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26 May, 2014

Damac launches Sharia-compliant hotel apartments

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 26 May 2014 (27 Rajab 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines 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.



World Amateur Golf Championship held in Penang

PENANG, 19 May 2014 – The third round of the 21st edition of the World Amateur Inter Team Golf Championship (WAITGC) organised by Tourism Malaysia teed off today in Penang at two of the state’s renowned golf courses – Penang Golf Resort and Penang Golf Club.

The four-day event sees 20 teams pitting their skills against one another for a place at the grand finale. A total of 12 teams are from Australia, one team each from Brunei, India and Singapore, and five teams from Malaysia.

The participants will first play at the Penang Golf Resort. Designed by the well-known golf course designer Graham Marsh, the lushness of the 36-hole championship layout blends in perfectly with the verdant surroundings of the township. Fairways, roughs and tees of the courses are turfed with Zoysia while the well-manicured verdant greens are carpeted with Bermuda Tifdwarf.

For the continuing rounds in Penang, the participants will proceed to the Penang Golf Club. Situated on a hilltop, the Penang Golf Club provides a stunning panaromic view of the island, overseeing the impressive 13km Penang Bridge. Its stunning 18-hole 5,763 metre, par 72 golf course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Junior. It is famous for its 10th hole where its tee box is perched 100 feet above the fairway on the valley floor.

After Penang, the subsequent three qualifying rounds will take place at seven golf courses in Langkawi, Sarawak, and Kuala Lumpur before the grand finale in Melaka.

WAITGC is Tourism Malaysia’s initiative to promote the country as a top-of-mind golf destination in the region. The homegrown event has emerged as a well-regarded tournament and one of the highly anticipated golfing events on golfer’s calendar. As WAITGC is also open to members of the media (by invitation only), it consequently boosts the stature of the event and promotes Malaysia internationally as a desirable golf destination.

The World Amateur Inter Team Golf Championship is managed by the Golf Club Managers Association of Malaysia (GCMAM) and sanctioned by the Malaysian Golf Association.

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Malaysian Nat News Agency Bernama Celebrates 46th Anniversary

KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) celebrates its 46th anniversary on Tuesday, May 20, continuing with its tradition of disseminating news and information for the masses and other media setups.

Bernama has come a long way since its establishment in May 1968, and remainsa highly esteemed information medium in spite of the country’s ever changing political and media landscape.

With a modest start in a bungalow, No 222, Circular Road (now Jalan Pekeliling), the news agency moved to its current location in Jalan Tun Razak in the 1980s.

And over the last four decades the agency not only played a pertinent role in disseminating news and information on the happenings within and without the country but also transformed itself in line with the changing times and technology.

Bernama recorded many proud achievements, despite of the unwarranted scepticism and cynicism harboured by some initially especially for the fact it was a government funded agency. And over the years Bernama proved it is one of the best training ground for anyone keen in journalistic endeavours and has produced many respectable figures in the industry, with some moving on successfully to other fields as well.

Among them are former New Straits Times Press Berhad (NSTP) Group Editor Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, Tan Sri Mohamed Hashim Ahmad Makaruddin Executive Chairman of Kumpulan Utusan, Datuk Ahmad Rejal Arbee former editor in chief of Kumpulan Berita Harian Sdn Bhd. Even current Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri G. Palanivel was a former editor with Bernama.

Bernama’s Chairman Datuk Abdul Rahman Sulaiman, who has been with the agency since its pioneering days, viewed Bernama’s achievements and operations over the last 46 years as something remarkable.

“I’m happy to see Bernama’s sterling achievements. In retrospect, when we started off 46 years ago, many were cynical over the agency’s role as they feared that the government sponsored agency would end up as the government propaganda machinery.

“However, thank god after being in existence for 46 years now Bernama is seen as an organisation that had survived the initial apprehension and is now seen with high regards by many,” he said.

Abdul Rahman who literally grew up with Bernama after joining the setup in 1971, bears witness to the tremendous transformation that the organisation has been trough right from the start and even today.

In a world of constant change, Bernama has been evolving constantly in remaining at the forefront by disseminating latest news and information through various mediums – web, TV and radio.

When Bernama started off, its news and information were disseminated using teleprinters and pictures only came in later. Yet, over the years the outlet mediums have been diversified to include the internet portal Bernama.com, Bernama TV (in 1998) and Radio 24 (in 2007).

Being fully aware of the differing tastes of the discerning readers, Bernama provides diversity in its offering thus apart from hard news, there are also special write ups and features covering general news, crime, court, sports, economy, international interest apart from its photo and financial screen services.

Apart from the traditional print and electronic media, even the new media have found it fit to utilise Bernama’s news and information products.

As for Abdul Rahman, Bernama owes its success very much to its far sighted leadership and able workforce who ensured that the news agency forged ahead.

Bernama, not only conducts its role professionally and with high integrity as the purveyour of news and information within the country but also at the regional and international level. The agency plays a crucial role in narrowing the information divide between Peninsular Malaysia, and Sabah and Sarawak.

In so far, apart from its bureaus throughout the country, Bernama has correspondents in Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, New Delhi and Beijing and stringers in London, Washington and Melbourne.

In providing comprehensive news coverage, this organisation has established cooperation with its foreign counterparts like Antara (Indonesia) and Xinhua (China).

Thus Bernama’s General Manager Datuk Yong Soo Heong said right now the agency would look into greater coverage within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This move is highly pertinent as Malaysia is set to chair ASEAN in 2015.

“We hope to concentrate on ASEAN that could benefit Malaysia apart from extending Bernama’s network and I feel one of the nations that we have to give a serious thought in coverage within ASEAN is Vietnam,” he said.

“We have plans to work with a radio station in Bandung, Indonesia. This is because we have many Indonesians working in Malaysia. We have been looking into ways how the technological development could allow quick exchanges of news,” he said.

He added that, Bernama would keep evaluating its operations to further enhance its role as the national news agency.

In the new media landscape of the world and Malaysia, Bernama not only faces challenges in creating and disseminating content but in staying relevant as well.

The rapid growth of social and alternative media has brought intense competition and a new perspective in disseminating news, thus many have raised the question on Bernama’s position in this new media landscape?

When asked on this, Bernama’s Editor in Chief Datuk Zulkefli Salleh highlighted that technological developments has allowed citizen journalism where everybody can report.

Citizen journalism not only poses a challenge to Bernama but also to other mainstream media setups in maintaining their role and relevance.

“I firmly believe that Bernama will remain relevant. This can be seen from the number of hits at Bernama.com, where between 50-75 million hits are recorded monthly.

“The large number of hits stand testament that Bernama still remains as an important reference medium for those within and without the country in seeking credible information though they may have been to other news portals or social media sites,” he said.

Bernama strives to remain relevant by providing credible and responsible news taking into account the many sensitivities that exists with the Malaysian society.

Bernama’s image and professionalism is recognised in the highly competitive world of journalism, and something to be proud off for those who have been part of Bernama including a former veteran of Bernama, Musa H. Scully.

Musa, a retired editor, who was with Bernama right from the start in 1968, remains proud of the transformation witnessed by the agency from its humble beginnings. When it first started it only had a handful of experienced media personnel, however Bernama went on to prove itself as a credible and leading news agency.

“I hope Bernama will be more productive and continue to maintain its credibility, integrity and confidence in the services provided,” said Musa who is now the director of Nam News Network (NNN), another of Bernama’s service offering. NNN (www.namnewsnetwork.org) is the news website of the 120-member Non Aligned Movement (NAM), managed by Bernama and financed by the Malaysian government as its commitment to NAM.

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Beautiful pictures of Qingjing Mosque: Witness of the ancient Maritime Silk Road

(People’s Daily Online) – May 21, 2014. – Located in southeast China’s Fujian Province, Quanzhou city used to be the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road and the biggest port of the East in Song and Yuan Dynasties (960-1368). During that period, sea trade between China and the West was flourishing as never before. Many of the merchants were Muslims from Arabian countries, who transported precious spices and crude drugs to China and carried away Chinese silks and porcelains. Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou, as the oldest mosque existing in China, is a historical witness of the cultural exchange between China and Arabian countries. Qingjing Mosque was built in 1009, following the architectural style of mosques in Damascus of Syria.

Click here to see great pictures: http://english.people.com.cn/n/2014/0521/c98649-8730535.html

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Islamic banks’ profits hit record $ 10 billion

Khaleej Times – 24 May, 2014 – Study says Islamic economy has $ 6.7 trillion potential, bigger than all nations except US and China. The combined profits of Islamic banks said across the six core markets broke the $ 10 billion mark for the first time at the end of 2013 as global Islamic banking assets continue to grow at a vibrant pace, according to specialists at Ernst & Young (EY).

The six markets include Qatar, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, the UAE and Turkey. Fuelled by economic growth in core Islamic financial markets, global Islamic banking assets are set to exceed $ 3.4 trillion by 2018, EY’s Global Islamic Banking Centre said. Another report published in November 2013 by the Dubai authorities and Thomson Reuters, valued worldwide Islamic financial assets currently at $ 1.35 trillion, a figure which is expected to grow at 15-20 per cent per year in core markets – with potential Islamic banking assets under optimal conditions of as much as $ 4.1 trillion.

The study found that Islamic economy has a potential value of $ 6.7 trillion – bigger than all but two of the world’s national economies, the US and China. Muslim consumers’ global expenditure on the media, food and lifestyle sectors is forecast to reach almost $ 2.5 trillion by 2018.

Ashar Nazim of EY said while the profit numbers for Islamic banks are impressive, they are still, on average, 15-19 percentage points lower than traditional banks in these markets. Regionalisation and operational transformation, which are currently underway in several leading Islamic banks, will help to close this gap.

EY said there is significant growth potential – there are about 38 million customers who bank with Islamic retail banks globally, but only a small number have fully transitioned from a traditional to an Islamic banking relationship. The average number of Islamic banking products per customer is just over two, whereas leading traditional banks have an average of five.

“Building consumer confidence through service excellence, especially when it comes to customers opening accounts and cross-selling can increase the market share of Islamic banks by 40 per cent from these customers,” said Ashar.

Another major opportunity is for Islamic banks to assist SMEs with cross-border business growth. “With increasing trade and capital flows between Turkey, Middle East and Asia Pacific, there is growing appetite to learn about Islamic financial solutions from clients and investors in these markets. Similarly, linking with world growth engines like China and India is becoming more important to help build business bridges between these high potential markets,” said Gordon Bennie, EY’s Mena head of financial services.

Given the tremendous growth potential, several GCC countries have taken initiatives to position themselves as Islamic finance centres. In October 2013, Dubai launched a drive to emerge as the capital of the Islamic economy in three years.

According to credit ratings agency Standard and Poors, asset growth within GCC Islamic banks is expected to outpace conventional banks, with Qatar posting the fastest asset growth in the region, reaching an asset base of $ 100 billion by 2017, up from $ 54 billion at the end of 2012, placing Qatar as the third-largest Islamic banking market after Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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Istanbul’s Haydarpaşa Station like an history museum

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – One of Istanbul’s most iconic sites, the Haydarpaşa Railway Station, was built 106 years ago during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II. The station was built by German architects Otto Ritter and Helmuth Cuno, as the starting point of the Istanbul-Baghdad, or Hejaz railway. Many of the station’s sections and the passenger lounge were opened on Aug. 19, 1908.

On the first day of its opening, the station suffered a fire and was only reopened on Nov. 4, 1909 after a restoration process. The building was used as an armory during the War of Independence and World War I, but was sabotaged on Sept. 6, 1917 when the armory exploded. The station then completely collapsed. On the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, the station was rebuilt to its original state and a comprehensive restoration was also carried out in 1976.

Some sections of the station were damaged during the Independenta tanker accident in 1979, when a large Romanian crude oil carrier exploded after colliding with a Greek freighter at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus. The wreck burned for weeks, causing heavy air and sea pollution around the Istanbul area and the Sea of Marmara.

During the most recent fire in 2010, the central and northern parts of the Haydarpaşa Station’s roof were badly burned. After the fire, the restoration of the building was initiated, and the tender process for the complete restoration of the building is still ongoing.

The structure served as a train station from the first day of its opening, but it was it was temporarily closed to long-distance trains on Feb. 2, 2012, for at least 30 months, to allow for the construction of the Istanbul–Ankara high-speed railway and the Marmaray rail transport project. Finally, as announced by the Turkish State Railways, the only remaining train service from Haydarpaşa, the suburban line to Pendik, closed on June 19, 2013 for at least 24 months for line improvement works.

Currently, the upper floors of the station are used by the Turkish State Railways Regional Directorate. The building – which is still home to historical objects such as a library, a cabinet, tables, chair, and stoves from the Abdülhamid II era – is now like a museum.

There is a lobby, an education and conference room and a local office on the 3rd floor of the station. The first emblem ever used by the Turkish State Railways draws attention on the cabinets, featuring iron wings coming out of a rail wheel.

According to information provided by the Turkish State Railways, a reconstruction plan for the protection of Haydarpaşa Station and the wider Kadıköy neighborhood has been made, as the station is located in a historically protected area. The planning works have been made in collaboration with civil society organizations, universities and public bodies. According to the regeneration plan, the ground floor will continue as a railway station and the other three floors currently used by the Turkish State Railways will become cultural and accommodation areas.

On Feb. 17, the 2nd Istanbul Administrative Court suspended the execution of the plan and the court process is still continuing.

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Mexico Seeks Malaysia’s Expertise To Develop Halal Industry

Halal-Focus / 19 May 2014 – Mexico is seeking Malaysia’s expertise to develop its halal industry to become a regional halal hub given the huge potential of the global halal industry, said Mexico’s ambassador to Malaysia Carlos Felix Corona. He said Malaysia has a leadership role as developers of halal market expertise in such matters as industry standards and certification.

“We want to develop the halal food and halal industry in Mexico. If we have the certification from Malaysia, we can expand operations to the rest of the world and Mexican companies can export halal products to the United States given that there is a bigger population of Muslims in that country.

“Since Malaysia already has experience in setting up and developing the halal hub here, we want to use their expertise to work with us to set up a halal hub in our country,” he told Bernama during a visit to its headquarters here.

Also present were Bernama Editor-In-Chief Datuk Zulkefli Salleh and Deputy Editor-In-Chief for Foreign News Ahmad Zukiman Zain.

Earlier, Corona called on Bernama General Manager Datuk Yong Soo Heong. Mexico is also looking to strengthen ties with Malaysia and plans to expand bilateral trade, said Corona.

He said the business outlook is positive given the economic recovery in the North America region, which offers an opportunity to develop all sectors of the Mexican economy to connect with Malaysian companies.

Mexico, the fifth largest country in the Americas with a population of over 150 million people, offers various opportunities for Malaysian companies.

“There are specific sectors that we can match better, for example energy is a very important element with Mexico being one of the most important oil producers in the world with 3.7 million barrels per day.

“We have established energy reforms in Mexico and right now there are many foreign companies that want to invest in our country to explore the energy sector,” he added.

Corona said Mexican companies should come to Malaysia and discover the vast opportunities here and in Southeast Asia. “Malaysia is very strong in the automobile industry and infrastructure, so these are the other potential areas where we can expand operations,” he added.

Corona stressed the importance of bilateral trade between Mexico and Malaysia, its main trade partner in Southeast Asia — in 2013 the trade amounted to US$5.234 billion.

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Mali: UN, EU Team Up To Restore Timbuktu’s Cultural Heritage

TIMBUKTU (MALI), May 16 (NNN-UNNS) — The United Nations and the European Union have forged an agreement to fund the restoration of cultural heritage in Timbuktu that was destroyed after fighting broke out in 2012 between Malian Government forces and Tuareg rebels.

With 500,000 euros provided by the European Union, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will coordinate the reconstruction of destroyed mausoleums, the rehabilitation of mosques and private libraries, as well as ancient manuscript conservation projects. Local personnel will also be trained to ensure lasting preservation.

Timbuktu was an economic, intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa during the city’s golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova welcomed the support extended to Mali and the heritage reconstruction project by the European Union and other donors.

“The agreement signed today shows that we are on track,” she stated in a news release. “Two mausoleums have now been rebuilt and this new agreement comes at an opportune moment to speed up work underway and ensure that the people of Mali can reclaim heritage that is essential to their identity and that can contribute to reconciliation.

“This is vital for Mali and is important for the rest of the world because World Heritage is common to us all,” she said.

Fourteen of the 16 mausoleums of Timbuktu inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List were destroyed by armed groups during the conflict. The manuscripts of Mali constitute a unique documentary collection that bears testimony to the history of Africa and of humanity as a whole.

During the conflict, more than 4,000 of the 40,000 manuscripts kept at the Ahmed Baba Institute were lost. Some were burned or stolen, while more than 10,000 remain in a critical condition. Local communities secretly transferred more than 300,000 manuscripts to the capital, Bamako. They are now conserved in conditions that are not optimal for their safeguarding, according to UNESCO.

The heritage project will be led in cooperation with the Malian Ministry of Culture, Higher Education and Scientific Research, with logistical support from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

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First date palm genetic map made

ThePeninsulaQatar / 19 May 2014 – Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) have published the first genetic map of the date palm, paving the way for Qatar to become a leader in date palm genetics and biotechnology.

The map shows the order in which the date palm’s chromosomes are placed and which chromosome is responsible for reproduction.

In theory, the information could one day allow growers to manipulate the development of seeds, creating more female fruit-bearing plants than male plants,which do not produce dates. It also places Qatar at the head of research into the date palm, an important food source for much of the Middle East.

The map has been produced by the genomics group under the direction of Dr Joel Malek, Assistant Professor of Genetic Medicine, in collaboration with Dr Karsten Suhre, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and with help from colleagues at the Ministry of Environment’s Biotechnology Centre and its Department of Agricultural Affairs.

The programme ‘Establishing World Leadership in Date Palm Research in Qatar’ (NPRP-EP X-014-4-001) was funded by Qatar National Research Fund’s NPRP Exceptional Proposal programme that provided $4.5m for the research.

Dr Malek said, “This is us laying the foundation for establishing world leadership in date palm research. To be a world leader, you have to have infrastructure and I consider this a genetic infrastructure that will allow us to be the leaders when it comes date palm biotechnology.”

Three years ago, he and his team produced a draft version of the date palm genome which paved the way for the more accurate map. To create the map, Dr Malek and Dr Suhre worked with the centre and the Department of Agricultural Affairs. The ministry provided 150 seeds from a female tree and they were then propagated by Ameena Al Malki at the centre.

Once they were large enough, leaves and DNA were taken from the seedlings. A new process ‘genotyping-by-sequencing’ was applied which sequenced portions of the genomes of all seedlings. It allowed the researchers to look at the parent tree and ascertain how it passed her DNA to her offspring.

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Ugandan President Urges Use Of Indigenous Languages

KAMPALA, May 20 (NNN-NEW VISION) — President Yoweri Museveni has appealed to cultural leaders in Uganda not to get involved in partisan politics but to concentrate on the promotion of their traditions and to ensure that they give time to the promotion of local languages so that they do not disappear.

The president was chief guest at celebrations to mark the 10th coronation anniversary of King Apollo Sansa Kabumbuli II the Kamuswaga of Kooki in Rakai district. The ceremonies took place on Sunday at Rwentulege Grounds in Kagamba sub-county in Kooki, Rakai district. Sansa Kabumbuli ll, was installed on May 15, 2004.

The president said the Ugandan government supported the restoration of cultural institutions which had been abolished by the Obote Administration, because they would go a long in serving as a medium through which Uganda’s traditions and norms would be promoted and preserved.

Museveni urged the people of Kooki in particular and Uganda in general to take up income-generating projects at household level in order to get rid of poverty.

He cited such projects like the cultivation of coffee and fruits as well as the keeping of poultry, rearing fish in ponds and piggery as activities which could be done on a few acres of land so that household settings can derive income from them.

King Apollo Sansa Kabumbuli, in his remarks, welcomed the president to the Obwa Kamuswaga of Kooki and thanked him for honouring his invitation to be present at the celebrations.

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Nizwa To Become Cultural Capital Of Oman

MUSCAT, Oman, May 21 (NNN-ONA) – A grand and ambitious plan is underway, to officially declare Nizwa as the cultural capital of Oman in Jan 2015.

Making this announcement at a press conference, at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture here, Sheikh Hamad Bin Hilal Al Ma’amari, Undersecretary for Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Chairman of the organising committee, said, “Our intention is to restore the lost legacy and pride of Nizwa, as a centre of learning, culture and heritage that goes back to over 5,000 years”.

Al Ma’amari said that, last week, a logo for Nizwa as the cultural capital of Oman was chosen by Sayyid Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said, the Minister of Heritage and Culture.

The logo symbolises two prominent historical and architectural monuments in Nizwa, the dome of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, one of the Islamic monuments in the wilayat, as well as Nizwa Fort.

“The ministry has been working since the past two and a half years, to transform the vision behind the concept of Nizwa as the cultural capital of Oman, into a real and present reality,” he said.

One among the many initiatives that was “unfolding in Nizwa is the construction of the Nizwa Cultural Centre, which will not just be an architectural marvel but would enrich the lives of the people as a hub for cultural activities, he added.

“The centre will hold events by performing artistes, musicians, poets, besides art exhibitions, lectures, seminars and symposiums attracting the best people from around the world,” Al Ma’amari said.

A marketing, communication and information teams of the ministry are devising their own particular strategies to highlight Nizwa’s importance as an ancient seat of culture and learning. To ensure the success of this project, the ministry has invited suggestions and ideas from the intelligentsia, he added.

“The purpose of the press conference is to urge the local media to create the maximum information and awareness about Nizwa and strengthen the hands of the ministry in making this project a grand success.”

Additionally, this would help young people to have a clearer and better picture about their culture and heritage of Nizwa.

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Papal Visit To Palestine Will Have Positive Impact On Tourism

RAMALLAH, May 23 (NNN-WAFA) – Minister of Tourism and Antiques Rola Ma’aya stated that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Palestinian Territory would have a positive impact on the Palestinian tourism sector.

She said that while Christians all over the world would watch the pope moving around in an open-air vehicle, they would learn about the security and stability of Palestine, primarily Bethlehem and reconsider their views about security situation in Palestine.

Commenting on Israeli occupation propaganda that it is insecure for tourists to visit Palestine, she noted that watching the pope moving around in such a way would refute this propaganda and demonstrate that security and safety prevail in Palestine, encouraging more Christian tourists to visit the country.

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Food Tourism Set To Boost Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Promotion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia May 23 (NNN-Bernama) — The Citarasa programme is set to make Malaysia a major international food tourism destination, hence boosting the country’s tourism sector. Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said some of Malaysia’s traditional dishes had been recognised internationally.

“Penang Laksa, for example, was voted the seventh most delicious food (out of 50) in the world under the CNNGo International Food Survey in 2012,” he said at the opening of the Citarasa Kuala Lumpur programme at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MaTic), here, Friday.

His speech was delivered on his behalf by the ministry’s secretary-general Dr Ong Hong Peng.

“This shows that Malaysian food have become increasingly popular among the international community,” said Nazri, adding that the Citarasa programme was seen as significant and would be extended nationwide in promoting Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

He said the organising of this programme was timely as the ministry was trying to further promote Malaysia’s food and beverage (F&B) sector to the world.

“In 2013, 12.5 per cent or RM8.18 billion from the tourism revenue came from the F&B sector. The programme also opens doors for small food industry operators, thus giving a positive impact on their economy,” he added.

Nazri also noted the win by Ipoh-born and UK-based Catherine Chin Wan Ping in the UK Master Chef competition with her dishes of nasi lemak and wanton soup, which further popularised Malaysian food.

The Citarasa Kuala Lumpur programme from May 23 to 25 features 14 stalls at MaTic promoting dishes from the respective states like Ikan Patin Masak Tempoyak (Pahang), Nasi Gulai and Pulut Mangga (Perlis), and Otak-Otak (Johor).

Besides Citarasa, the ministry will also extend the Citrawarna, Arts Festival and Museum Festival to the states in efforts to promote Malaysian culture and arts.

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Jordan Urges SMEs To Invest In Alternative Energy

AMMAN, May 18 (NNN-Petra) –– The National Society for Consumer Protection urged Jordanians to turn to solar energy to meet their electricity needs in the form of government-financed small- and medium-sized enterprises.

The society said in a statement released today that a scheme to generate electricity for households, mosques, schools, hospitals, etc, from solar power enterprises is financially-backed and facilitated by the government due to its economic feasibility.

It said the costs of such projects are reasonable in addition to their simple technology, noting that over 300 local companies now produce such technology at competitive prices.

The statement urged the government to continue encouraging citizens to invest in such enterprises with the aim of employing people and reducing joblessness and alleviating poverty in the Kingdom’s various regions.

It said a collective effort by the government, power companies and citizens would ensure the success of such ventures which would reduce the consumption and imports of traditional energy, mainly oil and gas, and ultimately cut the budget deficit and government spending.

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Uganda Parliament Speaker Urges Promotion of Local Industry In East Africa

By Henry Sekanjako

KAMPALA, May 19 (NNN-NEW VISION) — The Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has rallied leaders at all levels to promote the country’s local industries across the East Africa Region.

During a visit the Roofings Industries complex in the Namanve Industrial Park here over the weekend, she expressed concern over the lack of adequate knowledge on the capacity of some of Uganda’s leading local industries.

“There is need for inter-action with several political stakeholders to appreciate the company’s investment in the industrial park. It is our responsibility as leaders to help companies market their products in the region. This is a big investment and I assure you of all the support from government,” Kadaga said.

She also expressed appreciation for the company’s efforts aimed at curbing the country’s unemployment problem. “I’m delighted that the company has contributed much to reducing unemployment. Many youth employed and skilled here will help improve the quality of the country’s workforce,” she said.

Sikander Lalani, the Chairman of Roofings Group, hailed East Africa’s economic intergration for creating a bigger market but decried the emergence of several counterfeit products on Uganda’s market.

The company appealed for support from Parliament to ensure the waiver of the 25 per cent common external tariff charged on the company’s products exported to other East African Community (EAC) partner states.

The company has invested 210 million US dollars in its facility here and generates close to 45 million USD per annum from exports of raw materials and finished goods to several of the EAC member states.

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Algeria Records US$3.3b Trade Surplus

ALGIERS, May 22 (NNN-APS) — Algeria recorded a trade surplus of about 3.31 billion USD during Jan-April 2014 against 3.14 billion USD during the same period in 2013, an increase of 5.41 per cent, the Algerian Customs service has reported.

According to the National Centre for Statistics and Data Processing (CNIS), Algeria’s exports reached 22.03 billion usd during the first four months of 2014, against 22.69 billion usd during the same period in 2013, a 2.91 er cent drop, caused by a 3.8 per cent decline in exports of hydrocarbons.

Algeria’s imports also dropped — by 4.21 per cent to 18.72 billion USD during the period from 19.55 billion USD during the same period last year — added the CNIS. The rate of imports coverage by exports reached 118 per cent against 116 per cent during the same reference period, the source said.

Hydrocarbon exports, which continue to represent the vast portion of Algerian exports at 95.58 per cent of total exports, were estimated at 21.06 billion USD during the first four months of 2014 against 21.90 billion USD in the same period in 2013.

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Malaysia Up To 12th Spot In World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia May 22 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia’s ranking improved three notches to 12th, among 60 countries, in the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014, its best performance in four years, says International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed.

The jump is a testimony of growing confidence in the government’s various initiatives to transform the economy into that of a high-income nation by 2020. Last year, Malaysia was ranked 15th by the Swiss-based Institute for Management Development.

Mustapa said the report reflected measures Malaysia had undertaken under the Government Transformation and Economic Transformation Programmes.

“We will continue to strengthen our global competitiveness through efforts targeted at enhancing Malaysia’s investment environment and promoting policies that would increase trade, harness talents to achieve higher productivity growth, intensify efforts to reduce regulatory burden, as well as, strengthen the country’s technological capabilities.

“We are also committed in implementing and executing a sustainable economic policy in ensuring a more prosperous and developed Malaysia as opposed to short-term, populist shortcuts that will have negative consequences in the long-run,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Mustapa said, with all these efforts, Malaysia could see a much better performance in the next three to five years as all its initiatives began to bear fruit.

The 12th spot or 82.09 score (out of 100) has put Malaysia among the top 15 most competitive nation that included the United States, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sweden, Germany and Canada.

It also continued to be ahead of United Kingdom which was ranked 16th, Australia (17th), Finland (18th), New Zealand (20th), Japan (21st) and Korea (26th).

The World Competitiveness Yearbook assessed countries based on economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure.

On government efficiency, Mustapa said although Malaysia maintained its 15th position, the government was committed to further strengthening the country’s public finances, ensure fiscal sustainability and promote the country’s long-term macroeconomic stability.

“The setting up of the Fiscal Policy Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, reflects Malaysia’s commitment to achieve a fiscal deficit of three per cent of Gross Domestic Product by 2015 and work towards a balanced budget by 2020.

“Among the initiatives undertaken by the government is the implementation of phased rationalisation of subsidies and ensure a more targeted approach in providing financial assistance to those in need.

“We also believe that the improvements in rankings are directly linked to the upward trend of Malaysia’s global rankings in the Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 to 24th position and World Bank Ease of Doing Business report 2014 where Malaysia is ranked number six worldwide,” Mustapa added.

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Chinese Company to build Bangladesh Mega Bridge

DHAKA, May 23 (NNN-Xinhua) — Bangladeshi has awarded a Chinese firm a 1.55-billion-U.S. dollars contract to build core structure of the country’s biggest bridge project.

Bangladesh’s cabinet committee on purchase approved the China Major Bridge Engineering Company Limited’s bid to construct the core structure of the Padma bridge project, which is to begin by November this year and be completed in four years.

The proposed 25-meter-wide and 10-km-long bridge will be built over Padma River, one of the three major rivers in Bangladesh. About 6.15 km of the bridge will be built over the river while the remaining part on both banks.

Apart from connecting nearly 30 million people in Bangladesh’s southwest region to the rest of the country, the bridge will enhance regional trade and collaboration along the Asian highway No.1 and the Trans-Asian railway network.

“We’ll sign an agreement with the Chinese firm next month,” Bangladeshi Finance Minister AMA Muhith told journalists after the cabinet committee’s meeting. He said the Chinese firm will give a 100-year guarantee for the bridge.

The Bangladeshi government on June 26 last year floated international bids for construction of the stalled Padma Multipurpose Bridge.

The World Bank in June 2012 canceled its funding for the project, saying it had “credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC Lavalin executives and private individuals in connection with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project.”

Finance Minister AMA Muhith in September last year said the integrity unit of the World Bank should seek unconditional apology to Bangladesh government for its false corruption charges about the tender of Padma bridge.

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First republican “Halal” fair to be held in Kazan

islam.ru / 23 May 2014 – Manufacturers and farmers of Tatarstan will present their “halal” products at a fair, which will be held in the city of Kazan.

The organizers of the event are: the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Republic of Tatarstan, the Committee of “Halal” standard of the Spiritual Administration of Tatarstani Muslims, “Kazan”- Agriculture Park, National Association of Industry “Halal” (Nasih).

The purpose of the fair is to provide the population with the high quality food products directly from manufacturers at affordable prices, to support local producers, to maintain cultural Islamic values and to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles.

Lectures about benefits of halal food, presentations on halal food and its advantages, competitions and quizzes will be also conducted during the event.

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Gaza enjoys best honey harvest in a decade

Reuters / 17 May 2014 – Gaza beekeepers say they are enjoying their best harvest in more than a decade in a region where conflict and poverty has seen honey production slashed by more than half in recent years.

A scarcity in plants and crops necessary for bees to source pollen and nectar in Gaza forced beekeepers to place their hives near the city’s borders with Egypt in the hope their bees would seek out honey-producing pollen in Israel or Egypt, crossing borders many Gazans cannot.

“The bees cross to the Egyptian side and bring the nectar because there are citrus farms and other big farms there. The bees can travel three to four kilometers and bring back the pollen,” said Raed Zuroub, whose hives are located in Rafah.

Prior to an outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2000, honey production in Gaza topped around 750 tonnes per year, according to honey farmers in Gaza. at the time, there was an abundance of citrus farms and other flowering trees for bees to feed on.

But as fighting raged on and off for over a decade, many trees and crops that provided a source of pollen and nectar for honey-harvesting bees were razed. Honey production dropped to approximately 250 tonnes per year since then, they said.

The border between Gaza and Israel has been repeatedly cleared by Israeli army bulldozers, destroying all trees and farms in order to make visibility better for the soldiers manning the border. Palestinian farmers who have got close to the border fence said they have been fired upon by Israeli troops in the past.

Honey producer Ahmad Zuroub, who is deputy head of Gaza’s beekeepers’ association, said production for this year has shown a significant increase, with approximately 320 tonnes being harvested throughout Gaza.

“It was an excellent season. There was a long period to harvest the honey so we had good production, keeping in mind that we faced many problems, such as diseases that we faced at the beginning of the season,” he said.

“Each hive box used to give an average of about eight to ten kilograms per year. This year, thank God, it increased to twelve to fourteen kilograms for each hive in Rafah,” Zuroub added.

A jar of honey in Gaza costs between 60-75 shekels (15-20 U.S. Dollars) for a kilogram (2.2 pounds). In Gaza, around 300 beekeepers maintain 20,000 hives supplying around 60 percent of local demand, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Gross honey production for 2013 was 280 tonnes, officials at the ministry said.

Honey production has also been affected by growing urban sprawl, increasing salinity in Gaza’s ground water and cultivation of olive trees which do not produce nectar suitable for honey production, according to the Middle East news website al-Monitor.

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Islamic art exhibition to be held in Kazan Kremlin

islam.ru / 17 May 2014 – May 21, an exhibition of Islamic art “V & A Jameel Prize” will start its work at the “Hermitage-Kazan” exhibition center in Kazan Kremlin. Victoria and Albert Museum (V & A, London), the world’s leading museum of art and design, for the first time hold such exhibition in the capital of Tatarstan.

There will be displayed the works of ten artists and designers, who are the finalists of the V & A Jameel Prize. Biennially winner will be awarded a prize of 25,000 pounds sterling.

During the event it will be exhibited more than 20 exhibits. Visitors will be able to see the modern version of the Arabic script and calligraphy, video installations, precious fabrics and exquisite drawings .

It is planned to conduct the same exhibition in the Government Exhibition Hall “Manege” in Moscow and in the Islamic Art Museum in Sharjah (UAE).

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Damac launches Sharia-compliant hotel apartments

TradeArabia / 19 May 2014 – Damac Hotels, the hospitality arm of Damac Properties, has launched the first fully certified Sharia-compliant serviced hotel apartments in Dubai at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

Constella is a luxury tower under construction in the Jumeirah Village. The full management of the project will be carried out on Sharia principles and result in the issuing of a Sharia Certification by Dar Al Sharia.

Constella will also have separate swimming pools for men and women, separate gymnasiums and saunas. The restaurant will also have a single section for men and separate family section.

There will also be dedicated floors provided for ladies that will be served by female only staff. “Damac Properties is a Dubai company, which listens to market demands and we were keen to bring a fully certified Sharia-Compliant product to the market for some time,” said Ziad El Chaar, managing director, Damac Properties.

“Constella presents a unique opportunity to invest in the Dubai real estate market in-line with the principles and beliefs of many of our customers, particularly those from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and here in the UAE.”

El Chaar went on to acknowledge Dar Al Sharia and the Real Estate Regulatory Authority for their support in bring this product to market.

Damac Properties will be hosting an exclusive VIP event at Damac Maison in the Burj Area, on tomorrow (May 6) to present the project and release a select number of units at pre-launch prices.

Prices for Constella start at Dh702,000 ($191,000) and will be completed by 2017, a statement said. Each Constella unit comes complete with a fully-fitted kitchen and daily housekeeping services, with access to a restaurant, kids club and swimming pool.

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Photographers compete to capture Makkah’s essence

Arab News / 19 May 2014 – Young, budding photographers were given the chance to showcase their eye for Makkah’s beauty at a photography contest held by the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts.

The society organized the photography contest in search of young talents who were able to successfully capture the essence of the holy city and the Grand Mosque in images.

The contest was held under the banner “inspiring Makkah.” Contest winners were awarded at the Raffles Palace Hotel in Makkah on Monday.

“Inspiring Makkah” was originally launched via the hotel’s Facebook page and targeted local and international photographers with an artistic streak.

The winners were nominated via Facebook and later shortlisted by a jury panel of experts that included Mohammed Al-Malki, Suzan Eskander, Issam Kanafani and Mariam Beydoun.

A total of 24 pieces of art depicting Makkah’s geophysical beauty, spiritual nature and ancient and modern blends gained acclaim from 200 nominated photos. A total of 300 youth took part in the contest.

Finalist photos were put on display at the Raffles Makkah Palace’s photo gallery. Saud Hilal Al-Saidi came first for his depiction of Makkah’s natural beauty and lights by night, winning SR10,000 and an accommodation package at the hotel.

“The dedication of these young, budding photographers in showcasing Makkah’s true essence through the power of the image has offered a new perspective on the city and is warmly welcomed by our community,” said Mohammed Shibli, contest supervisor for the society, on behalf of Abdullah Al-Tazi, the society’s general manager.

“Selecting the winning photos from among 24 photos was a difficult task,” he said. “We judged images based on composition, angle, technical aspects and how powerfully their messages are conveyed.”

“We urged participants to focus on Makkah as a whole and not just the Grand Mosque,” he said. “The idea was to find the best combination of lighting and features.”

Iman Ibrahim Al-Biabi came second for his ability at capturing an image of worshippers praying at the Grand Mosque from an angle, winning SR5,000.

Yazeed bin Abdul Aziz Al-Dwaihi came in third for his aerial view of Makkah just after the sunset prayer, winning SR2,500, while Mohammed Sebul bin Nang came in fourth, also winning SR2,500 for his depiction of a young couple engaging in affection and worship amid construction works and the Makkah scene.

“We gave equal chances to the public to choose the images they liked the most,” said Shibli. “We take great pride in organizing a competition that upholds the concept of art through photography and encourages youth to tap into their creative abilities.”

Issam Kanafani, one of the judges, told Arab News that choosing the winning photos was a monumental task since every photo had a different story to tell.

Award-winning photos were exhibited and later printed in an art book for public distribution. The winning photographers are scheduled to take part in a workshop to sharpen their skills as they continue to pursue their dreams.

“As an avid photographer, I can appreciate the beauty of a photo, but I never expected to win,” said Saud.

The awards were presented by Khalil Abu Zaid, operations director at the hotel. Abu Zaid expressed his enthusiasm at the launching of such a competition.

“This adds a personal touch to Islamic arts,” he said. “Visual arts are the strongest channel of communication and photographers did a great job of successfully portraying the cultural diversity and historic richness of Makkah through the lens.”

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Third Gulf halal conference held in Kuwait

islam.ru / 19 May 2014 – The Third Gulf Conference on the Halal Industry was held in Kuwait. Representatives of many European and Eastern countries participated in the conference, the press service of the Council of Russian Muftis reports.

Delegation of the Russian Council of Muftis, which consisted of the deputy head of the Council Renat-harzat Abyanov, the head of International department of the Council Ildar Galeev and the deputy of general director of “Halal” International Center of Standardization and Certificationon and International activities Samat Sadikov, also participated in the event.

Prominent religious and political leaders of the state attended the closing ceremony. At the end of the conference a resolution was adopted.

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Bishkek named capital of Islamic Culture

Agencies / 21 May 2014 – Bishkek, the capital city of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, has been declared the capital of Islamic culture in 2014, hosting five month activities to mark the event.

The announcement was made when Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Kamila Taliyev, hosted a meeting to arrange events held between May 20 and October 19. The events include art exhibitions, film festivals, workshops, conferences and a trade fair. After the meeting, a government press statement said that the activities would be aimed at promoting and developing Islamic culture as well as strengthening cultural ties between the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Bishkek has several historical buildings and museums, and boasts vast expansions of natural heritage. The city regained its name in 1991, when the Republic of Kyrgyzstan achieved its independence. Muslims make up 75 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s 5-million population.

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Haj Ministry connects with pilgrims via social media

Arab news / 21 May 2014 – Madinah’s Haj Ministry branch has launched an e-communication service on several social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, for the very first time. The ministry’s branch has also provided a mobile number and a landline for addressing inquiries and complaints around the clock.

Muhammad Al-Beijawi, branch head, said the move comes as part of efforts to improve Haj and Umrah services in line with directives issued by Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar.

Hajjar had ordered the outsourcing of services to a consultancy commission that meets European standards of excellence to ensure quality services among pilgrims and visitors. “Our branch in Madinah has embarked on several projects to improve services, not least of which include enhancing communication with visitors,” said Al-Beijawi.

“Comments and complaints can be made virtually anywhere, including at points of departure and arrival. Inspection teams continuously embark on ad hoc visits to hotels and apartments to ensure quality customer service.”

There is an increase in the number of pilgrims thanks to ongoing expansion projects at the Grand Mosque and airports and the implementation of the Haramain Expressway and other projects, he said.

Over 5 million Umrah visas have been issued since the beginning of the year, while 4.5 million people entered the country and 4.2 million left. There are an estimated 322,000 overstayers in the Kingdom.

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Qatar Airways to debut second A380 on Paris route

Sun.mv – May 20, 2014 – Qatar Airways announced on Monday that the airline’s second A380 aircraft will commence operations between Hamad International Airport in Doha to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris starting 3 July.

Qatar Airways recently announced that the first of its A380 aircrafts will commence operations on the London-Heathrow route from 17th June. The airline has 13 A380 aircrafts on order.

Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker said: “Operating on the Doha to Paris Charles De Gaulle route, these aircraft, with their customized cabins and five-star specifications, will set a new level of comfort for our passengers, who will also benefit from the smooth and pleasant passenger experience at the world’s newest hub, Hamad International Airport – the soon to be home of Qatar Airways.”

Featuring a two-deck, tri-class seating configuration in First, Business and Economy Class, the A380 is the largest passenger jet in the world. The new First Class A380 seat, recently revealed at the ITB trade fair in Berlin, feature a 90-inch seat pitch, transforming into a fully flat bed, together with an expansive choice of entertainment options displayed on individual 26-inch television screens.

Hamad International Airport, Qatar Airways new base from 27 May, has been designed with six contact gates designed to specifically cater to the A380 superjumbo. The airport’s maintenance hangar, the largest in the world, is able to accommodate two A380s simultaneously.

In addition to the 13 A380 aircrafts currently on order, Qatar Airways is set this year to welcome 80 A350 aircrafts as Airbus’ launch customer. This forms part of Qatar Airways’ plans to expand its fleet with 300 additional aircraft, worth more than $50 billion.

With rapid growth in just 17 years of operation, Qatar Airways today flies a modern fleet of 134 aircraft to 139 key business and leisure destinations across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and South America.

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Taxi Stands established in Male’

Sun.mv – May 18, 2014 – Male’ City Council has started marking taxi stands, where taxis can park while waiting to be hired, on the streets of Male’, following the Taxi Regulation enforced on 15 December 2013.

Male’ City Council Member Mohamed Rasheed told Sun Online that efforts are ongoing to meet the requirement stated in the Taxi Regulation in terms of number of taxi stands to be established in Male’, but difficulties are being faced due to lack of funds.

He said that Transport Ministry had been informed of the budget difficulties, and the ministry had promised to provide funds for this project.

Several taxi drivers have told Sun Online that they support the idea of establishing taxi stands in Male’, as it would simplify the process of hiring taxis both for passenger and taxi drivers.

About eight taxi stands have been marked in Male’ so far. Also, taxis without vacancy boards are being fined by authorities as part of the efforts to enforce the new Taxi Regulation.

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Maldives arrivals up by 11.2 percent

Sun.mv – May 17, 2014 – Maldives welcomed 426,870 tourists from January to April 2014, an increase of 11.2 percent compared to 383,738 arrivals during the same period of 2013. A total of 105,309 tourists came to the Maldives during the month of April 2014, attaining a growth rate of 16.2 percent for the month.

Europe remained the market leader with a 51.3 percent share in April 2014. With an additional 53,988 tourists from Europe in April, arrivals from the region reached a total of 219,058 at the end of first four months of 2014.

With 43,654 tourist arrivals in April from the Asia and the Pacific region, a total of 179,493 tourists were recorded from the region from January to April 2014. The Asia Pacific region maintained a growth of 22.4 percent for April.

With 14,470 arrivals contributing a 4.3 percent share by the end of April 2014, Americas was the third leading market region for the Maldives.

By individual market performances, China remained the overall market leader to the Maldives, with 111,564 tourist arrivals and a hold of over 26 percent of arrivals by the end of April 2014.

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Maldives Finance Forum 2014 begins in Bandos Resort

Sun.mv – May 18, 2014 – Maldives Finance Forum 2014, an annul platform organized by the Maldives Pension Administration Office (MPAO) to discuss the Maldives financial sector, has begun in Bandos Island Resort today.

The forum was inaugurated this morning by central bank, Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Governor Dr Azeema Adam. Official theme for this year’s forum is “International Financial and Capital Markets”, MPAO said.

MPAO, organizer of the forum and the country’s largest potential institutional investor said the forum seeks to bring together leaders to identify and overcome developmental impediments, discuss the potential of the Pension Fund and its impacts, promote research on the Maldives financial sector and to increase financial literacy.

A number of leading figures are scheduled to speak at the forum, including; Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed, Managing Director of Villa Air Riluwan Shareef, Global Head of Official Institutions, Schroders, Gavin Ralston, Global Head of Islamic Finance, JP Morgan Chase Bank, Dr Hussein Hassan, Capital Market Development Authority Board Director Ibrahim Athif Shakoor and Senior Advisor to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Mohamed Jaleel.

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Muğla gearing up for tourism season

MUĞLA – Anadolu Agency – Long one of Turkey’s biggest tourist draws, the southwestern province of Muğla is ready to entice visitors for the 2014 tourist season with its 1,484 kilometers of coasts and rich historical treasures.

Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Veli Çelik said the province was very important for Turkish tourism, adding that the region had a capacity of 250,000 beds. “Muğla is the third tourism destination after Istanbul and Antalya (in Turkey). Three million foreigners visit the province annually. They are a source of over 3 billion dollars. Our goal is to reach 5 million visitors in accordance with the 2023 Tourism Strategy Plan of the ministry,” he said.

But Çelik said Muğla had failed to capitalize on its cultural wealth as much as its sun, sea and sand, adding that the ministry’s strategy plan focused on highlighting cultural activities.

He said that in the first four months of the year, 143,000 tourists had arrived in the province by air and sea, mostly from Britain, Greece, Germany, Russia and France, noting that the figure represented a 22 percent increase in comparison to the same period of last year.

The director said tourism preparations were focused on increasing the quality of what is on offer. “We will hold meetings with the sector and nongovernment organizational representatives in certain regions. We will provide coordination for a better season and eliminate the deficiencies in tourism facilities. We plan to form a Tourism Provincial Coordination. Muğla will become a more important destination for our country,” he said. Çelik said their next goal would be northern markets since they have a high national income. “We have begun drawing tourists from these countries. It will help us create a balanced market policy. When trouble occurs in some countries that send us tourists, we want to meet this deficiency with tourists from other countries.”

Turkish Hoteliers Federation Deputy President and Fethiye Hoteliers Union President Yavuz Torunoğulları said Muğla was ready for the summer season across the board, adding that they were expecting a better season than last year.

“We expect that the market will be positively affected since Russia changed its mind on its Ukrainian policy. What is happening will affect the number of people both in Russia and Ukraine. There is a settled number in markets like in the Netherlands and Belgium. When we consider the reservation works of tour operators and the data so far, it seems this season will be better than 2013,” Torunoğulları said.

He said the province’s Fethiye district had a bed capacity of 48,000 but that they hoped to supplement this total with 7,000 more beds as the area occasionally runs out of vacancy.

Speaking about the problem of qualified personnel, Torunoğulları said: “The number of foreign-language-speaking personnel is few. Everyone has the same problem in the region, according to sector representatives. The current English-speaking personnel, who are few in number, do not put in the effort to improve themselves because there is no competition.”

The Turkish Travel Agencies Union Chair Sevinç Gökbel said the summer season opened in Bodrum in April but added that the sector had not entirely completed its preparations for the new season. “We have a shortage of qualified personnel, which is our most important problem in all facilities.”

Gökbel said they expected more tourists from Scandinavian and northern countries in the new season. “There is a constant fall in the British market. This country is a significant target for Bodrum tourism … Thanks to the promotional events, we can see tourists from China or India in the region.”

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Turkish actress becomes goodwill ambassador for UNICEF

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Turkish actress Tuba Büyüküstün, a celebrity in Turkey and many Gulf nations, has been appointed as a goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organization (UNICEF).

Büyüküstün, who has starred in a number of popular Turkish TV series, said it was an honor to be assigned for this mission and pledged to do her best to actively cooperate with the organization.

Ayman Abulaban, UNICEF’s Turkey representative, explained that part of Büyüküstün’s mission would be to support Syrian child refugees who have fled to Turkey.

She will also participate in UNICEF’s relief plans for the relatives and children of the 301 miners killed in last week’s disaster in the western town of Soma.

“People can find themselves in disastrous situations or in a warzone at any time, as in the Soma incident, the floods in the Balkans and the Syrian civil war. But under these situations, the children are the ones most affected,” said the actress at a ceremony on May 21.

United Nations nominates leading and well-known figures from various areas as “goodwill ambassadors” in a bid to raise awareness over humanitarian issues and its activities.

Turkish model-turned-actor Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, who is also famous among Arab audiences and who co-starred in one of the most popular series with Büyüküstün, has been a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF since 2011.

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Accessible Film Festival opens in Ankara

ANKARA – Hurriyet – The second Ankara Accessible Film Festival opened May 21, with four days of festivities running through until May 25.

Presenting all screenings with audio description, sign language and detailed subtitles, the festival is the first film festival in Turkey made accessible for audiences with impaired hearing and impaired vision. Audiences without impaired hearing and vision can also watch the films with headsets that are available on request at the screening halls.

The screenings are taking place at the Ulucanlar Prison Theater Hall, which was built in 1925 and restored as a museum in 2011 after being used as a prison for 81 years, as well as the Çankaya Municipality Contemporary Arts Center.

The festival is once again organizing its Competition without Barriers. Turkish films that have won awards at festivals in Turkey and overseas will compete in the event, with a jury consisting of director Tayfun Pirselimoğlu and actresses Bennu Yıldırımlar and Selen Uçer choosing films in the competition’s best film, best director and best script categories.

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Festival to animate screen at Istanbul Modern Museum

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – Istanbul Modern Cinema will host the second Animators’ Festival tomorrow and May 25 with a special focus on Italian productions. With the slogan “over one hundred films, one hundred percent animation,” the event will feature a selection of contemporary Italian animated films.

Also included are selections from major international festivals such as Annecy, O!pla, and View, as well as a selection of films by the late environmental activist and animal rights defender Frederic Back. A panel discussing the place of animation in contemporary art will also take place.

The guest for this year’s festival is director Alessandro Rak, who earned acclaim with his film “The Art of Happiness,” which premiered at the 70th Venice Film Festival in 2013. Contemplating concepts such as life and reality and shuttling between Far Eastern philosophies and the Western dilemmas of the individual, “The Art of Happiness” sets a new example, proving that animation can treat serious adult matters and the individual’s quest for meaning in a dynamic fashion.

The film will be screened on May 25, followed by a conversation with the director. The festival is being organized by the Canlandıranlar Association.

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Istanbul’s living rooms rocking to live music

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Plagued by overpriced merchandise, soaring ticket prices and hordes of fans brandishing glowing smartphones and tablets, modern concert-going has now produced a backlash where people are gathering to watch live performances in private homes.

A group of Istanbul music lovers recently came together in an apartment living room in the heart of the city to experience three different unknown bands and focus on the performances. Sofar (songs from a room) is a new concert experience created by Chicago-born, London-based co-founder of Sofar Sounds, Rafe Offer. He explained how he came up with the idea for Sofar while in a London bar, trying to listen to Friendly Fires, a popular English indie band.

,“Everyone there was talking or texting or drinking,” he said. “People paid to see this band, yet they couldn’t even hear them. So I said to my friend who is a musician, ‘We got to do something nuts.’”

Offer and his friend together decided to go their house, invited friends and asked them to be quiet during the performances. “That was how it was started, and its first night was totally magic because nobody spoke,” he added. Offer never expected that this little idea would end up in Istanbul.

Anlam Aslanoğlu, a 29-year-old project manager for the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, offered her apartment near Galata Tower in Beyoğlu for the gig. Although there have been some difficulties with her neighbors, as her apartment is in a historic building, everyone has shown flexibility, she said.

“There has been a feverish activity since the morning; they have been sound checking and setting up,” she said.

When 28-year-old Turkish journalist and music fan Eda Demir wrote about Sofar’s London activities, she did not know that she would be the one to start Sofar Istanbul. With the help of an old friend living in London, she met Offer, and Demir organized her first Sofar Istanbul six month ago.

Most bands that have played at Sofar applied to be part of the gig, while the rest were sought out by Sofar Istanbul. “There is an elimination process,” said Demir. All concerts are organized on voluntary basis.

Sofar Istanbul concerts start with a warning: “Walking, eating or using mobile phones is prohibited during the concert,” said Demir.

Offer said he always wanted to come to Sofar Istanbul because it is quickly turning into one of the best Sofars in the world. “I have always thought about Istanbul as one of the few places in the world where everyone can come and live and be together because there have been Christians, Muslims and Jews, people from every country, welcomed here for thousands of years.”

A fellow organizer, 27-year-old Gözde Tekay, said Sofar Istanbul receives around 500 requests for each gig. “We are full after the first five minutes,” Tekay said, complaining about the difficulty of finding large houses with enough space for shows.

One member of the audience, fashion designer Gülcin Çengel, heard about Sofar when one of her friends hosted a gig a couple of months ago. Not knowing the bands or location until the last day makes it a sensation, she said. Interior architect, Kerem Özerler has attended four Sofar gigs.

Aslanoğlu described the difference between an ordinary concert and Sofar gigs: “When you go to a concert, you know the band already. Yet at Sofar you are here to be part of an event and to explore.”

One of the performers, 23-year-old Berlin-based Turkish musician Kaan Bulak, was invited to play at Sofar after his song “News Today” became a hit on social media. “People come here to listen to music; they are not here to dance or talk,” he said. Another performer, Cihan Murtazaoğlu, confessed that he did not know they would be playing such a small venue when he was invited. “People listening to music; the silence is not something we are used to. That’s why it was beautiful,” he added.

Sofar Sounds is in more than 50 cities worldwide including London, New York and Dubai. Next month, a Sofar performance will be held in Egypt’s capital, Cairo.

In the meantime, another Istanbul host is getting ready to turn over his or her home to the city’s music lovers; the next secret Sofar gig in the city is set for next month.

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Kyrgyzstan pursues ambitious transport projects

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-05-21 BISHKEK – Work has begun on a new north-south highway in Kyrgyzstan.

The alternative north-south road is projected to be 433km long, almost 200km shorter than the present-day north-south highway. The coming road, extending from Jalal-Abad in the south to Balykchy in the north, is supposed to link Kyrgyzstan’s two existing major highways, Bishkek-Osh and Bishkek-Torugart. A foreign donor is financing the project.

Work started on the highway in April and the project will cost US $850m (44.2 billion KGS), the Transport and Communications Ministry estimates. The new highway is expected to begin operation in late 2016, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in April, quoting Transport and Communications Minister Kalykbek Sultanov.

Locals living along the future highway’s route hope to see improvement in their lives.

“If the authorities finish what they started, this road will make life easier in the provinces,” southern businessman Tolon Dunayev said. “It’ll allow us residents of Jalal-Abad to reach the resorts … in Issyk-Kul (up north) in just a few hours. Right now, we have to spend 16-18 hours on the road to get there.”

Besides facilitating tourism, the country’s third international highway will be able to transport freight between Central Asia and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.

Kyrgyzstan’s only existing north-south highway, the Bishkek-Osh road, spans more than 600km. It’s the only option for motorists travelling between the three northern and four southern oblasts and drivers find themselves braving rugged passages through the Tian Shan mountains.

“To reach Osh early in the morning, you have to leave Bishkek at about 7 or 8pm,” said Aibek T., a Bishkek wholesale procurement manager who has to escort cargo every three months to Osh. “The road is quite beautiful … but to see that beauty, you have to rattle around for 12 hours in a car.”

Officially, the traffic police don’t allow buses on the highway. Enterprising motorists circumvent that ban by using mini-vans with a capacity of 7-10 passengers. A ticket on such a vehicle costs about 1,000-1,500 KGS (US $19-$29) most times, but it becomes more expensive in the run-up to New Year’s and Islamic holidays.Once completed, the road is expected to connect Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, enabling Kyrgyzstan to solve some transport problems while preserving its economic independence.

“Unlike the existing highway, this one will be built far from our borders,” Sultanov said. “This is highly important for our national security. The highway will be built alongside large coal deposits and farming regions. It could have a positive effect on other economic sectors in the provinces.”

Meanwhile, the cabinet is hoping to find financing for a railway that would parallel the future highway and would link Tajikistan and Kazakhstan by rail.

Officials are working on plans to draw Afghanistan and Pakistan into that transport project, enabling Central Asia to gain access to ports on the Indian Ocean.

Only about 4,000km of Kyrgyzstan’s 34,000km of roads are classified as international-level highways, according to official data. Kyrgyzstan is eager to turn itself into a Central Asian transport hub by upgrading its roads.

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Kazakh farmers become more conservation conscious

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-05-22 TARAZ – Responding to environmental and economic pressures, farmers in Zhambyl Oblast are using their precious soil and water more wisely. Reducing the use of irrigated water is a particular concern in southern Kazakhstan, which with its arid climate doesn’t have enough water to support farmers.

The region typically calls upon Kyrgyzstan to help it get enough water to make agriculture viable, and while Kyrgyzstan supplies enough water to meet about 80% of Zhambyl Oblast’s irrigation water needs, even that isn’t a sure thing because water arriving via uncovered canals is vulnerable to evaporation under the baking sun long before it reaches the farmer.

“For precisely this reason, we introduced drip and spray irrigation on 2,281ha (of farmland),” Zhambyl Oblast Governor Karim Kokrekbayev said during a recent meeting with constituents.

The main idea behind drip or spray irrigation is that the systems are more efficient, thereby requiring less water to do the same task. A traditional sprinkler system has an efficiency rating between 75 and 85%, meaning 15 to 25% of water is lost in the process. Drip irrigation systems have a 90% efficiency rating.

“Water is transported through hoses and drips directly onto the roots,” Abzal Sadyrov, a Zhambyl Oblast farm worker, said describing drip irrigation. “It’s very convenient, and we’re expecting good harvests.”

Drip and spray irrigation systems are variations of the same system, but drip irrigation is used for deep-rooted plants, such as beets, potatoes and soybeans, while the spray irrigation system is a better delivery method for shallow-rooted crops, like cucumbers and cabbages.

Although the irrigation techniques were introduced on just a small sample area, it’s enough of an area to show that the strategies work.

Kazakhstani farmers nationwide are using some kind of water-conserving technology on 12% – about 170,000ha – of all irrigated land, according to Agriculture Ministry data, but the government is pushing for broader use of such techniques.

Besides being educated about such techniques, farmers who employ the conservation strategies are receiving substantial financial support. Starting this year, the Kazakhstani government will subsidise up to half the cost of purchases of drip and spray irrigation equipment.

“Subsidisation will allow us to expand the land area farmed with new irrigation technologies by 10 percentage points by 2020,” Agriculture Minister Asylzhan Mamytbekov said. “About 230,000ha will be affected – 90,000 will have drip irrigation and 140,000 will have sprinklers.”

Apart from this, Kazakhstan’s government has decided to dig a new route for the Koksay canal. It has allocated 5.4 billion KZT (US $26.5m) to implement that project.

Last year, farmers in Zhambyl received 3.6 billion KZT (US $19m) in subsidies, mostly to support equipment and herbicide purchases and the cultivation of certain crops.

No less important are new tilling methods, which Zhambyl farmers have recently adopted. Farmers now sow crops in untilled soil by using specialised drills. The no-till method saves labour, money, soil moisture and topsoil.

“It involves using herbicides, and after harvest, it’s essential to do a simple specialised form of tilling,” Zhambyl agronomist Alexander Samsonov said. “We need to teach farmers and tell them about this method’s advantages. … If it’s profitable, farmers will use it.”

Minimum tillage differs from the no-till method. Farmers use sub-surface tillage cultivators to work the soil. Specialised machinery enables them to till, sow and fertilise the soil simultaneously. Farmers in Zhambyl are using minimum tillage and no-till farming to sow and grow wheat.

During a recent working visit throughout the region, Kokrekbayev promised a gradual government effort to solve all problems faced by farmers, including the need for essential infrastructure.

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Brunei Jerudong Park Playground’s Reopens with New Attractions

Sunday, 18 May 2014 BruDirect.com BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Shining with hues of magnificence and splendor, Jerudong Park and Country Club (JPCC) reopened the gates of Jerudong Park Playground’s to three thousand invited guests’ yesterday evening.

Prince ‘Abdul Wakeel launched the re-opening with a turn push of a button, setting off a showers of fireworks and confetti. Accompanying him during the tour were Princess Ameerah Wardatul Bolkiah and other members of the royal family.

The Prince then received a pesambah in the form of a miniature carousel from the JPCC management before the royal entourage proceeded with a tour around the playground and explored a number of the new rides and attractions.

Among the new rides the Royals tried were the Double Deck Carousel, Junior Coaster ride, twenty-five-meters high Ferris Wheel and Lazer Maze, as well as the Spin Zone, Pedal Boats, Kiddies Ride and the Junior Pirate Ship.

They ended the tour at the infamous Kids Bumper Car, after having spent a fraction of the night at the new Kids Playground as well as the Mini Golf.

Among the new attractions that families can enjoy are the ‘Gold Mine’ themed Junior Roller Coaster rides. However, the mini water park is set to get wet only later in the year as it is still under construction. These new attractions make up the first of a series of projects to revitalize Jerudong Park Playground.

The first mini golf in the Sultanate features a landscaped twenty one holes designed by Craig Bartlett, a world class mini golf designer from Australia. Existing rides are being refurbished. Other playground facilities have also been upgraded, including the food kiosks, merchandise shop and other convenience stores.

New ticketing price is at BND$15 (adult) and BND$8 (child) for residents while BND$20 (adult) and BND$10 (child) for non-residents.

Children below two years old can enjoy free admission. There is also a group package for a minimum four people priced at BND$40 per entry for residents and BND$50 for non-residents. The playground will be closed every Monday and Wednesday.

The new operating hours are 5pm to 10pm (Tuesday), 4.30pm to 10.30pm (Thursday), 3pm to 10.30pm (Friday), 10am to 11pm (Saturday) and 10am to 10.30pm (Sunday). The tickets give unlimited access to all rides and attractions.

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Bangladeshi tourism film wins international award

DHAKA, May 20, 2014 (BSS)- A Bangladeshi documentary film,”Land of Stories”, promoting tourism has won the first prize in Zagreb Tourfilm Festival, the international festival of tourism films, a foreign ministry statement said here today. Bangladesh Tourism Board produced the film with Amitabh Reza Chowdhury being its director, depicting the sceneries of the Sundarbans and Cox’s Bazar. The awards ceremony will be held at the Mimara Museum in Croatian capital of Zagreb on June 6, 2014.

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Budget sought for making Bangladesh tourist guide

DHAKA, May 18, 2014 (BSS) – Tour operators urged the government to make special allocation in the upcoming national budget for fiscal 2014-15 under tourism human resource sector for building trained and skilled tourist guides.

“Scarcity of trained tourist guides is one of the major obstacles in flourishing inbound tourism in our country,” Director of Tour Operator Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) Toufiq Rahman told BSS today.

He said there is no list of trained tourist guide available in the country. “Foreign tourists often face trouble in getting assistance from tourist guides and we haven’t got any pool of tourist guide from where we can hire them,” he said.

The TOAB director said the government should dedicate one forth of its tourism budget allocations in the upcoming budget for making trained tourist guide. “If the government doesn’t consider the matter now, the tourism industry will face big trouble to handle the foreign tourists,” he said.

Presently, the tourism sector contributes four percent to the national GDP as well as gives employment opportunity to 28 lakh people. “Though the tourism sector employed huge numbers of people, it has been badly suffering from lack of skilled human resources,” Toufiq said.

Spokesperson of Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel Salman Kabir said adequate numbers of trained and skilled tourist guides is prerequisite for inbound tourism.

“Skilled tourist guides have the capacity to satisfy foreign tourists. When a tourist will go back to his homeland with satisfaction, he or she will definitely encourage other members of the community to visit Bangladesh,” he said.

Sadequl Arefin, a young tour operator said an institution can be set up for making skilled tourists guide and the government is the one who can give support for it,” he said. The government had allocated Taka 308 crore for civil aviation and tourism ministry for the current fiscal. Of the amount, the tourism sector received only Taka 43 crore.

At a budget discussion meeting on Friday Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon asked the stakeholders of the tourism sector not to expect too much in terms of budgetary allocations this time as the Finance Minister works with limited resources.

“But we’ll continue working with you for the development of the highly potential sector,” he said adding that the Finance Minister will make specific directives in his budget speech this time.

Noting that the government is considering tourism as a priority sector, the minister said “I assure you that there is political commitment for the development of the tourism sector this time.”

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Introduction of tourism banking suggested

DHAKA, May 19, 2014 (BSS) – Banks are suggested to introduce tourism banking like the current SME and Islami banking. The suggestion came at a seminar on development of tourism banking, organised jointly by Bangladesh Tourism Development Foundation and Tourism and Hospitality Department of Dhaka University (DU), held yesterday at DU Senate Bhaban.

Participants of the seminar also advised that the tourism banking of Nepal could be model for developing similar banking in Bangladesh. Addressing the seminar, state minister for finance and planning MA Mannan said development of tourism sector would help reduce poverty.

He said the government had committed to improve tourism industry, but this industry requires stable socio-political environment to flourish. Mannan urged all to work together with sincerity for the development of the country. Bangladesh Bank (BB) Deputy Governor Abu Hena Mohammad Razi Hasan and Director of Tourism Board Pradip Kumar Sarkar addressed the seminar, among others.

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ADB to lend Bangladesh $350m for skill development

DHAKA, May 19, 2014 (BSS) – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will lend $350 million to Bangladesh to help public and private institutions scale up skills training for 1.25 million (12.5 lakh) young workers so they are well-equipped to find jobs and meet the changing needs of today’s labour market.

The credit will support the government’s $1.07 billion “Skills for Employment Investment Programme”. Besides ADB, different development partners will provide $400 million, Switzerland government $30 million and private sector $90 million when the government would channel $200 million from its own resources.

The programme will support skills training in 15 priority sectors including garments and textiles, leather, construction, light engineering, information technology, and shipbuilding. A major target of the programme is to boost job placement to around 70 percent, from about 40 percent now.

ADB loans for the programme will be made in three tranches as part of a seven-year financing facility. The first $100 million tranche of the facility is expected to be signed in the coming weeks with the second expected in mid-2016 and the third in mid- 2018, an ADB press release said today.

The first tranche will target 40,000 women and disadvantaged people, including those with disabilities. It will also support 32 public training institutions under three ministries, nine industry associations, microcredit organization Palli-Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), and Bangladesh Bank Small and Medium Enterprise Department.

By 2015, the programme aims to help set up a National Human Resource Development Fund to scale up skills training. The programme will also support the government’s plan to establish a new ministry or authority for skills development.

Two thirds of the Bangladesh workforce had only minimal education and only 4 percent has received any kind of training. Moreover, the skills development system can only meet about 20 percent of training needs, meaning many youth cannot find good jobs, underemployment is rife, and wages remain low. Women, in particular, suffer from a lack of skills training.

ADB estimates that Bangladesh would have 78 million workers by 2025. However, the country will only be able to take advantage of this demographic shift if it makes urgent investments in higher-quality schooling and at least a four- fold increase in skills training. The government’s National Skills Development Council has been working to promote skills since 2011 as part of its vision of achieving middle-income status by 2021.

Commenting on the skill development programme, ADB’s director for South Asia Department Sungsup Ra said this programme would bring together the public sector and the private sector to provide the vocational and technical skills, which employers requires.

As a result, he said more and better-paid jobs would be available that ultimately help Bangladesh shift its economy to a higher level.

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Garuda to serve Manado-Sorong route

Tue, May 20 2014 Manado (ANTARA News) – The countrys national airlines Garuda Indonesia will start serving the route between the provincial city of Manado in North Sulawesi and Sorong of Papua province on June 20, 2014, a spokesman said.

“The inaugural flight using the 1,000 CRG type of aircraft, with a capacity of 12 passengers in business class and 84 in the economy class will take off at 4.50 a.m. Eastern Indonesia Standard Time,” the branch manager of PT Garuda Indonesia in Manado, Boydike Kusudiarso, said here. The Manado-Sorong flight route is scheduled for four times a week.

The economic growth in Papua has prompted the opening of the new Garuda flight route, he said.

Meanwhile, chief of the Mimika air communications office John Rettob said in Timika, Papua, on May 6 that Garuda will serve the route between Jakarta and Timika of Papua in mid-May via Makassar of South Sulawesi every day.

John added that Garuda is expected to immediately take over the route left by Merpati Nusantara, a government airline, which has stopped operation due to financial difficulties.

“According to the plan, it will start on May 15, but we have not received official information. We hope that it can be earlier as demand for air transport between Timika and Makassar is high as well as between Timika and Jayapura,” he said.

He noted that Merpati Nusantara has stopped operation in the region since February and the transport ministry has offered a number of routes left by Merpati to other airlines.

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Baku turns into city of cheap hotels

21 May 2014 – AzerNews – The price of rooms in Baku’s hotels has declined more than 10 percent over the past five years. This was stated in an annual report by the consulting company Azerbaijan Property Solutions on the state of commercial real estate market.

“Since 2009, the level of prices in middle class hotels has decreased by 10 percent, while in “luxury” class hotels – the figure stood by 15-17 percent,” the report said.

According to the report, the main reason for the trend is oversaturation of the market in high-level proposals from hotels, especially of high class. The average rate of hotel rooms in Baku stood at 60 percent in 2013, from 55 percent in five-star hotels to 65 percent in three-star hotels.

“Baku has about 6,400 hotel rooms which is 12 percent higher than the previous year. The average annual growth of Baku hotel stock is estimated at about eight percent,” the report said.

At present, there are 103 hotels operating in Baku, including 22 five-star hotels, 46 four-star hotels and 26 three-star hotels, as well as 9 hotels beyond classification or on the balance of the state.

Hotels in Azerbaijan are classified based on the certificates issued by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which regularly verifies compliance of hotels with the requirements.

According to the advisor to the Chairman of Azerbaijan Tourism Association, Muzaffar Agakerimov, the preliminary results of recent monitoring of hotels and tourism companies in Baku and Absheron peninsula covered 80 percent of the existing facilities in the area.

In general, the results of monitoring were satisfactory. However, disadvantages related to human resources were found in the activities of some hotels. The low level of staff training causes the low level of services.

In accordance with the results of monitoring, Agakerimov said, it was recommended to the ministry to downgrade some three and four-star hotels. In most cases, it referred to seasonal hotels of Absheron. He added that it is also necessary to increase the number of tourist guides in travel companies, especially knowing foreign languages.

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“Nakhchivan–The Cradle of Humankind” Art Festival Held

23 May 2014 – TODAY.AZ – “Nakhchivan–The Cradle of Humankind” 2nd International Art Festival has kicked off at the “Nakhchivangala” History and Architecture Museum Complex in the city of Nakhchivan to mark the 90th anniversary of the Autonomous Republic. Chairman of the Artists Union of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic Ulviyya Hamzayeva made a speech at the event.

“The foundations of care about culture and attention to cultural development in Azerbaijan were laid by national leader Heydar Aliyev. And this policy is today being successfully continued by President Ilham Aliyev,” she said.

“Bahruz Kangarli Museum was set up, a new building of the Union of Artists of the Autonomous Republic was constructed, and the exhibition hall named after Bahruz Kangarli was created in Nakhchivan in recent years.”

Hamzayeva thanked Chairman of the Supreme Assembly of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic Vasif Talibov on behalf of festival participants for assistance in and attention in organizing the event.

Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Autonomous Republic Sarvan Ibrahimov also addressed the ceremony. He noted Nakhchivan was known as one of the cultural centers of the East for its rich culture.

He also noted that works of Nakhchivan’s artists had been demonstrated in many countries abroad, including the USA, Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Iran, and the Netherlands. The official opening ceremony was followed by performance of musical bands of Nakhchivan.

The festival brings together 33 artists from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Italy, and Ireland.

On May 23, an exhibition of works by the artists participating in the festival will be held at the exhibition hall after Bahruz Kangarli at the Union of Artists.

According to Agakerimov, the most visited Azerbaijani regions in summer are the northeastern regions (Guba, Gusar, Khachmaz Nabran), northwest regions (Shamakhi, Gabala, Shaki, Lankaran) and southern regions (Lerik, Astara, Masalli).

He believes the prices of tourist services in Azerbaijan need to be reduced to attract more local and foreign tourists. However, he noted that compared to last year, the charges of tourism services in Azerbaijan has decreased significantly.

The price of a room in a number of hotels in the regions of Azerbaijan is currently 25-30 manats per day ($31-38). Rooms are mostly rented in the northern and northeastern parts of the country, Agakerimov said.

He also stressed the tourist sites in the regions of Azerbaijan should organize a variety of entertainment activities. “Various tastings can be arranged on trips. In Gabala it can be a wine tasting, and in Sheki – sweets tasting,” he added.

Beside five-star hotels, there are a growing number of three- and four-star hotels costing $80-100 a day in the country. Currently, there are 241 travel agencies and over 500 hotels and hotel-type facilities in Azerbaijan. About 2.4 million tourists visited Azerbaijan in 2013, spending some $700-800 a week on accommodations, food, and cultural programs.

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Iran has one of fastest growing railway networks

Tehran Times – 24 May, 2014 – Iran is hosting the second international exhibition of rail transportation, related industries and equipment known as Iran Rail Expo 2014. Tens of companies from Iran, Germany, Turkey, China, Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, Italy, Spain, and Austria have showcased their latest achievements in the show. The exhibition is the largest of its kind in the Middle East.

Iran is a manufacturer of rail products. According to official reports the country has exported 500 freight cars to Cuba, 1000 freight cars to Syria, 70 passenger wagon to Bangladesh, and 200 freight cars to Sudan in recent years. It is also planning to export railway cars to Iraq, Bangladesh, and some African countries.

Iran currently has over 8000 kms of standard railways; some almost 40 million tons of goods and over 30 million passengers are transported annually by the rail transportation network in Iran. Iran’s railway network is indeed a bridge which connects Asia to Europe.

With up to 500 km of new lines per year Iran has one of the fastest growing networks in the world. By 2015, Iran expects to reach every regional capital by rail, therefore it is considered as the biggest market for rail-related industries in West Asia. Moreover, Iran has launched the electrification process of certain lines which will cause trains to travel at 200 km/h.

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Asir seeks investors for souvenir shops

Arab News – 23 May, 2014 – Tourism experts and economists have urged investors to place their money in souvenir shops in Asir because they could make returns of between 30 and 100 percent.

Muhammad Al-Ammra, director of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) in the region, said he plans to get investors together to discuss business opportunities in the sector.

Al-Ammra said the SCTA is currently marketing Asir as an all-year tourism destination.

“Asir is an emerging and promising tourism area. It is ready to establish its tourism industry, including handicrafts, plants, honey, silverware and antiquities,” said Al-Ammra.

He said tourists who visit Asir buy souvenirs representing the features of the region, various handicrafts and even models of local houses. They also buy honey and summer fruits such as pomegranates and grapes.

“Visitors and tourists get about 70 percent of their souvenirs from Asir markets including the Tuesday market, Khamis Mushait, Rafidah and other popular markets across the country,” he said.

Mona Al-Break, secretary general of the Women’s South Charity, said the organization wants to produce souvenirs that tourists can carry easily.

“The charity, under its chairwoman Princess Norah bint Muhammad, has supported many training courses in the field of heritage development such as embroidery and other handicrafts, and provided loans for productive families to produce souvenirs for tourists,” said Al-Break.

Hanbib Allah Turkistani, a professor in business and marketing at King Abdulaziz University, said investors have not placed their money into the souvenir business despite the good profits. He said investors do not need big start-up capital, and that these enterprises create jobs and promote the country’s heritage.

He said many countries around the world depend on the souvenir business to support their economies. “But this business badly needs good management and marketing plans to yield maximum return.”

“The SCTA must conduct feasibility studies for the souvenir business in Asir, Makkah, Hijaz and other regions.” He estimates that some investors can make up to 30 percent returns on their investment.

Economist Fadl Albuainain said many countries around the world have developed their souvenir and handicraft businesses. Asir has the potential to do this, particularly with its heritage and honey products.

Albuainain said that some products could see investors make 100 percent returns.

Tourism expert Khaled Dughaim said tourists across the world buy souvenirs in the countries they visit. “Every country wants to provide these heritage and souvenirs for visitors. Asir is a region that prides itself on its pottery, leather, wood and copper,” he said.

“Productive families have benefited from the sector. The weekly markets in the region have always been a place for tourists to meet and buy presents and souvenirs,” he said.

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New Riyadh exhibition to widen Saudi trade links

Arab News – 23 May, 2014 – Trade and investment opportunities offered by the Saudi economy will be showcased at the Riyadh International Exhibition next month.

The show will be held from June 22 to 25 at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center. “We are pleased to invite all Saudi and foreign companies to take part in this exhibition within a pavilion for all countries,” said Osama Kurdi, CEO of Alagat Company for International Exhibitions.

He said the show is intended to be similar to major exhibitions hosted in capital cities such as Paris, Cairo and Seoul. Sixteen countries have confirmed their participation so far, according to organizers.

The exhibition aims to:

Highlight the investment trade and investment opportunities offered by the Saudi economy.

Develop the level of economic exchange between Saudi Arabia and other countries to a higher level.

Create new markets in the Kingdom for current and new products and services from other countries.

Create a venue for further contacts and cooperation between the Kingdom and other countries.

Deepen international cooperation in all areas, enhance relationships and bring views of experts and imports closer through direct meetings and exhibitions.

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Saudi women build careers in construction industry

Arab News – 24 May, 2014 – Rising numbers of Saudi businesswomen have started entering the male-dominated construction industry, according to recent data.

More than 36 percent of all local businesswomen work as contractors in the field, with women-owned companies making up 4.3 percent of private sector firms, according to 2010 statistics.

Fawzia Al-Kerri, who is based in the Eastern Province, is the first Saudi woman to have registered a contracting business.

She told Arab News recently that many people now want to invest in her business. Al-Kerri is proud to have challenged local traditions and started an independent firm.

She benefited from a government decision in 2008 allowing women to obtain contracting licenses. She opened up her business that year and started out by building a hotel in Dammam.

With a background in art and design, Al-Kerri also provides significant input into exterior and interior designs of her projects. She was not successful in winning a seat on the board of the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but this has not deterred her from following her dreams and tackling large projects.

“I’m nicknamed the contracting ambassador,” she told Arab News. “I am not afraid to compete with men.”

Al-Kerri has urged stakeholders in the industry to trust small companies, and also appealed to the government to ease licensing procedures.

Al-Kerri said businesswomen should form an organization to promote their interests. “The aim would be to share experiences and discuss new projects and issues facing women.”

She, however, said it is much easier for women to operate in the industry today. “Women don’t need an agent in most cases, particularly now that many government bodies have women departments to handle all the contracting procedures,” she said.

Businesswoman Noura Fawz told Arab News recently that women have become competitive in the industry. “We are trusted more than men and have proven our ability to meet deadlines.”

More women are likely to become involved in industrial projects because of the feminization taking place in the sector, she said.

She said the business is rewarding because of the “high profits.” Some economists have estimated returns can be as high as 30 percent.

Maha Samman, a trainer certified by the Gulf Council for Human Development, said there should be more training for women entering the industry because they “need guidance as newbies.”

Economist Mohammed Al-Wazeer praised government for opening up the business world to women. “Women have been able to branch out, grow their small enterprises into medium-sized businesses and prove themselves.” Many have successfully made the transition from the beauty industry into construction, he said.

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Iran drawing up incentive package for foreign investment

Tehran Times – 24 May, 2014 – Iran’s government is working to prepare a comprehensive incentive package for attracting foreign investments by end of the coming summer, the head of Organization for Investment, Economic and Technical Assistance of Iran has said.

Behrouz Alishiri says the package includes all sectors of economy such as free trade zones, communication networks, financial and monetary systems, social and health sectors, etc.

The work on the comprehensive incentive package with the goal of facilitating condition for foreign investors began three years ago and would be finalized by end of summer, Alishiri told the IRNA news agency in an interview published on Friday.

According to Alishiri, the government and Majlis, if needed, would enact these new regulations, which will provide a basis to facilitate procedures and improve the regulatory environment for foreign investment.

One of the striking developments in Iran in recent months has been the large external capital inflows, mostly in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI), thanks largely to its initial progress in macroeconomic stabilization, improved investment regime, and progress in nuclear negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – (Russia, China, the U.S., France, Britain) plus Germany.

Iran and the 5+1 group inked a nuclear accord in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 24, 2013. The two sides started implementing the agreement on January 20.

Under the Geneva deal, the six countries undertook to provide Iran with some sanctions relief in exchange for the Islamic Republic agreeing to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities, including a voluntary suspension of its 20-percent uranium enrichment program.

World oil giants have voiced their readiness to return to Iran following the easing of sanctions against Iran following the implementation of the Geneva deal.

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xxx World’s largest discount airline hub opens in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Monday, 13 Rajab 1434/ 12 May 2014 (IINA) – Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, the world’s largest airport terminal built specifically for low-cost carriers, opened Friday after repeated delays.

Located in Sepang, Selangor, south of the Malaysian capital, the cost for the terminal ballooned to 4 billion ringgit ($1.22 billion), more than twice the original estimate. The facility is much larger and more comfortable than the old terminal. Dubbed KLIA2, the new terminal aims to capture the fast-growing volume of discount airline flights in Southeast Asia to become the hub for these carriers in the region.

Malindo Air, an affiliate of Indonesia’s largest discount airline, Lion Air, was the first to touch down on the new 4-kilometer runway. When the flight from Kota Kinabalu arrived at 12:08 a.m., after a slight delay, two firetrucks sprayed water on the aircraft to celebrate the opening. The smooth start to the terminal’s operations was greeted with relief by Malaysian officials.

Philippine’s Cebu Pacific Air, Lion Air, and Singapore’s Tigerair have joined Malindo as the first airlines to use KLIA2. But traffic will pick up significantly when AirAsia Group, Asia’s largest discount airline, moves in on May 9, leaving the overcrowded original Low Cost Carrier Terminal. The operator, government-linked Malaysia Airports Holdings, expects daily passenger traffic to hit 50,000 with the addition of AirAsia Group.

The 257,000-sq.-meter terminal building can handle 45 million passengers a year, more than double the old LCC terminal, which served 21.8 million passengers in 2013. The new facility is fully air conditioned and equipped with jetways that allow passengers to board planes directly without stepping on the tarmac.

KLIA2 connects to the city center as well as the main air terminal vie express train and has its own air-traffic control tower. Shopping malls and hotels are located nearby. Before opening, the new terminal hit some bumps along the way. The cost of the project doubled due to design changes and delays in construction. There were also safety concerns that were not fully resolved until last month. The industry is watching closely to see whether Malaysian Airports Holdings can run the terminal efficiently and make it profitable by attracting airlines and passengers.

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Institutes from Indonesia, Malaysia, Palestine win IDB Science & Technology prizes

Jeddah, Saturday, 12 Jamada Al Akhir 1434/ 12 April 2014 (IINA) – Three institutions from Indonesia, Malaysia and Palestine have won the 12th edition of the Islamic Development Bank’s (IDB) prestigious prizes in Science and Technology (S&T). This was announced by IDB President Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali.

The Institute for Research and Community Services (Institute Teknologi Bandung) of Indonesia won the first category for the most outstanding contribution to social and economic development. The Photonic Research Center at the University of Malaya, Malaysia, won the second category for the most outstanding contribution to a given scientific field, while the Faculty of Information Technology at the Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine, emerged as the winner of the third category for the most noted scientific institution from a least developed member country, according to an IDB statement.

“I congratulate the winners of this competition and IDB is proud of their achievement. As a development institution, IDB is inspired by the level of commitment to scientific and technological research conducted by these universities, and we hope other universities in IDB member countries will learn from their example”, said Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali.

These Prizes were established in 2002G to promote S&T excellence and capacity building in IDB member countries. Each year, three institutions are selected by an independent panel of eminent scientists from the Muslim World to receive the prize in the three categories. Each prize consists of a cash award of $ 100,000 and a trophy. The prizes will be awarded to the winners in a special ceremony to be held on the sidelines of the 39th session of the IDB Board of Governors in Jeddah in June.

Over the past eleven years these prizes have been awarded to 33 institutions in IDB member countries including: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Senegal, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Among the 42 applications received for Category-1 of the Prize for Science & Technology, which rewards institutions having made outstanding scientific and technological contribution to the development of a member country, the Institute for Research and Community Services at the Institute Teknologi Bandung of Indonesia, was selected for its outstanding achievements. The Institute for Research and Community Services is a leading science, technology and higher education institute in Indonesia.

The institute has numerous collaborative links with international partners and has executed over 300 research projects aiming towards helping the society. It has also made technical improvements on unmanned aeroplanes, coal mining and the construction industry. The work completed by this institute within the last five years has made significant impact on the country’s economy in general.

Among the 61 applications received for Category-2 of the Prize for Science & Technology, which rewards institutions having achieved outstanding contribution to a given scientific field, the Photonics Research Center was selected for its outstanding achievements. The center is recognized as an outstanding photonics research and development center in the region. It has managed to produce 24 patents for various optical devices and led research and development activities in nano-particles, optical micro-fiber technology, bio-photonics, among others.

Among the 25 applications received in Category-3 of the Prize for Science & Technology, which rewards noted scientific research institutions in IDB Least Developed Member Countries (LDMCs), the Faculty of Information Technology was selected for its outstanding achievements. Despite the very challenging environment, this young institution has been prolific in research and has made excellent contribution to the advancement of information technology in Gaza. Several of its research outputs have been successfully commercialized.

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