a benchmark of airline excellence based on global surveys of millions of air travellers. The views of travellers, industry insiders, experienced flight attendants and travel bloggers also informed the decision-making process.

Salim Mohammed Al Kindy, Chief Technical Officer and the Acting CEO of Oman welcomed Executive Traveller’s announcement, commenting: “One of the keys to our success has been that we constantly review our product, listen to our customers and search for new ways to make our Business Class passenger experience even more special.

“That is why we were the first airline in the world to introduce complete inflight mobile phone and Wi-Fi connectivity in 2010, and why we have unveiled luxurious new Business Class lounges at Muscat and Bangkok airports, refined and elegant premium check-in facilities at Muscat, and complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers for Business Class passengers at many of our international destinations.

“Oman Air will continue to innovate and push the standards of Business Class travel ever-upward, and we look forward to delighting even more customers as our long haul fleet expands following the arrival later this year of the first of the 20 aircraft we currently have on order.”

Oman Air’s Airbus A330 aircraft each offers 20 Business Class seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration which ensures that every passenger enjoys direct aisle access. Every seat in the cabin converts to a fully lie-flat, 77-inch long bed and is accompanied by an ottoman, which enables face-to-face meetings and dining with fellow passengers. Furthermore, every Business Class passenger is able to enjoy Oman Air’s extensive range of inflight entertainment options via a 17-inch personal inflight entertainment monitor, which can also be used to access the internet, check emails and view personal electronic devices. Meanwhile, flight attendants offer the highest standards of service and a la carte dining puts Oman Air at the forefront of inflight fine dining.

Oman Air’s Business Class seat was named the best in the World by Skytrax, at the World Airline Awards, in 2011 and 2012, and came third in 2013, whilst the overall cabin came second in 2013.

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IDB, Dangote partnership to create jobs in Africa

Jeddah, Thursday, 12 Jamada Al Awwal 1434/ 13 March 2014 (IINA) – The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and Dangote Group will partner to boost job creation in Africa. This was the outcome of the visit by Dangote Group President and CEO Aliko Dangote during a one day visit to the headquarters of IDB in Jeddah.

Dangote, a Nigerian by nationality who has been listed by Forbes magazine as the 23rd richest person in the world with fortunes worth $25 billion, is a manufacturer with presence in 16 African countries producing cement, sugar and other value-added products.

Dangote’s Cement Plant in Obajana, Nigeria, is reputed to be one of the single largest cement plants in the world with an estimated capacity of 13.25 million tons per annum. He told IDB President Ahmad Mohamed Ali that the aim of his visit was to reconnect with IDB, where he once took loan through the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), one of the financing arms of IDB, and he has since repaid the loan.

Dangote stated that he will now be investing $1.2 billion in his foundation to work in various sectors such as education, health and job creation in Africa, and other parts of the world. “I am really amazed by the amount of work IDB is doing. I believe we need to work together to create jobs. China developed because the Chinese invested in the country. America is successful because the system is tied to job creation, so we must invest in Africa in order to create jobs,” he told the IDB staff during a town hall lecture.

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Indonesia to get its first Waldorf Astoria hotel

Hilton has signed a new management agreement with PT. Bali Ragawisata for the first Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts property in Indonesia.

Located in the exclusive Bukit Pandawa precinct in the south of Bali, approximately 10 kilometers away from the Ngurah Rai International Airport, the 96-villa Waldorf Astoria Bali is also the fourth hotel in the pipeline in Indonesia for the global hospitality group.

Perched 40 meters above sea level on a prime cliff-front land of Bali’s southernmost peninsula, Waldorf Astoria Bali will span a sprawling 13 hectares and offer 96 guestrooms, ranging from one-bedroom villas to six-bedroom suite villas. The resort will feature two specialty restaurants and a destination bar.

Waldorf Astoria Bali will also offer a range of exclusive events facilities with its wedding chapel, outdoor event lawn, event courtyard and a business center. The resort will have an outdoor sea-facing pool with a beach club, an 8,000 square-meter private beach as well as a health club and spa.

“Waldorf Astoria has experienced unrivaled growth in recent years as we continue to expand our footprint with iconic signings in landmark locations,” said John Vanderslice, global head, luxury brands, Hilton Worldwide. “Bali is an immensely popular tourist destination that is renowned for its rich culture and arts. Waldorf Astoria Bali will be perfectly placed to offer global luxury travelers a unique and inspirational environment where they can experience True Waldorf Service and unforgettable experiences.”

Waldorf Astoria Bali will be the brand’s second luxury property in Southeast Asia, the other being the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok.

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Canadian Univ Hosts Islam Awareness Week

OnIslam & Newspapers Wednesday, 12 March 2014 CAIRO – For years, the campus building of Canada’s University of Windsor has been hosting Islamic awareness week, allowing its Muslim students to present a true message about their faith and dispel media misconceptions.

“This whole week of events is meant to counteract the negative depictions of Islam,” Hanan Khaled, Muslim Student Association (MSA) executive member told Windsor Star.

“Our dedicated volunteers are there to explain what Islam is all about to those who have any questions,” Khaled added.

Held at the CAW student centre, the event from March 11 to 15 will include displays, literature and presentations about Islam. The first day of the Awareness Week included presentations titled “Why I Became a Muslim” by four reverts who shared their own experiences.

On Thursday, a lecture by Munir El-Kassem will illustrate the unique features of the Islamic scriptures under the title “Qur’an: A Light Amidst the Darkness,” at Vanier Hall’s Winclare A room at 6 pm.

“Our goal is to raise awareness and be available to address negative perceptions,” Rima Khaled, the director of the annual Awareness Week, told Windsor Star. “There are a lot of misconceptions because of the media but we’re here to say that we are normal, just like you,” added Khaled who stands amid the displays and information booths at the event.

The director of the annual cultural event argued that many people have a negative image of Islam believing that it oppresses women’s rights. “We have the whole set of rights and freedoms,” she said.

Khaled refuted the allegations that say Muslim women are obligated to cover and wear hijab. “We choose to wear the hijab.” Khaled stated. “Many people believe women are forced to wear the hijab and are oppressed,” she said.

“That’s a hot topic but it’s completely not true. It’s not a way to dress, it’s a way to act and has to do with character and attitude. It encompasses so much,” she added.

Organizers of the event has stressed that it doesn’t aim to “proselytize” students. “That’s definitely not the case,” Khaled, the director of the event, said. “It’s not our job. We are here answer questions and make people more aware,” she explained.

Trying hijab for the first time at the interactive Islamic event, a third year music and history student described it as a form of “modesty”.

“It is good to understand the real complete meaning and not see it as a form of oppression,” Sarah Mitchell, the music and history student, said.

“It’s a form of modesty. Men and women are seen as equals and responsible. There is a lot of ignorance about Islam. I find it very interesting. I don’t really believe in anything. I’m agnostic … But we need to be respectful to all, accepting and understanding.”

According to the organizers, the event received overwhelming positive feedbacks and was frequently visited by open minded people. Yet, there are some negative responses from other students who opposed the cultural event.

“There are some who just come to attack,” Khaled said. “They do not come to learn. It’s the way you handled it. You need to talk respectfully and professionally. We’ve had people yell. We don’t yell back. But most people are open minded and just want to learn about the faith.”

Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada’s 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the country. A survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.

Interfaith events usually help in correcting misconceptions about Muslims which resulted in a sharp increase in anti-Muslim views among Canadians

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Canada Honors Young Muslim Girl

OnIslam & Newspapers Wednesday, 12 March 2014 CAIRO – A young Muslim girl has received the new Respectful Citizenship Award from the governor of Wolfville in eastern Canadian maritime province of Nova Scotia in recognition of her efforts in building interfaith relations and collecting charity for those in need.

“She is kind, conscientious and mature beyond her years,” Angie Rushton, the teacher of grade 8 Douah Shakshuki, told the Kings County Register. “She lives it.”

Donning her Islamic headscarf, or hijab, Shakshuki appeared recently to pick up her award. The grade 8 student was nominated by her teacher who described her as a hard working student and natural leader.

The distinguished abilities of Shakshuki appeared when she was in Grade 6. The young girl organized and presented a cultural power point which allowed her to explain to her classmates the reasons behind her hijab.

Along with her efforts to correct misconceptions surrounding her faith, the young Muslim student has also been active in charity work, participating in a ‘Free the Children’ well project at Wolfville School.

She and two friends have also been holding craft and baking sessions as a way of paying it forward. Receiving the award from Wolfville’s Lieutenant Governor J.J. Grant, Shakshuki described the event as inspirational, giving her an opportunity to listen to the accomplishments of other students.

Being the youngest in her family, she added that her older siblings and parents were good role models for her.

Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada’s 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the North American country. A recent survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.

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US Muslims Launch Umbrella Group

OnIslam & News Agencies Thursday, 13 March 2014 WASHINGTON DC – Leaders of ten major national American Muslim organizations have come together to announce the launch of an umbrella group that will serve as a representative voice for Muslims as that faith community seeks to enhance its positive impact on society.

“This is an announcement which has been long-awaited by the Muslim-American community,” Oussama Jammal, secretary general of the newly formed U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), said in a press conference on Wednesday, March 12, Anadolu Agency reported.

“We’re delighted that these major organizations have gotten together in response to the aspirations and hopes of the American Muslim community to have a voice and an umbrella organization.”

It includes ten organizations namely; the Mosque Cares, Muslim American Society (MAS), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North American (ICNA), Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), American Muslim Alliance (AMA) and The Mosque Foundation (Chicago).

Nihad Awad, the executive director of CAIR, said that the formation of the group, which took more than two years, will help Muslim-Americans to better communicate with one another, and with the American public.

The new national council’s first priority will be to build on Muslim citizenship rights by conducting a census of American Muslims to create a database that will be used to enhance civic and political participation in upcoming elections.

“A detailed census will allow the larger Muslim community to better participate in our nation’s political process,” Jammal said.

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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Bishkek Named Capital of Islamic Culture

OnIslam & News Agencies Friday, 14 March 2014 CAIRO – Bishkek, the capital city of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, has been declared the capital of Islamic culture in 2014, hosting five month activities to mark the event.

The announcement was made last Wednesday when Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prime minister, Kamila Taliyeva, hosted a meeting to arrange events held between May 20 and October 19, World Bulletin website reported on Thursday, March 13.

The events include art exhibitions, film festivals, workshops, conferences and a trade fair. After the meeting, a government press statement said that the activities would be aimed at promoting and developing Islamic culture as well as strengthening cultural ties between the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Bishkek has several historical buildings and museums, and boasts vast expansions of natural heritage.

It is considered one of the most famous economic, cultural and tourist centers in the country, and one of Central Asia’s best cities to live in, due to its ability to create balance between its old traditional heritage and modern aspirations.

The name of Bishkek is thought to be derived from Russian “bishkek”, which means the churn used to make fermented mare’s milk (Kumis), the Kyrgyz national drink, ISESCO website says.

The city was founded in 1878 on the ruins of the Russian Pishpek Fortress built in 1855. Hence, the name “Bishkek” was given to both the fortress and the neighboring city.

In 1926, the city was given the name of Frunze, after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze. The city regained its name in 1991, when the Republic of Kyrgyzstan achieved its independence. Muslims make up 75 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s 5-million population.

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Azerbaijan to develop “halal” products’ market

Azer News / 10 Mar 2014 – The renewed ‘halal’ standard will soon be applied in Azerbaijan’s food market that almost fully covers its consumers’ demand. The State Committee for Standardization, Metrology, and Patents will sanction the new “halal” standard in April 1, 2014, to protect consumers’ rights, prevent unhealthy competition, and increase public confidence in the domestic market.

The requirements are based on Islamic rules and extend to ingredients, preparation rules, storage, transportation, and employee requirements for production facilities. This standard will set requirements on special packing, marking, export, and import.

The new quality standard is expected to boost “halal” products in the market and lead to positive tendencies.

“The new standard will increase competition among local producers, which will lead to price reduction,” expert of the Center for Economic and Social Development Narmin Ibrahimova told AzerNews. “Furthermore, the new quality standard will promote the use of new technologies.”

She said “halal” products will increase the consumers’ confidence and the demand for these products in the country. “The new quality standard will have a positive impact on the export potential of such products, as the standard will meet respective international standards,” she concluded.

Islam has the dominating position in Azerbaijan, since approximately 95 percent of its population is Muslims. Naturally, “halal” products, which are allowed to eat or drink under the Islamic law, are in high demand among Muslims.

Azerbaijan’s local market offers a range of various “halal” foodstuffs for customers, which mainly include sausages and chicken products. The customers believe that the label “halal” means the products really meet all the requirements of this standard.

Halal certification is the recognition that the products are permissible under Islamic law. These products are thus edible, drinkable, or usable by Muslims. Muslim followers cannot consume pork or pork-related products, animals that were dead prior to slaughtering, animals not slaughtered properly or not slaughtered in the name of God, and products that have blood.

Azerbaijan approved three state “halal” standards which came into force on August 1, 2012. Until now none of the meat-food producers has ever applied to the Committee for getting the standards and produce fully “halal” food products.

The State Committee said the enterprises selling such goods will be given time to change the labels of the products, otherwise such products will be removed from the market. The Committee will carry out its monitoring after April 1, and in case of finding cases of groundless label “halal”, measures aimed at suspending sale and production, as well as penalties, will be applied against the producers.

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“Halal industry” on rise in Kazakhstan

Islam-Today / 12 Mar 2014 – According to media reports, so-called “halal industry” is booming in Kazakhstan – local advertising companies add the Muslim sacred concept in the names of various goods and services.

Milk, meat products and even chewing gum – products labeled “halal” captivated Almaty. In the Kazakh capital, besides cafes, there are also halal Technical Services and even saunas, which are available exclusively for couples only with marriage certificate.

Mass obsession with halal of Kazakhstan are shocking Muslim clerics. In particular, the imam of Shymkent is sure that the concept of “Halal” cannot be applied to the entire row, and believes that it is necessary to punish those who engage in such blasphemy.

Meanwhile, the halal industry in Kazakhstan is gaining momentum, – World 24 says. Thus, stylists, dentists and even taxis already work under the popular “brand”.

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“Muslim World” Forum begins in Perm

islam.ru / 13 Mar 2014 – The opening ceremony of “Muslim World” IV Interregional Forum was held in Perm. The event is organized by the Government of the Perm region, the Administration of city of Perm with the assistance of Muslim Spiritual Administration of Perm region.

The Forum has become a significant project for the Russian regions. It is an unique event in the country, aimed at developing a culture of peoples, who practice Islamic lifestyle, and at the harmonization of religious and inter-ethnic relations.

“This forum is an exhibition and a fair of subjects relating to modern life of Muslim of the region at the same time. Halal products of local manufacturers, garments and household will be displayed during the work of the forum. Exhibits of Islamic history and culture of the Prikamye region and other regions of the district will be presented in the pavilion 2,” said the organizers of the event.

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Catholic Church accused of hiding Cordoba Cathedral’s Islamic history

AFP / 14 Mar 2014 – Spanish campaigners accuse the country’s Catholic Church of trying to cover up the Islamic history of Cordoba Cathedral, a world heritage site that was originally a mosque. It is one of the most famous Islamic sites in Europe, but those coming to learn about that are left none the wiser by the information leaflets given out to tourists, critics say.

“For the citizens of Cordoba, what has hurt our feelings is that they have cut off the name and the memory of the monument,” said Antonio Manuel Rodriguez, a law professor at Cordoba University. He is a member of a secular group of local campaigners who have gathered 146,000 signatures on a petition demanding that the common Islamic and Christian heritage of the site be recognised. The acclaimed British architect Norman Foster is among the signatories, as well as many Spanish writers and scientists and moderate Catholics.

A historical jewel in the southern city that was a capital of Islamic Spain in the Middle Ages, the building with its cobbled patios and minaret draws more than a million visitors each year. The entry ticket visitors receive bids them “welcome to the Santa Iglesia Cathedral”, but does not mention that the building, now administered by the church, was a mosque for centuries.

“Over the past few years, the Diocese of Cordoba has erased the term ‘mosque’ from all the information leaflets of what is recognised worldwide as a symbol of cultural harmony,” the “Save the Cordoba Mosque” petition says. This “offers millions of tourists a distorted historical account, which crudely adulterates the essence of a complex building and an emblem of diversity.”

The visitors’ leaflets point out that a mosque was built on the site of a Visigoth church in the eighth century, but skims over its next 500 years as a place of worship for Muslims at the height of the Islamic rule in southern Spain. UNESCO, in its listing of Cordoba’s historic centre as a world heritage site, highlighted its place in the Andalusia region’s golden age, which began with its conquest by the Moors in the eighth century.

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Gaafu Alifu Vilingili road development project implemented

Sun.mv March 11, 2014 – The road development project in Gaafu Alifu Vilingili – part of the government’s efforts to develop roads in all islands across the country – has been implemented today.

The Vilingili road construction project, carried out by Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC), was inaugurated by former President of Vilingili Council Saud Hussain and Managing Director of MRDC Ibrahim Nazeem.

Nazeem told Sun Online that this project will see the construction of 50 km of road in Vilingili.

MRDC, which has been awarded projects to develop roads in seven islands, said that 6 km of roads will be completed in Vilingili by mid-2014.

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Qatar Airways to enhance business class

Sun.mv – March 12, 2014 – Qatar Airways has announced an upgrade of Business Class seats and entertainment systems on a number of Airbus A330-200 and A320 aircraft.

Part of an on-going customer enhancement project, modifications to seven A330-200 and nine A320 aircrafts have commenced, and are expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2014, revealed Qatar Airways on Thursday.

“I firmly believe in providing our passengers with the best levels of service and the best available in-flight product,” said Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer.

Qatar Airways’ Business Class seating on upgraded A320 and A330 will recline into a 180-degree lie-flat bed. The seats feature six-way adjustable headrests, four-way adjustable lumbar support, a variety of personal stowage compartments, privacy dividers and fresh contemporary styling.

Business Class on both aircrafts will feature new 15.4 inch smart monitors, USB ports for smart devices, and a state of the art Panasonic inflight entertainment system on the A330 aircrafts.

Under the enhancement program, Qatar Airways will fit its A330 aircraft with Panasonic Global Communications Suite onboard connectivity, and both the A330 and A320 will also have the capability of sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages.

The enhanced A320 aircraft will operate to Maldives, Vienna, Tunis, Milan, Rome and Geneva routes while the upgraded A330s will operate on the Barcelona, Osaka, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Phuket routes.

Qatar Airways currently flies a fleet of 32 A320s, 16 A330-200s, 13 A330-300s and four A340-600s that are deployed on a variety of routes across its network.

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Japan to lend Tunisia $480 million

Tokyo, 11 Jamada Al Awwal 1434/ 12 March 2014 (IINA) – Japan has agreed to lend Tunisia 750 million dinars ($480 million) to support the transition to democracy in the North African country where the Arab Spring began, Deputy Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki said on Tuesday.

The money, which will be split into two loans, will be allocated to finance infrastructure and energy projects in Tunisia, which is struggling to revive its economy.

A caretaker government has taken over to run Tunisia until elections later this year, ending months of crisis. But despite political progress, high living costs and a lack of economic opportunities remain the major concerns for many Tunisians.

“Japan agreed to lend Tunisia 750 million dinar and we will continue to support Tunisia’s transition”, Saiki said after meeting Tunisian president. Tunisia plans to issue around $2 billion in foreign bonds including $1 billion with guarantees from Japan, Chadli Ayari, the central bank governor, told Reuters in interview last month.

Tunisia has already secured $1.2 billion in loans from the World Bank and another $500 million from the International Monetary Fund earlier this year. The European Investment Bank (EIB) will lend Tunisia 500 million euros ($690 million) to support its democratic transition in 2014, EIB Vice President Philippe de Fontaine told Reuters last week. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said this month that external borrowing needs this year would be nearly double previous budget estimates at around $8 billion, mainly because of rising public sector pay.

The North African country’s economy relies heavily on European tourism and is still recovering from the aftermath of its political upheaval three years ago

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Campaign to promote tolerance launched in Jeddah

Jeddah, Sunday, 08 Jamada Al Awwal 1434/ 09 March 2014 (IINA) – A 68-day youth ethics campaign promoting tolerance in society was launched in Jeddah on Thursday by the non-profit organization Rekaaz.

The campaign, titled “A Tolerant Person is a Winner,’ is based on a study conducted in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on major social issues. The study found a lack of tolerance among youth was the cause of many problems in society.

Addressing a press conference, Rekaaz’s Secretary-General Ahmad Asiri said, “We chose the topic after closely analyzing the results of a study conducted by Rekaaz on social problems among the GCC youth. The findings showed that verbal violence, social and family disintegration and sectarianism are the main problems faced by youth. About 51 percent of the respondents were victims of verbal violence and intolerance while 31 percent believed intolerance, bad behavior and disrespecting elders were the main negative tendencies among the GCC youth.”

The campaign targets young men and women between 15 and 25 who will be encouraged to take part in innovative activities at gyms and shopping malls in six major Saudi cities: Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Yanbu, Taif and Abha.

“The campaign is tailored with educational, national and humanitarian dimensions in order to promote healthy interactions between members of society, reject extremism, sectarianism and intolerance to other religions, cultures and ethnicities. We are open to new ideas and partnerships, in addition to expanding ethics campaigns in the Kingdom to reach other regions and different population segments in society,” he added.

The campaign will be accompanied by a three-part tolerance promotion competition. A team of specialists will evaluate videos, photographs and stories that are submitted via www.rekaaz.com. Winners will be chosen depending on the number of votes they get from the jury and audience.

Rekaaz aims to promote religious and human values to improve the quality of social life for young people of both sexes in the GCC. It is also engaged with civil society and government organizations in order to strengthen understanding, dialogue, acceptance of others and ties between different members of society. Maher Zein, a Swedish Muslim R&B singer of Lebanese origin, will sing the campaign’s title song.

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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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Russell Crowe’s film to put Kayaköy on the map

MUĞLA – Anadolu Agency – Officials in the western province of Fethiye’s Kayaköy district hope the filming of some scenes of Australian actor Russell Crowe’s latest film “The Water Diviner” at the district’s ancient site will contribute to raising the profile of the area.

The shooting of the Istanbul portion of the film started on Feb. 26. The film, which is set between 1914 and 1919, focuses on a father from New Zealand-born Crowe’s adopted homeland of Australia who travels to Turkey in 1919. There, he hopes to discover what has happened to his two sons, both of whom have gone missing following the battle for Gallipoli. The film scenes will show Istanbul under occupation.

Turkish actors Cem Yılmaz and Yılmaz Erdoğan are also starring in the film, which was show in the city’s Sultanahmet, Balat and Çemberlitaş neighborhoods and in the Topkapı Palace. The film crew arrived on March 9 in the Kayaköy village and started working to create the film platform. They decorated some walls and telephone poles in the area with artificial plants. The producers are creating stalls out of wood for a market scene that will be shot for the film.

The Turkish Travel Agencies Union (TÜRSAB) Western Mediterranean Regional President Salih Taşçı said Fethiye had been rising in popularity. He recalled that some scenes of the latest film in the James Bond series “Skyfall” were also shot in Fethiye in 2012 and provided great exposure for the region, especially among British tourists.

Taşçı said that they were excited to wait for famous actor Crowe to come to Kayaköy in the coming days. “The number of Kayaköy visitors, which was nearly 60,000 in 2013, will increase two-fold, I am sure,” he said. “It is already a quite popular place; I think it is a chance for Turkey and the Fethiye region that the film is being made here. Fethiye is not only known for its sea, sand and sun but also for Kayaköy, the place of historic cities of Lycia civilization.”

Taşçı said that thanks to the film, officials would start moving to save Kayaköy’s old houses, which were on the verge of crumbling and waiting for restoration. In this way, Fethiye will take a greater share of culture tourism, he added.

Taşçı said that lots of Turkish artists had starred in films shot in Kayaköy many years ago, adding that it was a natural film setting.

“Now we appeal to the British market. The fact that such a Hollywood film will be made in Kayaköy will create a serious interest in our region. It is a big gain for our region that renowned Turkish artists Erdoğan and Yılmaz will be in the shootings,” he said.

The hillside village of Kayaköy, which is located in the western province of Muğla, is located eight kilometers south of Fethiye, and was lived in by Anatolian Greeks until 1923, when the populations of Greece and Turkey were exchanged. The town now consists of hundreds of rundown, but still mostly intact, houses and churches.

Known as Karmylassos in the ancient era, Kayaköy was launched as a protected archaeological site in 1988.

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Istanbul’s historic underground tops list of 10 weirdest transport alternatives

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – Tünel, a short underground railway line in Istanbul, Turkey, has been rated “as one of the strangest transport alternatives in the world,” according to an article published by bizjournals.com on March 10.

Inaugurated on Jan. 17, 1875, Tünel, as the second-oldest subterranean urban rail line in the world, was designed as “a kind of elevator ascending and descending” on a steep hill descending to the Golden Horn shores from Beyoğlu and Taksim. Originally, one of its wooden cars, powered by steam engines, was used to transport goods, animals and even horse-drawn carriages.

Other “weird” transport alternatives on the list included Vietnam’s iconic tricycle taxi, the Canal Taxi in Bangkok, “the chicken bus” in Central America, “the camel bus” in Cuba, the Maglev train in Shanghai, the Chiva express in Eduardo, the Hovercraft in the U.K., the Ice Angel in the U.S. and traditional carts fitted with modern engines in Cambodia.

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Afghan women compete in cricket world

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-03-11 KABUL – Diana Barakzai is starting to see the fruits of her struggle to boost women’s cricket’s popularity in Afghanistan.

Barakzai, the national women’s cricket team captain, and her family returned to Kabul in 2009 after spending several years in Pakistan as refugees as they avoided the Taliban’s oppression. One of the things she and her three sisters brought back and wanted to share was a love for cricket.

Since her return to Afghanistan, cricket’s popularity has increased, and the country now has 18 provincial teams and 370 participants, according to Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) statistics. Cricket fans credit Barakzai, 25, as a force behind the growth in popularity.

When she was growing up, many people looked down at the prospect of girls playing cricket, but her family encouraged her to do what she enjoyed, Barakzai told Central Asia Online in an exclusive interview. “We didn’t have a ground, so I made a pitch at my home for girls to play,” she said.

Her father provided land for the pitch and the girls prepared the fields themselves, making their wicket from bricks instead of wood.

When the national women’s team was formed in 2010, everyone was an amateur with modest dreams. Its members got a taste of success in 2012 when they won three matches and tied a fourth in a tournament in Tajikistan.

Now, more opportunities are opening up. The team plans to travel soon to the UAE to practice with Saudi Arabia and improve its skills. The team would also like to play in the Asia Challenge Cup, but they will have to earn a slot in that tournament.

“I want to change the ideas the Afghan people have regarding women’s sports,” Barakzai said, adding that she hopes to see the women’s team represent its country in larger contests abroad. Cricket is more than a sport in Afghanistan, ACB CEO Dr. Noor Muhammad Murad told Central Asia Online, adding that women want to be able to do the same things as men.

“The sport can unlock the gates to progress in society,” ACB Domestic Manager Nazeem Jaar Abdulrahimzai said. “It is a model for change in society that can help eliminate a negative mindset.”

Not only can cricket change societal norms, but it can help unify the country, observers contend. Nothing exhilarates the country and brings it together like a celebration of national heroes, Barakzai said.

Watching both our men’s and women’s teams makes us proud, journalist Hezbullah Atal said.

Men’s and women’s cricket still have a very small following in Afghanistan, where football is the biggest draw for spectators. But Barakzai and others who love the game hope the sport will grow in popularity, especially as the national teams gain acclaim in international tournaments.

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Bangladesh Railway to build two 5-star hotels in Dhaka, Chittagong

DHAKA, March 13, 2014 (BSS) – Bangladesh Railway (BR) has decided to construct two five start standard hotels and three shopping malls with hotel-cum guest houses involving Tk 22,272 million under the public-private partnership (PPP) concept.

“Two five star category hotels, shopping malls and hotel- cum- guest houses would be built involving Taka 22,272 million to increase the earnings of BR,” an official told BSS. He said the Railway Ministry has taken initiative to build two five star standard hotels, shopping malls and hotels-cum guest houses in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Comilla on railway’s unused land.

“We have huge unused land for establishing business centres for earning revenue to contribute to the national economy,” the official said.

According to the project, in Dhaka, the railway has proposed the hotel on 3.59 acres of railway land at Zoar shahara Mouza, Khilkhet, under PPP involving Taka 7,500 million. Another one would be built at Zakir Hossain Road in Chittagong under the same concept involving Taka 8,500 million.

A source in the BR said the ministry has sent the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the project for Chittagong with some amendments to the PPP office regulated by the Prime Minister’s Office on February 4, 2014.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the project on November 14, 2013. The government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took various projects involving Taka 24,000 crore to improve the railway.

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Bangladesh Conference shines light on women entrepreneurs

DHAKA, Mar 13, 2014 (BSS) – A day-long conference for entrepreneurs brought together nearly 500 successful women entrepreneurs to showcase their products and share experiences on building theirs ventures. The Women Entrepreneurs Conference and Product Exhibition was organised by SME and Special Programme Department of Bangladesh Bank (BB) in city’s Ruposhi Bangla Hotal.

BB governor Dr Atiur Rahman inaugurated the conference and exhibition as the chief guest, saying insufficient financing is barring the empowerment of the women. But, the government and Bangladesh Bank have been working for the development and evolvement of women entrepreneurship wiping up the barriers, they are involving more women in economic activities, he added.

Referring to the adequate refinancing fund for women, the BB governor said, “Bangladesh Bank will continue refinance in the SME sector for the women till there is demand. I believe the SME loan will continue even after my departure from the post of governor, as the SME sector is a successful case now.”

Mikio Hataeda, JICA chief representative in Bangladesh, Prof Hannana Begum, Bangladesh Bank Director, Kazi Akram Uddin Ahmed, President of FBCCI, Rokia Afzal Rahman, President MCCI, Jamie Terzi, Country Director Care Bangladesh, Ali Reza Iftekhar,President of ABB, Asad Khan, Chairman of BLFCA, Mohammad Shahjahan Khan, President of DCCI, Sukamal Sinha Chowdhury and BB deputy governor Abul Kashem also spoke on the occasion.

BB executive director Nirmal Chandra Bhakta presided over the inaugural session while Masum Patwary, BB General Manager of SME and Special Programme, gave welcome address.

Nearly 500 successful women entrepreneurs from different parts of the country funded by 64 banks and non-banking financial institutions took part in the conference. The products of the women entrepreneurs were also displayed in 78 stalls in the conference premises.

Besides, two panel discussions on “Women in Business:Networking and Organisation” and “Responsibility of Different Stakeholders in Women SME Development” were held with the participation of experts, bankers and entrepreneurs.

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The Netherlands to invest more in ICT sector

DHAKA, March 13, 2014(BSS)-The Netherlands has expressed keen interest to invest in the fast growing information and communication technology (ICT) sector of Bangladesh.

“Bangladesh’s advancement in the ICT sector is excellent and we are eager to invest more here to boost the IT sector,” said The Netherlands Ambassador to Bangladesh Gerben de Jong who led a six-member delegation during a meeting with State Minister for Post, Telecommunications and Information Technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak at his Agargaon office here today.

The minister appraised the delegation about the already implemented-projects of ICT sector and the ongoing ones that would help ICT’s contribution to economy and generation of employment.

The ambassador said the internationally reputed organizations would also feel encouraged to invest here as a positive image has been created with the progress of the ICT sector.

He also expressed that The Netherlands is willing to work together with Bangladesh and continue to provide support and cooperation to carry forward the development of Bangladesh. Acting secretary to the ICT Division Kamal Uddin Ahmed was also present.

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Dhaka, Chittagong to go on Google Map in May

DHAKA, Mar 10, 2014 (BSS) – Google Map would start showing streets, attractions and major establishments of Dhaka and Chittagong cities in May as the search engine giant is near to complete collection of 360-degree street-level imageries.

After the official announcement from Google, people around the world would be able to see panoramic view of Dhaka and Chittagong cities with all major establishments, historical and tourist attractions, restaurants and offices.

The street view of Google Map will allow people virtually explore the two major cities including the major landmarks, historical places, tourist attractions, shopping malls, restaurants, parks and playgrounds and businesses.

“Google has nearly completed collection of images of Dhaka and Chittagong cities and some highways in the first phase of its programme in Bangladesh,” Kabir Bin Anwar, Project Director of

Access to Information (a2i) programme of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) told BSS. Kabir, also the director general of PMO, said the street view services of Google Map for the two major cities would be launched in May.

He said the Google Street View Car so far collected images of 100 archaeological sites of the country. It will bring few more cars to do the same jobs for including more cities and towns of Bangladesh in its one of the popular apps.

On February 9, 2013, Google Inc launched it “street view” project in Bangladesh. The PMO and the Post and Telecommunication and Information Technology Ministry assigned the search engine giant to capture the street view in the two cities. Google is bearing all the expenses of the project.

Launched in the United States in 2007, Google Street View so far included over 3000 cities and towns of 40 countries across the world.

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Int’l Women Film Festival kicks off at National Museum

DHAKA, March 10, 2014 (BSS) -The first International Women Film Festival in Bangladesh kicked off today at the National Museum and Public Library at Shahbagh in the city.

State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroze Chumki inaugurated the three-day festival as the chief guest.

Women Film Society Bangladesh organized the festival. The theme of the festival is “Films in the eyes of Women”. The function was devoted to first filmmaker of Bangladesh Rebeka.

A total of 25 films of women filmmakers from 16 countries will be screened in the festival. On March 11 and 12, the films from home and abroad will be screened at 11 am, 2 pm and 5 pm at the two venues and the entire festival is open for all.

The countries noted women filmmakers were awarded on the occasion. They are Kohinur Aktar Suchanda, Shamim Akhtar, Nargis Aktar, Samia Zaman, Shahnewaz Kakali and Afia Parvin Mousumi. Meher Afroze Chumki urged the women filmmakers to make more films for the empowerment of the women.

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Bangladesh, Philippines to allow easier access for officials, diplomats

DHAKA, March 11, 2014 (BSS) – Bangladesh and the Philippines signed a Visa Waiver agreement for official and diplomatic passport holder recently.

Maj. Gen. John Gomes (rtd), Ambassador of Bangladesh to Philippines, and Albert F Del Rosario, Secretary (Foreign Ministry) of the Philippines signed the agreement on behalf of their respective governments.

Under the provisions of this agreement, the holders of diplomatic and official passports from both the countries will be allowed to enter, transit through, or stay in the territory of either country for up to 30 days without obtaining a visa.

The signing of the agreement is expected to significantly contribute to expand areas of cooperation between the two friendly countries.

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Islamic Online University (IOU) holds awareness day

Riyadh, Tuesday, 10 Jamada Al Awwal 1434/ 11 March 2014 (IINA) – The Islamic Online University (IOU) in Riyadh recently organized an awareness day to discuss the need for Muslim experts in various fields, including finance, education, psychology and missionary work (dawah).

Guest speaker Bilal Philips and IOU students highlighted to the attendees the importance of education and congratulated the first batch of students for graduating from the Islamic studies program (BAIS). IOU student-committees across the world organized an IOU awareness day to share the recent launch of the online authentic Islamic knowledge courses.

The event was commemorated in many locations including Dubai, Pakistan, India, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Kenya, and the United Kingdom, amongst other countries. IOU’s motto “Changing the Nation through Education,” reflects the university’s goal to reach as many individuals seeking to learn about Islam as possible.

Mohammad Abu Shabaan, another guest speaker, stressed that the core source of knowledge in Islam is the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Abu Shabaan entertained the audience with his stories and experiences in dawah. He concluded by highlighting that through knowledge and education one can achieve success in this world and the next.

IOU aims to provide high quality and authentic Islamic education to Muslims across the world. The university initially began by offering diploma programs when it launched in 2007 and now offers students bachelor degrees in Islamic Studies (BAIS). There is a special bridge to obtain a masters’ program (BMAIS), designed for those who want to join the masters program but do not have a prior bachelors degree in Islamic Studies.

To maintain a high standard of education, IOU has based its curriculum on the curricula of the Islamic University of Madinah, Omdurman Islamic University in Sudan and Al-Azhar University of Cairo. Arjumand Warsy, professor at King Saud University, stressed the importance of seeking knowledge by quoting many verses.

“A Muslim cannot succeed with merely worldly knowledge and a professional degree in science or arts, however, it is Islamic knowledge that will guide individuals to reap maximum benefits in this life and the next,” she said.

She urged the audience to participate in learning and spreading Islamic knowledge. The event included various interactive sessions presented by the IOU-Riyadh student body. Student representatives explained the various study programs offered, the registration process and the services offered by IOU. The audience enthusiastically participated and won prizes in the Islamic quiz conducted during the intervals of the program.

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OIC marks Women’s Day to empower women

Jeddah, Tuesday, 10 Jamada Al Awwal 1434/ 11 March 2014 (IINA) – The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) celebrated International Women’s Day at its headquarters on Sunday.

This is the first time that the organization held an event to mark the occasion in support and appreciation of women and their role in society. The OIC event focused in particular on Muslim women and the challenges they face, whether at home, at work or in society. The OIC is mandated to explore opportunities for women to take part in the development of Muslim society and enhance their capacity in order to enable them to play an active role in all walks of life in its 57 member states. Invitees were briefed on the various programs, projects and activities undertaken by the OIC to empower women and advance their status during numerous presentations made by the organization’s different departments.

The OIC highlighted its programs, projects and activities in various fields, such as education, health, humanitarian, economy and human rights domains, in support of women in the Muslim world. The celebration included a photo and caricature exhibition and a short film highlighting the obstacles to women enjoying their full rights. The event also highlighted achievements and success stories of women in those states. Ambassador Abdullah Ali, assistant secretary-general for Political Affairs, welcomed invitees from the diplomatic corps, intellectuals and media personalities on behalf of Secretary-General Iyad Madani.

Ali said that the anniversary demonstrates the interest and honor devoted to Muslim women by expressing collective pride in their distinctive status and roles, confirmation of their legitimate rights and unwavering support for their contributions as full-fledged partners in construction, development and progress in the Muslim world.

The event was celebrated under the slogan “Equality for women is progress for all,” reflecting an approach that has become a prerequisite for women’s empowerment. The event also sought to address the conditions of economic vulnerability, social exclusion and injustice under which Muslim women live, which include deprivation of education and the right to a decent life.

Ali said that the OIC believes that helping women improve their status and strengthening the role of legislative bodies will guarantee women protection against discrimination and violence and would ensure their participation in the development and decision-making process. Member states had adopted an action plan for women’s advancement based on political commitments and pledges made by the Extraordinary Islamic Summit Conference in Makkah in 2005.

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Tutong District the Next Tourist Attraction

Saturday, 15 March 2014 Brudirect.com – Tutong: The Tutong district has great potential for the tourism industry in the Sultanate as authority is taking measures to develop the District as the next tourist attraction, said the Tutong District Officer yesterday.

The move will fulfil the needs of the community in the district whereby it is in line with government efforts to diversify the country’s tourism industry and economy as a whole. The Tutong District Officer, Awang Wardi Hj Md Ali made the remarks during a visit to places of interest in Tutong yesterday.

He mentioned that villages have interesting products to develop and promote. The only things lacking are facilities to add value and attraction to the places.

The District Officer stated that talks would be held with tourism agencies to get feedback on what need to be improved and he hoped the visit would produce positive results.

The visit to tourist destinations in the Tutong District was the second phase that intended to promote the places as the districts future products. Several places have been identified as having potential include Wasai Bedanu Recreation Parks supervised by the Kampong Kiudang Consultative Council.

Meanwhile, the area that processes and produces the health drink namely 3MPK Herbal Tea is developing the product as part of the villager’s economic activities. Antique and handicraft collections as well as the sago mill in Mukim Ukong are among places that could be visited by locals and foreigners alike.

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2nd Phase of Sungai Ingei Research Project launched in Brunei

Saturday, 15 March 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: After the success of the First Faunal Biodiversity Survey in Sungai Ingei Conservation Forest, Heart of Borneo Centre launched the second phase of the Sungai Ingei research project entitled ‘Faunal Biodiversity Survey in the Extension Zone of the Proposed Belait Basin Wildlife Sanctuary’.

This week National Development Plan segment will be focusing on the project funded by the Government of Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan and the Yang Di-Pertuan of Negara Brunei Darussalam. The research project group departed for Sungai Ingei on February 28 to begins the research on mammals using high technology camera trap and advance video equipment.

The second phase of this project will take three years to complete and will involve South Ulu Belait area towards the North in Melilas and few other areas such as Sungai Rawai up to Bukit Teraja protection forest, Sungai Biadong and Bukit Ulu Tutong.

Researchers will also cover a few water catchment areas in Ulu Teraja, Ulu Belait and Ulu Ingei focusing on wildlife behavioural and movement and migration patterns of various fish species and predators-prey relationship among various mammal species.

The project that cost BND$1.46 million, a management plan will be developed for the sole purpose of the wildlife sanctuary and with buffer zones with the Sungai Ingei at the core.

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Gambia: ‘GTBoard Committed to All-Year-Round Tourism Goal’

The Daily Observer – 14 March 2014 – The Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) under the purview of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture is making relentless efforts to achieve the Gambia’s all-year-round tourism goal, as it has embarked on aggressive marketing of the destination.

The Board has since developed e-marketing strategies and other forms of promotional activities including the appointments of more public relations agencies to further create awareness and showcase the country in terms of product diversification and expansion.

The Board’s director of Marketing, Adama Njie, recently stated that the institution in collaboration with its line Ministry is doing everything within its capacity to get rid of the seasonal system of tourism in the country. “This is one of the reasons why the GTBoard invested a lot of funds into the e-market, as you can access the destination on Facebook, twitter amongst other social websites,” he indicated.

As far as their rebranding exercise is concerned, Njie said not only has the Board invested in e-marketing, but also widely used the local media to sponsor programmes such as the weekly Gambia Expedition on The Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), The Smiling Coast Hour on Unique FM, The Tourists on West Coast Radio and the latest Tourisphere column on Daily Observer Newspaper.

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Egypt: Luxor Hosts Third African Film Festival

Aswat Masriya – 14 March 2014 – Egypt’s city of Luxor will host the third Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF) from 16 to 24 March in a bid from governmental bodies to exploit culture in boosting relations with African countries, said the Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF) chairman.

“The festival will be a great opportunity to develop relations in the cinema industry between Egypt and Africa,” said Sayed Fouad, the chairman of LAFF. “We are looking forward to exchanging expertise between both sides,” Fouad said, adding that it will be a chance to promote Egyptian movies in the African market.

For his part, the Arab Artists Syndicate head, Mousad Fouda said that Senegal will be the guest of honour this year. For the first time, the Ministries of Culture, Trade and Industry, Tourism, Sports, Investments, and Foreign Affairs will be the festival’s sponsor in an attempt to regain international confidence in the country’s stability.

The cultural gala will involve 150 participants, including men of letter, officials, actors, movie makers and African directors coming from 41 African and nine European countries, who will take part in the festival activities, said Minister of Trade and Industry Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour.

Abdel Nour told organizers of the event during his meeting with them that culture is considered a soft power that will be a catalyst to pass the current political and economic transitional period. The first festival took place in February 2012. Luxor was selected to de-centralise cultural or artistic events, which are always organised in Cairo and Alexandria.

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Maghreb Countries Unite At Berlin Tourism Convention

Magharebia – 11 March 2014 – Berlin — Tourism professionals from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya this week showcased Maghreb products and attractions to the world’s largest travel trade fair.

Morocco participated in the International Tourism Exchange in Berlin, which wrapped up in the German capital on Sunday (March 9th), as part of Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad’s plan to make the kingdom a world leader in environmental travel.

“Our 2020 strategy for developing tourism relies on development and job creation,” said Nada Roudies, secretary-general of the Moroccan tourism ministry. “We now seek to be among the world’s top 20 countries in attracting tourists, and we aspire to be a model tourist area in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Algeria aims to make the sector a pillar of its national economy. The country looks to shed light on its history, identity and natural and historical attractions. The Algerian pavilion at the German trade show highlighted the country’s history, identity and natural attractions. It also had a strong presence of handcrafts to attract foreign visitors.

“To us as Maghreb citizens, tourism is one of the important economic hubs in our countries,” Anbees Hocine of the Algerian Tourism Ministry told Magharebia.

“We want to make tourism an economic, cognitive, social and cultural… bridge between us and our Maghreb neighbours,” he said. “To us, Tunisia and Morocco represent good and strong experiences in promoting the beach tourist products.”

“Our strength in Algeria is that we have a large desert, and we seek to promote the desert, cultural tourist products. We have long experience in this type of tourism, and therefore, Morocco and Tunisia can benefit from us in this field,” he said.

The Tunisian wing at the event showcased artisans. Experienced travel agents also promoted beach holiday products. Tunisia’s travel sector was hit hard just after during the revolution, but the country now seeks to heal its wounds.

“Tunisia is an open country to its neighbours,” Lassaâd Chebbi, a representative of the Tunisian tourist commission, told Magharebia at the German expo.

“The biggest market in terms of tourists coming to Tunisia is the Libyan market, as more than 2 million Libyans entered Tunisia in 2013. The Algerian market is important as well, accounting for about 600,000 tourists. As to the Moroccan market, the number doesn’t exceed 35,000, but we’re trying to encourage Moroccans to come to visit Tunisia in spite of geographical distance.”

Libya also sought at the Berlin show to present its image as a new, free, democratic country that broke all ties with the previous era.

Abdul Samie Amer Matloub, the deputy Libyan tourism minister, told Magharebia. “We took part in the event to establish contacts with tourist companies and create new relations with neighbouring countries.”

“Libya is going through very tough circumstances,” he added. “As a tourism ministry, we hope the country will stabilise soon and that we’ll have a presence on the Maghreb tourist map.”

As to Maghreb co-operation, Amer said, “We’re trying to see the pioneering experiences of our Maghreb neighbours to benefit from them.”

“We want diverse tourism whereby tourists can come to Morocco, then pass to Algeria, and cross to Tunisia and Libya,” he said. “Libya is calling for the establishment of a Maghreb tourist union so we may become one of the most important tourist hubs in the world,” he added.

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Over 61% of Bali’s ceramic products exported to Singapore

Sun, March 9 2014 Denpasar, Bali (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian tourist resort province of Bali exported about 61.92 percent of its ceramic products worth US$1.47 million to Singapore in 2013, a regional government spokesman said.

“Balis ceramic products in various designs and produced by skilled local handicraft-men are able to win overseas markets. This boosted Balis foreign exchange income,” the Bali Regional Governments Public Relations Head I Ketut Teneng said here on Sunday.

He said that the ceramic-based cottage products were also exported to the United States (10.81 percent), Australia (4.22 percent), Britain (1.95 percent) and Hong Kong (0.48 percent).

Besides, some 1.09 percent were also exported to Italy, 3.10 percent to Spain, 0.88 percent to France and 13.10 percent to other countries. Teneng said that the ceramic product exports in 2013 increased 40.1 percent from 354,190 pieces in 2012 to 475,484 pieces in 2013.

Bali saw the number of tourist arrivals in the resort island in January 2014 jump 20.06 percent to 279,671 from 232,935 in the same period last year. Tourism observer Dewa Nyoman Putra said recently nearly 95 percent of tourists traveling to Bali had stated their wish to visit the world-renowned tourist resort again some time in the future.

Meanwhile, 5 percent of them visited Bali for businesses and social activities, among others, he said. More than 3.27 million tourists visited Bali last year, outstripping its target of attracting 3.1 million foreign tourists.

According to the provincial Tourism Agency, the number of tourist arrivals in Bali last year represented a 13.37 percent increase from 2,892,019 a year earlier.

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Sumarorong Airport inaugurated in Indonesia

March 12 2014 Mamasa, West Sulawesi (ANTARA News) – Deputy Transportation Minister Bambang Susantono inaugurated the operation of Sumarorong Airport at Mamasa district in West Sulawesi province on Tuesday.

“This airport aims to strengthen economic connectivity as part of fair distribution of development,” Bambang stated after inaugurating Sumarorong Airport. He noted that with the ease of flow of goods and passengers to Mamasa by using air transportation, the economic development in the region could be strengthened.

He pointed out that the Sumarorong Airport was expected to ease the access to Mamasa district, which is situated in a mountainous area, and could be reached within 8 hours by overland transport from Makassar city in South Sulawesi.

“But with air transportation, following the operation of Sumarorong Airport, it will take only one hour from the same city,” he elaborated.

According to Bambang, the airport was built at a cost of Rp107 billion from the state budget, but its runway will be extended.

“We are going to extend the Sumarorong Airports runway from 900 meters to 1.2 thousand meters in 2014 to increase the number of flights because the number of passengers is expected to increase,” the deputy transportation minister noted.

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Canton Fair to promote Indonesia-China trade ties

Wed, March 12 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – A delegation led by Xu Bin, the Deputy Director of the China Foreign Trade Centre, recently held a roadshow in Jakarta to promote the 115th Canton Fair, Chinas largest trade fair and one of the largest and best attended in the world.

The 115th Canton Fair will be held from April 15 to May 5, 2014 and is expected to help promote the trade ties between China and Indonesia, a press statement of PRNewswire, said here on Wednesday.

The roadshow was attended by among others representatives from the Chinese Embassy, the Indonesia China Business Council, the Indonesian Ministry of Commerce and the Association of Indonesian Regency Governments (APKASI).

The event was organized by the Indonesia China Business Council headed by Lin Wenguang. The China Business Council was established in 2002 with the main objective to promote and develop trade ties between Indonesia and China and has worked closely with the Canton Trade Fair.

Indonesian entrepreneurs are expected to take advantage of the Fair and to continue to boost the trade relations between Indonesia and China.

Xu Bin told the press that the 115th Canton Fair would focus on green development, e-commerce and a better quality of exhibitors. He noted that the 114th Fair attracted 189,646 buyers from 212 countries and regions with over 5600 Indonesian businessmen attending.

Liu Jianjun, spokesman for the 114th Fair, stated that the Fair would continue to “keep up the momentum and make progress, forge ahead and spur innovation, improve exhibition organization and quality as well as provide a sound negotiating environment for exhibitors and buyers.”

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Etihad Airways improves guest sleep experience

Khaleej Times – 14 March, 2014 – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, on Thursday launched an exciting new program to improve sleep quality on its long-haul flights.

Since July 2012, Etihad Airways has been working closely with a panel of sleep experts from the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology (ACPN) in Abu Dhabi to research ways to enhance sleep in-flight.

Etihad Airways has received expert guidance from the ACPN on sleep hygiene and on-board wellbeing, and has developed comprehensive guidelines for sleep in-flight, created for the airline’s guests as a result of clinical studies carried out by the ACPN on patients experiencing effects related to long-haul flying.

Peter Baumgartner, chief commercial officer, Etihad Airways, said: “A good night’s sleep is scientifically proven to benefit one’s health and nowhere is this more important than on a long-haul flight.”

“We understand that sleep is an important requirement for our guests, many of whom fly multiple journeys with us each year. For this reason, we will continue ensuring greater levels of comfort and wellbeing on our flights. The research we have carried out in collaboration with the experts at the ACPN will allow us to significantly improve the cabin environment for our guests and to provide targeted investment in our on-board experience for tangible customer benefit,” he explained.

Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, managing director of the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said: “What is encouraging is that there is an airline placing tremendous importance and resources into the study of sleep on long distance flights. Etihad Airways approached us with the clear understanding that sleep is not just a luxury, but a physical necessity which affects every traveller on every level.”

A core part of Etihad Airways’ sleep initiative is the introduction of all-natural bedding by Coco-Mat in Diamond First Class. To minimise the effects of ambient cabin sounds, Etihad Airways also provides noise cancellation headphones in all three classes. Furthermore, to counteract harsh light, all cabins feature advanced mood-lighting systems. Home comforts such as a sleep-time beverage service including hot chocolate and herbal teas are also to be offered in all three classes.

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TCA Abu Dhabi, Etihad expand travel programme

Gulf Today – 14 March, 2014 – Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, are expanding their successful ‘Access Abu Dhabi’ trade engagement programme to five new markets this year – taking the campaign’s outreach to 10 countries across four continents.

The year-long campaign has already notched up considerable success with hotel guest booking hikes from its initial target markets of Germany, the UK, Russia, India and Australia. Now, for 2014, the programme will reach out to potential partners in China, France, Italy, Brazil and the USA.

“During its first year of operation Access Abu Dhabi progressed 38 destination co-marketing initiatives, undertook 10 destination familiarisation trips for 755 travel agents, 250 free, independent traveller agents and their staff and completed successful partner engagement missions in our initial target markets,” explained Jasem Al Darmaki, Deputy Director General, TCA Abu Dhabi.

“We have experienced strong results — particularly from Germany and the UK — with a significant increase in the length of a guest stay emerging through packages sold by our travel and tour operator partners. The programme was an influencing factor for last year’s record hotel performance when arrivals reached 2.8 million and guest nights rose 26 per cent to 8.8 million. We anticipate a similar influencing pattern for our 2014 target of 3.1 million guests and guest night uplift of 10 per cent year-on-year compounded growth.”

Access Abu Dhabi’s 2014 campaign has taken off in earnest with its dedicated team having already completed a partner recruitment drive in Italy and France with more to come.

“We are delighted with the success of the Abu Dhabi trade engagement programme and we are excited to collaborate with TCA once again and build on its success,” said Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer.

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New website launched for “Made in GCC” Joint Exhibition in Sharjah

Gulf Today – 14 March, 2014 – Eng. Mohammed Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz Al Shehhi, Undersecretary, UAE Ministry of Economy, on Thursday officially launched the website for the 15th GCC Joint Exhibition that will be held under the theme ‘Made in GCC’.

To run from May 26-30 May at the Expo Centre Sharjah, the event will be organised by the Ministry of Economy in conjunction with the General Secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the supervision of the GCC Exhibition Officials Committee. During the website launch ceremony, the Ministry of Economy and Expo Centre Sharjah signed a Memorandum of Co-operation for the joint management of the exhibition.

The agreement was signed between Eng. Mohammed Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz Al Shehhi, Undersecretary, UAE Ministry of Economy, and Saif Al Midfa, CEO of Expo Centre Sharjah.

During the inauguration ceremony that took place at the headquarters of the Ministry of Economy in Dubai, Eng. Mohammed Al Shehhi affirmed, on behalf of Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy, that the exhibition industry is one of the most important in the world with close to half a million trade events held annually with a value exceeding $ 300 billion.

He stressed that the exhibition industry in the GCC countries in general and the UAE in particular supports sustainable development. More specifically, the UAE’s winning bid to host Expo 2020 in Dubai is clear evidence of the country’s capabilities in hosting and organising world-class events.

At the conclusion of his speech, Al Shehhi praised the efforts of the trade exhibitions officials in the GCC countries to prepare for the 15th GCC Joint Exhibition and implement the decisions of the GCC Trade Cooperation Committee in their commitment to achieving the desired outcomes.

He also stressed on the keenness of the UAE represented by the Ministry of Economy and its strategic partners led by the Expo Centre Sharjah to organize the exhibition in cooperation and coordination with the General Secretariat of the Cooperation Council and all sister states.

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Two art exhibitions open in Sharjah

Khaleej Times – 14 March, 2014 – The two exhibitions feature a diverse range of installations and mixed media projects by a number of the region’s most pioneering contemporary artist.

Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth, and Social Development, on Wednesday inaugurated ‘Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals’ exhibition at Maraya Art Centre — the renowned destination for contemporary arts in Sharjah and an initiative by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq).

He was accompanied by Shaikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Sharjah Media Corporation and Chairman Sharjah Media Centre and Shaikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq).

Shaikh Sultan inaugurated the ‘Encounter: Listening to the City’ exhibition, in the presence of Shaikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi; Hisham Al Madloum, Head of Art Directorate at the Department of Culture and Information in Sharjah; Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); and Manal Ataya, Director General of the Sharjah Museums Department (SMD).

Running from March 12 to May 12 the two exhibitions feature a diverse range of installations and mixed media projects by a number of the region’s most pioneering contemporary artist, and celebrate the rituals and habits inspired by practices of contemporary daily life.

Shaikh Nahyan praised the UAE’s young art talents who have chosen art as a medium of creativity and confirmed that the UAE’s young people are able to excel in all areas and that the country will constantly support such creative talents and host art exhibitions. He expressed his confidence that the vibrant art and cultural scene in the UAE augurs well for the future of the country, which is set to lead the way for this sector in the region.

In a statement following his inauguration of the second exhibition, Shaikh Sultan expressed appreciation over the successive development in the art scene in Sharjah, where high calibre art events are being hosted, allowing contemporary art gain more exposure in the region. He hailed the efforts being made by Maraya Art Centre and Maraya Art Park and in organising art events and exhibitions that asserts Sharjah’s role as a regional and international hub for culture and fine arts.

Shaikha Bodour expressed her delight at the high level of artworks on display in Sharjah, which reflects the increasing interest shown by regional and international artists as well as by regional emerging artistic talents to showcase their artworks to residents and visitors of Sharjah, where culture and art is part of everyday living.

‘Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals’ is an exploration of artistic engagement with everyday rituals. Curated by Livia Alexander and Nat Muller, the exhibition takes those habits that are used to breathe identity, belonging, community, and a sense of order into our daily lives, and investigates what happens when artists re-shuffle and disrupt our self-imposed order and sequence.

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Turtle reserve, beach attract tourists to Ras Al Jinz

Oman Tribune – 15 March, 2014 – RAS AL JINZ The turtles reserve in Ras Al Jinz is an ideal eco-tourism destination. The beach is one of the most prominent ones in the Wilayat of Sur reserved for turtles.

There are regulations for controlling the number of tourists visiting the site to ensure that the visiting turtles are not unduly disturbed. There are other measures in place to ensure the safety and well-being of the turtles.

The beach is known for its soft sand and wonderful rocky formations which surround it. Tourists at the beach, which is only one kilometre long, enjoy wonderful scenes, silence and calmness. It is an ideal place for relaxation. Ras Al Jinz and Ras Al Had are globally known for their turtle reserves.

Turtles visit the beaches in large numbers particularly during summers from June to September. The soft sand is perfect for the turtles to lay their eggs. Getting into the turtles reserve requires a permit.

The smell of ‘mashawi’ envelops the area and the wonderful scenes of the waves hitting the shores attract many tourists. Scenes of turtles reaching the beach during the sunset are particularly of interest for visitors. However, photography at night is prohibited for the safety of the turtles.

The tourists enjoying the scene and its beaty sitting under umbrellas are a common sight. The visitors get to see the turtles reaching the shore from waves.

Sur boasts of many sites that would attract lovers of nature. The beach in Sur itself sees many people spending their evenings there. Ras Al Jinz is very near to the Ashkara beach. This beach faces the open sea. It is also very attractive with the sea waves there being stronger than on other beaches aroun Muscat. Visitors can spend the whole day there with the breeze blowing over the sea and the sound of the waves providing a musical illusion. In the distance, one see fishermen on their way to catch the day’s haul or returning with their prize.

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Statue Of Pharaoh’s Daughter Unearthed In Egypt

CAIRO, Egypt, Mar 9 (NNN-MENA) – A statue of the daughter of King Amenhotep III, grandfather of Tutankhamen and ruler of Egypt around 3,350 years ago, has been unearthed by a team of Egyptian and European archaeologists.

The statue of Princess Iset was discovered at the temple of her pharaoh father, on the western bank of the Nile, in the southern city of Luxor, the Egyptian antiquities ministry said.

The new discovery is the first known representation of Iset, alone with her father, the ministry said, noting that sculptures on display at the Egyptian Museum depict her and her siblings together with the 18th Dynasty ruler.

The statue is only 1.7 metres high and is part of a huge, 14-metre alabaster statue of Amenhotep III himself, that has been excavated in recent years, the ministry said, in a statement carried by state news agency MENA.

The statue was found between the feet of the seated king. Iset’s name and royal title are inscribed near her feet, but her face has suffered from erosion.

Amenhotep III presided over an era, which saw a renaissance in Egyptian art. He was succeeded by his son Akhenaten, the sun-worshipping pharaoh, credited by some for starting the world’s first known monotheistic religion.

Some of ancient Egypt’s biggest monuments were constructed during Amenhotep III’s reign.

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Iranian Coffee Lovers Flock To New Wave Of Cafes

TEHRAN, Iran, Mar 13 (NNN-FNA) – Shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek, young women and men sit next to each other while a thick film of cigarette smoke fills the dimly lit cafe in central Tehran. Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” blares from the speakers.

Young Iranians with slick smart phones and packs of American-made cigarettes, who frequent the cafe come for the chance to hang out, away from the eyes of moralising elders. They also form a bloc of strong support for moderate President Hassan Rouhani, as he works to allow greater social freedom in the Islamic Republic.

It is a reflection of a boom in cafe culture that has led to a mushrooming of similar coffee shops over the past two years, providing an outlet for young middle-class Iranians, who suffer from a lack of public places to meet.

Majid Rouhian, 24, sips his double espresso while chatting with his girlfriend Maryam. Both voted for Rouhani. “In the past we had fewer chances to meet,” he said. “In recent years we have more chances simply because of increasing number of public places, like this.”

For years, Iranian authorities kept the number of cafes limited, since they were seen as a symbol of Western influence and places to spread non-Islamic beliefs. But reports of cafes being shut because they violate “Islamic dignities” have dropped markedly in recent months, suggesting a growing tolerance by the authorities.

During his campaign, Rouhani vowed that young people would have more social freedom. “We should not intervene in private life. … We should know that young people are energetic, so we should not be tough on them. It will not lead to positive results,” he said.

Tehran-based economic and political analyst, Saeed Leilaz, believes cafes symbolise the network of young people who played an essential role in bringing Rouhani to power. “The role of the young people, those who sit in cafes, was a significant … part of Rouhani’s success,” he said.

Leilaz said, authorities learned they had to give youth more freedom and a bigger role in society, as the economic failures of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration grew more acute in recent years. The allowance of more and more cafes symbolises that opening.

“If getting government permits for cafes gets easier, then their number would match the number of mosques in Tehran,” said Leilaz. There are some 2,000 mosques in Tehran, according to official statistics.

Cafe association head, Eskandar Azmoudeh, said, the number of cafés has roughly quadruped over the past two years, from around 20 or 30 up to around 80.

Fashid Aslani, sitting in one of the branches of his Raees chain of coffee shops in northern Tehran, said, the number of cafes is growing rapidly, reflecting a change in a society, where tea was for centuries, the main hot drink.

More than half of Iran’s 76 million citizens are under the age of 30. Many juice shop owners, who have watched those young customers flock to cafes, have converted their businesses to coffee shops to keep up with the changing times.

Authorities tolerate loud Western music in the cafes — a pleasure once outlawed as un-Islamic after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, that brought Islamists to power. Many of the new shops are decorated with replica paintings and pictures of local and foreign celebrities. They typically offer free high-speed Wi-Fi — a major draw for many customers.

The loosening of the reins started even before Rouhani’s election. The number of Western-type cafes — which first appeared in Iran in the 1920’s — began to increase in 2011, two years after Ahmadinejad’s controversial re-election that led to a massive crackdown on opposition activists.

In another cafe on Tehran’s Gandhi Street, Anahita Kazemi, a 21-year-old painting student, said, the place is a refuge for her and friends to enjoy each other’s company. “We freely sit together here for talks about galleries, movies and celebrities, like we did in parks or private places in the past,” she said.

Azemoudeh’s deputy, Mohammad Khoshniat, added that the cafes provide a place for young couples who have few options. “Those who want to meet … or get engaged choose cafes for the first steps,” he said.

Mehrdad Khadir, a social columnist for the moderate Asr-e Iran news website, said, cafes provide “fewer restrictions on relations between the genders,” compared to other places in the Iranian society. “Girls and boys feel secure there,” he said, adding that cafe goers “supported Rouhani in the 2013 elections simply because Rouhani promised more social freedom.”

Pejman Mousavi, another Tehran-based social columnist, working for pro-reform Etemad daily, said, young middle class people seek nontraditional lifestyles. “A new generation of middle class young people is after a new version of life, different from their parents,” Mousavi said.

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Saudi Tourism poised to attract SR 33bn investments by 2020

Arab News – 14 March, 2014 – The Saudi tourism and hospitality is poised to see an investment of SR 33.5 billion being pumped in by 2020.

Local media quoting experts in the field said investments in tourism and travel sector in the Kingdom have grown at an annual compounded average growth rate (CAGR) of 5 percent since 2001, the media, quoting data released by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), said.

According to the WTTC data, investments in the sector had reached SR20.55 billion by the end of 2012. Experts, who were preparing for the forthcoming Arab hospitality investment gathering in Dubai (May 4-5), said the tourism sector in the Kingdom was expected to grow by 6.7 percent.

Filippo Sona, head of hotels, MENA Region at Colliers International, forecast that there would be positive changes in the hospitality sector in the Kingdom, notably the growth of serviced (hotel) apartments for businessmen in a manner that could achieve maximum revenues.

However, a tremendous gap exists between Saudi local and global hotel apartments in terms of services and facilities, the expert said.

Certain parts in the Kingdom have big hospitality potentials though Makkah and Madinah have limited capacities. The current year will witness the establishment of a series of global-scale hotel apartments such as Frazer Palace and Frazer Swatch in Riyadh and other projects in Jeddah and Jazan, he said.

The experts, who met at Marriot International in Jeddah, said the investments reflected the government’s continued commitment to foster tourism in the Kingdom which is expected to increase its share to 6.1 percent by 2017.

Head of MENA Region at STR Global, Philip Wooller, said the number of hotel rooms coming up in the Middle East and Africa stands at 66,438 with Dubai alone accounting for 10,970 rooms, followed by Makkah at 6,927, Riyadh (5,804), Doha (4,944), Abu Dhabi (3.036), and Jeddah (2,569).

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Luxurious Ras Al-Khaimah resort opens

Saudi Gazette – 14 March, 2014 – A luxurious island resort off the coast of Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates has opened its doors to the public since March 1. Marjan Island Resort and Spa offers spacious and splendidly decorated accommodation and 302 rooms and suites with large balconies to enable guests to watch idyllic sunsets across the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf.

All rooms and suites, designed in palatial grandeur and thoughtfully decorated with Arabian touches, feature exclusive amenities and advanced interactive multimedia systems with large, flat-screen television.

Marjan Island Resort and Spa is an ideal family destination with a superb range of facilities and activities even for young guests. These include an indoor-outdoor playground Pirate’s Club, Youngsters Entertainment Fun Center, children’s swimming pool and a host of water sports on the island’s two pristine beaches. Visitors will discover a variety of delectable dining places on the resort’s one-kilometer seafront boardwalk.

Relaxation and one’s wellbeing were well considered as part of the resort’s vision, with an entire floor occupied by the La’Mar Holistic Wellness Spa, which has separate treatment rooms for ladies and men, steam rooms, saunas, jacuzzis, gyms and indoor swimming pools.

Guests can book an appointment with a nutritionist or a cosmetic specialist, which forms part of the resort’s extensive wellbeing facility. If one has a business that needs to be attended to, there is no need to leave the resort’s luxurious comfort.

With a ballroom that can accommodate 250 people, the fully serviced business center with a boardroom and breakout rooms, where executives and decision-makers will have everything they need to get their job done.

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