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14 Apr, 2014

Islamic “Halalywood” Film Industry Set for Global Launch

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 14 April 2014 (14 Jumaada al-Thaani 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.



The tragedy of MH370 has led to a decline in visitors from China to Malaysia. The Islamic world can help make up for the shortfall. Supporting Malaysia in these difficult days must be an Islamic imperative. Take your next holiday or organise your next business event in Malaysia and make a small contribution towards helping the country mitigate the potentially wider economic impact of the tragedy.


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.




250 Indonesian hospitals set to launch traditional treatments

April 12 2014 Surabaya, E Java (ANTARA News) – Some 250 hospitals in Indonesia are preparing to introduce traditional and herbal treatments as an alternative to modern medical therapies, a Health Ministry official said.

“The traditional treatment has been developed in stages. One of the hospitals that have developed it is RSUD Soetomo in Surabaya,” the ministry’s director of traditional, alternative and complementary medical treatment development, Dedi Kuswenda, said.

Speaking at an international symposium on TradCAM” (traditional complimentary and alternative medicine) here on Saturday, he said traditional treatment is taught at institutes of higher learning, including the Surabaya-based Airlangga University (Unair).

“In fact, acupuncture treatment is also being developed there,” he said. Dedi noted that traditional treatment is growing in the country and hoped the public will have access to traditional treatment without the risks of using chemical substances that might be harmful to their bodies. Herbal medicines can be used for physical fitness and health.”

Traditional treatment is important for the public as an alternative to modern treatments. “It is for the patients to decide themselves. If they feel suited to herbal medicines, that will be no problem,” he said.

The Health Ministry continues to develop traditional treatments in hospitals, while at the same time monitoring the circulation of illegal traditional medicines, he said.

“Certification (of medicines) is constantly needed. We are also intensively cracking down on sellers of illegal traditional medicines,” he said. Chief of the symposiums steering committee, Puruhito, said the symposium was attended by experts from Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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Unique ‘Love for the Prophet’ exhibition opens in İstanbul

Todays Zaman / 10 Apr 2014 – An exhibition of Islamic art and calligraphy never before revealed to the public, “Aşk-ı Nebi: Doğumunun 1443. Yılında Hz. Peygamber” (Love for the Prophet in the 1443rd year of his birth), opened at Topkapı Palace with an event on Tuesday, presenting what its organizers say is the “most important classical Islamic artwork in the world to date.”

The exhibition features Qurans, hadiths (sayings and teachings of the Prophet), pages of calligraphy, calligraphic Hilye-i Şerif (written descriptions of the Prophet) and other calligraphic artwork from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

Guests sipping Ottoman sherbet served at the event listened as Religious Affairs Directorate President Mehmet Görmez spoke. He explained how the exhibition’s display of love and compassion for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is particularly relevant during this period when Turkish society is becoming increasingly polarized. “Fourteen centuries ago, the mercy of the Prophet swept in like a breeze and united divided and fragmented hearts. Hopefully, ‘Aşk-ı Nebi’ will be an occasion to unite our tired hearts and help us, with the compassion of the Prophet, leave behind all the mistakes and evils of the past,” Görmez said.

He also underlined the importance for all Muslims to reflect on their relationship with Islam and ensure that it is based in sincerity. “This year, the theme of (showing) love for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) (on his birthday) is sincerity. Hypocrisy, pretension, passion for power and lust for wealth have unfortunately penetrated even the language of religion. But the only honest relationship with religion is one which is sincere,” Görmez said.

In attendance at the opening were Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Abdurrahman Arıcı, İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, İstanbul Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Ahmet Emre Bilgili, İstanbul Mufti Professor Rahmi Yaran, President of Topkapı Palace and the exhibition curator Professor Haluk Dursun and Fatih District Mayor Mustafa Demir.

The exhibition will continue until July 15.

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IMF calls Iran’s economic development ‘promising’

Tehran Times – 12 April, 2014 – The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that the Iranian economy will progress notably in the future.

In a meeting between IMF Managing Director Christian Lagarde and Iranian Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif, Lagarde referred to Iran’s economic development as ‘very positive and promising’.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of the joint annual meeting of IMF and the World Bank (WB) which opened in Washington on Friday, IRNA reported. In its latest World Economic Outlook report, IMF has said Iran’s economy will come out of recession in 2014.

The Iranian economy will grow by 1.5 percent in 2014 and the growth rate will hit 2.3 percent in 2015, according to the report.

According to IMF, Iran’s economy had contracted by 1.7 percent in 2013. Iran’s inflation rate will decrease to 23 percent in 2014 from 35.2 percent in 2013, IMF predicted. However, the jobless rate will rise to 14 percent in 2014 from 12.9 percent in 2013.

On April 3, the IMF said in a press release that Iran has achieved considerable progress in raising per capita income and living standards in previous decades. According to the report, since the Presidential election in mid-2013, there have been some signs of stability. The exchange rate has appreciated markedly in the bureau/parallel market. The CBI has kept a lid on base money growth thanks to tighter credit to the banking system and some fiscal consolidation, and 12-month inflation has declined to about 29 percent in January 2014.

With some positive tailwinds from the external side and some incipient signs that the pace of contraction in domestic demand is slowing, it is projected that economic activity would begin to stabilize in 2014/15, with real GDP projected to increase by 1–2 percent.

On January 23, IMF said it will resume annual evaluations of Iran’s economy, suspended by Tehran since the organization’s last mission nearly three years ago.

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Gambian Airline Services To Three West African Cities

ACCRA, April 7 (NNN-GNA) — Gambia Bird Airlines has announced that following the outstanding success of its first 18 months of operations, it will be operating to three new destinations in West Africa from its home base of Banjul, The Gambia.

The airline, founded by the German carrier Germania Express in October 2012, said in a statement received by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) here Sunday that it would be flying to Bissau in Guinea-Bissau, Lagos in Nigeria and Douala in Cameroon, as well as from each of the new destinations to points across the airline’s growing network.

The new services will allow Gambia Bird to double the number of connections previously offered, with 25 connections each week from Dakar, 20 from Banjul, 20 from Freetown, 18 from Accra, 15 from Lagos and 18 from Monrovia, Liberia.

Flights to another new destination, Conakry in Guinea, would also be launched as soon as local conditions permitted, the statement added.

Announcing the new routes, the airline’s chief executive officer, Thomas Wazinski, said: “We are delighted to be launching these new services, and to be adding important new destinations across West Africa to our network.

“Our comfortable and reliable fleet of Airbus 319s will offer competitively-priced connections for both business and leisure passengers between Banjul, Bissau, Dakar, Douala, Lagos and other points within our network, and we look forward to welcoming customers on these new routes.”

The airline’s chief commerical officer, Karsten Balke, said: “There is growing demand for safe and reliable air travel between West Africas major cities and we are confident that these new routes will deliver increased choice and convenience for customers, who want to take holidays within the region, visit friends and relatives or conduct business.

“Our comfortable aircraft cabins, excellent hospitality and punctual services have already raised the bar for airlines within West Africa. The addition of Bissau, Douala and Lagos to our network offers a welcome increase in the availability of high quality travel across this vital and dynamic market.”

“Gambia Bird currently operates services from Banjul in The Gambia, to Accra in Ghana, Dakar in Senegal, Freetown in Sierra Leone, and Monrovia in Liberia, with further long-haul services from Banjul to Barcelona and London, and from Freetown to London with its fleet of Airbus 319-100s.

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Malaysia: Tourism Contributed Rm51.5 Billion To GNI in 2013

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia April 8 (NNN-Bernama) — The tourism sector contributed RM51.5 billion to the Gross National Income (GNI) last year, says Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

He said the sector was the sixth largest contributor to the Malaysian economy and the second largest foreign-exchange earner after manufactured goods.

The industry’s performance exceeded expectations last year with tourist receipts amounting to RM65.44 billion against the target of RM65 billion.

Despite a challenging year, he said tourist arrivals in 2013 grew 2.7 per cent to 25.7 million against 25.0 million arrivals in 2012.

“The 8.1 per cent growth in tourist receipts, from RM60.56 billion in 2012, represented an expansion of about RM4.89 billion in terms of foreign exchange earnings.

“The tourism industry now is a prime contributor to the socio-economic development of the nation,” he said when launching SummerNats Malaysia 2014 here today.

SummerNats is annual premier automotive event and exhibition imported from Australia and will be held for the first time in Malaysia from Aug 29-Sept 1 at the Sepang International Circuit.

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Maldives Tourism Boosted By Rise In Chinese Arrivals

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka April 8 (NNN-Xinhua) — Maldives tourist arrivals in February grew a moderate 6 percent when compared with the same period last year helped largely by increased arrivals from China, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) said in its latest report.

According to the MMA, “the annual increase was due to the rise in the number of arrivals from Asia and Europe,” the MMA’s monthly report noted.

The MMA had previously revealed that tourist arrivals rose 17 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year “mainly due to the large increase in tourist arrivals from China, coupled with a slight growth in arrivals from Europe.”

Statistics from the Tourism Ministry show that 331,719 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives last year, which was a 44.5 percent increase from the previous year.

Chinese tourists accounted for 29.5 percent of all tourist arrivals in 2013.

In November 2013, the Finance Ministry revealed that the tourism industry’s GDP growth in 2012 declined by 0.1 percent following 15.8 percent growth in 2010 and 9.2 percent in 2011.

Despite negative growth in 2012, the Finance Ministry estimated that the industry would have expanded 5.5 percent in 2013 and forecast a growth rate of 5.2 percent for this year.

The average duration of stay has however fallen from 8.6 days in 2009 to 6.7 days in 2012, and 6.3 days in 2013.

According to the annual tourism yearbook published by the Tourism Ministry, the average occupancy rate of all tourist establishments in 2012 was 2.5 percent below the previous year at 70.6 percent.

The Maldivian economy is largely dependent on tourism, which accounted for 28 percent of gross domestic product on average in the past five years, and generated 38 percent of government revenue in 2012.

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Sarawak World Harvest Festival Expects Rm3 Mln Revenue

KUCHING, Malaysia, April 10 (NNN-Bernama) — Sarawak expects the tenth World Harvest Festival (WHF) 2014, which would be held at the Cultural Village here, to rake in tourism revenue of at least RM3 million.

State Tourism Minister, Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, said this was based based on an average spending of RM200 a day per visitor at the three-day festival.

He said last year the festival attracted about 5,000 visitors and this year’s figure would be almost the same.

“The money (revenue) will go to all those people who are participating in the event. The locals will gain from the money spent by the tourists on hotels, taxis, flights and food,” he said at the media briefing to promote the event here today.

He said WHF 2014 was one of the many events lined up by his ministry this year to ensure continuous flows of tourists to Sarawak.

“The first two months of this year showed a promising start for the tourism industry in Sarawak with over 700,000 tourist arrivals,” he said.

Abang Johari said Sarawak was on course to attract between 4.5 million and 4.6 million tourists this year compared with 4.3 million tourists in 2013.

He said the MH370 incident only had a marginal impact on tourist arrivals from China as most tourists to the State came from Europe and Australia.

Of the total number of tourist arrivals between January and February this year, about 6,000 were from China, he said.

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East Java Offers Agricultural Tourism Investment To Taiwan

SURABAYA (Indonesia) April 10 (NNN-Bernama) — The East Java Regional Administration had promoted investment in agricultural tourism to a business delegation from Taiwan in an effort to increase cooperation between Indonesia and the region, Indonesia’s Antara news agency reported.

“We are trying to develop the tourism sector, which will help increase the total tourist visits to East Java,” the Deputy Governor of East Java Saifullah Yusuf said after a meeting with the Taiwanese business person here on Thursday.

According to Saifullah, several agricultural tourism sites that had not developed yet were located in Tea Park, Jatim Park, Durian Bhakti Alam Park, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and other nature tourism sites.

Saifullah said the agricultural activities that will be interesting for foreign tourists include harvesting tea or paddy in the field.

“The tourism activities will be scheduled according to the harvest time. The rare and unique activity of harvesting will be interesting for foreign tourists,” he remarked.

According to Deputy Governor, East Java is also interested in agricultural technology transfer.

To improve the relation between the regions, Saifullah said communication development was required by establishing more direct flights between Surabaya and Taiwan.

“There are only two flights that serve the route. We hope more flights will be added to the schedule to support the flow of business,” he added.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Taiwan business delegation, Leo Vang, voiced his appreciation for the agricultural tourism development plan in East Java to attract foreign tourists, particularly from Taiwan.

He noted that several agricultural sites in Taiwan had developed to become recreation and study centres.

“The Taiwanese people’s interest in the agricultural sector is not only limited to producing valuable items for the people but also to help make them study tourism centres,” Leo said.

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Malaysia To Take Lead In Standardising Halal Certification

KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia will take the lead to standardise halal certification for all Muslim countries, says Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC).

Chief Executive Officer Jamil Bidin said the issue was now being discussed at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) level.

“Malaysia is partnering Turkey to tackle the differences in halal certification and to come up with a new standardised criteria that would be applied in all OIC countries,” he told a press conference after a panel discussion on global food security held in conjunction with the World Halal Conference 2014.

He said out of 57 countries under the OIC, there were 10 big players in the halal industry besides Malaysia including Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Jamil said most of the 10 countries have approved the new standards, which once applied, can avoid confusion or differences in issuing halal certification.

“This partnership will harmonise halal standards, globally, as currently there were a lot of criteria coming out from other countries.

“And, as Malaysia has been pioneering the halal industry for almost 40 years, our ideas and proposals would be highly demanded by the OIC,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jamil said in line with the improved economic situation globally, Malaysia expected exports of halal products to increase to five per cent compared with 2.7 per cent last year.

In 2013, Malaysia’s exports was valued at RM32.8 billion.

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Islamic “Halalywood” Film Industry Set for Global Launch

OnIslam & News Agencies Monday, 07 April 2014 CAIRO – Catering to Muslim needs, the first ever Shari`ah compliant film industry is planned for kick off in America later this year, offering Muslims a halal entertainment that reflects their true image.

“There are 1 billion Muslims around the world and there is nobody catering for us and our stories,” Omar Regan, a Muslim American actor and comedian, said in a video encouraging people to donate to his Kickstarter project, Aquila Style reported earlier this month.

“So I left Hollywood and I’m going Halalywood!” he added. Halalywood, the first halal-certified film industry for Muslims, has been created by Regan who has appeared in films such as Rush Hour 2.

According to the Muslim comedian, the halal film industry aims to defy the stereotyped image of Muslims portrayed in the western and the American media.

“Here is our mission: we are going to provide halal entertainment, that’s entertainment we (Muslims) can relate to,” Regan stated.

“Secondly, we want to re-educate the masses about Muslims and Islam. Thirdly, it will provide a platform for young Muslim writers, actors and directors, where they can go and get their stories made and they won’t be turned away.”

Halalywoood would produce its first film later this year under the title “American Shari`ah”. The comedy/action film depicts the prejudice of US officials who misuse the term of “Islamophobia” to gain more power.

This is not the first time for Muslim to launch their private entertainment media. The huge success of Islamic songs among youth in the west started when Awakening, which has its UK head office in Swansea, signed its first artist, Sami Yusuf, in 2003.

Providing Muslims an opportunity to listen to halal, “clean”, music, Awakening had a profound impact on many young Muslims, particularly in the west.

Yusuf, a British Muslim singer of Azerbaijani origin, was described by Time magazine as “Islam’s biggest rock star” after the success of his first two albums Al-Mu’allim (The Teacher, a reference to the prophet Muhammad) and My Ummah (My Muslim Community).

In 2008, the star of Maher Zain, possibly the biggest name in the Islamic music industry currently, was rising.

His first album, Thank You Allah, catapulted him to celebrity status in the Islamic world, and he has just released his second album, Forgive Me. The United States is home to a Muslim minority of between six to eight million.

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

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HDC Pact With Kumamoto City At World Halal Conference

KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 (NNN-Bernama) — Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) have signed a memorandum of agreement with Kumamoto City of Japan and A-Commerce to develop halal industries in both countries.

A statement issued by HDC on the final day of the two-day World Halal Conference 2014 here today, said following the agreement signed Wednesday, all three parties were regarded as strategic partners and halal components and brand would be introduced in the Japanese market.

Kumamoto City is a local government in Japan organised under the Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu Island while A-Commerce is a professional business advisor to various local government bodies in Japan which rendered support to the development of the halal industry there.

“The agreement also aims to achieve cooperation and collaboration in areas of common interest and explore opportunities to develop, support and enrich the development of the human capital industry that will be of benefit to both countries.

“Foremost, the scope of collaboration covers the creating of awareness of halal at all levels of endeavour,” it said.

Currently, Japan is Malaysia’s fifth highest trading partner in the halal industry, bringing in an export value of RM1.88 billion last year.

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Brisbane Eyeing Malaysians To Invest In Hotel Industry

SINGAPORE, April 10 (NNN-Bernama) — Hotel investors, operators, developers and financiers from Kuala Lumpur are being targeted in an on-going campaign to provide more hotel rooms in Brisbane each year for the next decade.

An active approach to attracting hotel investment has reaped rewards for Brisbane with more than 500 additional hotel rooms either available or coming on line this year, but many more are needed.

Speaking at the launch of the updated Guide to Hotel Investment in Brisbane, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said more investment in hotel rooms was needed to attract high spending visitors.

He outlined opportunities for hotel operators, investors, and developers keen to establish a footprint in the city.

“Due to a shortage in internationally-recognised, full-service hotel room supply, Brisbane is forgoing about 121,000 visitors a year,” said Quirk.

The text of his speech was released here.

He said the shortage is causing the market to defer an estimated 278,000 room nights every year — about 14 per cent of current demand.

Quirk noted this deferred economic benefit is largely contributing to the lack of hotel supply which in turn is hampering Brisbane’s ability to attract major events and conferences.

He said this lost visitor expenditure equates to about 1100 jobs and A$114 million in economic activity that would otherwise exist.

“More hotel rooms are needed to realise this deferred demand, and enable the city to procure more international business events and conferences,” he added.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s Tourism, Major Events, Small Business and the Commonwealth Games Minister, Jann Stuckey, said in the guide that investment in internationally recognised hotels was a key part of the state government’s goal to grow Brisbane as a business and leisure destination.

“We are delivering a pro-business environment which supports new and renewed investment, as well as driving demand through attraction of new international airline routes, marketing campaigns and major events,” he added.

He said Brisbane’s events calendar is already brimming with world class sporting and cultural events.

“We have world class conference facilities hosting major business events, not to mention the upcoming G20, which will bring world leaders and global media to the city,” he added.

The 2014 Guide to Hotel Investment in Brisbane, Australia provides the latest information on economic conditions, hotel demand drivers, trading conditions, and future hotel supply requirements for Brisbane, leaving investors in no doubt about where and how they can make sound investment decisions.

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WB Finalises Plans To Lend Bangladesh $2.7 Bn For Investment

WASHINGTON,April 10 (NNN-PTI) — The World Bank is finalising plans to lend Bangladesh a sum of $2.7 billion for investment and poverty-alleviation projects, its president Jim Young Kim said.

“We had many other projects going with the government at the same time,” the World Bank President said. “Our relationship with the government of Bangladesh has always been good, and will continue to be good. There was the one project where we had trouble with and where we disagreed. But that was just one project.”

Kim was speaking at a round-table with media representatives from eight countries – India, China, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, South Africa and Tunisia.

Describing Bangladesh as a “very important” partner for the World Bank, Kim said the World Bank has zero tolerance for corruption and its stance on this will always remain the same, irrespective of the nature of governments and countries.

“And, just like in the Bangladesh case, because there has been a problem with corruption, doesn’t mean that we break off the relationship. We continue to work with Bangladesh very closely,” he said.

Stating that Bangladesh has had some very, very impressive results, he said the poverty level has gone down dramatically from 1990 and even during 2000 to 2010.

“There’s been significant reduction in levels of extreme poverty in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a lot of challenges, just like many other developing countries. Bangladesh needs to improve power generation,” he added.

“I think that again, Bangladesh is another country that has to make use of this democratic dividend, invest in the education of its young people and I think that we really have to face up to the enormity of the challenge of adaptation to climate change in Bangladesh that so much of the land area will be flooded if the seas continue to rise,” he said.

Growth has been over 6 per cent for the last five years. “So we think Bangladesh in many ways has done well. But it faces many of the same challenges that other developing economies face,” he added.

The World Bank President expressed concern about adaptation to climate change. “Some of the illustrations that you can see online about what will happen with very small even, changes in the sea level, could be really quite devastating. And so adaptation will be the key. We’re also ready to work with Bangladesh on adaptation to climate change,” Kim said.

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Algeria Eyes Accession To WTO membership By End-2015

ALGIERS, April 11 )NNN-APS) — Algerian Minister of Trade Mustapha Benbada is hopeful that the country can complete the process of accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the end of 2015.

“We are due to answer questions at the 12th (WTO negotiation) round in June, which will make it possible for us to hold a new series of negotiations before the end of the year. I hope that the 13th meeting will be the penultimate round of negotiations,” he told a news conference here Thursday.

According to Benbada, the working team tasked with Algeria’s adherence to the TWO commitments, consisiting of the European Union and the United States, appreciated Algeria’s progress in the accession process as well as the quality of the documents presented during the 12th round.

“The delegations consider that Algeria is nearing completion of the accession process.”

During the last round of negotiations, Algeria agreed to receive additional questions of WTO members as well as their requests concerning market access by the beginning of next March.

Algeria will answer the new questions and requests by the end of 2014, ahead of the next meeting next autumn, the minister said.

MasterChef Pakistan set to sizzle this May

8th April 2014, KARACHI, Dawn.com: The world’s most loved reality show MasterChef launched in Pakistan on Monday to give local amateur cooking enthusiasts a once in a lifetime opportunity to make their mark.

The launch event for the reality show was held at a private hotel in Karachi on Monday where the three judges were introduced. Khurram Awan of Movenpick Hotels and celebrity chefs Zakir Qureshi and Mehboob Khan will be judging the contestants on a variety of cuisines which will be prepared by them on the show.

The talent hunt for short listing the candidates was held in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

The media briefing event was hosted by prominent media personality and food enthusiast Sidra Iqbal. The guest of honor at the occasion was Mr. Peter Heyward, the High Commissioner of Australia to Pakistan. MasterChef Australia of course is the flagship success story of this global reality series.

Earlier this year, Mr. Heyward’s office was pivotal in bringing the most popular contestant of MasterChef Australia (season four), Amina Elshafei to Pakistan for a well-received fusion cooking tour. “Food brings cultures and people closer together, I am pleased to be here at the media briefing and wish all the contestants Of MasterChef Pakistan, the very best,” said Mr. Heyward.

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New railway under construction in Xinjiang

URUMQI, April 12 (Xinhua) — Construction of a new railway in far west China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which will eventually link the area with Kazakstan, got underway on Friday. The 308 km railway from Karamay to Tacheng will cost over 5 billion yuan (840 million U.S. dollars) and be completed at the end of 2016.

When it opens in 2017, the railway is expected to carry over 10 million tonnes of freight annually and, in the long run, annual throughput will top 15 million tonnes, the local government of Tacheng Prefecture said in a press release Saturday.

From Baikouquan in Karamay to Bakti Port on the China-Kazakstan border, the railway will be part of a route linking the border with the interior regions. The line runs through Xinjiang’s oil and coal areas.

“Upon completion, it will cut transportation costs by at least 30 percent,” said Wan Genwei, deputy general manager of Tacheng Iron and Coal Energy Co. Ltd. The new railway will help Tacheng, which produces about 1.5 million tonnes of coal each year, expand its market share both in China and abroad.

The line will be part of the national network connecting Xinjiang with the neighboring Gansu Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and provide an easier link to Kazakstan, central Asia and, ultimately, Europe.

Xinjiang has just under 5,000 km of railways in operation, according to the regional transportation department.

Xinjiang is expected to become a national transportation hub by the end of 2015, said Zhang Dehua, deputy head of the department.

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Arabic calligraphy flourishing in the West

9 April 2014, Arab News – Even non-Muslims can’t help but fall madly in love with the beautiful Islamic culture and let it be part of their lives. After all, this great faith has so much enriching to offer to the world. And one such person keen to make it happen is Josh Berer, an impassioned American calligrapher whose heart and soul simply beats for Arabic calligraphy.

He believes that the Arabic script of all scripts brought into being, is by far the most flexible, versatile and capable of the greatest degree of creativity one can ever think of. As a matter of fact, it was a predestined journey for him that he would later stumble upon and find out what he really wanted out of life.

So what made him become a true devotee of Arabic calligraphy in the first place? “I first fell in love with this beautiful handwriting art as a 19-year-old graffiti artist who had just started learning Arabic. When I moved to college, I continued with my lessons in Arabic language and encountered Arabic calligraphy.”

And there it was! He was sketching a piece of graffiti, and it dawned on him that graffiti in Arabic was almost heaven-sent. “The flow of Arabic letters lends themselves so naturally and perfectly to graffiti that I couldn’t help but try it,” he says.

Looking closer enough, it occurred to him that there exist some obvious parallels between the two art forms, one which is ancient and traditionally rigid whereas the other seems modern and is in constant state of change. Besides, the switch from graffiti to Arabic calligraphy isn’t as dramatic as one might think. “The hand motions that a graffiti artist practices thousands upon thousands of times aren’t that dissimilar to those a student of calligraphy must follow in the same order until every letter comes naturally and produces a perfect result.”

Nonetheless, he knew that he will need to learn the traditional part flawlessly before jumping into an ultra-modern manifestation of Arabic calligraphy such as graffiti. Otherwise, it would be disrespectful. “I decided that to do graffiti in Arabic, I first must learn the calligraphy that would influence it. So I made up my mind to put Arabic graffiti on hold. However, graffiti will always have a pivotal role to play in my calligraphy and that is something I’m forever going to bring to the table,” he says.

Berer’s childhood was quite different from that of his friends. Thanks to his mother who is a professor of Islamic Art History, he grew up surrounded by Islamic calligraphy and other splendid arts of the Muslim world-ceramic, textiles etc. They spent time in Istanbul together. This way, he also came to know about the stories of the unimaginable beauty of Isfahan, Mazar-e Sharif and Herat. “I remember, as a young child, thinking “What a boring thing to study.” But I was wrong. After all, life has a way of bringing us full circle!

Right after his graduation that earned him a scholarship for excellence in Arabic studies, he flew to Sana’a, Yemen for six months in order to see for himself and understand the Islamic culture closely allowing him to gain solid advanced knowledge in traditional Arabic grammar, Islamic law including modern literature, Arabic calligraphy and oral poetry.

He follows two styles formally and these are Sulus and Nesih. Yet, there are many other styles that he practices in his work. Some of them are traditional ones, but most of them are contemporary ones, such as, many of his own creation such as Zoomorphic (art that is fashioned in animal form), Beladi, Figural and Massoudy.

“You need to be familiar with the entire world of craftsmanship from creating a piece to putting every single aspect of the equation in order; the paper being hand-made, the marbling is your own, the gold work is hand-laid, and the last thing is the final assemblage that has to be looking seamless,” he points out. “It’s a holistic craft that requires discipline in every aspect.”

What does he get motivated by? “Nothing but deadlines,” he said. “I try and get everything to my clients within a week, so I’m often very late into the night doing draft after draft until I find the one that works.”

There are certain role models in his life that he looks up to. One of them is his own teacher, Mohamed Zakariya who is, in fact, the US’ foremost expert of Arabic calligraphy. “My father is a master craftsman in his own right, and had it not been from his lessons in craft and my mother’s teaching in Islamic arts, I doubt I would be on this eternal path,” he admits.

Asked what his relatives and friends thought of his profession, he said, “Most didn’t know that “Arabic calligrapher” was a job-option. I didn’t either until a few years ago.”

In fact, it isn’t easy to achieve complete perfectness over this art. He thinks that one can be a master calligrapher, but he doesn’t think there is such a thing as a perfect piece. “We are imperfect beings striving for perfection in a divine art. To me, what we term a master calligrapher is more accurately a very, very, very good calligrapher. There is no completion, no point where improvement stops,” he says.

On his behalf, he has set a very good example by incorporating both Arabic and Hebrew in several pieces like one was a marriage contract for an interfaith couple, another was a birthday present for an 80-year-old Iraqi Jewish fellow.

But the one for which he is best known is the Hamsa that he did for a company based in New York that wanted to have their mission statement written in both languages. “We chose the Hamsa because it is a symbol of protection and luck in both Muslim and Jewish cultures and we thought that the idea of intertwining culture would work very well on paper with intertwining calligraphy.”

Talking about his clientele, he said, “My clients range from corporate world seeking logos and branding work, to families seeking art to hang, couples looking for an emblem for their wedding invitations, and everything in between. I would say about sixty percent of my clients are Muslims, probably fewer than thirty percent are Arabs.”

What are his future plans? “My future plans are to complete my training in Istanbul first and foremost. I am working with a group of calligraphers here in America to create an organization to help spread calligraphy teaching in America, and help more people learn calligraphy. I would like to see that organization grow and spread in future years.”

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Jazz guitar legend McLaughlin wows Palestine

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories, 11 April 2014, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE: The Palestinian territories are rarely a destination for jazz musicians let alone stars of an art form that is more at home in big cities such as New York and Chicago.

Which makes the performance of jazz guitar legend John McLaughlin before a packed auditorium in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday night all the more remarkable.

McLaughlin toured areas of the West Bank before enthralling the mostly local audience who attended his “solidarity concert” for Palestinians with a fusion of Western and Eastern sounds.

The 72-year-old British musician, who has recorded with the likes of late jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, said proceeds from the concert would go to a local NGO. “People here are isolated… and the situation is such that since very few people can leave, it’s important that people from the outside come in,” he told AFP.

Palestinians “don’t have freedom, they don’t even have passports… it’s lamentable that an entire people are in such a situation. So I feel it incumbent upon myself to make other people aware of it,” McLaughlin said.

The concert was the second that McLaughlin has performed in Ramallah after an appearance in 2012 in support of Al Mada, a charity which uses music therapy to help traumatized and marginalized Palestinians.

“I am personally aware of how marvellous the power of music is. It has fantastic healing qualities,” McLaughlin said. “We’re not making some gigantic contribution like building a dam or a reservoir, we’re just playing music. But music to me is… very powerful,” he told local reporters on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s concert, which featured a heavy influence of Indian music for which McLaughlin is known, enraptured those who attended.

“It was excellent, I love jazz and there’s not much live jazz here,” said Ramallah resident Nabil Turjman. “It’s wonderful that someone this well-known comes from so far, it shows great support for and solidarity with Palestinians,” said Turjman’s wife, Rana.

McLaughlin, who arrived Tuesday from India on the final leg of his Asia tour, also sat in on Al Mada therapy sessions. Al Mada, which seeks to encourage both adults and children to open up about traumatic experiences through music, was received with suspicion when founded in 2009, according to its co-director Rim Abdel Hadi.

“At the beginning it was a bit challenging,” Abdel Hadi said. Many Palestinians “found it a weird concept, as music is (thought of) as being a luxurious activity and limited only to those who can afford it,” she said.

But since the organization started, the concept has gained ground and is supported and funded by various international agencies including the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.

Even in an environment where there is so much need for physical development, the psychological effects of art therapy are just as essential, she insists. “Palestinians are not only either victims or terrorists … they are normal people who have a life, have ambitions and dreams.”

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Turkish Airlines Wins Most Viral Celebrity Spot at Advertising Age’s 2014 Awards

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–April 10, 2014 Turkish Airlines, one of the world’s fastest growing airlines that was recently voted Europe’s Best Airline for the third year in a row, has been awarded the Most Viral Celebrity Spot in Advertising Age’s 2014 Viral Video Awards for “Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout”, at the fifth annual ceremony held on April 1 in New York City.

The Crispin Porter + Bogusky-created commercial spot, originally rolled out in December as a part of Turkish Airlines “Widen Your World” ad campaign, features global brand ambassadors and international sports megastars Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi.

In the campaign that emphasizes the global network of the airline, Kobe and Messi resume their friendly rivalry from last year’s viral “Kobe vs. Messi” ad by trading “selfies” from exotic Turkish Airlines locations, including the Red Square in Moscow, The Great Wall of China, the Maldives, Bangkok and Mount Kilimanjaro. Throughout the video, the competitive athletes are seen at various airports consulting the airline’s destination boards for their flights. In the ad’s final shot, Messi takes a “selfie” in Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul—only to be photobombed by Kobe.

The ad ultimately seeks to heighten awareness of the many benefits of Turkish Airlines around the world including flying to more countries than any other airline, its award-winning cuisine and unsurpassed service.

With 137.2 million views since its December 2013 debut, “The Selfie Shootout” was recognized for inspiring various online selfie competitions including the #SelfieOlympics, which garnered thousands of participants across multiple social media channels.

The campaign was developed by Crispin Porter + Bogusky and produced by H S I Productions, with music by Beacon Street Studios.

Advertising Age’s Viral Video Awards honor the best brand storytelling through videos. Campaigns are measured across all platforms, including different versions, responses and iterations.

To view the video, please click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/turkishairlines.

In additional accolades, Turkish Airlines’ Istanbul hub was recently crowned the top worldwide destination in the annual TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice® Destination awards, as determined by travelers’ reviews on the website. TripAdvisor weighed users’ rankings for hotels, attractions, and restaurants at the destinations over a 12 month period to determine winners.

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Malaysia Plans To Turn Forest Research Institute As UNESCO Heritage Site

KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 (NNN-Bernama) — The government plans to turn the forest at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) as a heritage site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) by the year 2017.

The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, G.Palanivel said the FRIM forest should be maintained and conserved as a major tourism area in the country as it was the largest and oldest man-made forest in the world.

“The forest covering about 150 hectares of land is the biggest and oldest man-made forest in the world and thus, the government’s objective is to turn the area into a UNESCO heritage site in the year 2017.

“Each year, 600,000 people visit the area,” he told reporters at a media conference after attending a Corporate Visit at FRIM.

Earlier, Palanivel performed the opening ceremony for the Bamboo and Rattan Gallery by planting bamboo trees around the gallery.

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MIHAS 2014 A Good Platform To Promote Halal Products

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia April 11 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malaysia International Halal Showcase 2014 (MIHAS 2014) is a good platform to strengthen relationships among countries and promote Malaysian halal products.

Indonesian Consul for Economic Affairs in Malaysia, Iwa Mulyana, said trade, tourism, investment and services were among the areas which could strengthen the countries’ relationships.

“This is the first time I am attending MIHAS 2014 as I was told by the Indonesian Embassy to participate in order to look for business opportunities for our business entities as well as to strengthen Malaysia-Indonesia ties,” he told Bernama on the sidelines of MIHAS 2014 Thursday.

He said the exhibition was also a good platform to promote halal products globally as it brought together international halal-related entities, including halal-certification bodies.

Meanwhile, Mansor Al-Sofi Trading Co Ltd Bussiness Development Manager, Galb Aldeen Alyousifi, said the Yemeni company was looking for a suitable halal product to import.

“We are still looking for a potential product and Malaysia’s halal product will be my first choice to promote in our country due to the good quality,” Galb said.

Galb said the exhibition would give Malaysia’s tourism sector a boost as exhibitors and visitors would visit interesting places in the country.

It was reported that over 73,000 Saudis visited Malaysia between January to September last year. Meanwhile, besides entrepreneurs and buyers, university students also showed keen interest in the exhibition.

A food technology student from University Sultan Zainal Abidin, Irisha Yasmira, said she visited MIHAS 2014 as it offered various types of international food. “I am most interested to learn more about Korean halal food,” she said.

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Production starts of First Made-In-Algeria Renault cars

ALGIERS, April 8 (NNN-APS) — The assembly of the first “Made-In-Algeria” Renault-branded car, destined for personnel training, has started at the Renault Production Algérie (RPA) plant in Oued Tlélat in the northwestern city of Oran, says the chief executive officer of Algeria’s National Company of Industrial Cars (SNVI), Hamoud Tazerouti.

“The vehicle kits have arrived in the production site in Oued Tlélat and the assembly of car-workshops has already started,” he told APS.

The National Company of Industrial Cars is a partner in this project together with French car manufacturer Renault and the National Fund of Investment (FNI).

According to Tazerouti, the personnel of Renault Production Algérie have started to assemble the first car-workshops before starting to assemble the cars destined which would be sold on the Algerian market.

Tazerouti said that the works of the achievement of Renault Production Algérie plant had “progressed in line with the schedule set and will be delivered on time”.

“The first Nouvelle Symbol-type car, assembled in Algeria will roll out from the plant on Nov 20, 2014, as predicted by the French partner,” he said.

He also disclosed that SNVI will shortly create with other partners a new joint venture for the distribution in Algeria of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, which would be manufactured locally.

Tazerouti told APS that the two parties are “in negotiations” with other partners for the finalization of this project which would make SNVI the exclusive distributor of the German brand’s products, manufactured in its two plants in Rouïba in Algiers and at Tiaret.

The partners in this joint-venture will be SNVI, the Directorate of Military Fabrications of the Ministry of National Defence, Immo Constantine (a subsidiary of SGP-Equipage) and Emirati Aabar, according to Tazerouti, who stressed that “SNVI will be the majority shareholder for the Algerian side”.

Concerning the imported cars of the same brand, he said the new commercial facility will be in charge of importing and distributing them exclusively. The official said that the distribution and the after-sale service will “comply with the standards of Daimler/Mercedes-Benz”.

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Malaysia Redoubles Efforts To Be High-Income Nation

DUBAI, April 8 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia is taking the necessary measures in redoubling its efforts to attract investment, drive productivity and innovation in its pursuit to be a high-income nation, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told a premier investment forum here Tuesday.

Addressing the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) 2014 here, he said the Malaysian government had emphasised a paradigm shift in its policies and mapped out its approach through detailed and comprehensive long-term reforms.

“For Malaysia, we believe that to be a high-income nation, it requires redoubling our efforts to attract investment, drive productivity and innovation,” he said. The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) with its National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) and Strategic Reform Initiatives (SRIs) was being implemented to chart the way forward, he said.

“To date, we have made good progress in delivering social development and economic growth under the ETP, particularly in creating new opportunities for both foreign and local investments,” he said, adding that as testimony, the Malaysian economy expanded by 4.7 per cent last year.

He also told the forum that Malaysia’s projected growth for 2014 would be between five per cent and 5.5 per cent, anchored by domestic demand, sustained private consumption, capital spending in the domestic-oriented industries and the on-going implementation of infrastructure projects.

“We are confident that the Malaysian economy will continue to be resilient, underpinned by the comfortable level of reserves, strong domestic consumption, low unemployment rate and healthy inflows of foreign direct investment,” he said.

Muhyiddin also stressed the importance of market inclusiveness through bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs) as well as multilateral arrangements as the effective ways forward. These arrangements include sustainable and inclusive elements on growth and investment opportunities across various economies, he said.

Muhyiddin described the AIM 2014 theme, “Investment Partnerships for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth in Frontier and Emerging Markets”, as a fitting one given the importance of collaborative efforts in driving sustainable and inclusive growth, especially within the context of emerging markets.

“The world is witnessing intense competition for global FDI (foreign direct investment). For emerging economies, there is the additional challenge of attracting high quality FDI in the right areas and ensuring that the investments received augur well with our own economic agenda,” he said.

Muhyiddin said while countries increasingly depend on trade and freer economy to raise the income levels of their citizens, they also continue to struggle with questions of sustainability, particularly on how to arrive at a comfortable balance wherein one does not need to be sacrificed in order to prioritise the other.

While it could be a challenging task for many countries to pursue goals to create wealth for citizens while at the same time ensuring that the planet “we leave behind is a better one for our grandchildren”, it is not insurmountable, he said.

He said governments, corporations, civil societies and the general populace must work together to tackle this task. “While governments can put in place specific policies to encourage sustainable development initiatives, such policies are merely tools — they need to be sharpened and utilised in the right manner for them to transform into real and meaningful deliverables,” he said.

Corporations too must come forward and become policy enablers as they must work hand-in-hand with governments to find new and innovative ways to make their operations more sustainable and environmentally-friendly, he said.

He said harnessing economic growth for sustainable and inclusive development was very important particularly at a time of persistent crises and pressing social and environmental challenges, adding that a primary driver of such growth is investment as it would contribute to sustainable development objectives.

Representatives from more than 100 countries are attending this year’s AIM, which is organised by the UAE Ministry of Economy under the patronage of Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum.

The event has established itself as a platform that will shape investments and partnerships to achieve sustainable growth in emerging markets worldwide.

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Nigeria Poised To Become Africa’s Biggest Economy

LAGOS, Nigeria, Apr 6 (NNN-NAN) – Nigeria could leap-frog South Africa to become Africa’s biggest economy this weekend, when the results of a new way of calculating national output are announced. Government statisticians will unveil the new figures Sunday, with widespread expectations that their recalculations will catapult the continent’s most populous nation into the top spot.

The figures, which will include new and fast-developing sectors, such as telecoms and the local film industry, Nollywood, should give foreign investors a better picture of the country’s economy. Some predictions say, the revision could see the size of Nigeria’s economy increase by as much as 60 percent, taking it from $264 billion past South Africa’s $384 billion.

But analysts cautioned against viewing the new figures as a sign of development, noting that South Africa was still way ahead in terms of GDP per capita, infrastructure and governance. Although pockets of vast wealth exist, the last available World Bank figures from 2010 indicated that a staggering 84.5 percent of Nigeria’s 170 million people lived on less than $2 a day.

Key services such as electricity and water provision remain notoriously poor.

“Nothing will really change in real time. It is not as if everyone is going to have twice as much salary,” Chuba Ezekwesili, an analyst with the Nigeria Economic Summit group, said. “It (the rebasing) is really more cosmetic in nature. But, we do think it will increase investment opportunity in Nigeria.”

Dawie Roodt, chief economist at the South Africa-based Efficient Group, added, “In term of infrastructure and strong monitoring systems, South Africa is still a giant, miles ahead of Nigeria.”

United Nations statisticians recommend that countries rebase their gross domestic product calculations every five years, to reflect changes in the structure of production and consumption.

But Nigeria has not recalculated GDP since 1990. Africa’s leading crude producer has enjoyed high rates of growth, notwithstanding widespread corruption, poor governance, rampant oil theft and a raging Islamist insurgency in the north.

The annual growth rate averaged 6.8 percent from 2005 to 2013 and the economy is projected to grow this year at a rate of 7.4 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. That compares to a little over five percent between 2005 and 2008-9 in South Africa, which has struggled to go beyond 3.5 percent since.

Figures for the telecoms and film sectors are likely to be seized upon, as an indication of how much Nigeria’s economy has changed, since the last calculation of GDP was carried out. In 1990, even fixed landline provision in Nigeria was low, but Nigeria is now Africa’s biggest mobile market with an estimated 167 million subscriptions, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Nollywood’s annual revenue may be as high as $590 million, according to Robert Orya, head of the Nigerian Import-Export Bank.

Roelof Horne, from Investec Asset Management, said, the rebasing will “reflect Africa’s reality far better,” having a “psychological effect” on foreign perceptions of the continent. It was also evidence that countries other than the continent’s only G20 member, South Africa, were “increasingly asserting their economic voice”, he added.

Pat Utomi, professor of political economy at the Lagos Business School, said, Nigerian policymakers would likely seize on the new figures.

But he added, “For the average person on the street, it really does not have any meaning. To a very large extent, Nigeria remains a poor country with very serious infrastructural challenges…

“The focus should be on how to transform the huge human capital available in the country, to output that will help to reduce poverty and create jobs.”

At just under 52 million people, South Africa’s population is less than a third the size of Nigeria’s. GDP per capita figures ($7,508 against $1,555 in 2012) also demonstrate the gulf between the nations.

Nevertheless, the editor of Financial Nigeria magazine, Jidi Akintunde, said, “There will be the perception that the country has more capacity to absorb foreign direct investment.

“But the GDP rebasing itself cannot be the end. It must (shape) government policy. We have to focus our reforms on the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Nigeria has to address these problems.”

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Malaysia Services Sector Major Contributor To Economy By 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 (NNN-Bernama) — The services sector will contribute 60 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2020, making it a major contributor to Malaysia’s economy, said International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed. Currently, the services sector accounts for 55 per cent of the country’s GDP.

“We have less than six years to achieve this. We need to do something radical to invigorate the services sector. It has done well, growing faster than other sectors but that is not enough,” he told reporters after Malaysia Services Development Council 1/2014 meeting here.

Also present at the meeting were Pemandu (Performance Management & Delivery Unit) Chief Executive Officer Idris Jala and representatives from the various ministries, agencies and services industries association.

Mustapa said the council was briefed, among others, on the progress of the services sector liberalisation initiative at the Asean level as well as presentation on the logistics industry.

“We’re monitoring the progress and considering to do an impact study on capacity building, investment and work force usage after the sector liberalisation. We also want to know whether our companies managed to penetrate other markets or still having difficulties,” he said.

Mustapa said efforts were also being undertaken to intensify promotion of services with higher export potential that include oil and gas, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), creative design, electrical manufacturing services and ICT (information and communications technology) services.

A total of 147 trade promotion activities have been planned for 2014 with 45 programmes focusing on services sectors targeting traditional and new growth markets.

In 2013, contribution from the services exports to Malaysia’s total exports of goods and services was 15.4 per cent or RM125.47 billion compared with 14.3 per cent or RM117.01 in the previous year.

Meanwhile, Mustapa said Asean had completed negotiations on the Ninth Package of Asean Framework Agreement of Services (Afas), which would be signed during the 46th Asean Economic Ministerial Meeting in August.

Under the Ninth Package, Malaysia offers 102 sub-sectors for liberalisation. The final 10th Package negotiation is targeted for completion and signing by end-2015.

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Malaysian Firms Urged To Tap Into Global Market Via Jafza In Dubai

KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) has urged local companies to tap into the global market via Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Matrade Deputy Chief Executive Officer Dzulkifli Mahmud said local firms should utilise the free zone to capitalise on the markets in the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia, Middle East and East and West Africa.

“We should utilise Jafza as a hub to venture into those markets and we would like to have a direct trade with the countries mentioned, however, due to logistics issue, it restricts us from having direct trading with the countries,” he told reporters after the Jafza roadshow seminar in conjunction with Mihas 2014.

Dzulkifli also said Jafza offered competitive price in terms of rental, coupled with the fact that its facilities are complete.

He also said bilateral trade between Malaysia and the UAE totalled at RM1 billion per month and total trade amounted to some RM15 billion annually.

“Within the West Asian region and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, UAE is Malaysia’s largest trading partner, largest export destination and the largest import source,” he added.

To date, there are 16 Malaysian companies operating in Jafza mainly in trading of building materials, electronics and electrical products, equipment and machines, household and furniture, foodstuff and beverages, motor vehicles and auto spare parts, perfumery, medicine and beauty and structural steel manufacturing.

Dzulkifli also said among the companies that have expanded their business in Dubai are Marrybrown and PappaRoti.

Meanwhile, Jafza Chief Commercial Officer Ibrahim Aljanahi said by 2017, food and beverage (F&B) imports by the UAE is forecast to increase by 36.9 per cent while total F&B exports are expected to grow by 30.8 per cent.

“Some 44 per cent of the F&B exports from Jafza goes to the Middle East region. Jafza offers opportunities for companies which interested to operate in the free zone,” he added.

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Malaysian-Chinese Firms Tie-up for First Online Trading Portal

KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 (NNN-BERNAMA) — Smartag Solutions Bhd has signed two agreements and one memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China’s companies from Ningxia, to develop the world’s first halal online trading portal where all products sold will have traceability information.

Smartag’s Chief Executive Officer, Yow Lock Sen, said the collaborations would allow the company to tap Ningxia’s annual trade in halal food and other traceable items, which were worth about 3.2 billion renminbi (RM 1.6 billion) in 2013.

“After that, Smartag aims to tap at least 10 per cent of the world’s halal market transactions of nearly US$3 trillion (US$1 = RM3.22),” he told Bernama after the signing ceremony here Thursday.

Smartag signed agreements with Ningxia Salimy Muslim Commodity Trading Co and Ningxia Chengfeng Agriculture Technology Co Ltd and the MOU with Ningxia Ai Fei Xiang Livestock Import & Export Trading Co Ltd.

Yow said the agreement with Ningxia Salimy involved the development of China International Halal Online Trade and Traceability portal.

“The project is endorsed by the Beijing government and is tied up with the Ningxia government’s initiative to build its China Yinchuan Free Trade Zone as well as the China (Ningxia) Pilot Economic Financial Zone,” he said.

With Smartag’s ‘SMTrack’ technology, Yow said, Ningxia’s products traceability would also be offered to Malaysia, US, West Asia and to the rest of the world.

The agreement with Ningxia Chengfeng involves the provision of traceability solutions on garments and apparel.

The MOU with Ningxia Ai Fei Xiang involves animal tagging, which will start from the rabbit farm to the factory and down the supply chain to the wholesalers, retailers and even the dinner tables.

Yow said with the agreements and MOU, Smartag’s worldwide offices in the US and Hong Kong as well as partnership offices in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia would be able to offer much value-added synergistic programmes to link up worldwide food traceability programmes between exporters and importers.

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Aerospace Summit To Touch On Industry Shift To The Middle East

ABU DHABI,April 7 (NNN-zawya.com) — Middle East aviation and aerospace industry growth could be a key focus of the two day Global Aerospace Summit, which opens in Abu Dhabi on Monday, according to a top Mubadala executive.

“There is a paramount shift in the industry from the old West to the emerging East, and we sit hear in the Middle East at the heart of that convergent change of power,” said Homaid Al Shemmari, Mubadala Aerospace and Engineering Services chief executive.

The Global Aerospace Summit has been designed as a platform for representatives from leading private and public companies to sit together and discuss the concerns facing aerospace, satellite and defence services.

Unlike other regional aviation events, such as the Dubai Airshow and Abu Dhabi Air Expo, no deals will be announced on the side lines of the summit, Al Shemmari said, speaking at a media roundtable on Sunday.

Mubadala are the hosts of the invitation-only Global Aerospace Summit, which will be held at the St Regis Hotel from Monday, April 7, until Tuesday, April 8. Mubadala’s aerospace division includes Strata Manufacturing, who signed a combined $5 billion in contracts at the Dubai Airshow last November to supply parts to Airbus and Boeing.

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Pilgrim claims to have world’s smallest Qur’an

Arab News – 05 Apr 2014 – A Pakistani pilgrim claims that he owns the world’s smallest Qur’an, which is smaller than 2.5 centimeters.

Kafeel Ahmed said Pakistan’s National Museum has categorized the book as the smallest copy on the planet. The Qur’an has some damaged pages.

Ahmed said a pilgrim had given his grandfather the Qur’an in Madinah during the Haj in 1935.

“My father used to keep the tiny copy and took it with him when he went on Haj in 1985,” Ahmed said.

He said several museums and collectors of rare books were willing to buy the book at any price, but he refuses to part with it. It is a family heirloom, Ahmed said.

He is currently striving to register it as the smallest Qur’an in the Guinness Book of World Records, he said.

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Insurance designed for Muslim herders makes first payout in Kenya

Islam.ru – 05 Apr 2014 – Researchers in Kenya have developed a pioneering insurance policy for nomadic Muslim livestock herders, which has now delivered its first payout to 101 farmers to compensate them for drought losses.

The policy, which was purchased by about 4,000 pastoralists in Northern Kenya, was developed by the International Livestock Research Institute and commercially delivered by a company calledTakaful Insurance of Africa. It draws on technology and ethical values to create a product aimed at increasing the resilience to drought of pastoralists in the region.

“The key vulnerability that these people were facing was very clear: The typical boom and bust cycle in the area that occurs when severe droughts come and decimate their herds,” said Andrew Mude, who leads the research institute’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance program.

“We thought, well, insurance is a typical way that is used to help people manage loss, or recover quickly from the loss of a key asset,” he said.

Insuring pastoralist livestock is difficult, said Mude, because of the remote, isolated areas that the farmers often habitat and a lack of infrastructure. That is why index-based insurance – where a certain number of days without rain or an estimate of grazing land availability – works better than traditional insurance, which relies on attempts to verify claims on a case-by-case basis, a nearly impossible task in the region.

In this case in Kenya, the index takes into account satellite imagery to measure the conditions of grazing lands when determining payments.

For this first experiment with Islam-compatible index insurance, the researchers and insurance company also had to take into account the religious beliefs of the intended consumers.

According to an ILRI press release, the insurance policy conformed to the Islamic concept oftakaful, an ancient Islamic form of insurance which involves risk-sharing among a group of participants.

The practice involves a contract called tabbaru, similar to traditional insurance, in which participants make contributions to a shared, or pooled, risk fund and can receive a payment if they are affected by drought. For this first pilot payment, the company distributed approximately $5,800 to the 101 farmers.

For Takaful Insurance of Africa, the project is a leap of faith, as they are not currently making a profit, Mude said. But the company may benefit in other ways, including mustering public support for being involved in an innovative project, or potentially benefitting if Kenya’s government at some point backs such insurance efforts, ILRI researchers said.

According to research by the ILRI team, pastoralists with insured livestock were 33 percent less likely to have to rely on food aid and also less likely to reduce feeding of infants.

Mude said he hopes the project, which ILRI will remain involved with for another three years, will eventually be self-sustaining.

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Malaysia: Halal Vaccines to be available in 3 years

Halal Focus / 10 Apr 2014 – A Saudi corporation has invested $100 million in the Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) in Malaysia to produce halal vaccines for meningitis, hepatitis and meningococcal disease in three years.

Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, the Malaysian minister of international trade and industry, made the announcement on the opening day of the World Halal Conference taking place in Kuala Lumpur, according to reports.

“We are very happy to work with the Saudi Arabian company in setting up a production facility to produce the vaccines. The halal vaccines will help alleviate fears and doubts among Muslims on the integrity of the products,” he said. Health experts will be working to produce the halal vaccines from animal extracts slaughtered according to Islamic teachings.

Datuk Seri Jamil Bidin, HDC’s chief executive officer, said: “We are finding ways to make the vaccines halal, and hope to complete it as soon as possible. The vaccines that are the focus of local and international scientists and Shariah experts are meant to treat meningitis, hepatitis and meningococcal (disease).”

Meningitis causes inflammation of the protective membranes covering the central nervous system. It is caused by infectious agents, physical injury, cancer, or certain drugs. Meningitis vaccines are produced in the West from pig extracts.

Bidin said: “We are focusing more on meningitis vaccines, which are required for those who perform the Haj pilgrimage, but are currently pork-based.”

“Pork-free vaccines will be in high demand, not only among Muslims but also non-Muslims. People will go for the alternative once they know about it. After developing these three vaccines, we will continue to produce others,” Bidin said. The HDC focuses on the development of halal standards, audit and certification, as well as capacity building for halal products and services.

Meanwhile, there are plans to standardize halal certification for all Muslim countries. Bidin reportedly said the issue was now being discussed at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“Malaysia is partnering with Turkey to tackle the differences in halal certification and to come up with new standardized criteria that will be applied in all OIC countries.”

He was speaking on Wednesday after a panel discussion on global food security held in conjunction with the World Halal Conference.

He said that out of 57 countries under the OIC, the 10 big players in the halal industry include Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Jamil said most of the 10 countries had approved the new standards, which once applied, could avoid confusion or differences in issuing halal certification.

“This partnership will harmonize halal standards globally as currently there are a lot of differences among countries,” he said.

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Saudi scouts scale Alps to promote world peace

Jeddah, Friday, 11 Jamada Al Akhir 1434/ 11 April 2014 (IINA) – A group of Saudi boy scouts proved the toast of the world by not only making their way to the top of the Swiss Alps but also by raising the flags of Saudi Arabia and world peace, Okaz Arabic daily reported.

Scouts from the Saudi Arabian Boy Scout Association turned in an incredible mountaineering feat by scaling the Swiss Alps, noted for its abundant glaciers, scenic valleys and gorgeous lakes. It is virtually a magnet for skiers and hikers. They reached the top of the majestic Alps through one of the many excellent climbing areas around the Swiss city of Kandersteg. The scouts received logistic support from Kandersteg International Scout Center. The scouts participated in a “Messengers of Peace” workshop, organized by the Saudi Arabian Boy Scout Association, in cooperation with the World Scout Foundation in Kandersteg.

Addressing the gathering, Dr. Abdullah Al-Fahd, vice president of the association, said: “What prompted these scouts to come over to Switzerland on this adventure is their enthusiasm to promote global peace and highlight the Kingdom’s role in this regard.” The scouts also noted that this would further highlight the Kingdom’s paramount role in promoting global peace. The Messengers of Peace initiative stems from the 10-year-old Gifts for Peace program, which has inspired over 10 million scouts in 110 countries to work toward peace in their local communities.

After hearing about this initiative, Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah noted: “Scouts are the messengers of peace.” Together with King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, honorary chair of the World Scout Foundation, King Abdullah formally launched the Messengers of Peace initiative in September 2011.

The Messengers of Peace is a now a global initiative of the World Scout Committee designed to promote and recognize service projects that contribute to world peace. Its goal is to inspire millions of young men and women throughout the world to work closer toward achieving peace. Using state-of-the-art social media, the initiative lets scouts from around the world share what they’ve done and inspire fellow scouts to undertake similar efforts in their own communities.

The initiative, which is being implemented in more than 150 countries around the world, also aims to develop the skills of participants in all fields of scouting. The program addressed the concept and importance of peace, finding solutions to social problems and environmental and health issues.

In the Alps, the Saudi scouts were happy to meet with a large number of tourists and mountaineers from various parts of the world. The scouts briefed them on salient features of Saudi Arabia and its people. They expressed their pride in promoting the message of Messengers of Peace by having a unique opportunity to raise its flag near the site of World Scouts Center in Alps and took part in drawing the logo of the initiative inside one of the tunnels in Kandersteg.

The scouts shared their delight in spreading the message of the initiative in promoting global peace and contribute to realizing its vision of reaching out to at least 20 million scouts by the year 2010. Dr. Al-Fahd said mountaineering is one of the colorful activities of scouts. “This serves not only a physical exercise that helps increase overall energy level and stamina but also helps strengthen endurance. Above all, this adventurous sport becomes the finest recreation with the participation of the members of the scouts body with a definitive motto of promoting global peace and peaceful coexistence.”

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Afghans vote in historic elections

Kabul, Saturday, 05 Jamada Al Akhir 1434/ 05 April 2014 (IINA) – Millions of Afghans have cast their ballots to pick the country’s next president, with only isolated attacks on polling stations reported in the country’s first democratic transfer of power in its 5,000 year history.

Thousands of Afghans lined up outside polling centers across the country to cast their ballots in a historic Presidential election, as reports trickled in of sporadic violence. The outgoing President, Hamid Karzai, who is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term, voted at Amani High School.

“I have cast my vote. I feel happy and proud as a citizen of Afghanistan,” he told reporters after voting. “I ask the nation of Afghanistan to get out of their houses and go to vote despite the rainfall, cold weather and the threat of the enemies,” he said. “I ask them to make their country successful.”

The election commission chief, Yousuf Nooristani, described it as “a very good day for Afghans.” “We hope that this is going to be the best elections in Afghanistan. At the very least, it is going to be much better than the elections held before,” he told dpa. Insecurity, violence and fraud were the top concerns on election day.

After months of manoeuvring, jockeying, tribal meetings and campaigning, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul have emerged as the frontrunners in Saturday’s polls, coming from a field of eight candidates that includes everyone from former mujahedeen commanders to Western-educated technocrats. Turnout in the polls was high, despite threats of violence and weather disturbance in some parts of the country. Voting hour has also been extended for at least an hour, with the possibility of another extension depending on the volume of voters.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, political analyst Haroun Mir said that Afghan citizens know that the 2014 national and local elections are critical to the country’s future, which continues to be threatened by the Taliban. The group has recently carried out several attacks in the capital Kabul and across the country that left many dead and created an atmosphere of insecurity. Even with the deployment of 352,000 troops to provide security for about 12 million voters and 20,752 polling stations, some 748 polling stations remained closed because Afghan security forces could not secure them, according to the IEC.

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$22.5 billion metro project works underway in Riyadh

Riyadh, Saturday, 05 Jamada Al Akhir 1434/ 05 April 2014 (IINA) – Saudi Arabia has begun construction work on its long awaited first metro rail system in the capital Riyadh.

The multi-billion project will involve six rail lines extending 176 kilometers and carrying electric, driverless trains, in what Saudi officials project to be the world’s largest public transport system. Prince Khalid bin Bandar, the Riyadh emir, attended a groundbreaking ceremony in the capital on Thursday to mark the first day of construction work. “On this blessed day we witness the start of works on the grounds of the metro project. The phase of research and planning is over and now it is time for implementation, and we call for God’s help,” said Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Reuters reported.

Saudi Arabia awarded $22.5 billion in contracts to three foreign-led consortia for the design and construction of the system. While the metro is unlikely to persuade some Saudis to abandon their love for the automobile, others may welcome the chance to escape severe traffic congestion in the capital. The new service will also enable lower-income individuals to head around the city. The metros may also make it easier for women to move around, in a country where they are not allowed to drive. The metro carriages will have special family sections giving women privacy.

The project, which is expected to be completed in 2019, is estimated to require tens of thousands of workers in the oil-rich kingdom. The Saudi government is also planning to modernize the transport system in the Islamic holy city of Makkah, including the creation of a bus network and a metro system. The kingdom is also building numerous other rail systems to upgrade its infrastructure, including a 2,750 kilometer line running from Riyadh to near the northern border with Jordan. Riyadh’s population was projected to grow from 6 million to over 8 million in the next 10 years, making the metro vital to ease congestion and pollution in the capital’s streets, according to Saudi officials.

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Website launched for Haj requests in UAE

Abu Dhabi, Sunday, 06 Jamada Al Akhir 1434/ 06 April 2014 (IINA) – The General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments in the United Arab Emirates has launched a website to process requests to take part in the Haj pilgrimage.

Working alongside the Zayed bin Sultan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation, the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments will organize pilgrimage opportunities to those who apply through the newly established site. Priority is given to those who haven’t made the Haj pilgrimage before and seniors, The National daily reported. The website is part on the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowment’s site and will allow potential Hajj-goers to apply for clearances.

Through the new electronic system, the authority will choose 6,000 applicants, 1,000 of which are on standby, to be chosen to make the pilgrimage. The Zayed bin Sultan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation met with the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments recently to begin planning the selection and logistical process for the Hajj of the Islamic year 1435.

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$217 million IDB fund for Iraq’s major trade corridor

Jeddah, Tuesday, 08 Jamada Al Akhir 1434/ 08 April 2014 (IINA) – Acting President of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Dr. Abdul Aziz Al Hinai and Iraq’s Finance Minister Dr. Safauddin Mohammed Al Safi recently signed an agreement worth $ 217 million to fund the construction of Expressway No. 1, a major trade-corridor connecting Iraq with its neighboring countries.

The signing ceremony held in Amman was attended by Dr. Abdul Basit Turki Said, acting governor of Iraq’s Central Bank, and IDB governor for Iraq, according to an IDB press statement. Once operational, the highway, which passes through the capital Baghdad, will help to enhance trade flow and regional linkages between the Gulf countries and the Levant Region. The nearly 1300-kilometer highway stretches from the city of Umm ul Qasr in the southern Iraqi province of Basra on the Kuwaiti borders to areas near Syria and Jordan passing through several Iraqi cities including Naseriyah, Diwaniyah, Hillah, Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi and Rutbah.

The total cost of the project is estimated at S$ 1 billion of which IDB is covering 22% by funding the construction of about 258 kilometers of the highway. Other major financiers are the World Bank (financing 32% of the project), the Iraqi government (29 %) and other partners (17%).

The highway project financing is a major breakthrough in IDB’s cooperation with Iraq coming in the framework of the Bank’s $ 500 million reconstruction program for the country adopted in 2003. Under the same program, IDB had approved two loans for $ 25 million and two technical grants for elementary and vocational education projects. To date, 78% of IDB financings in Iraq have gone to the transport sector, 10% to education, 10% to health and 2% to industry and mining sectors.

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OIC plans system to help Muslims in distress

Jeddah, Tuesday, 08 Jamada Al Akhir 1434/ 08 April 2014 (IINA) – The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) plans to work out a system to help Muslims facing wars and natural disasters across the world.

This was disclosed by Iyad Madani, OIC secretary-general, during a speech on Sunday at the first meeting of the OIC Humanitarian Organizations Council in Jeddah. Madani said this was important because several OIC member states have raised concerns about the political motives and funding of certain humanitarian organizations working to help Muslims. The meeting was held to implement resolutions of the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting held in Conakry in December 2013 on the approval of nongovernmental humanitarian organizations as OIC consultative bodies.

Representatives from civil society organizations in OIC member states and Muslim minority communities around the world attended the meeting at the IOC headquarters. Madani said it was important for OIC members to work out a proper system to allay doubts that could impede the work of these bodies. He said Muslim humanitarian organizations need greater staff training, capacity building and better coordination of administrative and field efforts to save lives.

He said the OIC must help develop a common vision for Muslim humanitarian organizations to be presented at the UN World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in 2016. Sherif Muhammad Ali, head of the Zamzam Foundation in Somalia representing humanitarian organizations, said the OIC has held several conferences since 2009 to develop effective responses to the rising number of wars and natural disasters affecting Muslims globally.

Atta Al-Manane Bakhiet, OIC assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that 32 out of the 57 member states faced disasters in 2012, 36 in 2011, and 34 in 2010. Madani said attempts were being made to help Muslims in Central Africa, with the aid of Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, who was acting as an OIC envoy in the region.

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Tourism website crowns Istanbul the world’s top destination

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – Istanbul has topped popular travel review site TripAdvisor’s list of the best spots to visit in the world this year, announced in the sixth annual Travelers’ Choice awards on April 8.

“I think what really appeals to people about Istanbul is this great combination of wonderful culture and amazingly beautiful architecture there and great shopping. And if you’re a U.S. traveler, the exchange rate is pretty good,” said Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications at TripAdvisor.

Rome and London rank second and third on the list. Six of this year’s top 25 global destinations are in Asia, with several Asian cities climbing 10 or more spots from their rankings last year. The United States, on the other hand, disappeared from the top 10, as New York and San Francisco aren’t featured at all in this year’s list.

Travelers’ Choice award-winning destinations are determined using an algorithm that takes into account the quality and quantity of reviews from TripAdvisor users. In addition to the top spots globally, there are also lists for a selection of countries, continents and regions.

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Anatolian museum gets European museum prize

STRASBOURG – Doğan News Agency – The Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2014 has been awarded in December last year to the Baksı Museum in the eastern Black Sea province of Bayburt by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

At a ceremony held on April 8 at the Rohan Palace in Strasbourg, the founder of the museum, Professor Hüsamettin Koçan received the prize from PACE President Anne Brasseur. The award was previously given to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Baksı Museum will display the bronze statuette of Joan Miro, the symbol of the award, throughout the year.

“I believe Baksı Museum, which is located in a remote part of Anatolia, will increase culture tourism in the region. Everyone in this hall is already curious about the museum. This museum is about life. We are closely interested in the contemporary. This award shows that we are up to world standards. We want to employ women and educate children in the museum,” Koçan said.

Delivering a speech at the ceremony, daily Hürriyet consultant Doğan Hızlan said Baksı Museum should be taken as a model. He said he has always closely followed the museum, adding, “I have written many articles about the museum in my column. An Anatolian museum has a different function. Its local features, local arts and geography show in the pieces in the museum. Baksı Museum is a great example for other districts and villages.”

The Council of Europe Museum Prize has been awarded annually since 1977 to museums judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding of European cultural heritage.

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Lebanese artist analyze effects of war in region

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – A new exhibition at SALT Beyoğlu and Galata, Lebanese actor, theater director, playwright and visual artist Rabih Mroué’s works register and analyze the effects of ongoing conflict and war in the region

SALT is presenting a one-person exhibition of Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué’s works, ranging from his early videos to components from his much-lauded, multi-layered work about the conflict in Syria, “The Pixelated Revolution,” from 2012.

An actor, theater director, playwright and visual artist, Mroué belongs to the generation of Lebanese artists that came to prominence in the decade after the official end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990.

Rooted in the firsthand experience of political unrest and social upheaval still present in Lebanon today, Mroué’s work questions, problematizes, and examines the use of images, the mechanisms of storytelling and the construction of historical and personal narratives.

Informed by his background in theater, Mroué’s works operate between fact and fiction, investigating the role and position of the individual, especially that of the artist within society in times of conflict, crisis, historic changes and their reverberations in the present. His works register and analyze the effects of war, ongoing conflicts in the region, social and political implications of images and representation at large as the foremost agent in the formation of identity and the writing of history.

HDN The exhibition is spread across SALT Galata and SALT Beyoğlu. While the works at SALT Galata are related to or based on the personal experiences of the artist, and loosely follow a suggested life-cycle, the works that address social discontent, political demonstrations, and social uprisings are presented at SALT Beyoğlu.

The first work at SALT Galata, “Old House” (2003) establishes Mroué’s strength in analyzing various forms of control and suppression, and their reversal as his artistic strategy. After the Lebanese Civil War officially ended in 1990, the promulgation of a general amnesty law that pardoned all crimes committed before March 1991, rendering the act of “forgetting the past” an official national policy.

The artist’s rumination on forgetting and remembering is followed by the video “Face A/Face B” and the installation “Grandfather, Father, and Son,” in which the artist and his family’s firsthand experience of the civil war and its tragedy are interspersed with moments of quotidian domestic life, oscillating between the mundane and the extraordinary.

Alluding to the fate of the more than 17,000 people still missing is the video installation “The Mediterranean Sea,” which ends the suggested life-cycle.

The other half of the exhibition, presented on the first floor of SALT Beyoğlu, is composed in direct reference to the building’s location on İstiklal Avenue, a street used often for demonstrations, leading to Taksim Square, a site of political rallies and mass protest.

Taking the concrete political and cultural circumstances of Lebanon as his point of departure, the questions that Mroué raises through his videos, installations, performances and non-academic lectures have much wider resonance—particularly in this time of regional strife and political turmoil, geographical entanglements that inevitably have also involved neighboring Turkey—and his works, like the conflicts he addresses, have garnered attention from around the world.

On May 7, Mroué will present the non-academic lecture “The Pixelated Revolution” at SALT Galata. Parallel to the exhibition, film and documentary screenings that aim to broaden the issues addressed by the artist in his work will be organized in the Walk-in Cinema at SALT Beyoğlu.

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Women play vital role in Pakistani politics

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-04-08 – PESHAWAR – Pakistan’s female politicians are playing an important role in the affairs of their parties and parliament, and are helping the country serve as an example not just to Muslim countries but to the rest of the world.

“Female lawmakers and politicians have played an important role in political and parliamentary affairs over the last few decades,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Javed Gandapur told Central Asia Online.

Pakistan had the Muslim world’s first-ever female head of government, Benazir Bhutto, and its first-ever parliamentary speaker, Dr. Fahmida Mirza.

Even before Bhutto, Fatima Jinnah, the younger sister of the nation’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, played a significant role in the history of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Female lawmakers and politicians have played an important role in political and parliamentary affairs over the last few decades,” Gandapur told Central Asia Online. “Since Benazir Bhutto, a large number of women have stepped up to carry the flag of independence and of the fight for women’s rights.”

Today, women actively participate in politics from Quetta and Karachi to Peshawar and Chitral. Hina Rabbani Khar served as foreign minister from 2011-2013, and a number of other female lawmakers sit in the federal and provincial cabinets.

The Awami National Party (ANP) has the most seasoned female politician active today, Begum Nasim Wali Khan. She has played a key role in politics since the 1970s, when her spouse Abdul Wali Khan was in prison.

Religious groups also have active female leaders.

The daughter of former Jamat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Samia Raheel Qazi, and the family members of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman are involved in politics and parliament. And the youngest female lawmaker, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s 26-year-old Ayesha Gulali, comes from the Pashtun belt, an area considered conservative.

Women have presented many gender equality bills, Gandapur said. And they have been very effective in their role as parliamentarians despite hurdles and limited space within their own parties, former lawmaker and senior female nationalist leader Bushra Gohar said.

“It has been recorded that women have performed better than their male colleagues,” Bushra, leader of the ANP’s women’s wing, said, adding that women have worked diligently on and raised critical matters concerning the public interest, brought up important legislation, defended party policies and positions and maintained quorums in the assemblies where they served.

Pakistani improvement depends on both genders, some said, however. “Not only the female lawmakers but the male members of the national and provincial assemblies and Senate of Pakistan need to play a more important role in bringing the country out of crisis,” Musarrat Ahmedzeb, a parliamentarian from Swat, told Central Asia Online.

Women gained political strength in the 2002 general elections when the law mandated that the National Assembly reserve 60 of its 342 seats for women. Though many observers endorse the idea of setting aside seats, some would like to reform the system for assigning such seats.

The parties are allowed to seat a certain number of female MPs who do not have to stand in elections. Those women lack the benefits of the grass-roots interaction experienced by women who do win elections, Lahore writer, columnist and university teacher Yasmin Ali told Central Asia Online.

“My own view is that (all) women occupying reserved seats should win elections for them,” Bushra said. Unless that happens, some observers question the true extent of female political power.

“Women’s participation in politics bears the hard irony of significant participation combined with negligible say in (political matters),” Sumeera Ali, a Lahore-based journalist, said. “We see shiny faces with political backgrounds but with less participation in the corridors of power.”

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Tajik, Afghan businesswomen participate in forum

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-04-08 DUSHANBE – More than 200 Central Asian and Afghan female entrepreneurs took part in a March 27-28 symposium in Dushanbe dedicated to female entrepreneurship.

The Symposium of Women Entrepreneurs of Central Asia and Afghanistan brought together entrepreneurs, lawmakers, and staffers from development agencies and from international and local financial institutions, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said in a statement.

Organisers included the National Association of Businesswomen of Tajikistan (NABWT), the Tajik government and the EBRD.

During the symposium, female entrepreneurs from Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan discussed issues such as attracting investment from international agencies in developing entrepreneurship in the region’s countries.

“Such meetings are… essential, because there’s always the opportunity to share something,” one of the event’s participants, Aziza Yuldasheva, director of the Kyrgyz Businesswomen’s Club, said.

“It’s more profitable for residents of the Fergana Valley to work with their neighbours (across the border) than within their own country,” she said. “They’re geographically separated (from their compatriots) by high passes that cost big money to cross, but then, trade across the border is very active and beneficial for each party.”

Business is always about connections, and women in the region must forge such ties, Yuldasheva said.

“Who in other regions or countries is going to care about us?” she asked. “We need to work at and conquer our own markets and not give them up to others. … These events are always useful.”

Afghan Federation of Female Entrepreneurs Director Kamila Sidiqi is striving to establish close co-operation with the Tajik Association of Female Entrepreneurs. “If we Afghan women hadn’t come to the symposium, we wouldn’t have met so many women who run businesses in the region,” Sidiqi said.

“The problem we have is that we haven’t been able to enter the global market,” Morvarid Nurzay, chairwoman of the Women’s Business Technical Committee, in Herat, Afghanistan, said.

By participating in events like this symposium, women from the region can find new partners and enter the regional market, a step to solving the problem, Nurzay said.

“These kinds of events undoubtedly help,” said Jamilya Imankulova, founding partner of El Group Consulting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. “We’re getting together, talking with each other, and as such we don’t want our sons to fight, but quite the opposite, to live peacefully.”

During the symposium, attendees reached many agreements, including one on the formation of the Central Asian Association of Female Entrepreneurs, which Afghanistan is part of.

Officials at the conference announced the winners of a competition for the best business plan among Tajik female entrepreneurs. Of the 238 women who entered the contest, 14 rural entrants won the chance to receive subsidised loans from the micro-lender Imon International, while another three rural entrants received access to preferential leasing of farm equipment from the Imon micro-credit foundation, the owner of Imon International.

“The active participation of young women in this competition is a testament to their desires and aspirations to help develop the Tajik economy,” said Gulbakhor Makhkamova, general director of NABWT, one of the contest’s sponsors.

One of the competition’s winners was 25-year-old Dushanbe resident Parastu Aydarshoyeva, who submitted a project to establish a studio for TV commercials and public service announcements.

“Although I was trained as a journalist, I work in marketing now,” said Aydarshoyeva, who attended the symposium to broaden her professional knowledge after her career change. “Thanks to these training sessions, I came to master marketing, which is very timely and useful for me.”

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Chinese visitors to North Sumatra up

Sun, April 6 2014 Medan, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) – The number of Chinese visitors to North Sumatra in the first two months of this year rose 2.63 percent on year to 1,055.

“The increase was encouraging as the number is expected to continue to increase not only to this region but also to other parts of the country,” chairman of the North Sumatra branch of the Indonesian association of travel operators (Asita) Solahuddin Nasution said here on Sunday.

The growing number of tourists from China has prompted Asita to support plan of China Southern Airlines to open direct flight between Guangzhou-Kualanamu of North Sumatra this year, Solahuddin said.

North Sumatra has many potential tourism objects to be visited by Chinese tourists, he said.

He said it is also encouraging to note that the number of tourists from other countries visiting the province also grew.

Head of the North Sumatra office of the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) Wien Kusdiatmono said the number of foreign tourists visiting North Sumatra rose 22.63 percent to 44,652 in the first two months of this year from 36,412 in the same period last year.

The increase was partly attributable to the growing number of visitors from China, he said.

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Gambia: Tourism Offences Bill to Establish Special Tribunal

The Point – 10 April 2014 – The Tourism offences amendment bill 2014 was passed this week by the National Assembly sitting in Banjul, to increase the fines and to establish a special tribunal to deal with tourism-related offences in an efficient and expeditious manner.

Tourism and Culture minister Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie on Tuesday presented the bill entitled “Tourism Offences (Amendment) Bill 2014” to the assembly. The minister said the bill seeks to amend the Tourism Offences Act 2003 by increasing the monetary penalties for persons convicted of an offence.

The amended Tourism Offences Act seeks to raise the fine from D5,000 and D10,000 to D50,000. This was “necessitated by the fact that, over time, the fines have lost their weight of deterrence.”

The bill also seeks to establish a special tribunal to deal with tourism-related offences in an efficient and expeditious manner, according to the minister.

A new section establishing the Tourism Offences Tribunal is added. The tribunal would try any offence committed within the Tourism Development Area which involves a tourist, and will be presided over by a principal magistrate.

“This is particularly essential as some of the offences under this Act may involve tourist on short stay. It is important that such cases are dealt with expeditiously outside of the schedule of the court system,” the Tourism minister further stated.

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Uganda: It Is Tourism Night Out

The Observer – 10 April 2014 – Ugandans are known to be the most hospitable people in East Africa with their warm and welcoming smiles; it is no surprise that lately Uganda is among the top tourism destinations worldwide.

Tomorrow at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, the ministry of tourism will host the Cultural Tourism night with the intention of bringing Uganda and her friends together. One of the core objectives of the event is to promote networking of stakeholders and promoters of the tourism business – local and international.

The event also aims to forge a way around marketing entertainment and creative works as part of the tourism sector. The night that will also include awarding outstanding tour operators, hotels and lodges, safari guides and community Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, will be graced by President Yoweri Museveni.

Ten per cent of the event’s proceeds will go to supporting the reconstruction of the Kasubi tombs – one of the main foci of Kampala city tourism. The theme of the night is ‘Cultural Diversity of Uganda’ and the promoters have intimated that a lot awaits patrons, including Ugandan and African music, raffle draws and plenty of drinks and food.

Uganda is endowed with a lot of natural and cultural resources that if exploited, can form a basis of a lucrative tourism industry. The event kicks off at 6pm in Munyonyo’s Victoria hall.

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Oman takes part in Asian hospitality event

Oman Tribune – 12 April, 2014 – The Sultanate’s participation in a food and hospitality show in Singapore has been generating a lot of interest.

Representing the Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development “Ithraa” are 12 participants in the 19th Food & Hotel Asia (FHA) exhibition 2014 which is one of the most important Asian exhibitions for hotel, restaurant and foodservice equipment, supplies and services.

The event being held in Singapore concluded on Friday. The Sultanate was also represented by other private sector companies operating in the food production sector.

‘Ithraa’ team, representative of the Directorate General of Promotion, held an investment seminar to highlight the Sultanate as a competitive investment hub.

The participating teams from the Sultanate held fruitful bilateral meetings with businessmen from Singapore and those from other Asian countries.

Their interactions with other entrepreneurs helped them in understanding how they conduct their business and the technologies being employed.

Many fruitful business agreements were reached during the course of the exhibition.

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Czech Students Offered Islam Education

OnIslam & Newspapers Tuesday, 08 April 2014 CAIRO – The Czech education ministry has approved a new project introduced by a Muslim group to offer free seminars and lectures to educate pupils on Islam and the life of Muslims in the European country.

“School lessons dso not pay sufficient attention to Islam,” the project’s co-author Shadi Shannah is quoted as saying by Lidové noviny (LN), Prague Post reported on Monday, April 7.

“Pupils want to learn more about it,” he added. The project was first suggested by the Muslims In Czech Schoolchildren’s Eyes group.

The new lectures would explain to students the significance of hijab and burka, or full-face Islamic hijab, and why some Muslim women don it. Other lectures would explain what Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an, says about jihad, LN added, citing Muslimove.cz web page.

The Education Ministry has granted its auspices to the project. It did so based on a previous expert assessment of whether the offered workshops and lectures are objective, LN writes. The project’s sponsors include the U.S. Embassy in Prague and the Anna Lindh Foundation, an intergovernmental organization.

The EU mission in Prague and the Prague Municipal Library also cooperate in it. Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.

Jihad is often stereotyped by Western media as meaning “holy war”. Muslim scholars have repeatedly affirmed that the word Jihad, which is mentioned in the Noble Qur’an, means “struggle” to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from society.

Karen Armstrong, the prominent and prolific British writer on all three monotheistic religions, has criticized stereotyping the Arabic word “jihad” as merely meaning holy war.

The project was first suggested following a 2013 survey in which pupils showed interest in learning more about Islam. “Most pupils said they would like to learn more,” one of the co-authors, Klára Popovová, told LN.

“They said they drew information about religion mainly from the media that are often very critical of Islam,” she added. Though it has been approved by Education Ministry, the project faced opposition form the group called We Don’t Want Islam in the Czech Republic.

“They sent me a few offending emails along with the demand that we should not promote Islam at schools,” Popovová said. “However, our project is no propaganda. Our only goal is to provoke a discussion and refute the media stereotypes.”

The Czech Republic, which has a population of more than 10 million people, is home to around 15,000 Muslims. The number of new Muslims is estimated between 1500-2000, many of them embraced Islam in the 1990s. In 2004, Prague acknowledged Islam as an official religion, giving Muslims rights on equal footing to Christians and Jews.

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Jinn… Muslim Folklore Enters World Cinema

OnIslam & News Agencies Saturday, 12 April 2014 DETROIT – Making inroads into world cinema, a Detroit-based production company has presented its first Muslim-based thriller movie Jinn, investing in a theme that remained far from reach of movie makers worldwide.

“There was a time when we were very creative and we created a lot of things, and we’ve kind of forgotten how to do that,” Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, the movie writer and director, told Religion News Service. “But we have a lot of our own stories to share.”

Like millions of Muslims worldwide, Ahmad has a rich heritage of folk tales about jinn. The stories, though including lots of superstitions, rely on the Muslims holy book, the Noble Qur’an, which mentions jinn in several places.

There is also a sura, or Qur’anic chapter, named after Jinn, in which some of these creatures renounced their belief in many gods and accepted the belief in one God after listening to the Qur’an from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The Qur’an also suggests there are good jinn as well as mischievous and even evil jinn. As Jinn as described as invisible to the naked eye and living in another dimension, lots of folklore stories emerged interweaving Muslim beliefs with eastern traditions.

“There seems to be a lot of superstition out there,” said Imam Achmat Salie, Islamic studies professor at the University of Detroit Mercy who previewed the film. “There are still many people in the community who blame everything on the jinn.”

Released on April 4, the movie, titled Jinn, tells the story of Muslim hero and his family who are chased by jinn. Drawing on Islamic lore, the movie’s narrator opens by saying: “In the beginning, three were created. Man, made of clay. Angels, made of light. And a third … made of fire.”

The story goes on to explain that man has come to rule the Earth, having all but forgotten about the jinn, who live invisibly in another dimension.

In making the movie, Ahmad heard from many Muslims regarding their beliefs about the jinn, and he found that “25 or 30 percent” were still very fearful of the jinn.

“They just felt like it was a very scary topic and they were going to have to build up the courage to go watch the movie, because they feel that if you talk about them, or ask them to come into your life that they’ll kind of follow you around,” Ahmad said.

In the making of the movie, the Muslim hero gets help from a priest and a Jewish jinn to break a curse on his family that is being stalked by a powerful and evil jinn. The interfaith theme was intended by the Muslim writer.

“I thought, this is a good opportunity to show that we have more similarities amongst us than differences,” Ahmad said. “The jinn idea is very old, and we can find this through all the different faiths.”

Ahmad noted a Bible verse, Ezekiel 1:13, that refers to creatures whose appearance was like fire.

Many Muslims will also recognize a common Quranic phrase that is oft repeated in the film: “A’uzu billahi minishaitanir rajim,” which means, “I seek protection from God against Satan.”

Moreover, the movie adds other elements to the life of jinn, referring to “jinn scrolls” and prophets. The movie was previewed by seven imams before release to make sure it wouldn’t offend Muslims.

“The Qur’an teaches us that the jinn had their own religions, so it’s possible that the jinn had their own prophets and their own religious texts,” explained Salie, one of the imams who previewed the film.

In Islam, jinn possessing humans and controlling them is a controversial issue. While some scholars see it as a fact, others totally reject it claiming that there is no evidence for this.

Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states that the belief in the jinn possessing humans and exercising control over them is not one of the essential beliefs of Islam.

However, it is true that some of the past scholars (Ibn Taymiyyah and others) have considered it as a fact while others deny this, sheikh Kutty added.

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Give Islamic finance a chance

Arab News – 11 April, 2014 – In the wake of the 2008 financial melt-down, bankers and regulators appeared to start talking seriously about adopting the more stable and transparent principles of Islamic finance, as opposed to the harum-scarum and frequently dishonest manipulations of the conventional financial markets.

Yet in the past 18 months, the focus on the widespread use of the ethical precepts of Islamic finance appears to have disappeared, except where it can be used to drum up business in the Muslim world. London now fancies itself as the leading center for Shariah-compliant finance, claiming to have overtaken Kuala Lumpur.

This is not the only cause for concern. Banking regulators in US and Europe are busy trying to ensure there will be no repeat of that systemic failures that brought Western economies at least to the brink of disaster. Meanwhile, investors seem intent on repeating the insane behavior that cost them billions only a few years ago.

The banking part of the piece is easy to understand. The North American and European banking systems only survived thanks to colossal injections of tax payer cash. After the collapse of Lehman brothers and the enforced takeover of Bear Stearns and other vulnerable financial institutions, politicians swore that they would change the rules, so that no bank could be ‘too big to fail.” A key part of the fix was supposed to be the break-up of banking operations. A core retail function would gather deposits and turn them into loans.

Meanwhile, the higher-risk investment banking function, whose previous dubious, if not criminal practices nearly destroyed the whole financial system, would sit in a stand-alone part of the bank. If its speculative deals came unstuck, then it would be the investment banking division that went bust. The retail part of the bank, ring-fenced from the loss, would carry on with its customers’ deposits entirely safe.

This completely sensible division was what existed in the US, thanks to the post-Depression Glass-Steagall legislation of 1933. In the UK, the division had always existed. What were then called “Merchant banks” regarded themselves as altogether a cut above the mundane retail bankers.

Unfortunately today’s financial behemoths continue to fight a series of rearguard actions. The latest, in response to their being ordered to hold more protective capital, is to threaten that the extra costs will be passed on. As if bank customers expected anything less.

But it is not the obduracy of the banks that ought to be causing most concern. It is the way that those who control trillions of dollars of funds are once more piling in to high risk investments.

The level of risk supposedly dictates the level of return. There is an irony here because many governments sustained their banks by moving the cost of money to historic lows. This enabled banks to rebuild their shattered balance sheets by taking advantage of a healthy spread between what money cost them and what they charged their borrowers.

Unfortunately, those low interest rates have not been good enough for fund managers seeking to outdo each other in profitability. Thus sometime struggling companies have been issuing junk-grade bonds offering generous terms, in return for a lack of the normal covenants that might protect an investor.

International fund managers have been snapping up these generally short to medium term investments. Their belief is that they will be able to re-sell profitably or cash out at maturity, before the company or indeed, the wider economy, goes bad.

As if this were not bad enough, banks are once again “slicing and dicing” and bundling up different securities into investment products that are so unnecessarily complex, they are extremely difficult to analyse and price. However, because they offer a good return, they are finding an eager market. By some measure, the issuance of these risky securities has now passed pre-collapse levels.

It seems barely credible that in their frantic search for return, so many apparently sane institutional investors should have strayed back into the self-same risky asset classes that brought ruin to so many just six short years ago. With China hovering on the brink of its own deep financial crisis, the potential for early disaster for investors in junk securities is all to clear.

Islamic finance may not, as some critics complain, yet have the full set of tools to make it real challenger to the brutal, high-speed investment status quo. Nevertheless, this high-principled approach to channelling money productively stands in stark contrast to the “absolutely anything for a buck” stance of Western investors, who are surely heading for another, and perhaps even harder fall.

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Saudi hospitality trade show opens in Jeddah

Saudi Gazette – 12 April, 2014 – Offering the widest possible range of products and services under one roof, Saudi Arabia’s annual food, hotel and hospitality trade show is ready to welcome thousands of expected visitors from the Kingdom and other parts of the region when it opens its doors on Sunday.

The exhibition, which will be held at the Jeddah Center for Forums and Events, will run until Wednesday, April 16, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Organized by Al Harithy Company for Exhibitions (ACE) and under the patronage of the Ministry of Agriculture, the 2014 edition of one of the region’s prime trade shows will feature more than 400 exhibition booths of companies from Turkey, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Jordan, the United States and the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s 19th International Event for Food, Beverages and Catering, Hotel Equipment, Supplies and Services will be inaugurated by Director General for Agriculture Affairs and official spokesman for Makkah Hassan Bin Obaid Snicov. It will be attended by diplomats, businessmen, other dignitaries and experts from the food and hospitality sector.

“The Saudi Food, Hotel and Hospitality Arabia Fair has been a highly anticipated event benefitting both the tourism and business sectors in Saudi Arabia,” said Zahoor Siddique, Vice President of Al Harithy Company for Exhibitions (ACE).

“It brings together a large number of participating countries from across the globe, thus spreading Jeddah’s name as a premier business and tourism hub in the region,” he added.

The 2014 fair will provide a vast trade and sourcing platform for exporters, buyers, exhibitors and visitors alike and a number of lucrative networking opportunities, competitions and live shows.

As part of its extended five-day format, the event will host an open cooking and art de table competitions among professional chefs working in five-star hotels and restaurants to showcase their creations. The competitions are sponsored and organized by Nestle.

Saudi Arabia’s food forecast consumption has been grown since 2012 by 55.3 percent to reach the value of SAR 248 billion, outperforming other regional markets.

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Saudi Domestic airports to be developed

Arab News – 11 April, 2014 – The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) plans to develop domestic airports to enable them operate additional flights to meet growing passenger demand.

“Airports in Al-Ahsa, Najran, Taif, Hail, Tabuk, Qassim, Yanbu and Abha have increased their capacity to accommodate airliners coming from Gulf and Arab countries, in addition to Turkish Airlines,” said Khalid Al-Khaibari, official spokesman of GACA.

“The Kingdom has four major international airports in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Madinah that receive international flights from all over the world,” he said.

“There were more than 1.1 million international travelers passing through domestic airports in 2012,” he said. “New airline companies are targeting destinations popular with Saudis and expats, including Dubai, Istanbul, Cairo, Sharjah and Doha.”

“There will be more options for domestic passengers, especially in Riyadh and Jeddah,” he said. “The development of airports across the Kingdom will undoubtedly lead to a rise in the number of passengers in the long run.”

King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, for instance, will accommodate more than 30 million passengers annually. A demo operation of the new plan will operate in 2015, he said. “The annual capacity of Riyadh Airport will also increase to 35 million passengers after the opening of its fifth terminal.”

There are plans to increase the capacity of King Abdullah Airport in Jazan to be able to accommodate 4 million passengers, in addition to 5 million yearly travelers at Abha airport and 2.5 million at Prince Naif Airport in Qassim.

Tabuk and Najran airports will accommodate 2.9 million passengers a year after expansions.

Turkish Airlines now arrives and departs from seven Saudi airports. Other airlines are Air Arabia, Flydubai, Qatar Airways, Felix Airways and EgyptAir, which operate from domestic airports both in the north and south.

Many Saudis and residents in the Kingdom fly to Dubai and other destinations using these airlines, then onward to other destinations in Asia and Europe.

The GACA approved five weekly flights of Air Arabia at Najran airport and one flight a day of EgyptAir.

The authority has also approved one daily flight to Sharjah on Air Arabia at Al-Ahsa airport and is studying requests made by other airliners to fly from the airport.

Saudia, on the other hand, launched its first nonstop flight from King Fahd International Airport (KFIA) in Dammam to Istanbul on Friday.

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