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3 Mar, 2014

Palestine PM invites more Indonesian tourists

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 03 March 2014 (02 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.




Jet Airways launches daily direct Hyderabad to Abu Dhabi

HYDERABAD, TNN | Mar 1, 2014: Jet Airways on Saturday informed that it has launched a new daily direct service from Hyderabad to Abu Dhabi.

“This new flight will further strengthen Jet Airways’ growing international network in the Gulf region, thus enhancing flight connectivity beyond Abu Dhabi to immediate Gulf countries and to destinations in North America and Europe,” the company said in a release.

Jet Airways currently operates a daily flight each from Delhi, Kochi and Chennai and 11 flights a week from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi. According to the airline, it will deploy Boeing 737-800 Next Generation (NG) aircraft on these routes.

Commenting on the development, Jet Airways senior vice president (commercial) Gaurang Shetty said “Jet Airways is delighted to introduce a daily service on the Hyderabad – Abu Dhabi route. Guests travelling to Abu Dhabi will now have multiple options to travel to destinations of their choice in the Gulf, North America, Europe and Africa in a seamless manner with our strategic partner Etihad Airways. We are confident that our airline will soon emerge as one of the first choice carriers on this popular route given our unparalleled domestic network in India and ever expanding international footprint.”

Jet Airways currently operates a fleet of 112 aircraft and with an average fleet age of 5.17 years, the airline has one of the youngest fleet of aircraft in the world, it said.

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Indian Vice President Releases Book “Akbar – The Asthete”

Press Information Bureau, Vice President’s Secretariat, 28-February-2014 – The Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari released a book entitled “Akbar – The Asthete” authored by Dr. Indu Anand, an acclaimed educationist & Principal, Janki Devi Memorial College at a function here today. Addressing on the occasion, the Shri Ansari said that the historical accidents sometimes produce very good results. Emperor Humayun was exiled to Prussia and during his time spent there, he imbibed the miniature paintings. Later he brought back a few good miniature paintings from there. The Persian and Indian artists together painted numerous miniatures here of finest style and substance.

He said that the book makes an excellent presentation of miniatures and congratulated Dr. Anand for her commendable job.

This book is a notable contribution to the study of social and material culture in the Mughal era through miniatures of that period. Akbar, the most powerful Mughal emperor, was a great asthete and promoter of arts. These miniatures are a beautiful manifestation of human expressions, vividly encapsulating moments of history for posterity.

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Oman, Iran to increase flights

Muscat, February 28, 2014, Gulf News – Oman and Iran have agreed to increase the number of flights between the two countries from 14 to 30 per week.

The two countries also agreed to open the air for cargo flights to further economic cooperation. They also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the field of training, share experiences and mutual support in international forums for the benefit of the two countries.

The decision came after the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the General Authority for Civil Aviation on the regulation of air transport services on Thursday.

Ali Akbar Sibawaih, the Ambassador of Iran to the Sultanate, said recently that Iran would invest $4 billion (Dh14.7 billion) in the industrial port of Al Duqm and assist in building a number of mega projects in the Sultanate.

Iran and Oman also agreed to execute the gas pipeline project between the two countries, which is expected to be ready by 2016.

A modern hospital equipped with latest facilities will be built in Oman and a Persian language centre will be opened in Muscat soon.

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Pilgrims in awe of massive expansion work at Grand Mosque in Makkah

Makkah, 28 February 2014 (Arab News) – Forty-five-year-old Syed Laeequddin Quadri, from Maharashtra, India, was standing in quiet contemplation straining his head to look at the golden crescent atop the majestic Makkah Clock Tower.

“That is unbelievable,” he told Arab News after Dhuhr prayers on Thursday. “Being a construction expert, I can imagine how much steel and concrete must have been poured into this gigantic project.”

Quadri is in the Kingdom on Umrah with his wife and four children. He is very familiar with the country having worked for the Saudi Binladin Group’s Operations and Maintenance Division in the early 1990s.

“I left the Kingdom for good 15 years ago,” he said. “I remember coming to the Holy Mosque for Umrah for the first time in 1991 with a friend. There was no Clock Tower, no Dar Al-Tawheed building,” he reminisced. “We were dropped by the cabbie right in front of the King Abdul Aziz Gate.”

Pointing at the sprawling marble-topped courtyard, he said: “This was not there.”

There was always construction activity in Makkah, he says. “In those days, you would always see earth-moving equipment and cranes at work on different projects,” he said.

However, the skyline was not dotted with the massive cranes as it is now. “Wherever you cast your eye from the Grand Mosque’s courtyard, you can see hundreds of red- and yellow-colored cranes, positioned at right angles,” said Quadri.

“We used to dine at Delhi Darbar Restaurant near the SAPTCO bus stop,” he said. “That is all gone. What used to be old buildings along Ibrahim Khalil Street housing pilgrims from India and Pakistan are all gone and instead we have the Jabal Omar Project. The mountain or the hillock is gone.”

On both sides of Ibrahim Khalil Street frenetic construction activity is going on, with the ground being leveled as part of the Grand Mosque expansion project.

According to reports in the local media, Makkah Hilton will no longer be where it is now. It will be shifted across the street. This is also the case with the Dar Al-Tawheed Intercontinental Hotel.

The Haram expansion project is being described as the biggest in Islam’s history. Once complete, it will significantly facilitate the journey of faith for millions of pilgrims.

“Every time I circumambulate the Holy Kaaba, my hands go up in prayer for the Saudi leadership for everything they’ve done and are doing to make Umrah and Haj comfortable,” said Quadri.

“When I came from Jeddah I saw mountains being cut away to expand the multi-lane highway. My eyes went moist. King Abdullah has excelled as the custodian of the holy mosques.”

Fifty-two-year-old Mustafa Anwar, from Alexandria, Egypt, was equally impressed.

“The expansion of the Holy Mosque symbolizes the rising tide of Islam,” he told Arab News. “I remember only a very few people from my country would come for Umrah 20 years ago,” he said. “That is not the case now, you have to apply months in advance with a travel agent because hundreds of thousands of people have the resources to undertake Umrah.”

Anwar said this is happening with Muslims all over the world. “More and more people are coming to perform Umrah and Haj, and naturally Saudi Arabia wants to provide the best of the best for them. And they are, much to the appreciation and wonderment of the pilgrims. Naturally, the Saudi leadership is showered with praise for taking such meticulous care of the Holy Mosque.”

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Indonesia Reiterates Support For Palestinian Independence

JAKARTA, Indonesia March 1 (NNN-Xinhua) — Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reaffirmed here Saturday that Indonesia will consistently support the establishment of an independent State of Palestine and the recognition of a full member state status in the United Nations (UN).

Yudhoyono made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the second Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development (CEAPAD) held here. “An independent and economically viable State of Palestine and not to mention a full member state of the UN will surely contribute to global peace and stability in the Middle East,” Yudhoyono said.

The UN General Assembly in late 2012 approved a resolution, granting Palestine non-member observer state status at the UN, a long-sought victory for the Palestinians. Real independence, however, will remain a dream until Palestine negotiates a peace deal with Israel.

Yudhoyono called on all participants in the meeting to support the Palestinian pursuit for independence, saying the people of Palestine have been struggling to realize this dream for more than five and a half decades. “Providing them with capacity building is critical,” the president said, adding that his country will continue to provide Palestine with not only political support, but also economic and development assistance.

Rami Hamdallah, Palestinian prime minister, expressed gratitude for the collective efforts by the donor nations at the opening ceremony, saying he still believes the two-state vision can be envisaged and realized despite obstacle ahead.

Last July, the United States succeeded in brokering the resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and Palestine after three years of halt. The talks are scheduled to last for nine months until April 29.

The 2nd conference of CEAPAD, aimed at promoting capacity building for the economic development of Palestine, was attended by 27 delegations from 22 countries and five international organizations. China”s special envoy on the Middle East issue Wu Sike was among the participants.

The CEAPAD was initiated by Japan with the first conference held in Tokyo in February last year. — NNN-XINHUA

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Palestine PM Invites More Indonesian Tourists

February 28 2014 Jakarta (Antara News) – Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has invited more Indonesian tourists to visit his country in a bid to boost the Palestinian economy.

“It is important for us. This is moral and material support for us. We hope that there will be more Indonesian tourists visiting Palestine,” Hamdallah stated at a joint press conference with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Merdeka Palace here on Friday.

At least 40 thousand Indonesians visit Palestine annually for religious tourism. The Palestinian prime minister noted that the bilateral meeting just held between him and President Yudhoyono was important.

“This is an important meeting, and we hope that the bilateral cooperation between Palestine and Indonesia can become an example for cooperation between Palestine and other countries,” he emphasized.

President Yudhoyono remarked that Indonesia will increase economic cooperation with Palestine, in addition to boosting cooperation in two other sectors. “In the economic field, Indonesia and Palestine have agreed to increase cooperation in the future. We hope to explore new opportunities. We also discussed future cooperation in the oil and gas as well as other sectors,” the Indonesian head of state claimed.

Yudhoyono also emphasized the importance of strengthening people-to-people relations, such as by providing scholarships and visits by Indonesian tourists to Palestine.

“Indonesia believes that Palestine will develop into an advanced country. We also hope that an independent Palestinian state will be soon realized,” he asserted.

After holding a bilateral meeting, the two leaders witnessed the signing of several Memoranda of Understanding (MOU)s on the economic, education, and tourism cooperation.

The Palestinian delegation in the bilateral meeting comprised Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Malki, National Economic Minister Jawad N.A. Hirzallah, Planning and Administrative Development Minister Mohammad Abu Ramadan, and Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Fariz N. Mehdawi.

Yudhoyono was accompanied, among others, by Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa, Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, and Chief of the National Police General Sutarman. In the evening, President Yudhoyono hosted a state banquet for Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

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Indonesia to host first UN Alliance of Civilizations forum

Sun, February 23 2014 Bandung, W Java (ANTARA News) – Indonesia will host the 6th Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations on August 29-30 this year, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Indonesia is the first Asia Pacific country to enjoy the UN trust to host the event, the ministry’s director general of public information and diplomacy Al Busyra Basnur said after attending a national convention aimed to draft a recommendation on national customs, civilization and culture 2014 at the Merdeka Building here on Sunday.

“Of course, we are proud of being the host of the event,” he said. The two-day event which will take place in the resort island of Bali will bring together representatives of 114 countries and 28 international organizations in charge of civilizations, he said.

One of the reasons behind the UNs decision to appoint Indonesia as the host of the event is its success in preserving different customs and ethnic groups in the country, he said. “We are considered successful by the UN in preserving different customs in the country,” he said.

The success is attributable to the countrys motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity), he said. “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is our national motto and pride. Because of this, we enjoy the trust from the UN to host the event,” he said.

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Bangladesh Tourism, an unpolished diamond, says foreign travel writer

DHAKA, Feb 22, 2014 (BSS) – Visiting foreign journalists and travel writers of nine countries today certified that Bangladesh has immense potentials in tourism sector but it needs massive worldwide marketing to achieve it.

“Bangladesh tourism is now as an unpolished diamond, you need to cut it properly,” a travel writer and documentary maker from Spain Ribera Gabande said while sharing their experiences of Bangladesh with local journalists and tourism related other stakeholders at city hotel.

Twenty-eight journalists, travel writers and documentary film makers from the UK, Germany, Spain, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Lithonia, Japan and China are now in the country for a 10-day visit, to be ended tomorrow.

At the interaction, they termed hospitality of local people, smile of commoners and local cuisine along with the country’s unexplored natural beauty would be the key products of Bangladesh tourism for the foreign tourists.

“It’s not a poor country, it is another lifestyle and it is rich,” a camera crew from one of the Russian television channel said.

The journalists and travel writers recommended that Bangladesh needs huge promotional tourism campaign with proper information through main stream international media as well as online.

Journalists of Sunday Times of the UK Nielsen Stewart Foster complained that Bangladesh high commission in the UK has no information for the foreign tourists about the on arrival visa facilities of Bangladesh.

During the visit, they visited various places including three UNESCO World Heritages – the world’s largest mangrove forest Sundarbans, Paharpur Buddhist Monastery and Sixty Dome Mosque in Bagherhat. Besides, they placed wreath at Shaheed Minar in the capital on International Mother Language Day on February 21 to show their tribute to the memories of language martyrs.

Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), the national tourism organization has organized the familiarization tour for the foreign journalists and travel writers to promote Bangladesh tourism in the international media.

Civil Aviation and Tourism Secretary Khorshed Alam Choudhury said this kind of familiarization tour will help Bangladesh tourism industry to create a permanent tourist market in the targeted countries.

After visiting Bangladesh, the foreign writers will publish or broadcast cover stories, news, features and documentary film through their respective media and it will attract more foreign tourists to visit here, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Akhtar Uzzaman Khan Kabir said.

The BTB has organized first familiarization tour in 2012 and after the visit it received positive feedback from those targeted countries.

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Ranga commits for overall development of Rangpur

RANGPUR, Feb 24, 2014 (BSS) – State Minister for Rural Development and Cooperatives Alhaj Mashiur Rahman Ranga MP has committed to work under any situation for overall development of Rangpur.

He called upon the journalists and all people irrespective of political affiliations to work unitedly for smooth development of the economically backward Rangpur region to improve living standard of the common people from all walks in the society.

Ranga was addressing a ceremony organised by Rangpur Pres Club at its auditorium here in the city on Sunday night to accord warm reception to him and Mayor of Rangpur City Corporation (RCC) and valiant freedom fighter Alhaj Sharfuddin Ahmed Jhantu.

General Secretary of Rangpur Press Club Wadud Ali delivered the welcome speech in the reception ceremony with its President AKM Fazlul Haque in the chair.

Members of Rangpur Press Club, local journalists, officials, civil society members, business community leaders, sociocultural and political activists, academicians, teachers, students, youths and elite of the city were present.

The leaders of Rangpur Press Club, its members and leaders and representatives of different professional organisations welcomed the State Minster and RCC Mayor with floral wreaths to accord receptions in the ceremony.

In his speech, the RCC Mayor called upon the journalists of Rangpur and people from all walks in the society irrespective of their political affiliations to become united for ensuring overall development of Rangpur and welfare of the local people.

State Minister Ranga said huge development have taken places in every sector during the five year tenure of the immediate past government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the same trend continues now under present government under her leadership.

There will be no problem for development of Rangpur as the Prime Minster and Opposition Leader are our daughters-in-law, Speaker of the Parliament is elected MP from Rangpur-6 seat, Deputy Speakers is elected MP from Greater Rangpur and Ershad is our son, he said.

The State Minister sought cooperation of all people including the local journalists and said that he would take all possible steps for development of Rangpur to further improve the socioeconomic conditions of the people.

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Bangladesh bid to promote eco-friendly indigenous farm technologies

RANGPUR, Feb 26, 2014 (BSS)-Experts at a workshop have stressed for spreading of the eco-friendly indigenous farm technologies to improve food security governance through strengthened participation of the organizations of marginalized farmers.

They were addressing concluding ceremony of the three-day workshop on “Improving food security governance in South & South East Asia through strengthened participation of organizations of marginalized farmers” regional project on Tuesday afternoon.

The five-year term regional project is being implemented in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Myanmar to improve livelihoods of the marginalized ethnic community people with the assistances of the European Union and Dan Church Aid (DCA). The Regional Project Office based at Kathmandu in Nepal organised the workshop for 30 officials, experts and executives of DCA, RDRS Bangladesh and Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) at Begum Rokeya auditorium in the city.

RDRS Bangladesh and DSK have been implementing the project in Netrokona, Thakurgaon and Panchagarh to improve livelihoods of 50,000 small and marginal farmers’ households belonging to the Garo, Santal, Oraon, Hajong and Manipuri tribes, minority Hindu, extremely poor Muslim and fishing communities.

Regional Representative of the DCA based at Kathmandu Mr David Smith formally launched the workshop on February 24 while Head of Programme Coordination Monjusree Saha of RDRS Bangladesh delivered the concluding speech yesterday.

In the workshop, Head of Programme of DCA Mani Kumar said the project is designed to increase participation of small and marginal farmers’ organizations in making decision linked to food and nutrition security in Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.

In some part of Bangladesh, where food production continues only for 4-5 months yearly, have less than 1,800 calories food intake per day per person resulting serious undernourishment of the women and children, he said. The project will enhance practical knowledge on food and nutrition security of the targeted groups through promotion and sharing of the eco- friendly indigenous farm technologies and practices in climate resilient indigenous technologies in public forums.

Regional Programme Officer of the Resilient Livelihood and Sustainable Food Security Programme of DCA Deepak Singh elaborated the meaning and understanding of participation, governance and food security.

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South Africa Introduces Islamic Bonds

OnIslam & News Agencies Thursday, 27 February 2014 CAPE TOWN – Taping into the thriving market, South Africa has announced plans to launch its first-ever Islamic bonds or Sukuk, in both local and international markets, in a bid to overcome the national debt.

“Our first sukuk (Islamic) bond will be launched this year,” Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told lawmakers while unveiling his annual budget, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday, February 26. “Options for introducing a sukuk retail savings bond are also being explored.”

Aiming to limit the risk that lenders may encounter in the African country, plans to issue Islamic bonds or Sukuk have been under discussion for more than two years.

Back in December 2013, South Africa National Treasury invited banks to provide help in structuring the issuance of the government’s first Islamic bonds.

The idea has gained a strong support amid expectations the move would help boost the state’s economy. Announcing 2014 plans, the treasury has put a target to gain $1.5 billion/year in capital markets over the coming three years.

“It is only now a question of timing, when it is right and when we need the money, we will do it,” Treasury Director General, Lungisa Fuzile, told Reuters. “We expect that we will probably do it before the end of this financial year, it may even be before the end of this year.”

The Shari`ah-compliant Islamic finance has successful history in South Africa with different banks and investment companies offering these products.

Several banks as the First National Bank and ABSA bank offer Shari`ah-compliant services. By 2016, the debt in the African country is expected to account for 44.3% of the GDP.

The Global Islamic Finance Report has revealed that Shari` ah complaint debt has witnessed rapid progress over the past few years. Like other forms of Islamic financing tools, sukuk do not receive or pay interest. It typically operates through actual transactions such as profit-sharing or leasing.

Islam forbids Muslims from usury, receiving or paying interest on loans. Islamic banks and finance institutions cannot receive or provide funds for anything involving alcohol, gambling, pornography, tobacco, weapons or pork.

Shari`ah-compliant financing deals resemble lease-to-own arrangements, layaway plans, joint purchase and sale agreements, or partnerships. Investors have a right to know how their funds are being used, and the sector is overseen by dedicated supervisory boards as well as the usual national regulatory authorities.

The global market in Islamic investments is rapidly expanding, rising by 150 per cent since 2006 and expected to be worth £1.3 trillion in 2014.

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The Gambia Ranks 29th Destination in Africa

The Point – 28 February 2014 – For the first time a global ranking measures the “search engine” appeal of countries in the fields of Tourism and Investment. The Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking © 2013 is based on a global scale research that measures, among other variables, the number of searches produced every year by potential tourists and investors about every nation.

In Africa, the Gambia ranks 29th in Tourism, out performing Sierra Leone (34) and Guinea-Bissau (39) but positioned below Senegal (15). The most popular online searches were about “safari”, “nightlife” and “bird watching”.

In Trade, The Gambia is found in the 42nd position, below Senegal (19), Guinea (31) and Sierra Leone (38). Potential investors were more interested in the “cost of living”, “corruption level” and “infrastructure & logistics facilities”. These categories together hold half of all searches produced by potential investors in 2013.

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Gambia – a Choice Destination

The Daily Observer – 26 February 2014 – The Gambia, the Smiling Coast of Africa, with its combination of a perfect climate, endless beaches, a unique culture, peace and tranquility, the sense of hospitality and openness, among other things, continue to make the destination a number one choice among others in Africa.

Talking of event, travel and tourism, this Africa’s most popular tourist destination among other countries has its door fully open to discerning Nigerian visitors seeking an exotic vacation, a family holiday or savvy corporate organizations that require high quality facilities for corporate meetings, events among other activities even for Nollywood stars and producers that need good topography and quality location for shooting of their movies or vacation. The country has what it takes to be a must go destination and this especially are a stable political climate, which is prerequisite for any business activity and a functioning and vibrant economy that makes it possible to earn returns on any investment.

For the benefit of tourists, visitors, investors, holidaymakers and corporate institutions and among other seeking for heaven on earth, Adama Njie, Director of Marketing, Gambia Tourism Board has stated that the Gambia Tourism Board under the aegis of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, has concluded plans to “implement a comprehensive multifaceted campaign in Nigeria to launch The Gambia as a year round destination of choice to all categories of Nigerians” to enjoy the available facilities and opportunity in destination.

From this season onward the destination Gambia has no off-season in the sector but year round tourism season. This is an opportunity for everyone as “all classes of Nigerian visitors can now have access to comprehensive round-the-year travel and tour packages to enjoy the world renowned hospitality, the spontaneous smile and the warmth and hospitality of the people of The Gambia.” Very well, The Gambia is an oasis of peace in the sub-region with sound free market and international financial principles together with an attractive incentive regime that created numerous opportunities for investment which Nigerians and other visitors to the country can as well enjoy.

Benjamin A Roberts, the director general of The Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard), disclosed that “for years, The Gambia has been the region’s most formidable destination for people from all over the world’, adding that there are lots that visitors can enjoy in this destination especially the hardworking Nigerians seeking for a better and perfect place to spend their holiday as “the country offers special attractions which are yet to be discovered by them.”

However, the geographical location of The Gambia and its low tariff regime have made the capital, Banjul, an important transit trade centre, with many businesses importing cheap foodstuff and manufactured goods from Asia to the neighboring countries. This geographical location of the country, according to DG Roberts is “the unique geographical position at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, which enables The Gambia to remain an attractive tourism destination with natural waterways that extend the entire length of the country; lagoons, islands and islets for water sporting, fishing and inland cruise activities.”

For hardworking visitors and Nigerians that are willing to invest, there are six sectors considered to make value added contributions to the economy as well as have significant foreign exchange and employment creation potentials. These involved horticulture, agro-processing, fisheries, livestock, manufacturing and tourism.

GTBoard DG continues; “The Gambia has an astounding ecosystem which has placed the brand in the ecotourism forefront in Africa, with a blend of nature, communities; fauna and flora interacting in a responsible and suitable manner. The Gambia ecosystem is sanctuary for over 500 species of birds which crisscross the country through migration activities, making the destination a bird-watching haven. The Smiling Coast of Africa is home to world renowned and African inspired cultural patrimony, some of which are now listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites.”

For Nigerians who will like a blend of business and pleasure, The Gambia also offers virgin investment opportunities waiting to be explored, particularly in the areas of eco-tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and services, with the added advantage of market access to over 300 million consumers in West Africa, given the Gambia’s gateway advantage.

However, tourism is undoubtedly the fastest growing sector in The Gambia and it is the biggest foreign exchange earner and a major source of employment. Looking back at the history of tourism in The Gambia, which dates back in the mid 60s mainly as a winter destination offering sun, sea and sand to European tourists. Now tourists come from many other countries to the Smiling Coast of Africa this is especially from Europe and some other parts of Asia and beyond. The number of quality and standard hotels in the country has increased tremendously over the years. So also, air access has enormously improves in without any hindrance and this has enhance the growth of tourism in the destination.

What makes Gambia different and unique in Africa is nothing comparable to their hospitality, culture, the nature, openness of the people and tolerant and acceptability which are the exceptional asset of Gambians in general.

The Gambia is known for its tolerance and acceptance and the people are always ready to accept and integrate you into their families. This chosen destination in Africa is a good example of religion tolerance, though it is a Muslim dominated country but it is still a secular country where the three religions Islam, Christianity and traditional worshipers are observed and respected as far as individual choices are concerned.

The country is a well attracted and fascinated destination and what made it to be attractive and fascinated are their heritages, conservative nature, the river and the islands which are yet to be utilized to the fullest neither by the citizen nor the foreign investors.

There are a lot of heritages site that are visible and accessible to tourists and guests in the Gambia. Among this are the sacred areas where you can be healed from different problems and all proved efficacy when it comes to fertility and curing of some other problems. Other sites to name but a few are the remains of slave market in Janjanbureh, Juffureh-Albreda the birth place of the heroic Kunta Kinteh, the Kanilai Festival town which is origin of His Excellency President Yahya Jammeh and some other places. However, the country also boost over 200 Islands including James, Solomon, Baboon, Dog, Charles islands among other available islands.

The river Gambia which attracts many and different animals is still under utilization and the water is salty like some other rivers but very fresh and clean. For birdwatchers, Gambia is a place where you can watch or find more than five hundred distinctive birds species. This is another way you will enjoy the country. If you are set for shopping, craft markets are circulated throughout the TDA for visitors to have some selections of local art and craft works.

The Gambia is home of festivities, be it religious, traditional or cultural festivals. Among these traditional festivals are the Root Home Coming International Festival; Kanilai International Cultural Festival; Genieri Traditional and Cultural Festival; Kartong Singing, Dancing and Drumming Festival; Food and Beverages Festival; Sanyang and Janjanbureh Cultural festivals among a host of others.. Religious festival include Eid-il-Fitr and Adha; Christmas and Easter and among other notable religious feast.

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Gambia Opens Door to Discerning Nigerian Visitors

The Daily Observer – 25 February 2014 – The director of Marketing at the Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) has said that the destination Gambia is now open to discerning Nigerian visitors seeking an exotic vacation, a family holiday, or savvy corporate organisations that require high quality facilities for corporate meetings or Nollywood stars and producers that need location for shooting of their movies.

Revealing this development to our reporter, Adama Njie, said in the quest to make the country, Africa’s most popular tourist destination, an all-year-round tourism season, the Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) has concluded plans to implement a comprehensive multifaceted campaign in Nigeria to launch The Gambia as an all-year round destination of choice to all categories of Nigerians.

The GTBoard director of marketing revealed further that through accredited agents and operators, all classes of Nigerian visitors can now have access to comprehensive round-the-year travel and tour packages to enjoy the world renowned hospitality, the spontaneous smile and the warmth of the people of The Gambia.

He added that for years, The Gambia has been the region’s most formidable destination for people from all over the world. This, he said, they believe destination Gambia offers some special attractions, which are yet to be discovered by Nigerians.

For Nigerians who will like a blend of business and pleasure, Adama assured that The Gambia will offer them investment opportunities that are waiting to be explored, particularly in the areas of eco-tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and services. This, he added, will add advantage of market access to over 300 million consumers in West Africa, given The Gambia’s gateway advantage.

Commenting on hard work and relaxation of the people of Nigeria, Benjamin A Roberts, GTBoard director general stated that Nigerians are very hard working and busy people with a great need for leisure and rest. He added that the country’s unique geographical position at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean is an advantage that enables The Gambia to remain an attractive tourism destinations with natural waterways that extend the entire length of the country, lagoons, islands and islets for water sporting, fishing and inland cruise activities.

Among other things, he added, The Gambia has an astounding ecosystem, which has placed the brand in the ecotourism forefront in Africa, with a blend of nature, communities, the fauna and flora interacting in responsible and suitable manner. DG Roberts said, “The Gambia ecosystem is sanctuary for over 500 species of birds which crisscross the country through migration activities, making the destination a bird-watching haven”.

“The Gambia, ‘Smiling Coast of Africa,’ is home to world-renowned and African inspired cultural patrimony, which some are now listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites,” he stated.

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NY Students Don Hijab For A Day

OnIslam & Newspapers Friday, 28 February 2014 – The Union College’s event copied the idea of World Hijab Day marked each year on February 1.

CAIRO – Non-Muslim students at New York’s Union College have participated in the second annual hijab for a day, sharing the experience of Muslim women donning the Islamic headscarf.

“I had a few people that I am friends with ask me about the hijab,” Julie Fishman ’16, who participated in Hijabi for a Day, told Concordiensis, the students’ newspaper of Union College, reported on Thursday, February 27.

“But what really struck me was that I felt like, as I was walking around campus, seeing other girls who were wearing the hijab provided almost an immediate connection. Whether I had known or seen them before, there was a nod or a smile exchanged, and it was an interesting bond to feel,” the young girl added.

Fishman is one of scores of students who participated in the event held last week in Union College. The event, sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Core and Multifaith Forum, was held to share Muslim women their feelings while donning hijab. Not only non-Muslim students participated in the event.

Young Nuzhat Chowdhury, 16, who is now officially trained by the Interfaith Leadership Institute, found the event an opportunity to don hijab for a first time. Though Chowdhury is a Muslim, she found the event an opportunity to make her closer to taking the decision of donning the Islamic headscarf.

“I am a Muslim woman, and although I do not wear the hijab at this point in my life, I was very excited about the event because it is great to see women of all faiths and colors coming together to represent Muslim women in such a positive way,” she said.

The Union College’s event copied the idea of World Hijab Day marked each year on February 1. During the day, hundreds of thousands of Muslim and non-Muslim women don a traditional Islamic head scarf to spread awareness of hijab as a Muslim women right and educate the masses about the origins and reasons for the Islamic headwear.

Though marked for the second year, the event witnessed some negative reactions from students who had misconceptions about the Islamic headscarf. “I feel that there are some who may maintain a negative stigma towards the wearing of a hijab and it is mainly because they don’t understand,” Fishman remarked.

“Something like Hijabi For a Day makes it seem like less of a taboo subject on campus and that is a good thing. Bringing events like this to the attention of the campus more is so necessary, especially looking at other faiths and cultures beyond Islam.”

Chowdhury added that similar events at the college campus would help in dispelling misconceptions about Islam and other faiths as well. “I would like to see more events like this at Union. Fortunately, this is in my comfort zone, but I would like to get the opportunity to do something different like maybe wearing a bindi (Hinduism) or a yarmulke (Judaism), because these outward expressions of faith are important to be aware of and understand,” she said.

While the Muslim population at Union is not predominant, it is important to foster a greater understanding of their practices and customs. Chowdhury added.

“The most important message we can send is to encourage religious competence. It is easier to bridge gaps between groups of people when you can spend some time walking in their shoes, and in the process becoming more culturally and religiously literate,” she said. “Wearing the hijab is such an outward expression of faith and I admire the women who choose to wear it. They are strong and proud of their faith, a dedication which I one day aspire to have.”

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Malaysia Offers Philippines Expertise In Islamic Finance, Halal Products

PUTRAJAYA, Feb 28 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia is keen to offer its expertise in Islamic finance, banking services and promotion of halal products to the Philippines, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Friday. “President Aquino will like us to help them in Islamic banking and finance and the possibility of Malaysia’s participation in Islamic banking in the Philippines and I offered him we could train Filipinos in the field of Islamic banking and finance.

“We also discuss on the potential of halal products to be promoted between the two countries,” he told a joint media conference with visiting Philippine President Benigno Aquino after their bilateral talks.

Najib said although bilateral trade between the two countries stood at about US$4.5 billion, but given the size of the Philippines, both parties believe the potential was far than that. “Both governments have agreed that we should encourage the value and volume of bilateral trade to increase,” said Najib, who is also the Finance Minister.

Najib also congratulated Aquino for the Bangsamoro Agreement. “The framework agreement has been signed and four annexes, which constitute the comprehensive agreement, must be signed by end-March.

“President Aquino has invited me to attend the (signing) ceremony and I look forward to attend the great historic ceremony, which would usher in a new era for the people of the Philippines, particularly in southern Philippines,” he said. Najib said the peace in the area would not only benefit the people of the Philippines but also Malaysia and the region as a whole.

“Malaysia is delighted that we could play our part as a facilitator to support this process and to add strength to the process. We will offer capacity building for the Bangsamoro people because being part of the future government in southern Philippines, will require them to have new skills,” he stressed.

Najib said that in addition to close cooperation between the security forces and the police of both countries, there should be a timely exchange of intelligence as well as to ensure a high degree of deterrence.

“In this regard, we are working on the possibility of establishing a hotline between our security forces in the event a security incident has happened and we need to ensure immediate interdiction on our Malaysian side as well as on the Philippines side.

“That is very important…once you have peace and security, trade and investments would flow into southern Philippines as well as in Sabah.

Aquino said his government encouraged Malaysian businessmen to invest in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

“We are inviting Malaysia to work with us to develop the palm oil industry in the Philippines and other agriculture-related sub-industries. This is an area that will open more doors of growth opportunities for the people of the two countries,” he added.

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Well Hidden Secret Of Malaysia’s Labuan Chimney Tower

LABUAN, Feb 24 (NNN-Bernama) — Today the Federal Territory of Labuan — off the coast of Borneo in East Malaysia – is a leading oil and gas hub, but not many are aware that the island in fact started off with coal mining. Tanjung Kubong located 12 kilometers to the north of Labuan town once boasted for a huge coal reserve that was mined by the British for 65 years, from 1847 to 1911.

Though coal mining ended long time ago, its history could be witnessed today at the Chimney Museum set up on the former coal mining site. This writer was there recently for a visit organised by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to take a peek at Tanjung Kubong’s coal mining heritage and its natural attractions.

As soon as the vehicle stopped in front of the museum, the imposing view of the 32.5 meter tower against the clear blue sky above caught this writer’s attention immediately.

Standing on a mound on the right hand side of the museum, the square shaped tower made up of red bricks known to the locals as “Punil”, was built using 23,000 red bricks. Though the exact construction date has yet to be ascertained, historians believe it was probably constructed around 1880s.

Interestingly, till today no one is sure of the tower’s purpose but there is plentiful of conjectures over its function. Archeological investigations conducted in 1997 found 12 layers of bricks under the tower.

The structure was in fact located on a limestone area that contained kaolin, a substance used in making Chinaware that provided a strong foundation for the tower.

Two 2.2 metre high round top entrance facing east and west respectively provide access into the base of the tower shaft. What was this tower used for? While its real purpose remains unclear some believe it is a ventilation duct for the underground mine shafts.

However, a 1997 excavation failed to locate the underground shafts connected to the tower above. Some thought it is a chimney that dispersed smoke but this too is disputed as there is no sign of burning or smoke on the walls inside.

Some say it is lighthouse as the tower is located on an elevated ground and the fact that there was once a port close by in Lubuk Temiang. Locals too believe that it must have been a bell tower that indicated the arrival of ships.

While the Chimney Tower’s function remains a mystery, it is an accepted fact that it is now a landmark for Labuan, reminiscent of its a coal mining heritage. The coal mined here were transported to the Victoria Port in Labuan town.

Meanwhile, the Chimney Museum provides visitors with a totally different experience as all the information on the coal mining activities are presented in a chronological order in a specially built shaft within the museum.

During the height of the coal mining industry, there were about seven coal mining shaft around Tanjung Kubong that were built separately or connected with one another. The 15 kilometer railway line built around 1890s by the New Central Borneo company from Tanjung Kubong to Victoria Port is also closely linked to the mining activities.

The remnants of the railway line were discovered during the excavation work and has been on display in the museum that was opened in 2002. Apart from that another 612 artifacts are on display including the original bricks used to build the Chimney Tower, tools used in coal mining, artifacts left behind by miners and broken ceramics.

Another wonderful sight that greets visitors to Tanjung Kubong is the beach located about 500 meters from the Chimney Museum. Visitors have to take a 10 minute walk through the jungle track to enjoy the view of the wide open blue sea.

The beach hardly sees visitors from the outside but is the favourite haunt for locals who come there for fishing. There are rock formations that appear as a gateway or cave in the sea with a steep gradient along the beach providing an interesting geological panorama.

The coal that was once mined there and the oil and gas mined today indicate that the area was once a geological hotbed. For those who appreciate history and nature, Tanjung Kubong is a worthwhile place to visit.

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Malaysian Tourist Police At Their Best for VMY 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 (Bernama) — Susan Robert, a teacher from Calgary, Canada was in Kuala Lumpur recently for a holiday with her family. After finishing her breakfast at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur (KL), where she had been staying for a week, with a map in her hand Susan started walking towards Times Square located not far from her hotel.

While she was looking for a place to shop, she noticed a police beat nearby with several friendly policemen and she immediately knew they were the Tourist Police that she first got to know at the Tourism Ministry’s website.

Tourist police play an important role in not only ensuring the safety of the visitors and but also in making their visit to Malaysia a memorable one. Susan, 52, and her family will represent the 28 million visitors expected in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY 2014).

Susan when met by Bernama expressed her appreciation over the wonderful Malaysian hospitality and security provided to visitors. And therefore, Malaysia is naturally the choice destination for her family.

Susan too is captivated by of the local customs and the culture in Malaysia, her second destination after Singapore. “I decided to visit here after I got the information about Malaysia through the Internet. Then, I thought that Malaysia is a safe country to visit. My friends who had visited Malaysia before also suggested to me to come here.

“During my stay here, I felt safe and admire the fact that Malaysians were polite, friendly and always helpful in giving direction when needed, especially the police,” noted Susan.

According to the head of the Kuala Lumpur Tourist Police Unit ASP Roslee Omar, the unit was established in 1998 in an effort to make the tourism sector as an income generator for the nation. He added that, since then the tourists police have limited their role in engaging directly with the visitors on tourism related matters as Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Tourist Police had taken over that role.

In so far, the tourist police unit has been established in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Selangor and Johor. As the tourist sector is expected to contribute income up to RM68 billion annually, Roslee provided assurance that his side would do all the best in not only helping any tourists in distress but also in making sure they do not fall victims to crime.

Through strategies and hard work, the unit has managed to address crime involving tourists and enhance their safety. And accolades have come pouring in. Roslee pointed out in 2012 the Sri Lanka authorities congratulated the Malaysia government after the foreigners who robbed a Sri Lankan judge was caught.

Meanwhile, Roslee who has been heading the unit for the last three years said in preventing snatch thefts in busy streets within the Golden Triangle, the unit and DBKL were planning to introduce a schedule where motorcycles and other vehicles could only use the roads on certain times.

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Malaysia’s East Wind Festival To Be Annual Event

KANGAR, Feb 26 (NNN-Bernama) — The Perlis – Peninsular Malaysia’s northernmost state – East Wind Festival 2014 which will be included in Visit Malaysia Year (VMY2014) for the first time this year will become a annual event to attract more tourists to the state.

Chairman of the State Tourism Committee, Abdul Jamil Saad said the festival had its own attractions and was unique as it had not been offered by any other state. “Held for the first time in 2011, it has received encouraging response and the state government has announced since last year that it would be held for the second time in Kampung Permatang Keriang, Sanglang on March 1 and 2.

“The festival, which bears the concept of the traditional way of life of the farmers after the harvest season, is expected to attract more than 10,000 visitors, including those from Thailand,” Abdul Jamil told reporters here today.

He said the projection was based on the interesting events which received good response, such as the singing competition of the bulbul birds and the traditional kite contest. He added that other events to be held during the Wind Festival include padi field fishing, duck catching, buffalo race and decorated buffalo contest.

He added that the festival was jointly organised by the Perlis Culture and Arts Department (JKKN) with the state government, Perlis Tourism and Culture Office and 13 government agencies.

Abdul Jamil said visitors could also take part in traditional games like the congkak, batu tujuh and sepak raga as well as watch the making of crafts like batik drawing, making padi crackers, dangai and peknga.

He added that 18 booths would be set up to sell various products including from the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA), the Social Development Agency (Kemas), the Fisheries Department and the Agriculture Department.

The Perlis Artist Association, the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) and the State Farmers Association will also participate in an exhibition to be held during the festival.

According to Abdul Jamil, entertainment programmes will also be held in the evenings including a Ghazal Party and a special appearance by Malaysian artiste Datuk M. Daud Kilau.

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Malaysia’s Langkawi Island Voted 10 Best Asian Islands

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 (NNN-Bernama) — Langkawi, located in the northwestern part of Peninsular Malaysia, has been listed among the ten best islands in Asia in 2014 Tripadvisor Travellers’ choice.

The award, which was published on their website recently, ranked the tropical island tenth best in Asia. Palawan in the Philippines and Koh Samui in Thailand were listed at eighth and ninth best respectively.

Topping the chart was Ko Tao in Surat Thani province in Thailand, which was also ranked 2014 tenth best island in the world.

Langkawi, which officially known as the Jewel of Kedah, is part of an archipelago of 104 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia.

It claims romantic white-sandy beaches, forested hills, waterfalls and crystal-clear waters. It was given a World Geopark status by UNESCO in 2007.

Tourists coming to the island can travel either by sea or air. The island which is also known mysteriously as ‘Legendary island’ was named second in 2013 Tripadvisor Travellers’ choice of ten best destinations in Malaysia. For the complete list of Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice winners, please visit http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice.

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Malay Heritage Houses Still Stand Tall In Melaka

MELAKA, MALAYSIA, Feb 28 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malay traditional houses in Malaysia’s historic state and city Melaka are not only a magnet for camera totting tourists but also stand testament for the remarkable skills of its builders who combined local customs, beliefs and Islam in the design.

The beautiful and unique architecture of these traditional houses probably give a clue on how the 15th century palaces of the Melaka sultanate would have appeared. Their design goes beyond the creativity of their original artisans as they also highlight the owners status in the society.

Many of the traditional homes in Melaka were built using the best timber and often they stood on pillars, have high floors and gable roofs, and a front staircase adorned with colourful tiles. The timber used to build the Malay houses were meranti, cengal, belian, resak, tembusu and merang.

Among the traditional homes that still stand tall is the house of an ex-chieftain Demang Abdul Ghani bin Penghulu Abdul Majid, who hailed from Palembang, Sumatra, Indonesia. The house located in Kampung Merlimau Pantai is believed to have been built in 1831 without using any nail. It is the work of master craftsmen who literally created a functional house in fulfilling the house owner’s role as the ‘demang’, the village headman.

The layout includes a verandah at the front, a staircase leading to the entrance and the living room. Often this part is called as the main house, which is joined to the kitchen through a passage called ‘selang’ and this is considered the central section. The rooms can be found in the main house or central section.

In its heydays, the house also served as the village administration centre where the locals congregated. The house still stands strong and a fourth generation descendent of Demang Abdul Ghani, Rizal Mat Ramli, 40, now owns the house.

“In fact this is the house of my ancestors that has been turned into a gallery by the Melaka Museum Corporation (Perzim) to enable visitors to appreciate its unique architecture and heritage. I grew up in this house and even had met my grandfather Penghulu Mat Natar bin Abdul (the son of Demang Abdul Ghani) who had lived in the house during his lifetime,” he said to Bernama.

A Perzim staff, Roslan Jaafar, 36, who has been working at the traditional house for the last eight years pointed out that the house is unique in many ways. “There are many intricate carvings including the flower motifs carved into the central pillar,” he said adding that the visitors who came to the house were awed by the embellishments in many parts of the house.

At Kampung Serkam Pantai, the traditional house belonging to Haji Jaafar Hashim, 73, functions differently and has attracted both the tourists and film makers. The closed verandah of this house functions as the living quarters and meeting hall. Apart from that the central section or the ‘rumah ibu’ is the place reserved for women during events like weddings.

According to Jaafar, the 90-year old house was the set for the “Suamiku Seorang Ustaz” drama with Adi Putra and Nora Danish in the lead role.

He is happy for the fact that he had inherited a house that boasts for rich family heritage. Moreover, its beautiful and intricate carvings and colourful tiles is almost a century old now. The design on the tiles at the staircase also indicate its owner’s status and there is a local saying that the Melaka traditional house’s eminence is in its staircase.

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Aussie Muslims Fight Domestic Violence

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 25 February 2014 SYDNEY – A leading international Islamic humanitarian group has joined hands with the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC NSW), launching a campaign to fight domestic abuse and offer family counseling to the Australian Muslim community.

“I believe that this is a significant milestone for the Muslim community,” Muaz AlHaj, CEO of Islamic Relief Australia, told Muslim Village on Tuesday, February 25. “It is going to help those who are in great need of support to make a positive change,” he added.

Working to reduce domestic abuse within Australia’s Muslim community, the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, signed a Memorandum of Understanding this week with Islamic Relief Australia on behalf of the ANIC NSW.

The agreement organizes work between Islamic Relief Australia and ANIC NSW towards fighting domestic violence and disputes. Both bodies will also cooperation of offer youth mentoring, family counseling and marriage preparation.

For Muaz AlHaj, cooperation with ANIC NSW and Muslim community’s spiritual leaders was expected to help the expansion of the program, making use of their network of mosques. “It will help Islamic Relief to make a world of difference to people’s lives,” he said.

AlHaj added there was huge need for the family counseling program amongst the local community. “In under one year, we have dealt with over 845 cases ranging from domestic violence to substance abuse and family disputes in Sydney alone,” Muaz AlHaj said.

In Islam, marriage is a sacred bond that brings together a man and a woman by virtue of the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Each partner in this sacred relationship must treat the other properly and with respect.

Woman is recognized by Islam as the full and equal partner of the man in the procreation of humankind. By this partnership, she has an equal share in every aspect. She is entitled to equal rights, she undertakes equal responsibilities, and she has as many qualities and as much humanity as her partner.

Moreover, the relations between the spouses in Islam should be based on tranquility, love and mercy.

The new agreement form part of Aid Program suggested by Islamic Relief Australia to the local Muslim community. The program offer support through “family counseling, youth welfare, local disaster relief and no interest loans,” Muslim Village reported.

The family counseling program “provides free of charge counseling to families experiencing abuse including emotional, physical and sexual abuse,” it added. Along with family services, the program includes offering no interest loan scheme to help young Muslims abide by the principles of Islamic Shari`ah.

“The organization’s No Interest Loan Scheme is a community based program to help low income people buy essential household items such as a washing machine, fridge or medical appliance,” the website says. “Many low-income households get by week to week, but are completely stuck when they need to buy an expensive appliance. A typical loan can be up to $1,200 to be repaid over 12 to 18 months,” it adds.

The Aid Program was not limited to members of the Muslim community, expanding to help people in distress from all faiths, including offering help to bush fires victims.

“Islamic Relief Australia’s first local response was to the Blue Mountains bush fires, where over 200 homes where completely destroyed. The organization provided over 1000 sleeping bags, 200 LED torches and sleeping bags for firefighters,” the website says.

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

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Muslim Entrepreneur’s Story of Success

OnIslam & News Agencies Monday, 24 February 2014 LONDON – Failing to find ready halal meals at Warwick University, Shazia Saleem’s dream of establishing a ready-meals business for Muslim students was born, for which the British Muslim young lady has dedicated the past eight years of her life.

“Most of my friends at university were non-Muslims, and when we did a weekly food shop together their trolleys were full of really tasty-looking ready meals, and all I could buy were things like cheese and onion pasties,” Saleem told the BBC on Sunday, February 23.

“It was really frustrating, and I used to whinge a lot that I was missing out. I thought, why wasn’t anyone making halal ready meals, other than the odd curry? That was when I decided I needed to do something about it. While moonlighting on other things, I then spent the next eight years putting together all the pieces of the jigsaw that needed to be in place before I launched Ieat.”

The 29-year-old from Luton is the founder of newly launched ready-meals business Ieat Foods (as in “I eat”). The new line of production makes a range of traditional British and Italian dishes, such as shepherd’s pie and lasagna, prepared according to halal and shari`ah law.

But, Saleem’s success story was not an easy one.

Leaving university, Saleem first got her first job at UK entrepreneur Peter Jones, one of the “dragons” from the BBC TV show Dragons’ Den. Though her work was a dream opportunity for many, the young lady could not be satisfied with a salaried job which limited her ambitions, deciding to quit the job at 25.

“It was great working for Peter, but I needed to go and do something for myself,” she says. “I needed to push myself.”

Leaving the company, she started her Cambodia adventure, buying 50% of a run-down holiday resort. “Some people thought I was mad, but I needed to go and do something completely different,” she says. “I was like a project manager, and we turned the development into Cambodia’s first eco-resort. We made a success of it, and ultimately I sold my share.”

Returning to the UK, Saleem finally launched Ieat Foods, conducting a market research, which showed there were thousands of second-generation UK Muslims like her who wanted to buy halal ready-meals.

“The first generation of Muslims who came to this country typically would have stuck to the food they were used to,” she says. “But us younger Muslims want to try different types of foods, we want to eat the ‘normal’ foods that British people do. Ieat gives those that follow the halal rules a convenient and healthy chance to do so.”

Now, the young lady runs a halal-only factory in Yorkshire. The first glimpses of success appeared when Sainsbury’s agreed to take Ieat Foods’ first 12 product lines in its stores in London, Birmingham and Leicester.

With just five employees at present, Saleem has big plans to expand Ieat Foods. “I get my ambition from my parents, who came to this country from Sri Lanka with nothing and both worked multiple jobs to make a good life for themselves and their family,” she says. “And my faith and my British identity is why I’m doing this particular business. I’m just mixing the two.”

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Why Britons Are Turning To Islam

OnIslam Correspondent Wednesday, 26 February 2014 LONDON – While Christianity remains an integral part of Britain’s religious history, Islam has become a strong contender over the past decade, with reversions registering in their thousands year after another.

“At a time when personal freedom, over-sexualisation and moral liberalism have taken over and broken down Britain’s moral compass, more people find solace in Islam’s compassionate but yet clear guidelines,” Annie Simpson, who holds a Phd in comparative religious studies and philosophy, told OnIslam.net.

“As society becomes more permissive and on many levels more morally pervert, individuals yearn to re-centre their lives around God. Islam offers people much more than just a belief in God, for many it becomes the matrix upon which, and around which, they can exist and make sense of the world … From chaos to order,” she added.

According to government data, UK Muslims made out about 2.7% of the population in 2011. Conversions to Islam are better understood as the manifestations of people’s desire for spiritual guidance.

In a study conducted by Faith Matters in 2011, the organization found that, “Converts do not represent a devious fifth column determined to undermine the Western way of life. This is a group of normal people united in their adherence to a religion which they, for the most part, see as perfectly compatible with Western life.”

In Brighton for example (East Sussex), Al Medina Mosque has had to build two additional floors to its original building, as well as organize a dual Friday prayer rotation, whereby worshippers are given the possibility to attend an early or later prayer.

The expansion of the mosque was a result of a huge growth in the number of Muslims over the past decade, after Brighton’s Muslim population increased for more than quadruple.

Hussein Ali Al Bogheti, an Islamic scholar from Yemen, who came to the UK back in the late 1990s explained that Islam’s clear sets of rules, the integrity of its message and the clarity of its teachings made it most appealing to Britain’s disengaged youth.

“Islam offers answers and solace. Truth is a powerful thing; it resonates in one’s soul and transforms the mind,” he told OnIslam.net. “Conversions have always been the driving force of Islam in the sense that its light will continue to overcome the shadows. While lies and deceit can find many forms, truth is only with God.”

Lisa Hamilton, a civil engineer from Bournemouth, explained how, following a holiday in Tunisia, she and her husband chose to embrace Islam as their religion. “Born into a regular British setting from atheist parents, my childhood and transition into adulthood was uneventful,” she told OnIslam.net.

“Two years ago I decided to visit Tunisia with a friend … suck in the culture and history. As part of our package a guide took us to the city of Keirouan, an important religious centre of the Islamic world we were told and home to a magnificent Mosque.”

Arriving the Keirouan, Hamilton had the first chance to hear the Adhan (call to prayer), and the spiritual call changed her life altogether. “I remember arriving in Keirouan quite late in the afternoon. We only got settled in our hotel room when out of the quietness of the early evening I heard Adhan (prayer call),” she recalled.

“In the stillness of that moment, this sound, this chant just seemed to fill the air, making everything else recede … to this day I don’t think I ever heard anything quite so beautiful than this Imam’s call for the prayer. And even though at the time I had no idea what words were being called out, my heart understood their beauty.”

“The following day I found myself in Keirouan mosque, admiring its architecture, the magnificence of Islamic carvings and drawings.”

Admiring the Islamic culture and beauty, Hamilton decided to study Islam after returning to Britain. “Right there and then I knew that Islam held too much beauty and organic truth for me to ignore. As soon as I returned to the UK I began to research and study Islam. I poured over the Qur’an every night for months on end, wanting to reconcile my heart with my mind.”

Finding Islam, she found happiness and peace of mind she had for many years longed for. “Faith is a funny thing … it requires little convincing. While my heart believed, my mind had still to process my new understanding of the world,” Hamilton told OnIslam.net.

“Islam put everything, every aspect of my life under a new light … sometimes not a kind light I might say. But nevertheless, it gave me a strength and peace of mind I don’t think was possible. I’m a fully convert Muslim now and I’ve never been happier. And yes if some people have been funny about my conversion, my close family understands that Islam is an inherent part of me now. It defines me, carries me and guides me.”

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Printing house for blind Muslims opened in Kazan mosque

islam.ru / 28 Feb 2014 – Printing house “Suhr Kazan” has been opened in “Yardem” mosque of Kazan. It is planning to print religious literature for blind Muslims of Russia and the CIS countries on the system of Louis Braille.

The printing house is equipped with modern equipment to produce high quality products. The equipment consists of two isographs of the latest model, sheet piler, electronic stitcher, which was presented by President Rustam Minnikhanov, copy machine that prints 75 pages per minute and many other things.

According to Imam-Khatib of the “Yardem” mosque Ildar – Hazrat Bayazitov, “Suhr Kazan” printing house will be able to continue to print free religious literature for Russian muslims.

Deputy of the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan, the poet Robert Minnullin noted that the opening of the house is a historic event. Mosque ” Yardem “, according to him, has become a center of charity and the example to follow.

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Roundtable discussion on “Halal Industry” to be held in Kazan.

islam.ru / 22 Feb 2014 – A roundtable discussion on “Halal Industry”, which will be attended by international investors and experts in this field, will be held in Kazan. According to the press service of Tatarstani Myftiyat, the event will be conducted under the framework of the II International Winter Forum “Invest inTatarstan”, which will be held in the republic on March 5-6. It will be discussed the investment opportunities and infrastructure of Tatarstan.

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Islamic world must attain its rightful position: Rouhani

Tehran times / 22 Feb 2014 – The ninth session of the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (PUIC) kicked off in Tehran on Tuesday, with the attendance of representatives from 47 OIC member states. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani took over the rotating presidency of the conference from Sudanese National Assembly Speaker Al-Fateh Ezzedin for one year.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Larijani, and Ezzedin delivered speeches during the opening ceremony of the conference. Twenty-eight parliament speakers and 14 deputy speakers of OIC member states are attending the conference, which is being held on the theme of “Islamic parliaments: Solidarity, Progress, and Justice”.

In his speech, President Rouhani called for measures to improve security and boost the economy in the Islamic world in order to bring about “lasting peace and sustainable development” and to promote the Islamic culture.

He added that the Islamic Republic of Iran “wishes the best” for all Muslim countries and regards their “progress” and “glory” as its own. Rouhani also expressed hope that the conference would find tangible solutions for the problems facing Muslims.

He also said that he was optimistic that the conference would increase cooperation and common understanding between Iran and all other Islamic countries.

Rouhani said that today, Muslims are facing various challenges, including security problems, economic crises, the Syria crisis, and the Palestine question. However, in light of Muslims’ enormous economic wealth and their countries’ critical geopolitical position, they should have a more proper role in the world, he added.

Rouhani asked if it is fair that the Islamic world is torn by “extremism and terrorism” and sectarian and tribal conflicts that lead to the death of Muslims, and that Islam, which is the religion of mercy and kindness, is being presented to the world through the prism of Islamophobia.

He also said that Muslim nations, by virtue of their possession of abundant natural resources and their control of sensitive geostrategic locations in the world, should be enjoying a much better situation in the world in comparison to other nations.

In his speech to the conference, Larijani said that the arrogant powers make “tactical” use of “terrorism” in order to threaten various Muslim nations, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But if Islamic countries utilize their vast potential in various areas, they will acquire an honorable position vis-à-vis the arrogant powers, he noted.

The Iranian Majlis speaker also hailed the recent wave of Islamic Awakening in regional Muslim countries, underlining that such democratic movements will strengthen unity in the Islamic ummah (community).

The Sudanese parliament speaker, who is the former rotating president of the union, also delivered a speech in which he described “extremism” as one of the biggest challenges facing the Islamic world. Ezzedin called for more unity among Muslims and said the PUIC should convey the message of Islam to the world.

Elsewhere in his remarks, he touched on the union’s objectives and said that the PUIC should take measures to promote scientific research and bridge scientific gaps in Muslim countries.

The PUIC was established in 1999 and consists of 53 members and 22 regional, international, and parliaments observers. Its permanent headquarters is in Tehran. It seeks to strengthen parliamentary cooperation among Islamic countries in order to solve challenges facing the Islamic world.

According to the PUIC website, one of the objectives of the union is to provide a framework for comprehensive and fruitful cooperation and coordination among parliaments of OIC members. The eighth meeting of the PUIC was held in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in January, 2013.

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Hajj Corporation introduces two packages for pilgrims

Sun.mv – February 26, 2014 – Hajj Corporation, established by the government last year, has introduced two packages for hajj pilgrims. The two packages were launched at a press conference at Islamic Ministry today.

The first package is aimed at pilgrims wishing to go for hajj this year. Hajj Corporation’s fee for this year’s hajj pilgrimage is MVR 69,965. Under this package, the corporation will provide training sessions on how to perform hajj, assistance carrying belongings at airports, religious advice 24 hours, and health assistance. The corporation has also arranged two halls at the hotel in Mecca for laundry and ironing.

The second package is for people who wish to plan going for hajj in the future. Under this package, people can pay the fee in instalments, and for example deposit a monthly amount from their salaries to an account at Hajj Corporation.

Speaking at the press conference, Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Aishath Muneeza said that this is the first time such packages are introduced in the Maldives, and that the packages will greatly benefit pilgrims.

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Hollywood star Russell Crowe in Turkey for directorial debut

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Following shootings in Australia, the Turkish scenes of actor Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, “The Water Diviner,” will begin shooting on Feb. 26. The Istanbul shootings will take place in the Sultanahmet, Çemberlitaş and Balat neighborhoods, as well as at Topkapı Palace. The crew will remain in Istanbul until March, before going to the deserted Kayaköy village in the Aegean district of Fethiye to continue shootings.

“The Water Diviner” is based on a screenplay by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios. The story 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. Besides Crowe, the film stars Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney and Turkish actors Cem Yılmaz and Yılmaz Erdoğan.

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Erzurum aims to become winter sports center

Hurriyet – According to the new governor of Erzurum, Ahmet Altınparmak, Erzurum is going to be one of the most important ski centers in Turkey. Although this year has been a disaster for all the winter sport centers in Turkey, Altınparmak does not complain.

“Our situation is not as bad as other places. We had sufficient snow to keep most of the ski slopes open. The owner of one of the biggest oil companies from Russia was in Kartalkaya, but because of the lack of snow, he flew with his private jet to Erzurum and stayed here with all of his friends. After Antalya (where Altınparmak worked as governor), I know much about tourism. Seeing the potential of Erzurum I want to work hard on turning Erzurum into the center of winter sports in Turkey.

“One of the plans is to connect Palandöken and Konaklı with cableways and ski slopes. We have some beautiful five-star hotels here in Palandöken. My idea is to have more intimate bungalow type houses for the tourists in Konaklı. It will create diversity in the kind of tourists that will visit Erzurum.”

Palandöken is a ski center about 20 kilometers out of town. It might look quite a distance, but the road that leads to Palandöken is incredible. Although the temperature was below zero, the road was completely open. I did not need my snow chains at all. The road cut the white countryside into two; it was as if a giant black worm was sliding through the snow.

Before you arrive at the Palandöken ski resort, you pass the little neighborhood Palandöken. From a distance, it looks like a fairytale village. On top of a little hill, you can see the houses with their flat roofs. On top of those roofs, the villagers put huge conic piles of hay.

Looking around the picturesque village, I hoped tourism in this area was going to increase, but at the same time, that it will not touch and therefore change a little village like Konaklı. It is a cute village.

About two kilometers further away is the Konaklı ski center. It was not busy at all; all I saw were some members of the national ski team who were training here and a couple of foreign tourists. Most of the tourists who visit Erzurum during wintertime stay in one of the many five-star hotels at Palandöken.

I liked the lack of tourists; no full ski slopes where you have to be careful not to be swept off your feet by someone who recently learned skiing, but still does not know where the steering wheel is. Empty slopes; no people in a line waiting for the ski lift. You arrive, get in the lift and go up the mountain. Some 10 minutes later you can start with the descent. At the moment, they are working on opening up another ski slope. If that one is ready people can enjoy skiing until June. But all they want at the moment are visitors.

This would become Turkey’s biggest ski center and maybe, one day, Turkey might enjoy the winter Olympics. They already have a lot of things that would make Erzurum suitable for the winter Olympics; two big ski ramps, covered stadiums for ice hockey, figure skating and curling. The only thing they do not have is a slope for bobsleighing.

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Saudi company to develop resort in Maldives

Sun.mv – February 25, 2014 – A Saudi Arabian company has announced its plans to develop a tourist resort at Laamu Vadinolhu in the Maldives. Arab News reported that Best Choice Real Estate Development plans to develop Vadinolhu Island’s seven-hectare area as an eco-friendly, five-star resort worth $100 million.

The premium resort will feature 100 beach villas, including water bungalows and luxury suites and will offer world-class dining services, wellness facilities, and leisure activities.

Mohamad Rabih Itani, CEO of Best Choice Real Estate, told Arab News, “The Maldives offers tremendous investment opportunities, especially in the hospitality sector, as it has rapidly emerged as a destination of choice for international tourists. Our aim is to develop Vadinolhu Island as a high-end resort with world-class facilities to promote it as a complete family destination.”

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Tajikistan produces first 3D animated film

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-25 DUSHANBE – In Tajikistan, animators are finishing their country’s first 3D feature-length cartoon, which industry watchers expect to revive animation nationwide.

The plot of Kuhistan (Land of Mountains) is geared toward children of all ages. The main characters are groundhogs Babu and Tambal, who peacefully live in a meadow until they start a war with residents of a nearby mountain village. The humans, in search of new land, begin populating the contested meadow. The villagers and groundhogs alternate between conflict and reconciliation until a catastrophe affects both communities. The filmmakers declined to reveal what the catastrophe was, saying that viewers will have to watch the film to find out.

The film’s producer, Umed Ulugov, has long worked in environmental matters. Everything linked to the environment is “home turf” for him.

“The idea … came from several deeply committed enthusiasts: Lola Ulugova, my sister, a big cultural expert; Aleksey Rumyantsev, a talented director; and me – just a person who wants to inform the public about the importance of environmental consciousness,” he said. “The confluence of those three skill sets made the idea of popularising environmental education for children and adults possible.

“The idea found support amongst specialists from the Small Grants Programme of the UN Global Environment Facility and subsequently from The Christensen Fund,” he noted, adding that they provided funding.

The team spent US $60,000 (288,300 TJS) and a year and a half to produce the 60-70 minute Russian language movie. Animator Akmal Saidov said that, including himself and Rumyantsev, only three people worked on the drawings for the film.

Enthusiasm helped the creators beat various obstacles. “We spent more than a year and a half to make Tajikistan’s first 3D animated film, and it’s worth noting that neither I nor my colleagues had any relevant experience,” Saidov said.

The biggest hardship was having to acquire technology and equipment abroad. The voice actors were fueled by their enthusiasm. Enthralled by the project, the entire staff worked for very little money.

The background shots are of real mountain landscapes and nature preserves in Tajikistan. The film’s main theme is to encourage humans to protect the planet from themselves, director Aleksey Rumyantsev said.

“There’s a lot in the animation that’s based on our love of the world around us, mountains, animals, plants, the entire (natural) palette that is specific to Tajikistan,” he said. “Our artist painstakingly designed each character in a way that only someone in love with his homeland could.”

Explaining why he decided to make a specifically environmental film, Ulugov stated that he could not have done it any other way. “It couldn’t have been any different,” he said. “In today’s world, specially protected nature preserves are … the most vulnerable. Poachers and illegal loggers have targeted (the preserves’) natural resources. The problems are compounded by poor management and lack of money to operate the preserves.”

The film’s creators are considering two possible ways to screen their film. The first is to show it for free in various ways: on the web, to various pro-environmental clubs and in schools. The second is to release the film in the nation’s theatres. If they do, they plan to use the proceeds to plant trees in the Ramit State Nature Reserve, the Almasy wildlife sanctuary and Shirkent Nature and History Park.

“Our main objective is to teach the viewer that we need to protect the environment,” Rumyantsev said. “It is as important to live in harmony with our surroundings as it is to protect them.”

“We hope that viewers will welcome our first attempt and support us,” Ulugov added. “That will by and large determine whether we continue work in this field. After all, animation in Tajikistan has fallen behind in many ways, and I think that our viewers would like to see a Tajik-made animated film on themes that matter to them.”

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Visitors to Uzbekistan on the rise

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-26 TASHKENT – Uzbekistan’s location and rich history are making the country an attractive destination for foreign tourists. The ancient cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva and the historic Silk Road remain top draws, but the government hopes to have tourists explore other locations as well.

The number of tourists who visit Uzbekistan is constantly growing,” Uzbekturizm spokeswoman Kamila Baysangurova said. “In the beginning of the 1990s … the country drew only a few dozen thousand tourists each year, nowadays the situation has changed completely. The government recognises the importance of tourism as a revenue source and is constantly investing in various … programmes to develop it.”

Last year, almost 2m foreigners came, a 16% increase from 2012, according to official statistics. “A large number of tourists come from France and Japan – these countries have traditionally been interested in our ancient monuments and culture,” Yulduz Asadova, an employee of privately owned Tashkent-based Arkturia Travel, said.

Besides the usual organised tour groups, more-adventurous travellers have been arriving, Asadova said. They include backpackers, bicyclists, motorcyclists and motorists, she said.

Tourists report some unforgettable experiences, though a few have suggestions for improvement. German tourist Jonas Schwartz, encouraged by his friends’ stories, had “no regrets” about going travelling to Khiva in 2013. “Uzbekistan has low prices, great people and fantastic weather,” he said, singling out the country’s “remarkably tasty local cuisine” for praise.

Turkish tourist Birsen Tosun was initially put off by the length of the passport control queue at Tashkent International Airport. “But … the amazing oriental city of Samarkand, the modern bullet train and the hospitality of the locals made me forget the negative part,” he said of his 2013 journey.

Last year, Uzbekistan’s tourism industry observed several milestones, Baysangurova said, citing the country’s first international tourism expo, new tourist trains and an international TV ad campaign. The government also began implementing a programme to develop tourism in the Khorezm, Surkhandarya, Tashkent and Kashkadarya oblasts.

Places unaccustomed to tourists are encountering them as a result of such investment, observers say. “In 2013, 3,000 foreigners visited Andijan Oblast … far from the usual tourist haunts,” Baysangurova said.

“At present, tourists generally want to visit popular … cities (like Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva), but the remaining oblasts have much worth seeing,” she said. “The government allocated US $250m (553.8 billion UZS) for 2013-2018 to develop the infrastructure of less visited oblasts. This money will build hotels, roads, video game and ride arcades and other facilities and carry out branding and advertising campaigns for the oblasts.”

The government last year also enacted tax breaks and offered low-interest loans to encourage the formation of more tourism-oriented businesses.

“At the beginning of 2014, about 900 companies were ready to work with foreign tourists,” Association of Private Tourist Agencies of Uzbekistan spokesman Abdurashid Mirzakarimov said. “On average, each of those businesses accounts for about 2,000 (foreign) tourists per year.”

To pump up the number of businesses and the quality of service, the government this year enabled entrepreneurs to obtain tourism business licenses electronically, without “even getting up from their computers,” he added. “This is most important for remote areas.”

“Tourism isn’t the easiest way to earn a living,” Asadova said. “Demand … is great, but so is the competition. We’re trying to … come up with distinctive tours and programmes. Our company, for example, developed horseback tours of alpine lakes and tours for mountain climbers and fans of winter sports. Those tours are popular; after all, apart from historical monuments, Uzbekistan has stupendous scenery – mountains, deserts, lakes and rivers.”

Uzbek businesses have shown interest in developing domestic tourism for children too. Many entrepreneurs have jumped into that niche.

“Last year, US $12m (26.6 billion UZS) was allocated to develop tourism for children, which is big money for this country,” Mirzakarimov said. “About 300,000 children were able to spend their summer vacation outdoors. “Developing domestic tourism, including tourism for children, is a useful foundation for business operators who can work simultaneously on attracting foreign and Uzbek visitors,” he added.

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Turkey’s ancient cities in a new guide book

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – A new book from Yaşar Yılmaz, “Ancient Cities of Turkey,” has provided a comprehensive overview of 118 ancient cities located in Anatolia and Thrace.

The ancient cities outlined in the guide, published as two separate books in Turkish and in English, are presented to local and foreign fans of history and archaeology in the form of short but satisfying texts, accompanied by photographs, current maps and road descriptions.

In addition to significant structures that form the core of the city such as the market place, fountains, theaters and baths, there are also historical personalities, social, cultural, economic and political characters. The 196-page book was published by YEM Publications.

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History of Brunei, at Your Fingertip via National Day App

Saturday, 22 February 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: BAG Networks in collaboration with the Secretariat of the 30th National Day Celebration has launched the ‘Brunei National Day’ mobile application for both Android and iOS smartphones. The launching was officiated yesterday by Hj Md Rozan Dato Paduka Hj Md Yunos, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.

Haslina Hj Md Taib, the Chief Executive Officer of BAG Networks, expressed her hope that the app would give the general public a better understanding about the Sultanate as a nation. Yesterday’s launching also witnessed the handing over of the app from BAG Networks, which was represented by its Chief Executive Officer, to the 30th National Day Executive Committee, which was represented by the Permanent Secretary.

The app allows users to learn more about Brunei attaining its independence in 1984, the national anthem and 30th National Day logo. A photo gallery featuring Sultanate’s past celebrations is also available. The app is available in English. It was also developed by Technology Practice Group, Business Development Team & Corporate Communications.

The ‘Generasi Berwawasan’-themed app is accessible through Android (Jellybean / Version 4.1.x) and iOS (Version iOS 6.x and above). The interior articulation of the application incorporates a color scheme that reflects the spectrum of the 30th National Day logo.

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900 people to take part in Brunei Darussalam Regatta 2014

Sunday, 23 February 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: The Brunei Darussalam Regatta 2014 can help the progress of the country’s tourism industry by turning Bandar Seri Begawan into a tourist attraction centre. This is in line with the tourism concept of Kenali Negara Kitani (KNK) or Know Our Country. The remarks came from the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Dato Paduka Awang Haji Abdul Majid bin Mangarshah as the Deputy Joint Chairman of the Regatta Executive Committee.

Speaking at a media conference, the Permanent Secretary said His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam was expected to consent to grace the event. A number of events have been arranged such as rowing and speed boat races, including jet ski race. There will also be a special race for dignitaries.

Also attending the media conference was the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Awang Roslan bin Haji Taja’ah. About nine hundred people have registered to take part in the regatta comprising of locals, Ministries, Departments, Mukims and foreign participants.

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Brunei Airport Upgrades Check-in Facilities

Tuesday, 25 February 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: The Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) and the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Ministry of Communications are pleased to announce that more airlines will perform check-in processes at the new Departure Check-in Hall of the Brunei International Airport effective Wednesday, 26 February 2014. The scheduled commencement date for the new check-in counters for airlines are as follows:

February 26, 2014 (Wednesday) Royal Brunei Airline, Cebu Pacific Airline

February 27, 2014 (Thursday) Malaysian Airline, MASWING, Singapore Airline

Check-in Counters:

Row A – Royal Brunei Airline Premium Row C – Singapore Airline, Malaysian Airline, MASWING

Row B – Royal Brunei Airline Economy Row D – Air Asia Airline (at later stage), Cebu Pacific Airline

For Air Asia Airlines, check-in will continue to be performed at the existing departure hall until further notice. Public access to the Airport Restaurant will continue to be made available and the public are also reminded to observe safety rules and directional signs put up around the Brunei International Airport.

As the Airport Terminal Modernization project reaches another key milestone, the BEDB and DCA would like to seek the kind understanding of all passengers and airport users and apologise for any inconvenience and discomfort caused during the course of these works being carried out.

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Brunei History Centre Launches Seven New Publications

Thursday, 27 February 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Haji Mohamad Rozan Bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohamad Yunos yesterday officiated the launching ceremony of books produced by the Brunei History Centre for 2014 held at the Brunei History Centre in the capital.

A total of seven books were including two books with English Language translation were launched at the ceremony. The publication was an effort to internationalise books produced by the Brunei History Centre. A picture story book entitled, “Legenda Jong Batu” written by Kartini Haji Safar, won the prize for the highest number of book sold in 2013.

The Permanent Secretary stated that history needs to be continuously recorded for the continuity of the race and national civilisation – valid and true historical facts needs to be publicised, disseminated and taught, and one of the means is through publication of history books.

“Exploration, finding, research and writing efforts on the history of the race and nation should be continuously and actively carried out as history is always developing and constitutes the journey of the race. People need to play their role actively in disseminating history not only through the media but should also by finding other alternatives in a new, innovative and creative approach so that it would be easily absorbed in the minds of every sector of the community in the country, especially the young generation and students. The nation wishes to see its young generation as history literates who are interested in the history of the race and nation, as well as love and assimilate it,” he added.

The Permanent Secretary also called on the Brunei History Centre as the institution responsible in researching, collecting, keeping and publishing Brunei History, to keep up its good effort and play the role of absorbing the knowledge of national history among the community through any form of the media.

The event coincided with the official opening of an exhibition on ‘Japanese Occupation in Borneo’ and in conjunction with Brunei Darussalam’s 30th National Day. The exhibition showcases posters containing historical writings and National Day posters since the country achieved full independence in 1984 to this year.

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Brunei tour operators briefed on new tourism guidelines

Friday, 28 February 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: Some forty tour services and travel agents’ executives yesterday heard a briefing on terms and conditions for tourism related industry in the Sultanate.

The briefing, which was held at Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources’ (MIPR) multipurpose hall and delivered by four panel members from Tourism Development Department, touched on the definition and interpretation of Travel Agents Act (Amended) 2012 that came in effect beginning on March 7 1995.

Delivering the briefing were Affandi Alias, Tourism Officer; Nor Irrafidah Hj Ismail, Tourism Officer; Noraini Hj Tersad, Acting Director of Tourism Development Department, and; Noriada Emela Abdullah, Project Supervisor.

Among the topics put forward during the briefing were safety issues in which license holders are solely responsible for their clients’ security and comfort. For example, travel agents are expected to have their personnel trained in first aid course. Similarly, transportation services must follow the safety guidelines of the tour company such as providing life jackets for boat ride. Travel personnel are also required to give safety briefing to their clients or tourists prior embarking on any activities.

Drivers and boat operators are required to undergo training and receive ‘Defensive Driving’ certification from Ministry of Communication (MinCom).

In terms of competency and qualification, Tourism Development Department maintained that license holders scrutinize their key personnel, agents, employees including contractors our volunteers hired throughout the tour. Experience and know-how on aspects relevant to tourism are a must to ensure smooth operational procedure.

For those who wish to venture into a spiritual branch of tourism, which is a travel package to perform pilgrimage and umrah in Makkah and Madinah, license holders are required to have permission from Hajj Management Department, Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA).

Tourism Development Department reminded license holders to not sell their rights and obligations contained in the license to any parties without prior permission from the department.

License holders are required to pay BND$250 for the annual fee, and additional BND$50 for each branch while producing a Banker’s Guarantee not more than BND$25,000.00 to Tourism Development Department, MIPR. These procedures must be performed two months after acquiring the license. The Banker’s Guarantee has to be renewed annually prior to expiration.

Other notable elements explained by the Tourism Development Department panel members include circumstances that lead to the license being revoked by authority, such as bankruptcy, high level corruption case, and other immoral activities. Prior to the license’s revocation, Tourism Development Department will issue a notice by means of official letter no less than twenty one days from the deadline.

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Ungu Institute to perform theater celebrating Women Int’l Day

Thu, February 27 2014 Jakarta (Antara News) – Ungu Institute, a womens art and cultural organization based in Jakarta, will perform “Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang-kembang Genjer” (The Silent Song of Velvetleafs Flowers) as part of the Women International Day 2014 celebrations.

Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang-kembang Genjers (NSKG) Producer and Director Faiza Mardjoeki stated during the press conference, here on Thursday, that the story was based on a two-year research about the 1965 molestation survivors (women) in several regions across Java, including Yogyakarta, Solo and Surabaya, and the Indonesian exiles in Sweden and Netherlands.

“But I have chosen the present as its setting, in aiming to share a revelation about another fact of our history that has been denied a part in the history subject that is being taught in our schools for years, ” Faiza elaborated.

NSKG will have six actresses playing the parts of old women in the age group of 73 to 83 year-olds, who are from the “Gerakan Wanita Indonesia” (Gerwani) or Indonesian Women Movement members, an organization that was associated with Partai Komunis Indonesia (Indonesian Communist Party) by New Order regime.

All actresses are well known in the national theater world, including Pipien Putri as Grandma Nini (83), Heliana Sinaga as Ming (25), Niniek L Karim as Grandma Sulahana (83), Ruth Marini as Grandma Sunilah (73), Irawita as Grandma Mak Min (76), and Ani Surestu as Grandma Tarwih (73).

Faiza explained that the casting process was a long drawn one, since she needed actresses to play old women. However, Faiza stressed that their character was built on even as the production was underway.

“My actresses are in their late 20s, late 30s and early 50s, hence I had to make sure that they play not just an ordinary old woman, but a woman who has experienced deep trauma and still has to keep living in the present,” Faiza explained.

“During the six-month pre-production process, we also interviewed some 1965 women survivors to draw some original inspiration,” she added.

Faiza and Ungu Institute stressed that the NSKG performance was simply required in order to share a forgotten fact from the Indonesian history, with the present generation. “And of course we stand for these women who could not tell their stories since the repressive regime of New Order banned and threatened them,” she elaborated.

The NSKG is the eleventh production of Ungu Institute; they have produced successful theater performances, such as “Nyai Ontosoroh” based on Pramoedya Ananta Toers Bumi Manusia (The Earth of Mankind) and “Rumah Boneka” (House of Doll).

The NSKG will be played at Goethe Institute Jakarta from March 7 to 9, at a ticket fee of Rp50 thousand as donation to the 1965 ex-political women prisoners.

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First steps to get closer to destination-Azerbaijan

28 February 2014 – AzerNews – Travelling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer, says one of the famous quotations of these days. And if you have decided to make yourself a bit richer by traveling to Azerbaijan, you need to know some life hacks to really enjoy your stay.

If your destination is Azerbaijan, you must get a visa. Single entry visas to Azerbaijan make it possible to stay in the country from three days to three months, while multiple entry-exit visas are valid for a term of one to two years.

Duty rates for visa types vary from $40 to $250, unless you are Turkish, Japanese, or Pakistani and enjoy beneficial rates. You must know beforehand that visa applications to Azerbaijan are considered within a month at the latest, or 48 hours if the visit is urgent.

Documents required in Azerbaijani embassies for getting a visa include 1 application form, 2 color photos (3×4 cm on a white background), passport or ID document, an invitation, tourist voucher, or other information confirming the purpose of visit, and a receipt confirming the payment of the state duty.

If you are not a person who likes this routine paper work, you can also turn to our local tourism companies, which will kindly prepare an electronic visa for you.

There are over 30 travel companies authorized to issue e-visas in Azerbaijan, Chingiz Mursalov, Inbound Tourism & MICE Manager at a tourism company told AzerNews.

Improtex Travel, PASHA Travel, Victory tour, ENC tours, and Greenwich travel are some of the well-known and trustworthy companies able to provide services at a good level, he confirmed. “Any tourist can book a hotel, buy a ticket, and send documents to these agencies to obtain a visa. After paying the state duty and the agency commission of 40-60 manats ($50-$75), the guest can apply for an electronic visa, which is issued within 15 working days or even faster. Therewith, there is no need for visiting the embassy. The submission of documents will be done online,” he said.

After making a decision to visit the “Land of Fire”, you need to buy a ticket and book a hotel, for which you need some detailed information.

There are many transport options for coming to Azerbaijan, but tourists from distant countries prefer traveling to Azerbaijan by air. Many leading European airlines fly to Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport and other airports in the country, operated by the national airline operator AZAL. Flights schedule and prices are available at AZAL’s website.

As for selectig a place to stay, there is a broad range of hotels depending on the money you want to spend. There are the exquisite five-star hotels of the world-known brands, and cheaper and cozy hotels located in the city center. There are over 120 hotels only in Baku, the Absheron region, and the Sumgayit city; 40 of them are three-star hotels, while 64 and 31 ones are four- and five-star hotels respectively. You can book a room online in most of these hotels.

Do not be surprised at such a large number of high-ranked hotels; they are always in demand in Azerbaijan, as a lot of international events are held in Azerbaijan these days.

Many tourists will definitely like to spend less money on hotels, but enjoy the best accommodations. If you want to stay in a comfortable “family hotel”, you must know that prices start from 50-70 manats ($64-$90) per person for a night with breakfast, while the average price is 80-120 manats ($100-$155) per person.

Such hotels are commonly situated in the city center, which facilitates traveling in the city and sightseeing. Many such hotels are in the Old city, the heart of the capital city. So you can stay at a priceless location – like ancient Baku fortress – even with moderate funds.

So, when you are ready, get your visa and come to one of the most welcoming countries of the Caucasus! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact nigar@azernews.az to discover the Land of Fire together.

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Alexandria library sets to make catalogue of Nizami Ganjavi heritage

25 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – The Library of Alexandria is developing the catalogue of the Nizami Ganjavi literary heritage.

The work on the creation of the catalogue on literary heritage of Nizami Ganjavi is being conduct under the chairmanship of the Director of Alexandria library, the executive director of the World Digital Library, co-chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, Ismail Serageldin, the Azerbaijani State Committee on work with Diaspora told Trend on Feb. 24.

At present, the work are at the beginning stage.

The catalogue will include the contacts of world scientists, engaging in the study of Nizami`s heritage, the data on the locations of all existing copies of the “Khamsa” manuscripts, the works, list of books, researches, articles dedicated to his legacy.

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Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey strategic railway project under way

25 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is of strategic importance to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The railway will contribute to the strengthening of the neighbourhood, friendship and trade relations among the countries, Georgian Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kvirikashvili told journalists. “The problem regarding the purchase of territories along the route in the implementation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project has already been solved, there are no obstacles for the project. The project will be launched in time. Test train will be launched at the end of 2014, in 2015 the project will be completed,” the Georgian Vice Prime Minister added.

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Iran offers to launch Ardabil-Baku flight

26 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – The issue of opening direct flights from the cities of Ardabil and Parsabad to Baku is on the agenda, deputy head of Ardabil airport on executive issues Mohammad Kassabi said on Feb.25 at the meeting on the opening of Ardabil-Baku and Ardabil-Istanbul flights, Iran’s IRNA agency reported.

Kassabi said that currently the transport and transit infrastructure is being strengthened for opening the Ardabil-Baku flight at Ardabil airport and the airport has the necessary potential for this. The head of the department on Ardabil province of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization Yahya Taghizadeh said that some 391,000 Azerbaijani citizens visited Ardabil in the first nine months of the Iranian calendar year (begins on March 20).

If some 41,000 people from Azerbaijan visited Ardabil in 2008, their number hit 430,000 in 2013, according to Taghizadeh. Some 49 percent of Azerbaijani citizens visiting Ardabil come here for treatment, according to Taghizadeh.

Taghizadeh also emphasized the necessity of organizing joint exhibitions in Iran and Azerbaijan for demonstrating tourist, trade and therapeutic potential of Ardabil and participation of Azerbaijan in these exhibitions.

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Azerbaijani travel agencies join Washington DC Travel and Adventure Show

26 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Travel agencies of Azerbaijan, which joined Wonders of Azerbaijan travel promotion project, have participated in the 10th annual Travel & Adventure Show in Washington on February 22-23. The Project “Wonders of Azerbaijan” was set to promote Azerbaijan as a travel destination to international travelers from the United States.

The two-day event brought together 20 000 participants from across the globe, including the U.S. and international destinations, including the numerous exhibitors and booths, travel experts who shared their experiences and tips with guests. Wonders of Azerbaijan seeks to establish business relationship with leading U.S. travel agencies and tour operators catering to the needs of discerning international travelers from the United States and we are particularly interested in cooperation with U.S. travel professionals delivering travel services to such destinations in Eastern Europe, Middle East and Central Asia.

The Azerbaijani stand under the motto “The Country of Fires and Center of Tolerance” presented materials on Azerbaijan`s nature, history, culture, and culinary. The show is a one-stop-shopping bazaar with an extensive array of destination vendors offering show-only travel deals, free giveaways and action-packed activities, plus educational seminars, cultural performances and more.

Exhibitors from a wide array of exotic and exciting destinations across the world and adventures practically in our own backyard display thousands of thrilling travel opportunities, ideal for every budget.

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Baku to host Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan business forum

27 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijani and Kazakh businessmen will come together in Baku for a business forum. Organized by the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO), the forum will bring together nearly 20 Kazakh businessmen from the fields of chemical industry, energy and logistics. The forum will be held as part of a visit of Akim (Governor) of Mangystau Province Alik Aidarbayev.

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Dazzling modern carpets revolutionize traditions in Azerbaijan

21 February 2014 – AzerNews – The Carpet is one the most recognizable symbols of Azerbaijan. Colorful and vivid Azerbaijani carpets are believed to be an indispensable part of every Azerbaijani’s life. From a very childhood, the carpet follows each of us from the cradle to grave.

The art of carpet weaving is one of the ancient industries in the country. For centuries, the “Land of Fire” has been famous for its unique carpet schools.

The traditional image of national carpet is close to every Azerbaijani’s heart. Going beyond the current borders of carpet weaving art has been a big challenge for those involved in the industry. Today, a young artist has decided to break the rules. The results are pleasantly shocking.

Faig Ahmed, 31, sculpture by occupation, is working by various media, including painting and video to give a new image to the ancient carpets. “Reactions of viewers to changes to a familiar thing like carpet have been interesting,” he said.

These reactions to things that are close and dear to hearts and things that have been stable and unchanged for generations really encouraged the talented artist. He has used a stable tradition to express his generation’s views. To do so, he had to make changes to the tradition, the project he has successfully pressed ahead in recent years.

At present, he is studying the artistic qualities of Azerbaijani traditional rugs. He seeks to combine tradition with contemporary art, which is a novelty not only in Azerbaijan, but also in the world. This is a hard challenge, but it worth trying.

Now, Faig is one of the well-known contemporary artists in Azerbaijan who have held exhibitions in famous centers like Venice Biennale, Moscow National Center of Contemporary Art, Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau in Dresden.

His searching for new artistic forms started with a bit childish question “What is inside?” This question led Faig to combine explorations with profound imagination. Deep analysis combined with self-reflection has led to a new genre called “actual tradition”, which seeks to change our habitual and visually stance towards anything around us.

“You need to do what no one did before to create something new. It is always difficult. Because when you leave behind the rules, society will either accept or reject you. It is like gliding over the abyss,” he said.

By disassembling conventional structures and randomly rearranging traditional design, he combines the classic parts with contemporary forms. He expresses himself not only by designing new carpets, but also carpet installations and even sculptures.

The first and more rigorous audience of the Faig’s ideas is weavers of his carpets, who are still suspicious of this modern art. They neither accept nor understand it. However, guests of Faig’s exhibitions, which are held around the world, are more flexible to this new tradition, which gives a rousing cheer to new more riotous designs.

Faig said his voguish carpets adorn private houses in many countries traveling beyond museums of Azerbaijan, USA and UK. Quite possibly, these groundbreaking carpets will form a new tradition in Azerbaijan in near future.

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Iran, Qatar To Establish Joint Free Trade Zone

TEHRAN, Iran, Feb 28 (NNN-FNA) – Iran and Qatar will establish a joint free trade zone, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad-Javad Zarif was quoted as saying.

Establishment of a joint free zone can help expand cooperation between the two countries’ private sectors, Zarif was quoted by Iran Daily as saying, after meeting his visiting Qatari counterpart, Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyeh.

“We held constructive talks on promoting economic cooperation,” Zarif said. “By adopting a practical approach and keeping an eye on its outcomes, we can make desirable achievements in this regard. ”

He said, the two countries have agreed to set up a joint committee for studying and promoting mutual ties.

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