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9 Jun, 2014

’21st century China-Iran Silk Road Seminar’ held in Beijing

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 09 June 2014 (11 Sha’baan 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



The Islamic Tourism Centre in Malaysia has launched a vibrant new website presenting Malaysia as a prime destination for Islamic tourism and a global halal hub. The website offers a wealth of information on Mosque trails, Islamic Museums, Ramadan & Eid-ul Fitr, Muslim-Friendly Tour Highlights, as well as a Muslim Visitor’s Guide, Halal Directory and Souvenirs Directory. Located strategically at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is well-known for its natural beauty and diverse cultural landscape. At its social core are three of Asia’s oldest civilisations – Malay, Chinese and Indian – as well as the ethnic communities of Sabah and Sarawak, resulting in a unique and inspiring blend of cultures. With an abundance of halal food, prayer facilities and Islamic attractions, Malaysia perfectly caters to the needs of Muslim travellers. The ITC plays a pivotal role in bringing Malaysia to the forefront of Islamic tourism. It works with industry players to build their capacity in Islamic tourism, thus ensuring that the needs of Muslim visitors are better served. ITC has also taken several initiatives in standardising industry’s best practices through research, seminars, workshops and industry outreach programmes. Now is the perfect time to experience the country’s multitude of Muslim-friendly tourism products – Islamic architectural heritage, halal gastronomic delights, vibrant Islamic festivals and world-class Islamic events – all guaranteed to give visitors an incredible time.

Click here to see the fabulous new website

For more information about what makes Malaysia one of the most popular destinations in the Islamic world, as well as on planning your next holiday or MICE event in Malaysia, please click: http://www.tourism.gov.my/ or http://www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/friendofmalaysia

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Blog: http://blog.tourism.gov.my


Watch Islamic Travel Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil’s landmark TEDx lecture on “Peace through Tourism” on YouTube — the first travel industry journalist in Bangkok invited to speak at this prestigious forum. CLICK HERE.



Unified visa for GCC tourists

Dubai, Saturday 7 June 2014 – Gulf News – The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is expected to introduce a unified visa that would allow tourists to visit all six member-countries, which are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.

Najeeb Al-Shaamesi, director general of the Higher Advisory Commission at the GCC, told a local newspaper that a consultative committee had stressed the need for a unified GCC tourist visa to promote tourism in the Gulf region.

“The next meeting of the commission, with members of the consultative committee, will approve the final recommendations, which will then be submitted to the GCC leadership for ratification at the summit in the Qatari capital,” Al-Shaamesi told the newspaper.

A study recently investigated the economic and technical viability of such a visa and recommended that the GCC summit approves it. Once approved, it would allow a tourist to use the visa issued in one GCC nation to visit all the others.

High-ranking business leaders and travel and tourism experts welcomed the proposal.

“This will be like a Schengen visa that allows a traveler to visit most of the European countries with a single visa,” said Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, a Shoura Council member and former chairman of the Asharqia Chamber. “It is a welcome step and will ease tourist travel across the region. It will provide a much-needed boost for the tourism industry.”

Dammam-based travel industry veteran Abdullah Abu Khamseen described it as a step in the right direction. “This will help promote the region as a good travel destination,” he said.

“Someone traveling from a far-off place generally likes to spend at least two weeks at a tourist destination. If this person comes to Bahrain, there is not much to do beyond four days. He or she would definitely want to spend time in other countries in the region which they cannot do currently with a single visa,” said Abu Khamseen.

He said this would also apply to those traveling to Saudi Arabia for Umrah.

“After spending a week in Saudi Arabia, they can go to Oman, Bahrain, or the UAE with the same visa. This will lead to greater movement of tourists and will boost the region’s local economies,” he said.

“When we combine the unified visa with tourist attractions in the six countries, this region has the potential to become a magnet for international tourists,” said Abu Khamseen.

“The hassle of getting visas from different GCC countries was too much for international travelers and that is the reason for this region not being considered a big travel destination. I am very happy with this decision.”

Praveen Gandhi, executive general manager for Kanoo Travel, was ecstatic. “I have always wondered why this was not being done,” he told Arab News. “I would even ask the GCC countries to do away with the stamping of passports in each country. Passport pages are filled up from frequent stampings. This is not done in Europe. With the Schengen visa you can arrive in one country where the passport is stamped and then travel across the region without it being stamped again.”

According to Gandhi, the region has immense tourist potential. “A unified tourist visa will send international travelers heading in this direction.”

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Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Industry Heads For Promotions in Japan, Korea

Abu Dhabi, 8 June 2014: Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) is leading a six-strong delegation to Japan and Korea next week to stimulate visitor demand to the emirate.

The authority, along with Etihad Airways, Al Mafraq Hotel, Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi, the Park Hyatt Saadiyat Island, Arabian Adventures and Yas Marina Circuit, will stage road shows on June 10th in Tokyo and June 12th in Seoul.

The promotions come as hotel guest stays from nationals of both countries have plateaued over the past four months and the industry looks to prompt and increase in demand.

“While we have seen little growth from either Japan or Korea we believe there is potential in both markets. We have a product which will resonate well with both Japanese and Korean visitors, not least our exceptional golf offering and an average hotel rate that represents significant value-for-money,” said Mubarak Al Nuaimi, Director Promotions & Overseas Offices, TCA Abu Dhabi.

“One encouraging factor is that the length of stay of the Koreans who stay in our hotels is moving in the right direction gaining 5% to 2.76 nights.”

Diversity of offering, value-for-money with an average room rate of US $135, an expanded leisure portfolio, increased international market access via Abu Dhabi International Airport and tailored product will be key messages imparted during the road show.

Arabian Adventures, which already operates an Abu Dhabi city tour in Japanese five days a week, says it’s planning to increase this service in the coming season. The DMC also offers multiple hotels in Abu Dhabi with 24-hour check-in, check-out facilities specific to the Japanese and Korean markets to attract transit passengers.

The recently refurbished Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi says it believes more can be achieved from both the Japanese and Korean markets.

“Currently the business we have from these countries constitutes less than 10% in our overall business mix,” said Mai Nasser, Area Director of Sales and Marketing, Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi. “These markets definitely have more potential and we are focusing more to drive traffic from these destinations.

“These markets have started delivering a lot of traffic to Abu Dhabi and they are emerging at a great pace. While the European and GCC markets drive most of our business, it is only natural to try and widen the geographic source market to maintain a healthy mix of business. Japan, Korea, China and India all have great potential and we look forward to improving their share in our business.

In the first four months of this year, 4,405 Japanese checked into Abu Dhabi hotels and delivered 17,687 guest nights with an average-length-of-stay of just over four nights. During the same period, 4,655 Koreans checked into Abu Dhabi accommodation, delivering 12,862 guest nights.

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China Focus: Xinjiang tourism to weather “harsh winter”

(Xinhua), BEIJING, June 6 — “A harsh winter has come for Xinjiang’s tourism after the terrorist attack in May,” said Zhang Ru, a 26-year-old in charge of Xinjiang tours in a Beijing-based travel agency.

Zhang and her colleagues used to take more than 100 calls each day enquiring about group tours to the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region before May 22, when a bombing in the capital Urumqi left 39 innocent people dead and more than 90 injured.

Lately, they are taking about 10 calls a day and there are seldom any deals sealed. Visitors are afraid, even though they are still attached to the beautiful scenery, exotic appeal and mouth-watering delicacies.

Though confronted with tough situations, both officials and business insiders are optimistic that they will walk out of the shadow soon.

Boasting over 1,100 tourist attractions, Xinjiang is one of the favorite destinations for Chinese travelers. Xinjiang’s tourism revenue jumped 16.9 percent to 67.3 billion yuan (10.9 billion U.S. dollars) last year, accounting for more than 8 percent of regional GDP. A record number of 52 million tourists visited last year.

At the beginning of the year, a target was set of 13 percent more tourists and 23 percent more revenue, with the aim of more than 100 billion yuan in revenue by 2015.

Ynam Naserden, head of the regional tourism bureau, regards tourism as a significant means for less developed regions to thrive, as both government finance and local peoples’ livelihoods will benefit from the development of related industries. In 2013, around 300,000 people worked in tourism and over 1.2 million people were employed in related sectors in Xinjiang.

Erkin Tuniyaz, vice chairman of the regional government, told Xinhua that the region has taken several measures, including a cooperative mechanism between Xinjiang and 19 provincial regions to encourage group visitors and steer the sector back on track.

Zhang hopes business may start to pick up at the end of this month or in early July, as the effects of the attack diminish and government support begins to take effect.

“Clouds cannot block the sun forever,” said Naserden.

There were signs of warming last weekend when a group of nearly 100 tourists from six countries including Singapore and Australia started their journey at Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, for a trip along the ancient Silk Road. It’s the largest group since the attack.

Enthusiasm from domestic travelers is also on the rise. Yang Fan, working in western China’s Gansu Province, is carefully planning her trip to Xinjiang’s Lake Kanas in the middle of June, dismissing security as a problem.

The latest good news is that the region’s first high-speed railway linking Urumqi and Lanzhou City in Gansu is expected to start formal operations by the end of the year.

“With local government support and better publicity, the industry will come through harsh winter soon and tourism in Xinjiang will see a bright new spring,” Zhang said.

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’21st century China-Iran Silk Road Seminar’ held in Beijing

By Du Mingming (People’s Daily Online) June 06, 2014 – Scholars and representative from China and Iran discussed the construction of the new Silk Road, the Silk Road economic belt, and the promotion of cultural exchanges at a seminar in Beijing on Tuesday.

The “21st century China-Iran Silk Road Seminar”, jointly held by Cultural Counsellorship of Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran, Donggan (Hui ethnic group in Central Asia) Research Institute at Minzu University of China, Beijing Ethnic Education Association, and Beijing Huimin School, brought together nearly 50 experts, scholars, and representatives from China and Iran.

Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward an initiative to build a Silk Road economic belt during the visit to Kazakhstan last September, which has received positive responses from Asian and European countries. During the 4th CICA Summit in Shanghai last month, Xi had a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The two leaders reached broad consensus on issues including building a Silk Road economic belt and a 21st century Maritime Silk Road.

Cultural Counselor of the Embassy of Iran in China Hossein Jalivand said that both Iran and China are ancient civilizations along the Silk Road, and the initiative to build a Silk Road economic belt is a rare opportunity for countries along the Silk Road to deepen exchanges and cooperation.

Commercial Counselor of the Embassy of Iran in China Hussein Huslav, on behalf of the Iranian Ambassador to China Mahdi Safari, delivered an opening speech. “The proposal initiated by Chinese President can be a framework to strengthen the economic cooperation between the two countries,” he said.

Liu Zhentang, former Chinese Ambassador to Iran, stressed the unique status of Iran along the Silk Road. He pointed out that although China and Iran have different system and beliefs, the two countries share common values: mutual respect, fairness and equality, independence, mutual benefit and win-win, and they are opposed to any form of power politics and hegemony.

When putting forward the initiative of building the “Silk Road economic belt”, President Xi stressed that it is open to regions and countries beyond those along the traditional Silk Road, and the cooperation will focus on five areas, namely, policy communication, road connectivity, unimpeded trade, monetary circulation and understanding between the people.

Hu Zhenhua, a professor with Minzu University of China, also highlighted the importance of the five areas during the seminar. He talked about the formation and development of China’s Hui ethic group, and pointed out the significance of multi-ethnic cultural exchanges and integration in the Silk Road development. “There will be no Hui ethnic group in today’s China if there was no the Silk Road,” he remarked. Hu also suggested China and Iran to promote the new Silk Road and the “Silk Road economic belt” through seminars, lectures, exhibitions, publications, and language learning.

Massoud Shamaeizadeh, an Iranian entrepreneur in China, stressed the importance of strengthening cultural exchanges between the two countries. He said that when mentioning Iran, the first thing came into Chinese people’s mind would be war, mystery, oil, and dessert. He called for more cultural exchanges to let more Chinese people experience Iran culture and thus change their impressions about Iran.

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Iran, Turkey to sign 10 cooperation deals

Tehran, June 8, IRNA – Given Iran and Turkeyˈs numerous economic capacities, they will sign 10 cooperation agreements during President Hassan Rouhaniˈs upcoming visit to the country, said an advisor to the minister of communications and information technology.

Mehdi Mohtashami added that since Turkey is a major buyer of Iranˈs oil, gas and energy and transits Iranˈs gas to Europe, the trip can play a crucial role in promoting Iran-Turkey ties.

During the visit which is to take place at the invitation of Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Rouhani will deliver a lecture in a gathering attended by private sector activists of the two countries, he said.

Mohtashami further noted that the agreements pertain to tourism, investment in common infrastructure including transportation, export of gas, industrial townships and trade development.

Stressing the need to remove obstacles to promotion of Iran-Turkey ties, he further noted that considerable documents in the fields of cinematic cooperation, scientific exchanges, education, culture, sports and youth, tourism and film industry as well as cultural exchanges for 2014-2017 will be inked during the visit.

Mohtashami, also head of Communications and Information Technology Ministryˈs Joint Economic Cooperation Commission, further stated that documents on telecommunication, post, customs, standardization and anti-terrorism cooperation will be inked during Rouhaniˈs visit to Ankara.

Signing the deals reveals the two sidesˈ resolve and willingness to boost mutual cooperation, the official said.

Describing enhancement of ties with neighbors as the strategy of the ˈGovernment of Hope and Prudenceˈ, Mohtashami said that thanks to its long borders and numerous historic, cultural, political and social commonalities as well as political and commercial exchanges, Turkey is of high significance to Iran.

President Rouhani will leave Tehran for Ankara on June 9 at the head of a delegation comprising eight ministers, vice presidents, governor of Central Bank of Iran and a number of representatives of private sector.

The Iranian president is scheduled to confer with President Gul and Prime Minister Receb Teyyep Erdoghan during his stay in Ankara.

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Uganda to Host International Tourism Forum

1 June 2014 – The Observer – Uganda will for the first time host the world congress of the Africa Travel Association (ATA), which is scheduled for November 11 to 16 at Speke Resort Munyonyo.

In regard to the upcoming conference, an advance ATA team from the United States was in Uganda recently to meet government officials, the ATA Uganda chapter and tourism players to discuss the details of the conference.

The team met with president Museveni and the first lady, Janet Museveni, who is the patron of ATA’s Uganda chapter, at their country home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura district. The team toured several hotels in Kampala and Jinja, where they also went to the source of the Nile and visited Mabira forest reserve.

Maria Mutagamba, the minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, said the conference was a major step towards establishing the country’s presence in the North American market. The event, according to Mutagamba, will also serve as a catalyst in promoting investment in domestic and regional tourism.

ATA Executive Director Edward Bergman noted that the conference would provide a good opportunity for Uganda to reassert itself as a favourite regional tourist destination.

“Uganda is competing with other countries and it is not easy. You have got to be aggressive,” he said. “The more the local participation, the more the benefits because they will be able to network with the movers and shakers of the tourism industry.”

ATA, which is based in America, is the leading global trade association that promotes travel and tourism to Africa and strengthens intra-Africa partnerships. It was established in 1975 to serve both the public and private sectors.

ATA membership comprises African governments, their tourism ministers, tourism bureaus and boards, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, resorts, front-line travel sellers and providers, tour operators and travel agents, and affiliate industries.

According to Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) chief executive Steven Asiimwe, at least 500 delegates, among which are airlines, tour and travel agents and ministers of tourism, are expected to attend the conference.

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Cypriot Mosque Opens After 51 Years

OnIslam & News Agencies Wednesday, 04 June 2014 NICOSIA – After 51 years of closing its doors, a mosque in the Greek side of Cyprus was opened on Tuesday, June 3, when Turkish Cypriot Grand Mufti offered prayers as part of the Swedish Embassy-prompted interfaith dialogue.

“Inshallah (with God’s will) we are going to offer our prayers in this Turkish quarter in this mosque,” Turkish Cypriot Grand Mufti Dr Talip Atalay said at the mosque inauguration, InCyprus website reported.

Atalay added that while some elements were absent from the mosque, they would not be focused on as “what is most important right now is that we are here and we can pray”.

Atalay led the first prayer since 1963 in Tahtakale Mosque that is situated in the southern part of Lefkosa (Nicosia), controlled by the Greek Cypriot administration.

His visit followed an invitation to the free areas by Archbishop Chrysostomos II as part of Swedish Embassy-prompted interfaith dialogue.

Speaking at the ceremony, he said permanent peace in Cyprus would be an excellent example for the rest of the region. “Islam’s message of peace, along with the messages of peace of other faiths, will play an important part in this effort,” he said.

Representing the Archbishop, who was overseas on Tuesday, Father Savvas welcomed Grand Mufti Atalay and thanked the Swedish Embassy for its efforts to promote religious freedom.

Father Savvas said it was on this principle that the Greek Orthodox Church had “from the start worked towards access to all our monuments, their restoration, their operation, their use for the purpose for which they were built.”

“There have been joint visits by representatives of the Church of Cyprus around Cyprus which have led to some sites being singled out so that we can quietly support until a solution is reached and we can repair them all,” Father Savvas said.

The island of Cyprus has remained divided into Greek and Turkish parts since a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by a Turkish peace mission to aid Turkish Cypriots in the north in 1974. Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders have been engaged in a peace process since February to reunify the island. The Turkish Cypriot state has an estimated community of 300,000 Muslims.

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Iceland set to get first mosque

World Bulletin / 06 Jun 2014 – Muslims in Iceland are set to begin building the country’s first ever mosque next week in the city of Reykjavik, after the City Council granted a plot for the project last year.

Muslim Association of Iceland chairman Ibrahim Sverrir Agnarsson told Visir said that they are in the final stages of commencing the mosque for the island’s 1,200 Muslims in a joint project with the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland.

However, some have already expressed their opposition to the 8,600-square-foot mosque, with one Facebook group called Stop the Islamization of Iceland already calling for the project to be halted. Last fall, three pigs heads and the bloodied pages of the Quran were dumped on the plot of where the mosque is to be built.

Sveinbjorg Birna Sveinbjorsdottir of the Icelandic Progressive Party has called for an “open a discussion and a vote on the building of the mosque” in a bid to revoke the decision.

However, Iceland-Palestine Association leader Salmann Tamimi told Vice this would be unfair. “As there is no referendum on churches, we don’t accept referendum on other praying buildings,” he said, adding that there should be “no referendum on human rights.”

A prayer hall, a community center, a library, and a 30-foot-high minaret will be included in the mosque, which is expected to cost $3.3 million to complete.

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41,000 pilgrims to benefit from low-cost Haj

Jeddah, Saturday, 02 Rajab 1434/ 31 May 2014 (IINA) – Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar has warned domestic Haj service operators against increasing Haj service charges, adding that companies that impose exorbitant prices would be fined up to SR100,000.

“Monitoring panels have noticed that 52 companies have hiked prices during the last Haj season,” he said, adding that their cases have been transferred to a ministerial committee for punitive action. He said punishment would include suspension of service for one Haj season or more, in addition to fines of up to SR100,000.

The ministerial committee took 125 decisions in 2013 to punish violators, Hajjar said, adding that 51 of these decisions were suspension of services and imposition of fines. The minister hoped the new measures taken by the ministry, including early distribution of tents at Mina and Arafat four months ahead of Haj, would contribute to reducing service charges.

Saad Al-Qurashi, a member of the National Committee for Haj & Umrah, welcomed the measures and said they would contribute to reducing charges considerably. Speaking with Arab News, he said 241 domestic Haj firms would render services to 150,000 pilgrims from within the Kingdom. The number of domestic pilgrims has been cut by 50 percent due to ongoing expansion projects.

Al-Qurashi also disclosed that as many as 41,000 pilgrims would be able to enjoy low-cost Haj services this year, paying between SR2,500 and SR5,000. “This is much less than the prices charged last year,” he said.

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Mozambique President Invites Irish Businesses To Invest

DUBLIN, June 7 (NNN-AIM) — President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique has urged Irish businesses to invest in his country and take advantage of the enormous potential the country offers.

Speaking at a meeting between Mozambican and Irish business people here Thursday, Guebuza, who is making a State visit to Ireland, urged the Irish participants not to waste any time “since tomorrow could be very late”.

Given the recent discoveries of enormous deposits of mineral resources, notably coal and natural gas, in Mozambique, Guebuza said he did not see how anyone could even hesitate when thinking about investing in Mozambique.

He stressed that Mozambique “has almost everything you could want for an investment that gives you returns”, and pointed out that the country had maintained its high economic growth rate, despite the international financial crisis which erupted in 2008.

Guebuza noted that Mozambique’s accelerated economic growth was praised last week by the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, during the “Africa Rising” conference organized in Maputo by the IMF and the Mozambican Finance Ministry.

Irish businesses which are already investing in Mozambique have praised the country’s potential, and declared that Mozambicans are hard working and learn rapidly.

Among the business people present was Michael Carvill,the Executive Director of Kenmare Resources, which is exploiting titanium-bearing heavy sands in Moma, in the northern Mozambican province of Nampula.

Also on Thursday, three memoranda of understanding were signed in areas where Mozambique and Ireland hope to co-operate in coming years. One of these areas is optometry, where the intention is to transmit knowledge to Mozambican university medical students about how to treat disease or defects of the eyes, such as cataracts.

The other memoranda concern the transmission of better agricultural techniques and practices to obtain better harvest yields, and co-operation between the Mozambican and Irish associations of accountants and auditors.

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Visit Malaysia Year Promotions In China Resume

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia June 2 (NNN-Bernama) — The Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 promotional programmes in China will be resumed after they were postponed since March following the tragedy over the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370.

Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said the promotions would be carried out soon following positive reaction from the working visit by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to that country in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China.

“The prime minister’s visit to China had to a certain extent pacified the situation and had given positive reaction, especially since we already have good relations with China, to the extent that they were willing to loan us two giant pandas.

“I was made to understand there was a memorandum of understanding signed between Malaysia and China in the tourism sector, although I was not present as I paid my last respects to the late Sultan Azlan Shah (who died on Thursday),” he said.

He said this at a media conference on the cooperation between Tourism Malaysia and Sango Taxi Association, Japan here Sunday.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Nazri said Malaysia monopolised tourism promotion advertisements via taxis in seven major cities in Japan, through the close cooperation between Tourism Malaysia and taxi companies in the “Land of the Rising Sun”.

He said 840 taxis in Osaka, Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, Fukuoka, Nagoya and Sapporo carried pictures of tourism products in Malaysia apart from brochures.

“Taxi drivers from Japan are also brought to Malaysia in stages to see for themselves the attractions in Malaysia so that they can tell the same to their passengers.

“We all know taxi drivers in Japan are noted for their honesty and manners. Not only that, the taxi medium is good for advertising purposes because taxis there operate non-stop,” he said.

Also present was Sango Taxi Association president Yamane Shigetaka.

Shigetaka through an interpreter said he was amazed at what Malaysia offered in terms of tourism and could not wait to go back to tell his countrymen the same.

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Argentina Is Visa-Free For Kazakhstan

ASTANA, June 3 (NNN-TENGRINEWS) –Kazakhstan and Argentina have signed a visa-free regime agreement, Tengrinews reports citing the press-office of Kazakhstan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

On May 30, 2014, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Kazakhstan Yerlan Idrissov met with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Argentina Hector Timerman who is now on an official visit to Kazakhstan. It is the first visit of a foreign minister from a Latin American country to Astana.

The two sides discussed Kazakhstani-Argentine cooperation in trade, investments and tourism. They also exchanged views on the current issues of the international agenda.

“Our countries have much in common, we have similar views and approaches to sustainable development, environment, nuclear safety and strengthening multi-polarity in the world,” Yerlan Idrissov said.

The officials focused on cooperation in of trade, investments, agriculture and innovations, where there is a huge untapped potential.

“We are pleased that Argentina is planning to send a large business delegation to Kazakhstan in the second half of this year. We will prepare a busy schedule for the Argentinean business people so that they can establish ties with their Kazakh counterparts,” Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister said.

He also announced plans to establish a bilateral commission on trade and economic cooperation and pointed out that negotiations on Argentina’s support to Kazakhstan’s accession into the WTO (World Trade Organization) were still ongoing.

The two foreign ministers discussed cooperation within the framework of international organizations. “We are glad to acknowledge our mutual support in various UN agencies, and I am especially grateful to my colleague for Argentina’s support to Kazakhstan in its bid to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017-2018. The support of your country is very valuable for us, and we intend to defend our common interests, while being a part of the UN Security Council,” Yerlan Idrissov said.

An important outcome of the meeting was the signing of the Agreement between Kazakhstan and Argentina on visa-free travel for citizens of both countries, which will significantly contribute to a deepening of comprehensive cooperation between the two countries.

Yerlan Idrissov also said that the Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry will continue to work actively to establish a visa-free regime with the countries around the world, in particular with another Latin American country, Chile.

Last year, Chile and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on visa-free travel for the official delegations of the two countries. At the moment, Kazakhstani citizens can travel to over 60 countries visa-free.

Hector Timmerman highlighted the dynamic development of bilateral relations and confirmed the interest of Argentina in cooperation in the mining, agriculture and nuclear industries.

He emphasized that the first visit of a foreign minister of a Latin American country to Kazakhstan was of special importance as well as the agreement establishing direct contacts between the two countries’ people.

The Argentinean minister thanked the Kazakhstan representative for the hospitality and expressed hope for further productive cooperation between the two countries.

Kazakhstan established diplomatic relations with Argentina back in 1993.

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Abu Dhabi Hotels Achieve Double-Digit Growth

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, June 3 (NNN-WAM) – Abu Dhabi’s 153 hotels and hotel apartments have continued their upward momentum in attracting increasing guest numbers, data from Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) shows.

Emirates News Agency (WAM) cites statistics as showing 304,637 guests checked into the emirate’s accommodation facilities in Apr, a 29 percent rise over the same period last year.

Guest nights rose 26 percent to 933,809, with occupancy levels rising 10 percent to 79 percent and revenues climbing 23 percent to Dh 577 million.

TCA Abu Dhabi deputy director-general, Jasem Al Darmaki, said, the authority’s immediate challenge was to address average length of stay, which dipped in Apr by 2 percent to 3.07 nights.

“We are working on initiatives to encourage more products into the market and to step up international trade and consumer awareness of the destination and its breadth of offering,” he said.

During Apr, the U.K. was the best performing overseas market for the destination, with 19,010 Britons checking into Abu Dhabi hotels, a 34 percent rise on last year. British guests registered 84,395 guest nights, an increase of 24 percent and stayed an average of 4.44 nights, which slipped by 7 percent.

Indians were the next largest users of Abu Dhabi accommodation, with 18,790 checking into the emirate’s hotels, 35 percent higher compared to the same month last year. The group accounted for 70,835 guest nights, up 24 percent on last year and stayed 3.77 nights on average.

Guest numbers from China rose by 309 percent in Apr with 13,501 Chinese nationals checking into the emirate’s hotels and apartments. Guest nights were 33,505, a quadruple of last year’s figure, with average length of stay at 2.48 nights.

Abu Dhabi’s hotel performance in the first four months has left the destination well on course to meet its 3.2 million hotel guest target this year.

The emirate has received 1,139,408 guests year-to-date, up by almost a third last year.

Guest nights have risen 23 percent to 3,514,572, occupancy is up 8 percent to 79 percent and total revenues have increased by 14 percent. The only slippage is in average length of stay, which dropped 6 percent to 3.08 nights.

Year-to-date, top performing sources were the domestic market, which grew 29 percent to 365,925 guests: India, the lead international market, with arrivals increasing 38 percent; the U.K. which delivered a 27 percent rise in guest uptake; and Germany which climbed 13 percent.

China delivered the highest percentage growth with arrivals shooting up 232 percent, in becoming Abu Dhabi’s fourth highest performing overseas market.

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Malaysian Cruise Liner Carries Tourists To Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

QUANG NINH, Vietnam, June 4 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malaysian cruise liner SuperStar Virgo, with 2,600 foreign passengers on board, arrived in Ha Long city, the northern coastal province of Quang Ninh, on Tuesday, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported here Wednesday.

During their stay, the visitors from China and other Asian countries are set to tour the world natural heritage site Ha Long Bay and learn about local lives.

The visit to Vietnam is part of cooperation between the Saigontourist Holding Company and the liner’s owner Star Cruises – the third largest cruise operator in the world.

Welcoming the guests, Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Ho Anh Tuan said Vietnam is an ideal destination for global tourists, whose safety is always ensured by the government.

He also asked Quang Ninh to step up efforts to ensure security, improve service quality and attract more foreign tourists.

At his working session with provincial officials on Monday, Tuan reported that tourists from China have resumed tours to Vietnam, mainly through the border gates of the northern provinces of Lang Son, Lao Cai and Quang Ninh.

In the first five months of 2014, Quang Ninh greeted 1.2 million foreign visitors, of whom Chinese and Taiwanese tourists made up 38 per cent.

Since early May, the East Sea tensions have triggered a sharp decrease in tourists from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, badly impacting tourism.

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Oman’s Salalah Gears Up For Annual Tourist Festival

SALALAH, Oman, June 5 (NNN-ONA) – Salalah Tourism Festival 2014, a leading tourist event in Oman, is set to kick-start in the Omani city of Salalah, on the second day of Eid Al-Fitr.

Speaking to KUNA on the occasion, Chairman of Dhofar Municipality and chief of the organising committee, Salim Ufait Al Shanfari, said, the festival will open by the end of July and lasts until Sept.

The festival, which features many economic, tourist and cultural activities, is part of the Khareef (monsoon) season, that extends from June 21 to late Sept every year, he said.

Efforts are being exerted continuously, in order to ensure a better and more attractive festival this year, Al Shanfari pointed out.

The event always reflects the loyalty and gratitude of the Omani people to their nation and promotes the Gulf nation’s heritage, customs, tradition and arts, the chairman of the organising committee added.

More than 1.8 million visitors often take part in the celebrations of the Salalah Tourism Festival annually, and enjoy the unique climate characterised by light rain, mist, balmy weather, green-carpeted hills and the well-preserved culture and traditional lifestyle of Oman.

The Salalah Tourism Festival 2014 will showcase a variety of cultural, heritage and entertainment activities.

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Qatar Airways Plans Flights To Harare

HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 6 (NNN-QNA) – Qatar Airways plans to introduce flights to Harare three times a week, said Qatar’s new ambassador to Zimbabwe, Salem Al-Jaber on Thursday.

Al-Jaber told journalists, after presenting his credentials to President Robert Mugabe, that the move was part of Qatar’s business ventures in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe’s New Ziana news agency reports.

“We have 10 flights a week to Johannesburg and we would like to extend our service from Johannesburg to Harare, at least three times a week in the initial stage and have direct flights in future,” he said.

Qatar Airways joins a host of other airlines that have introduced or resumed flights to Zimbabwe, including Air Namibia, KLM and Mozambique’s LAM.

Other airlines that have shown renewed interest to fly into Zimbabwe are Air France, Swiss Air, Bulgarian Airlines and Lufthansa.

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Malaysia: Floria Putrajaya 2014 Targets One Million Visitors

PUTRAJAYA, June 6 (NNN-Bernama) — The Putrajaya Flower and Garden Festival (Floria Putrajaya) 2014 scheduled for June 14 to 22 is set to create a sensation again with Begonia or Asam Batu being chosen as the floral theme.

Putrajaya Corporation president Aseh Che Mat said as the flowers were relatively unknown in the country, they were expected to entice visitors to the annual flower show which targeted one million visitors.

“If many people think that Asam Batu will not be well received, they are wrong. It will definitely create a lot of interests,” he told a news conference at his residence here.

He hoped the entrance fee at RM3 for adults and RM1 for children aged between seven and 12 would not burden visitors while convincing foreigners of the gorgeous flower show.

The Floria Putrajaya 2014 is scheduled to be opened by the King, Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah and the Queen, Tuanku Hajah Haminah at its new permanent site at the Putrajaya lakeside, Presint 4 on June 14.

A total of 400,000 species of flowers and plants will be displayed at Floria Putrajaya, the seventh since it was first introduced, while 58 garden lots will cater for landscape operators, flower suppliers and entrepreneurs putting up their products and services.

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Casabalanca, Tunis Bourses Sign Co-operation Agreement

CASABLANCA, MOROCCO, June 3 (NNN-MAP) — The Casablanca and Tunis stock exchanges have signed a protocol to consolidate their cooperation in information and experience exchanges, training and technical assistance, promotion of the stock market culture and development of double quotations from the two bourses.

The Casablanca Stock Exchange said in a statement here Monday that the agreement was signed on Friday during the official visit paid by King Mohammed VI to Tunisia at the invitation of Tunisian President Mohamed Moncef Marzouki.

The Manager of the Casablanca Stock Exchange, Karim Hajji, welcomed the agreement as a new responsibility to help the two countries take on various development challenges.

“Our two stock markets boast numerous potentials and we are endeavouring to help the two countries’ enterprises find new financing sources,” he said.

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Conference On Local Economic Development Held In Oran, Algeria

ORAN, ALGERIA, June 4 (NNN-APS) — – An international conference on “Local economic development: Territorial attractiveness and competitiveness” has opened in the north-central Algerian city of Oran, 430 kilometres west of the capital, Algiers.

The two-day meeting, which opened Tuesday, has brought together experts from Algeria, Germany, France and South Africa, to present the results of three experiences held as part of an Algerian-German co-operation programme to boost local economic development in the pilot provinces of Oran, Setif and Ghardaia.

The programme aims mainly at developing a plastic processing industry in Setif, 300 km east of Algiers, a milk and dairy industry in Ghardai, 600 km south of Algiers, and the territorial attractiveness of Oran.

The conference, which is also being attended by the Director-General of Small and Medium and Enterprises (SMEs), Benmerad Mohand Said, and the Resident Director of the German Agency for International Co-operation (GIZ) in Algeria, Susanne Wahl, aims at sharing experiences between Algeria and other countries, including South Africa, particularly in local economic development.

The meeting is organized by the GIZ Algeria Office and the Local Sustainable Economic Development Programme, under the Algerian Ministry of Industry and Mining.

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Maldives Eyes “One-Stop-Shop” To Promote Foreign Investment

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka June 4 (NNN-Xinhua) — Maldives is hoping to set out the welcome mat to foreign investors by establishing a one-stop-shop to reduce the investment approval process to just ten days, an official said on Wednesday.

Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed told reporters his department was working on a one-stop-shop to reduce the current approval process from 21 days to just ten. Saeed is also aiming to present to parliament new legislation paving the way for special economic zones.

“The purpose of such a bill is to diversify the Maldivian economy so that new areas will develop for investment,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

The plans follow Maldives President Abdulla Yameen’s assurance at an international investor forum in April to revamp the country’ s investment laws to protect foreign ventures.

Over 200 companies from about 15 countries attended the forum to evaluate investment options in the Indian Ocean group of islands famous for its lucrative tourism industry.

President Yameen admitted the legal and regulatory environment governing foreign investment needs strengthening and redefining, and assured a Special Economic Zone Bill will be tabled in the parliament soon.

The Foreign Investment Act and Companies Act are also being revised to cater the needs of the modern foreign investors. Many countries have expressed interest in investing in Maldives including Singapore, the United States, India, Germany and China.

Notable investors include American investment company Blackstone, Singapore-based HPL Hotels and Resorts, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), the Carlson Group of Companies, Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts, United Bunkering and Trading Group, and Singapore Enterprise.

Investors will have the opportunity to submit proposals for five mega projects, including the development of Ihavandhippolhu as an economic zone, ‘I-Heaven’ and Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, the second phase of Hulhumale island, shifting of the current commercial harbor to Thilafushi and its development, and oil and gas exploration the Maldives.

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Uganda In Top 10 FDI Recipients In Africa

KAMPALA, June 2 (NNN-NEW VISION) — Uganda is a new entrant in the Ernst and Young top 10 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) recipients in Africa in 2013, an indication of the country’s strong position in attracting investment.

In 2013, both West and East Africa surpassed North Africa for the first time according to the report titled “EY’s attractiveness survey Africa 2014; Executing growth.”

The report noted that Uganda has had solid economic growth and a rapidly expanding population as some of its appealing factors. According to the report top sources of foreign direct income into Uganda in 2013 were Kenya, the UK and India.

“One multinational that has recently increased its presence in the country is SAB Miller, which opened its second brewery in Uganda in 2013. Oil fields and the agricultural sector in Uganda are also attracting significant investor attention,” the report notes.

The report noted that in 2013, the number of new FDI projects in Africa declined for the second consecutive year, by 3.1% leading to lower job creation resulting from FDI projects largely due to political uncertainty in North Africa.

Despite the lower number of projects, the monetary value of capital investment into Africa grew by a healthy 12.9%, with a higher average project size of $70.1m (sh175b) in 2013, from $60.1m (sh150b) the year before.

FDI projects into Kenya increased by more than 40%. In 2013, Kenya attracted the second-highest number of FDI projects, only second to South Africa. Increasingly, investors have been targeting Kenya as a springboard to growing East African consumer markets.

Kenya’s economy benefitted from the recent discovery of oil, the country’s large, skilled and youthful population and the building of a $14.5b (sh36 trillion) information technology hub, called Konza Technology City, outside Nairobi to target the growing number of software developers.

Tanzania was tipped for recently discovering gas reserves which are propelling investor interest.

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Muslim prayers heard for the first time at the Vatican

Al Arabiya / 07 Jun 2014 – For the first time in history, Islamic prayers and readings from the Quran will be heard at the Vatican on Sunday, in a move by Pope Francis to usher in peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Francis issued the invitation to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit last week to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas, Peres, and Francis will be joined by Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious leaders, a statement released by Peres’s spokesperson said, according to the Times of Israel.

Holy See officials on Friday said the evening prayers would be a “pause in politics” and had no political aim other than to rekindle the desire for Israeli-Palestinian peace at the political and popular level, according to the Associated Press.

The Vatican will broadcast a live feed of the event to viewers across the world. However, expectations for the event should be kept low, according to Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the custodian of Catholic Church property in the Holy Land.

(No-one should think) “peace will suddenly break out on Monday, or that peace is any closer,” AP reported him as saying.

On Friday, the Pope met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and discussed ways of promoting peace and stability in Asia, the Vatican said in a statement.

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Islamic Engineers hold global meet in Makkah

Arab News / 04 Jun 2014 – Experts and heads of the 21-member Federation of Engineering Institutions of Islamic Countries (FEIIC) met in Makkah recently. The meeting was significant in view of the massive developmental projects currently being undertaken in the Kingdom’s key cities, asserted Ghazi Saeed Alabasi, secretary-general of the Saudi Council of Engineers (SCE).

“The participants in the meeting discussed the standardization and adoption process of professional accreditation systems in the Kingdom and in the other participants’ respective countries,” Alabasi said.

A team of experts from Malaysia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia was formed under a project called “Engineering Qualification, Accreditation and Professional System (EQAPS),” explained the secretary-general.

He noted that the meeting also came as part of a series of meetings initiated for the purpose of standardizing the accreditation system in Islamic countries to help engineering graduates attain recognition.

“Aside from recognition, there’s also the need to facilitate mobility between member-states and help the graduates practice their engineering professions with ease,” Alabasi added.

The meeting, which was headed by Prof. Megat Johari of the Malaysian Society for Engineering and Technology, adopted the recommendations issued during a meeting in Madinah in Dec. 2013.

“The Madinah Accord is expected to improve the professional level of engineers in member countries and enable them to receive international recognition,” said Alabasi.

On the sidelines of the meeting, the FICC’s executive council agreed to form the Young Engineers Group to motivate and strengthen professional relations among the Islamic countries’ young engineers. A number of other topics were discussed during the meeting, including strengthening fraternity ties with international engineering organizations.

Mohammed Zhgoul attended as an honorary guest representing Iayad Madani, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Ibrahim Aldhobaie, executive council member and deputy secretary general of the SCE, commended the formation of the Young Engineers Group, which he considered a “milestone in the FEIIC activities and a move in the right direction.” He also urged Saudi engineers to respond to this initiative and participate in establishing a branch in the Kingdom.

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Saudi Arabia’s first marine park to be built at Dhahban

Arab News / 06 Jun 2014 – Jeddah is building the first marine park at Dhahban on the shores of the Red Sea, 40 km from the city. The groundbreaking project, which was under study for the last four years, was announced by the Jeddah Municipality on Saturday.

‘Dhahban is a popular picnic spot frequented by Saudi citizens especially fish lovers who visit the area to have a taste of fresh fish.

The new marine park at the water front will have landscaping and lots of greenery. It will be equipped with a wide range of multi-recreational facilities including a football playground and children’s entertainment areas in addition to restaurants and other facilities.

“The park is spread over a total area of 110,000 square meters along the water front, the landscaping and greenery area will cover 45,000 square meters that will include 600 trees, 4,500 bushes, 40 palm trees, besides a wide range of other greenery,” Mohammed Al-Bugaimi of Jeddah Municipality said in a statement. The park will also have two large water fountains it stated.

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Temple of three monotheistic religions to be built in Berlin

ee24.com / 06 Jun 2014 – The campaign to raise funds for the construction of a religious center House of One was launched in Berlin on the 3rd of June. Muslims, Jews and Christians will be able to pray under one roof. Construction of the building which doesn’t look similar to mosque or synagogue or cathedral will cost €43.5 million, according to ee24.com citing thelocal.de.

Everyone can contribute for the early start of construction of the center, buying a symbolic brick for €10 on the net. After the first day, donations amounted to about €2,000. The construction will begin after selling of one million bricks, i.e. after gathering of the first €10 million, which could happen in 2015. Religious leaders of Germany have initiated such an unusual project for people to learn more about each other’s beliefs, as well as to promote an open and peaceful dialogue between faiths and cultures.

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Umrah pilgrims flock to historical sites in Madinah

Madinah, Thursday, 07 Rajab 1434/ 05 June 2014 (IINA) – Thousands of Umrah pilgrims are flocking to Madinah these days to visit the Prophet’s Mosque, other houses of worship, and the city’s various historical sites.

There has been a rush of visitors on organized trips to the Quba, Al-Qiblatain, and other mosques in the city, from early hours of the morning. Many pilgrims were seen taking photographs at these sites. “I made sure I visited all the mosques and historical sites in Madinah. This city in particular has a special place in the hearts of Muslims across the world,” Gamar Nawaz, a Pakistani pilgrim, told Arab News. Wael Husni, a pilgrim, said he has been on Umrah several times. “Every time I come to Madinah, I make it a priority to visit Quba, Shuhada and Al-Qiblatain mosques, and other historical sites in the city. This is the Islamic heritage and wealth of all Muslims. I spend a long time in Madinah every time I visit.”

“Being here in Madinah near Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the greatest of all mankind, brings me the most pleasure and happiness. I am often overwhelmed with joy roaming and drifting around the city, including standing on Al-Rumat Mountain at Uhud, where the most important battle in Islamic history took place.” Pilgrims have also been visiting public parks and shopping. Sales at local shops have been rising and hotels are 95 percent full, according to workers in the hospitality sector, who attributed this activity to the forthcoming month of Ramadan and the summer vacation.

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Saudi Arabia to develop SR365 billion railway network

Dammam, Monday, 04 Rajab 1434/ 02 June 2014 (IINA) – The Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) is working on a SR365 billion strategic plan for developing the railway network in the Kingdom and implementing several projects to interlink the country’s provinces by the year 2040.

The project aims to establish an integrated railway network spanning 9,900 km with 19 railway lines.

The Haramain high speed railway and a north-south line are under construction, with a line connecting Jeddah to Riyadh slated to begin soon. Work on the railway link between Gulf countries is also expected to begin soon. Muhammad Al-Suwaiket, SRO president, said that the organization is working on rectifying the poor performance of lines that run between Dammam and Al-Ahsa through Abqaiq through redeveloping internal departments.

“The organization seeks to maintain passenger safety and build a good reputation by implementing plans over the next 20 years to cover all major cities of the Kingdom,” said Al-Suwaiket. He said SRO would focus on laying the foundations for reconstructing the organization’s departments and formulate a new guideline.

“We will review and redesign training programs for operating trains with the help of international, specialized institutions,” he said. “The huge GCC railway project will start from Kuwait and go through the Kingdom, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, ending in Oman,” he said. The line will span 2,200 km. He said SRO is currently designing parts of the projects within the Kingdom and that work on the project will begin in 2018.

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Islamic micro-finance ideal way to eradicate poverty

Jeddah, Tuesday, 05 Rajab 1434/ 03 June 2014 (IINA) – Speakers at a recent economic seminar said that Islamic micro-finance is the best option to eradicate poverty and improve the living conditions of Muslims, especially those in poor countries.

They are of the view that the interest-free and profit sharing Islamic micro-finance will help bolster social bonds and achieve self-reliance. The seminar was conducted by the Indian Forum for Interest-Free Banking (IFIB) at Seagulls Seaview restaurant auditorium here. Mamoon Al-Azami, senior community development researcher at Islamic Development Bank (IDB), inaugurated the seminar. In his speech, Al-Azami drew attention to the success of Islamic micro-finance in Bangladesh and some African countries. “This system, which can play a vital role in alleviating poverty, could be a role model for Muslim communities in other countries like India,” he said while explaining the salient features of the Islamic micro-finance, which was successfully introduced by the Nobel Laureate Mohammed Yunus through his Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.

In his presentation on the participatory micro-finance scheme, IFIB Secretary General V.K. Abdul Aziz emphasized the need for concerted joint efforts to introduce interest-free financing systems in countries like India after taking into confidence of other segments of the pluralist society. He highlighted that the Islamic micro-finance focuses mainly on yielding social benefits rather than simply profit-making. Abdul Aziz also spoke about the viability of the goat rearing project, introduced by IFIB in India, on the basis of interest-free financing. “The Rs1.2 million project was introduced to show that Islamic finance is a good solution for eradicating poverty,” he said.

Addressing the gathering, Advocate S. Mammu, coordinator of the project, said that the pilot project had a good start with distribution of a total of 250 goats among poor farmers in Naduwil town and Chuzhali Pollayad village. “Under the scheme, each family has been given five goats and the beneficiaries will return three goats and their kids to the facilitator, who will sell them at local market price and distribute 33 percent of the profit to the financier, 33 percent to the farmer, 23 percent to management and 11 percent to the monitoring committee,” he said, adding that the project would not only solve financial problems and earn profits but also strengthen bonds of mutual cooperation among followers of different religions. P.K. Abdul Ghafour presided over the function in which K.T.A Muneer delivered welcome speech and K.A Abdul Rasheed proposed the vote of thanks.

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Project to reveal central Anatolian history

KIRŞEHİR – Anadolu Agency – After rhino, giraffe and elephant bones were found during a surface survey in the Hirfanlı Dam Lake, excavations have been initiated in the area. It is expected that the natural history of Anatolia from 5 to 8 million years ago will be revealed.

The project was formed after Ahi Evran University (AEÜ) Kırşehir Surface Survey Research Group President and Associate Professor Ahmet Cem Erkman and his team found the bones on the Savcılı coast of the Lake Hirfanlı. With the support of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, the AEÜ and the Turkish History Foundation retrieval excavations will start in September.

Erkman said the head of the excavations will be Kaman Kalehöyük Archaeology Museum Director İzzet Esen and he will be the head of scientific commission. Stating that academics from Van’s Yüzüncü Yıl University and Ankara University will also work with the project, Erkman said:

“After the animal bones were found during surface survey, the region needs a wider study. The scientific data are very striking since they show the biological richness of the Kurutlu/Kaman location. In the region, where backboned fossils from 5-8 million years ago have been discovered, we will try to reveal the nature history, life and environmental factors of Central Anatolia before human life. The people of Kırşehir are living on very precious natural history. This is just the beginning. Further research may bring further results.”

Erkman said the place where excavations will start is close to the coast of the lake and they are waiting for the water level to drop to begin excavations. “It is bad for our farmers, but the drought will make things easier for us because it will decrease the water level of the Hirfanlı Dam Lake. It will be enough for us even if the water shrinks one meter.

Otherwise, we will work inside the water. We will call underwater experts if necessary. We had talks with the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSİ); they said September will be okay for water to evaporate some,” he said.

The idea for retrieval excavations came with the bones found during the surface survey, said Erkman, and continued: “We found two rhinoceros bones during the excavations in the region. Then we found elephant and giraffe bones. They were next to the water and we thought this place had great potential. The water carried them to the surface. The history of Anatolia cannot be found in any other country. Kırşehir also has great potential in terms of natural history.”

Erkman noted that the findings to be unearthed during the excavations would be displayed at a museum not yet established at the Ahi Evran University.

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Turkey elected to UNESCO committee

MUĞLA – Anadolu Agency – Turkey has been elected to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) intergovernmental committee for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced on June 4.

Turkey surpassed France and Italy to claim a seat emptied by Spain’s withdrawal from the committee, Davutoğlu said in the southwestern province of Muğla, pledging hard work in line with UNESCO’s goals. The election came at UNESCO’s fifth general assembly at its headquarters in Paris.

Turkey will serve for a four year term during 2014-2018. It served before in 2006-2010. The committee will have its ninth session in November this year. UNESCO was founded in 1946 and has 195 members.

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Istanbul Opera Festival starts

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – The 5th International Istanbul Opera festival starts today, presenting the Istanbul audience with a rich program including local and foreign artists until June 17.

The festival will open on June 3 at Zorlu Center PSM with “Attila,” one of Giuseppe Verdi’s classic operas, a production of the Ankara State Opera and Ballet. The premiere was performed by the Ankara State Opera and Ballet earlier this year and each performance this season played to full houses. In the work, staged by the famous director Andrejs Zagars, Attila’s love for Odabella, who was captured during Roma’s invasion, and the latter’s plans for revenge are told.

On June 6, Gioachino Rossini’s “Mehmet II” will be staged by the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet under the name “Fatih Sultan Mehmet,” directed by the head director of the State Opera and Ballet, Yekta Kara. The Janissary Band Group will appear on the opera stage for the first time ever, also with the participation of hundreds of artists on the Zorlu Center PSM stage. The opera was also presented in the first year of the festival.

On June 9 and 10, Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” will be performed by the Samsun State Opera and Ballet, with the participation of solo artists from Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir. The opera will be directed by Yekta Kara, who has directed the same opera many times abroad. The piece emphasizes the differences of players coming from Eastern and Western cultures, with Selim Pasha presented as the main character of the play. The work will be staged in the garden of the Istanbul Archeology Museum.

In this year’s festival, many operas will be seen for the first time on different stages. Among them is “Birjan and Sara” by Kazakh composer Mukan Tulebayev, which will be staged on June 13 by the Samsun State Opera and Ballet at the Bakırköy Leyla Gencer Opera Stage. The work’s Turkish premiere was held last year in honor of Tulebayev’s 100th birthday.

On June 14 and 15 at the Kadıköy Süreyya Opera Theater, C.W. Gluck’s “Unexpected Encounter” will be presented to with two performances by the Salzburg State Opera. In the work, Gluck brings together many disparate factors such as oriental folk dancing and classical arias. The Salzburg State Opera, which adapts the adventures of a colorful pilgrimage group on the deck of the Nil ferryboat on the way to the Cairo port, will meet Istanbul audiences for the first time in the festival.

The 5th International Istanbul Opera Festival will continue with a very important work in the history of Turkish musical theater: Cemal Reşit Rey’s “Luxurious Life,” which will be staged at the Bakırköy Leyla Gencer Opera Stage on June 15 and 16 by the Mersin State Opera and Ballet. It will be directed by veteran theater actor Haldun Dormen.

For the closing of the festival on June 17, the world famous baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky will be on stage for a gala concert. The artist, who has been one of the favorite artists for major opera stages in the world, will be accompanied by soprano Ana Maria Martinez and the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet Band. The concert will be performed at Zorlu Center PSM and orchestrated by maestro Constantine Orbelian.

The International Istanbul Opera Festival has been organized for five years by the Directorate General of State Opera and Ballet with the contributions of DenizBank.

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Mardin Castle to embrace tourists

MARDİN- Anadolu Agency – The southeastern province of Mardin’s historic castle, which has been closed nearly for 27 years, will be restored and open to visits again. Within the scope of the restoration, the walls and the rampart of the 10th century castle will be fortified. The castle was partly restored at the time of the Ottoman Sultan Selim III.

Speaking about the restoration plans, Mardin Governor Ahmet Cengiz said Mardin was one of the rare cities vastly rich and diverse in terms of its cultural heritage. He said both city locals and tourists were excited for the reopening of the castle after many years, and it will open soon.

“Some incidents happened in the past and some dangers have been escaped. Pieces falling from the castle walls are dangerous for people. This is why they should be fortified in the first phase. There was a tender held for it and a world renowned firm started working,” the governor said.

Cengiz said after the work is finished, the risk dying in the castle will be eliminated and some parts of the castle will be open to tourists. “It is not okay to stroll around in the castle for the time until risk is eliminated.”

He said the process could take a few years, adding, “Tourists want to go to the castle and see Mardin, but it is not acceptable to open it right now and risk lives. They need to wait for the process to be finished.”

Mardin Artuklu University Archaeology Department member Associate Professor Güner Coşkunsu said archaeological work should be carried out in the castle after the restoration.

Coşkunsu said the department could conduct a surface survey and excavations in the skirts and slopes of the castle, and that there were many things to do in the castle. “Archaeological and laboratory studies will bring us the reliable information. Underground tunnels between the castle and city, fountains, water channels, cisterns, granaries and old settlements inside and under the castle are waiting to be unearthed,” she said.

Coşkunsu said the castle was now a military region, adding, “As soon as the castle is out of the military region, it will whet the appetite of treasure hunters. The castle should be protected with modern security technology from all sides; otherwise it can be seriously damaged. Necessary measures should be taken as soon as possible.”

The castle, known as “the eagle nest” because of its sheltering, is 1200 meters above sea level and 600 meters above ground, is the highest point overlooking the old town of Mardin, which rises out of the side of a hill.

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Kyrgyz return to their cultural roots

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-06-05 BISHKEK – Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic folk traditions, which authorities de-emphasised during Soviet times, are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, observers say.

“It could be that people are re-evaluating their values and intuitively want to preserve their ancestors’ know-how,” Damira Alyshbayeva, a Culture, Information and Tourism (MCIT) Ministry official, said. “Reviving interest in one’s roots is a sign of a people on the turnaround.”

The revival is manifesting itself in several ways: increased participation in cultural festivals, international recognition for some of the traditions, a higher number of tourists who can experience some of the things that are distinctly Kyrgyz, and even boost to some sectors of the economy.

This spring, for the fourth year in a row, Kyrgyzstan March 5 celebrated National Ak-Kalpak Day, a day set aside to to celebrate the traditional white felt hat.

This year’s festivities also re-introduced attendees to another cultural tradition, as a dance troupe performed to “Kara-Jorgo,” an ancient nomadic song, with hundreds of people joining in.

“We studied our folklore and found the folk song ‘Kara-Jorgo,’ set it to Kyrgyz instruments and gave it a new sound,” Kubanchbek Esenbayev, head of the Kara-Jorgo Nomer Bir dance troupe, said. “By relying on old newsreel, photographs and witness accounts, we found the dance moves and put together an amateur dance group.”

Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan’s ancient culture is gaining international recognition.

“UNESCO last year … unanimously included the Kyrgyz epic trilogy Manas, Semetey, Seytek … on its World Heritage List,” Nazgul Mekeshova, the government’s chief specialist on intangible cultural heritage, said.

And in 2012, the country was elected to a four-year term on the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

“(The UNESCO panel seat and the trilogy’s addition to the World Heritage List) were important achievements for protecting the country’s intangible culture heritage,” Mekeshova said.

The UNESCO involvement also is helping to promote Kyrgyzstan as more of a tourist destination.

“The representative list of UNESCO (cited attractions) goes into all major international tourist pamphlets,” Mekesheva said. “Commercials are shown on TV in various countries.”

Kyrgyzstan, which has declared itself a country of tourism, considers it crucial to promote itself abroad. The efforts include allowing citizens from 44 wealthy countries to visit without obtaining an entry visa.

All of those efforts have paid off. In 2013, just over 3m tourists visited the country, a 10% increase compared to 2012.

“The revival of traditions and the turn back to everything Kyrgyz has had a very positive effect on my family,” Aigul Saginbayeva, a woman from Bishkek, said. “For three summers in a row, we have gone to the mountains for relaxation and kumys (mare’s milk) therapy. Up there you can get natural food and clean air. I think our ancestors knew the value of eating right. And I’m absolutely convinced that the food you eat in a yurt tastes completely different from what you eat in a cafe: it feels like you’re sitting with your relatives in the village. Everything feels cozy, the way it does at home.”

In conjunction with the return to their roots, Kyrgyz interest in domestically manufactured items appears to have grown. “It’s fashionable now to hold wedding ceremonies in traditional attire,” Aigerim, 21, a Bishkek bank employee, said in explaining one reason for the boom in sales of traditional clothing.

And sales of maksym, a traditional Kyrgyz drink made from barley or other grains that for years had only limited popularity, are on the rise. In 1992, the Shoro beverage company produced 80 litres of maksym daily; today, Shoro produces about 70 tonnes daily.

“We made the right call (in deciding to produce maksym),” Taabaldy Egemberdiyev, owner of Shoro, said. “Having revived this tradition, we’ve been able to improve our traditional cuisine’s reputation too. We’re going to produce other traditional drinks too.”

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Kyrgyzstan opens Islamic research institute

2014-06-04 BISHKEK (Centralasiaonline)– Kyrgyzstan, concerned about extremism and the recruitment of its citizens to fight in Syria, has a new institute dedicated to the scholarly study of Islam.

The Scientific Research Institute for the Study of Islam, which opened in Bishkek in May, is the country’s first secular Kyrgyz institution to focus on that topic.

“We will apply scientific methods to study Islamic issues in Kyrgyzstan, the process of proselytisation and radicalisation of certain groups, the popularisation of alien religious ideas and views amongst us, and the change of traditional spiritual values in the context of the challenges facing our society,” Mametbek Myrzabayev, director of the new think tank, said.

At a celebration for the institute’s opening, attendees noted that the need for such an institution has been growing for a long time. Government agencies and the specialist and religious communities have lacked a scholarly basis for understanding the various changes occurring in Kyrgyzstan’s Muslim community.

Law enforcement officials were particularly enthusiastic about the institute’s opening.

“We don’t have enough of a scholarly basis for our work and for our fight against … extremism,” Emil Zheenbekov, director of the 10th Main Directorate (an intelligence wing) of the Interior Ministry, said. “But now, with the help of the institute’s experts, our personnel will be able to fight … extremism and terrorism more effectively.”

“Law enforcement agencies are unable to research these kinds of issues, and the State Commission for Religious Affairs is generally occupied with registering religious organisations,” Bakyt Dubanayev, a spokesman for the CIS Anti-Terrorism Centre in Kyrgyzstan, said. “The Muftiate has its own concerns. … The situation in this field has been simply catastrophic.”

Kyrgyzstan has 10 functioning Islamic universities, a majority of which opened with direct support from foundations from the Persian Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, according to government data. One of them operates under the auspices of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan. However, most of them function like seminaries and do not produce any religious research.

Kyrgyzstan once attempted to create a religious studies department in a secular university. In 1993 in Osh, the local state university opened a theology department with support from a Turkish religious foundation, Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı. However, it closed in 1998.

Apart from scholarly study of the reasons for extremism and terrorism, the new think tank is prepared to discuss Islamophobia and Muslim education in Kyrgyzstan.

“Unfortunately, we preserved an … archaic form of Islam,” said Nazira Kurbanova, a historian and member of the new Islamic institute’s scholarly council. “Now that we have begun reviving Muslim values, we’ve learned that we’re stuck somewhere in the 18th century. We need to give Islam a new push so that it truly becomes a 21st-century religion … that plays a unifying and progressive role.”

The leaders of the institute hope that their work will lead to significant progress and to a sound understanding and interpretation of the foundations and principles of Islam in Kyrgyzstan. “The fight against … extremism in Kyrgyzstan can and must be effective but only if it’s based on ideas,” Kurbanova said.

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W. Sumatra opens links with Morocco’s Fes-Boulemane

Sun, June 1 2014 London (ANTARA News) – West Sumatra province of Indonesia and Moroccos Fes-Boulemane have signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to further strengthen the existing Indonesia-Morocco cooperation.

The West Sumatra province was represented by the Regional Government Bureau Chief Syafrizal while the Fes-Boulemane was represented by Regional Council President of Fes-Boulemane Mohamed Douiri.

“The letter of intent was signed at the office of Fest-Boulemane governor,” the Third Secretary on Information, Social and Cultural Affairs of the Indonesian Embassy in Rabat, Suparman Hasibuan, said here on Sunday.

The signing ceremony was attended by delegates from West Sumatra, Fes-Boulemane regional government officials, mass media representatives, Fes-Boulemane Governor Mohamed Dardouri and Indonesian Ambassador to Morocco Tosari Widjaja.

In the LOI, both sides agreed to take follow up steps to create a Sister Province cooperation by concluding an Memorandum of Understanding which covers various fields of cooperation such as economy, trade, tourism and education.

Ambassador Tosari Widjaja said that West Sumatra and Fes-Boulemane have similarities in the backgrounds of their history, social and culture so that the Indonesian Embassy in Rabat was encouraged to facilitate the two regions to establish a sister province cooperation.

Fes-Boulemane is the third largest region in Morocco with a population of about one million. It has a number of historic building sites which have been recognized by the UNESCO as one of the world heritage sites.

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North Sumatra’s earning from black tea exports growing

Wed, June 4 2014 Medan, North Sumatra (ANTARA News)- North Sumatra has recorded growing black tea export earning in the first four months of the year compared with the same period last year.

The largest black tea producer in North Sumatra state plantation company PT. Perkebunan Nusantara IV exported US$1.987 million worth of black tea in the first four months of the year , up from US$1.243 million.

The increase in the export value was in line with the rise in volume, a section head at the provincial industry and trade office Fitra Kurnia said here on Tuesday.

In the first four months of 2013, black tea exports by the company totaled 663,916 kilograms , up to 1,193,740 kg in the same period this year.

Fitra said black tea is one of the provinces major export earners beside crude palm oil, rubber, coffee, spices , betel nuts and horticulture .

He said black tea is exported to a number of countries including Malaysia, Germany and Thailand. “Hopefully PTPN IV could continue to maintain or expand its black tea production,” he said.

Black tea has once disappeared from the ranks of major export commodities for North Sumatra as a result of shrinking price amid rising demand for palm oil, he said.

Many farmers stopped growing black tea in favor of other more profitable crops like oil palm in the province. PTPN IV spokesman Syahrul Aman Siregar said the company will maintain its tea plantations and would improve the quality and the productivity of the plant.

In 2012, the company began to grow tea again cancelling plan to convert 1,600 hectares of its tea plantation into oil palm plantation. “Indeed the price of black tea has not yet fully reached the normal level but the trend is encouraging,” Syahrul said.

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Indonesia seeking to become global hub of Muslim fashion

Sat, June 7 2014 Batam, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) – Indonesia has a target of becoming a global hub of Muslim fashion by 2020, together with the growing Muslim fashion industry, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said. “Indonesia is seeking to become a global hub of the Muslim fashion industry by 2020,” she said here on Friday.

The domestic Muslim fashion industry was growing rapidly as reflected by its immense creativity. Therefore, there was a reason for the country to become a global hub of the fashion industry, she said.

“The domestic Muslim fashion industry is extremely creative and the potential market for its products is also large,” she added. She expressed hope that every region in the country will be able to tap their potential and be inspired to develop the Muslim fashion industry.

To achieve the target of being a global hub of the Muslim fashion industry, she said her ministry had organized the Muslim fashion festival every year in Jakarta. “We have organized the Muslim fashion festival in Jakarta every year,” she noted.

In addition, the government also had sponsored three noted Muslim fashion designers, including Dian Pelangi, to participate in overseas exhibitions, she said. “We brought it (Muslim fashion design) to London. We received an extraordinary response there,” she added.

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Tourism helps preserve ancient Azerbaijan craft of pottery

06 June 2014 – AzerNews – Pottery is an art dealing with shaping clay. It has three production lines: manufacturing of ordinary construction bricks; manufacturing of different clay dishes and producing items such as fireproof brick, tiles, faience pipe, etc.

Pottery items are among the oldest handicrafts in Azerbaijan which has maintained its importance to this day. Specialists believe that the origin of the art dates back to Neolithic Era. The pottery which used to be a female profession, turned into an independent art or profession as a result of a number of technical achievements in the Eneolite Age.

At the end of Middle Ages, pottery reached to a high level in Azerbaijan. During the period of progress which continued till Mongol, some substantial changes have taken place in quality and quantity of the art. The invention of a wheel driven by foot and the launch of manufacturing glazed plates created more suitable conditions for the manufacture of porcelain items.

During this period, all cities and provinces of Azerbaijan were filled with faience plates. As a result of archeological excavations in many settlements including those in Beylagan, many clay plates were discovered.

Archival documents and other written sources of the Khanate period testify to the manufacturing of faience items in Shamakhy, Shaki, Ardabil, Tabriz, Nakhchivan, Ganja, Ordubad and other cities of Azerbaijan.

Information about faience plates in the Nakhchivan Khanate was more available than those about other khanates. One of the pottery workshops in Ordubad was located in the ancient Caravanserai.

It is also likely that pottery manufacturing was underway in Baku, too. Different types of clay fields in the suburbs of the city created suitable conditions for the production of faience items here.

Excavations carried out by V. N. Leviatov in the city part located near the castle in 1946 revealed many glazed plates, dishes and vessels dating back to XVII-XVIII centuries, which were domestically made.

This art lives in Ganja which had been one of the main centers of the manufacture of faience plates during the Middle Ages as well.

Products of the Ganja potters were recognized in one of the available sources. They were characterized as “masters who know their job well”. Excellent types of clay from the surrounding territories were processed in two big workshops of the city and then transformed into faience items of high quality.

Although the mastery of pottery dates back to the old times, one can’t say that it is outdated nowadays. It has retained its place in Azerbaijani handicraft in modern days, too. More developed means of production allow craftsmen to present various samples, especially modern-shaped ones.

Azerbaijan’s attractiveness for tourism paves the way for increasing tourist inflow into the country year-on-year and it gives an impetus to keeping pottery afloat. An interest shown by foreigners in pottery products proves that it has captured their hearts. Locals are not indifferent to pottery, either.

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British Muslims Get New TV Channel

OnIslam & Newspapers Saturday, 07 June 2014 LONDON – A few days ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, British Muslims have announced the planned launch of a special TV channel which will join a growing number of specialized channels broadcasting to the growing Muslim minority.

“In some ways British Muslim TV couldn’t come at a better time,” Abdul-Rehman Malik, who is programs director at Radical Middle Way, told Al Arabiya News on Friday, June 6, referring to an increasing spotlight on British Muslims and Islam.

“The handwringing over what it means to be “British” and the growing unease about Britain’s place in Europe and the World, stands in sharp contrast to the reality of most British Muslims who are comfortably cosmopolitan, multilingual, multicultural and at home in Britain and the world.”

Planned to hit the airwaves later this month, the channel cast has been working to create content that reflects the different voices of the Muslim community in the UK and to embody the tag line “Confidently Muslim, Comfortably British”.

The channel has already generated interest through a social media campaign on both Facebook and Twitter. Along with social media advertisement, the channel has been undergoing planning since the start of 2014, establishing substantial “pre-sold advertising” to make the concept into a reality.

The channel would have a line-up of programs that include entertainment and educational formats such as “Teenie Vision” for younger audiences, lifestyle shows like “Halal Kitchen” and political/current affairs based programs.

Lauren Booth, a British journalist and sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be hosting her own show called “Talking Booth,” a one-to-one interview show featuring high profile guests.

The diverse programs would cope with a rising, diverse Muslim community which practices UK’s fastest growing religion. “British Muslim communities are diverse, complex and messy. We deserve quality media – television, print, radio, online – that is similarly diverse,” Malik said.

“We have plenty of amateurs in the media-sphere, but quality is lacking. To really be a game changer, BMTV has to present quality programming with strong editorial direction and vision. “It has to be willing to take risks. It can’t be all things to all people, but it can present programming that speak to the diverse communities it claims to service,” he added.

Though British Muslim TV is not the first Islamic channel in the UK, it is expected to gain trust of Muslims who have been asking for high-quality programming. “We’re really passionate about bringing content that’s relative to the generations of today, so we made sure that our programming isn’t solely made up from presenters or content from overseas,” Wasim Akhtar, Director of Marketing and Communications, told Al Arabiya on Friday, June 6.

“As a result, we feel we will provide both Muslim and non-Muslim communities with news, views and insights into how British Muslims live today.”

Akhtar added that while Islam Channel is watched by approximately 60 per cent of Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims, it has regularly faced criticisms regarding its overemphasis on fundraising programs.

British Muslim TV aims to be different from the other Muslim based channels in the UK by being: “inclusive of all different views and open to all different types of Muslims,” Akhtar said. “So the channel isn’t just about issues of faith, it’s about practical Muslim life here in Britain.”

Channels for Muslim communities in the UK are not new and have been broadcasting in the UK since 2004. Islam Channel is one of this country’s most prominent and popular free-to-air, English language Muslim satellite channels.

Other channels like Noor TV, Peace TV and Iqra TV have a South Asian focus, with some of the content broadcast in Urdu or Bangladeshi. More recently, Shiite focused channels have also emerged like Hidayet TV and Ahlebait TV.

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Australia Documentary Defends Islam

OnIslam & News Agencies Sunday, 01 June 2014 SYDNEY – A new eye-opening documentary film that shows the true nature of Islam has been approved to be shown to high school students in South Australia, in a step forward towards fighting discrimination against the religious minority.

“For a younger generation who haven’t necessarily always gone to schools and which they are learning to live and lead deal with people of different background, it’s easy for them to apply a particular kind of prejudices,” Professor AbdouMaliq Simone, University of South Australia director of the International Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding, told ABC on Saturday, May 31.

“These young people have inherited certain kinds of notions about what faith is, about what the right way to do things are.”

Produced by the University of South Australia, the short documentary explores identity, prejudice and stereotyping faced by young Muslims in Australia.

The 20-minute film features young Muslims who describe their experiences, shedding light on the harassment, abuse and struggle of Muslims in the western country.

The short film also aims to “give students a sense of the ordinary among others who seem different to them,” according to Professor Simone.

Seeking an effective outreach, the short film will be shown in all secondary schools in South Australia. The documentary was hailed by South Australia schools’ principals who deemed it very “convenient” for the students.

“It was age appropriate, sensitively done, and there was a lovely authenticity about the case studies,” said Pam Ronan, the principal of the Christian school St Francis de Sales College in the Adelaide Hills that will show the short film.

Showing the film to her year 10, 11 and 12 students at a time, Ronan hopes to raise awareness of Muslims’ contributions in the Australian society among students. The documentary offered a window to many Australian Muslims to share their own experiences of facing discrimination.

“When there’s a war abroad, or when a suicide bomber happens, and everybody knows you’re Muslim or Arab, you’re confronted for some unknown reason with the responsibility to either explain your distance to what happened or your familiarity with why it happened,” Yassir Morsi, one of the four young Muslims who feature in the film, said. “In that sense I think that’s when Australia’s unfortunate racism comes to the fore.”

Morsi added that he hopes that the documentary would raise reasonable questions surrounding his faith, challenging the dominating negative image. “For instance, what it may mean to be a minority in Australia, what it may mean to constantly be observed or possibly, is it really as big a problem as they make it out to be?” he said.

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

In January, The first group of Muslim students have completed masters in Islamic studies from Australia’s Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilization of Charles Sturt University.

Yet, Australian far-rights have escalated their hate campaigns against the Muslim community recently. Last week, a Queensland Christian college fired two Muslim student teachers for wearing hijab. The incident has sparked angry Muslim reactions who said they were “disappointed” by the discriminatory decision.

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Oman wins tourism marketing award

Oman Daily Observer – 05 June, 2014 – The Sultanate has won the best tourism marketing award at the Global Tourism Expo held in Seoul, the capital of Korea from May 29 to June 1. The 27th edition of the exhibition witnessed the participation of 60 countries and 500 global travel and tourism institutions. The Omani pavilion at the expo displayed photographs and paintings of Omani natural sceneries and diverse tourist attractions. The Sultanate’s Ambassador to Korea, Mohammed al Harthy gave a visual presentation on the rich heritage, cultural, natural and geological aspects of Oman. Al Harthy also met with representatives of various travel organisations to discuss cooperation and flights regulation needed.

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Young generation to reshape Gulf travel market

Khaleej Times – 06 June, 2014 – Traditional travel behaviours of GCC population are poised to undergo an inevitable transformation in 15 years, with the upcoming tech-savvy generation turning instinctively to mobile technologies and social media to plan, book and manage travel, a research reveals.

As the young population of the region will reshape the travel industry in the region, additional unfolding demographic factors such as steady inflow of expatriate workers, robust natural population growth and a growing middle class will combine to drive a new and divergent set of travel behaviours and needs in the region, says the Amadeus-commissioned report “Shaping the Future of Travel in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Big Travel Effects.”

“Today, nearly 25 per cent of the GCC population is under 15 years of age, and as this demographic becomes tomorrow’s decision makers, traditional travel behaviours will witness a transformation and become increasingly self-directed,” the report said.

Air passenger traffic in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Oman is expected to grow at a 6.6 per cent, 6.9 per cent, and 7.5 per cent compound annual growth rate respectively, between 2012 and 2017 as the Middle East aviation market is expected to receive the delivery of 2,610 aircraft between 2012 and 2032, valued at $ 550 billion.

As a result, the Middle East region will have a total fleet size of 2,850 aircraft in 2032 and the total air passenger traffic on outbound routes from the region is expected to outpace that on traditional routes such as Europe – Europe, Europe – North America, and North America – North America, Alpen Capital said in a recent report.

The report, researched and collated by Frost & Sullivan and Insights and commissioned by Amadeus, examines and contextualises the various ways a new travel landscape will develop in the Gulf region over the next 15 years.

“The Gulf region is poised for a new era of travel as investment in infrastructure, new tourism sectors, and governmental initiatives to ease intra- and extra-regional movement and make the GCC more attractive to leisure and business travellers,” said Antoine Medawar, Vice President, MENA, Amadeus.

“Travel providers who address the nuanced needs of the region’s population are likely to thrive in the coming decades. At Amadeus our people, our technology and our innovation are dedicated to helping our customers and partners shape the future of travel in this region,” said Medawar.

The research also finds that economies in the GCC are diversifying beyond oil, and specialist tourism sectors such as cruises, meetings and conferences and medical tourism play a prominent role in this diversification. “As a result, the GCC countries have maintained an average GDP growth of over five per cent in the past decade, with a greater increase expected in the future.”

Another find of the research is that tourism will have a trickle-down effect into other sectors, furthering economic growth and diversification. Hospitality and construction in particular will benefit as the number of travellers entering or passing through the region increases – Qatar expects 3.7 million tourists in 2022 around the FIFA World Cup and is investing $ 20 billion on tourism infrastructure and $ 140 billion on transport.

The report also notes that with the GCC working to make travel easier, both within the region and outbound, improved visa accessibility within the region and abroad is expected to increase the number of intra-regional travellers to four-fold by 2030.

“Travel in the Gulf region is changing. Economic diversification and a move from oil is an important driver, but there are several subtle factors at play too. Changes in population and geopolitical pressure to open borders and make movement easier are also impacting the future of travel here,” observed Mona Faraj, Managing Partner, Insights.

The report, researched and collated by Frost & Sullivan and Insights and commissioned by Amadeus by surveying over 1,000 travellers from the region as well as through interviews with thought leaders in the travel industry.

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UAE, Tatarstan to strengthen investment partnership

Khaleej Times – 07 June, 2014 – The UAE and Tatarstan have expressed their strong desire to enhance economic and trade relations between the two countries in various fields.

They resolved to establish strategic partnerships in the industrial, oil, petrochemical, agricultural, educational and health domains.

This came during the meeting, held on Thursday in Kazan, Capital City of Tatarstan, between the two sides. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy and Tatarstan President, Rustam Minnikhanov co-chaired the meeting. They explored available investment opportunities between the government and private sectors in the two countries.

Minnikhanov and Al Mansouri opened the first UAE-Tatarstan Investment Forum, on the sidelines of the 6th International Economic Summit of Russia and OIC countries, Kazan Summit 2014, which kicked off on Thursday. The two-day summit named the UAE the guest of honour of the current edition.

The UAE-Tatarstan Investment Forum focusses on ways to strengthen cooperation ties between the two friendly countries, in addition to tackling joint investment opportunities in the real estate development, investment, industrial, agricultural aviation services and hospitality domains.

Prime Minister of the Republic of Tatarstan, Khalikov Ildar Shafkatovich and a number of ministers, financial, industrial, economic figures attended the opening ceremony.

During the discussion session, Tatarstan president hailed the rapid development attained by the UAE in the economic, development and tourist fields under the leadership of the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

He added that Tatarstan seeks to share the UAE’s development experience through establishing economic and investment partnerships between the government and private sectors of both countries, especially in the petrochemical industries fields, citing that his country produces annually about 33 million tonnes of oil. He also shed light on other important sectors in Tatarstan.

Al Mansouri affirmed the importance of establishing the investment partnerships in the medical and educational fields.

The UAE delegation included Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Saleh, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Economy-Foreign Trade Sector, 40 representatives of government entities, and a number of senior officials of the ministry.

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flydubai doubles network in India

Saudi Gazette – 03 June, 2014 – Dubai-based flydubai operations to Delhi, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram took off on June 1 with four weekly flights to Delhi and three weekly flights to both Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram on June 2 and 3 respectively, bringing the total number of Indian cities served by the carrier to six, including its existing routes Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Lucknow.

Ghaith Al Ghaith, Chief Executive Officer of flydubai, said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the authorities for granting us the approval to operate these flights between Dubai and India. The two nations share a lot of historic and cultural ties and the new flights will increase the trade and tourism potential while enabling the Indian expatriate community in the UAE to travel home to visit friends and family more often.”

flydubai has seen strong demand for its flights since the start of its operations to India in 2010. The carrier was set up by the Dubai Government to offer passengers convenient and reliable services and an unrivalled onboard experience and create free flows of trade and tourism in previously underserved markets.

Sudhir Sreedharan, Senior Vice President Commercial (GCC, Subcontinent, Africa) for flydubai, said: “These new flights will give passengers from different regions in India direct links to Dubai, enhancing flight connectivity beyond the city to GCC countries and to destinations in Africa, Central Asia, Russia and Europe, most of which have no or very few direct links to India.”

flydubai will deploy Business Class configured aircraft on all three new routes, giving passengers the option of a more personalized flying experience on the ground and in the air.

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Prime Minister calls for joint Arab projects

Gulf Daily News – 03 June, 2014 – His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa says that the way is now paved to launch joint Arab investments and projects thanks to the Arab nation’s huge potential and their solid relations.

He was speaking as he received at Gudaibiya Palace yesterday Council of Arab Businesswomen (CABW) President Shaikha Hessa Saad Al Abdulla Al Sabah.

The Premier hailed the role of CABW in supporting Arab businesswomen and enhancing co-operation among them and highlighted the importance of Arab economic development as a cornerstone of security and stability. He wished the president and members of the council every success.

Shaikha Hessa praised the advanced level reached by Bahraini women in all fields, particularly economic. She lauded the Premier’s interest in CABW and keenness to facilitate its work.

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Qatar Airways gets IATA’s ‘Fast Travel Green Award’

Gulf Times – 05 June, 2014 – Qatar Airways was recognised for its innovation in passenger comfort by being awarded the “Fast Travel Green Award” instituted by IATA. The 70th IATA (International Air Transport Association) Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Transport Summit 2014 concluded in Doha on Tuesday after a series of “successful rounds” of deliberations, key resolutions, negotiations and agreements were passed.

The event held for the first time in the Gulf region was heralded as a “great success” by IATA officials, senior airline management among others who attended the three-day conference in Doha.

Qatar Airways led by CEO Akbar al-Baker was widely praised for hosting a memorable and engaging conference. Al-Baker was also president of this year’s IATA AGM in Doha.

IATA welcomed and recognised the participation of Qatar Airways and the newly opened Hamad International Airport in two key industry programmes that will help in enhancing security and passenger convenience.

Al-Baker said, “Qatar Airways is immensely proud to have hosted this year’s IATA AGM. It was just one year ago in Cape Town that we gathered for this forum, and now the 70th IATA AGM has finally become a reality being held in Doha and the GCC region for the very first time.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to have all the senior aviation representatives in Doha and we sincerely hope the agreements and resolutions passed will help in further strengthening our industry. With the expansion of the aviation industry and the ever-growing aircraft manufacturing sector, we have together made travel easily accessible for the masses. Together we have opened up borders and air bridges, making ways for enriched business and cultural exchanges.

“Qatar Airways is a strong supporter of IATA and this year’s AGM has been a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase our Qatari hospitality, together with the new infrastructural developments in our country, such as our new state-of-the-art Hamad International Airport.”

Among the many events held during the three day conference was a high profile CEO Forum.

Qatar Airways has seen a rapid growth in just 17 years of its operation. Today, it is flying a modern fleet of some 134 aircraft to 141 key business and leisure destinations across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and South America.

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Professional bodies to boost tourism

Arab News – 05 June, 2014 – The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) is optimistic that the country’s professional tourism bodies would help grow the industry.

Faisal bin Mansur Al-Fadel, the SCTA’s director general for legal affairs, said the private sector would play an important role in ensuring there is proper regulation and development of tourism activities, fair competition and equal opportunities for investors.

The Kingdom recently outlined several measures to boost the country’s tourism sector as part of its overall economic diversification plan. This includes training and employing many young Saudis in the industry.

The General Strategy for National Tourism (GSNT), approved by the Council of Ministers recently, has recommended the establishment of professional tourism associations to support the government’s efforts.

Al-Fadel said the associations would help improve channels of communication between the private and public sectors, assist the SCTA in enforcing regulations, and mediate disputes to prevent matters being taken to court.

The Cabinet recently approved three laws to regulate the activities of the Saudi Society for Tourist Accommodation Facilities, Saudi Society for Tourist Guides and Saudi Society for Travel and Tourism.

The Cabinet decision established three nonprofit professional associations, “enjoying legal and independent financial status, to develop tourist accommodation facilities, promote tour guides and boost travel and tourism.”

The associations are mandated to take care of the interests of their members, provide them with social and cultural services, attract private investments, and hold certified training and education courses.

The three associations would each have a general assembly, a board of directors, and an executive director supervising the executive body in terms of technical, financial and administrative functions.

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Investor confidence, tourism boosts hotel capacity in UAE

Khaleej Times – 02 June, 2014 – The UAE’s tourism and hospitality industry is expected to record all-round vibrant growth over the next five years in the backdrop of increased investor confidence, reviving some stalled hotel projects as international operators seek to boost their hotel footprint, new research by JLL reveals.

The ongoing boom in the tourism and hospitality sector will lead to a major capacity boost for the hotel industry, argues the report. “More than 28,000 additional rooms are expected to be built in the country by 2016, with Dubai and the Abu Dhabi comprising almost 50 per cent and 31 per cent of the development pipeline, respectively,” the latest JLL Hotel Intelligence Report said.

At present, Dubai and Abu Dhabi account for 86 per cent of the hotel supply in the country estimated at 590 hotels with more than 93,000 rooms. International operators control about 68 per cent of the total hotel room inventory and the majority of supply is concentrated in the upscale (4 and 5 star) segment, the report said.

The JLL report said there had been an increase in hotel development activity over the last two years due to the encouraging signs in the tourism sector and wider economy. “With increased investor confidence, older projects have been revived and new projects announced with international operators constantly trying to increase their hotel footprint in the UAE.”

JLL notes that Dubai remains the market leader by trading performance and tourist arrivals, where successful growth strategies to diversify the tourism demand base have enhanced its image as a premium global tourism destination. “The city is expected to continue on its sustainable growth path with a balanced demand and supply dynamic in the short to medium-term,” it said.

Abu Dhabi on the other hand has witnessed selective recovery in hotel performance across the city. “As the capital’s tourism and leisure offerings develop, the hospitality sector is poised to witness growth in the medium to long term.”

Abu Dhabi’s hotel demand has been driven by strong performance in the corporate and MICE segments, but the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority has increasingly focused on developing the emirate as a leading destination for leisure tourism, said the report. The number of tourists in Abu Dhabi has increased gradually since 2004, from less than one million to approximately 2.8 million in 2013. The larger tourist numbers, along with an average length of stay of 3.13 nights, resulted in almost 5.31 million guest nights in 2013, JLL pointed out.

“The synergies in strategies between key drivers, such as airlines and travel sectors underpin the increasing popularity of the UAE as a tourist destination. Such synergies are executed in attracting new markets, by way of destination marketing by tourism authorities, coupled with introducing direct air connections to the those markets,” said Chiheb Ben-Mahmoud, Executive Vice President – Head of Hotels & Hospitality Group, Middle East & Africa at JLL. “There has been an increase in hotel development activity over the last two years due to the encouraging signs in the tourism sector and wider economy. With increased investor confidence, older projects have been revived and new projects announced with international operators constantly trying to increase their hotel footprint in the UAE,” said Mahmoud.

The report notes that the Northern Emirates, in particular Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, have emerged as key getaway destinations registering rapid growth in tourist arrivals. Continued marketing efforts and completion of master-planned projects in these emirates will be key drivers to establish their position as a tourist destination.

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Saudi Tourism Authority to develop geo-tourism

Arab News – 03 June, 2014 – In a move seen as a major step forward, the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) has joined hands with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) to develop geo-tourism by reviewing the list of geological sites under consideration and work out a comprehensive formula to enable the new trend of tourism in the Kingdom.

An SCTA official said Saturday that the commission along with the Geological Survey has begun a project to determine a number of sites for development under the geological tourism project.

Geo-tourism is tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place, including rocks, its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.

In tourism industry parlance geo-tourism is a niche market with considerable growth prospects at the global level.

“The SCTA explored the international experiences to adopt them in the development of geo-tourism in the Kingdom,” the official pointed out.

As the tourism sector in the Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented growth and also contributing handsomely to the national GDP and job market with new opportunities for the Saudi youth, this new dimension of tourism is expected to take tourism to new highs by transforming the deserts from empty wastelands into a revenue-generating source and offering employment opportunities.

“A joint meeting was held in this respect by the representatives of SCTA and SGS at the commission’s headquarters to review a list of geological sites that are to be developed in the next five years,” the official underlined.

Osama Al-Khelaiwi, director general of tourism sites development at SCTA, said the development of geo-tourism is a strategic goal for SCTA as it has a promising future and is a source for domestic and international tourism in the Kingdom.

He said two projects will be selected as a model and a nucleus for the development of geo-tourism in the short term and a geological site will also be developed as the first geological park in the Kingdom.

The World Tourism Organization (WTO) in a report recently announced that Saudi deserts have a huge potential for geo-tourism.

“For a country like Saudi Arabia, where a huge segment of its geographical area is desert, there is great potential to develop geological tourism,” the world tourism body said.

According to the official, the prominent sites that will come under the project are Wadi Al-Desa in Tabuk, Al-Shag, Al-Hawiya and Al-Gharameel in the Madinah Province, Al Waba, Harat Khaibar, Harat Rahat, Jabal Gadr, Masar Harat Rahat, Um Jarsan Cave (Kuhf Um Jarsan) in the Western Province, Tanuma in the Asir Province and Lajab Valley (Wadi Lajab) in Najran Province.

He informed that the joint meeting discussed a report on the field survey made by the advisory team of the ‘development of the geo-tourism project’ in the Kingdom.

The meeting also reviewed the mechanism of nomination for three sites and discussed the report on the selection of the geological site being registered as an International natural heritage site, besides the most important requirements that should be observed and followed as a technical criteria in the evaluation of the site, he added.

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Dubai has $240 billion worth of mega projects under way

Khaleej Times – 03 June, 2014 – Meraas Holdings’ Jumeirah Gardens project, the biggest in terms of value, is estimated at $ 89.5 billion and is due for completion in 2021.

Ten mega projects in Dubai, worth almost $ 240 billion, are set for completion over the next six to 16 years, data compiled by Meed Projects shows.

Meraas Holdings’ Jumeirah Gardens project, the biggest in terms of value, is estimated at $ 89.5 billion and is due for completion in 2021, followed by Dubai Holding’s Dubai Land development, valued at $ 61 billion with a completion date set in 2020, according to Meed Projects, which tracks various construction projects across the region.

The ongoing $ 16.7 billion Dubai World Central development that will be completed in 2030 came in next, followed by Limitless’ Downtown Jebel Ali project, estimated at $ 14.6 billion set for completion in 2020, said the data released ahead of the forthcoming Dubai Real Estate 2020 conference.

“Rounding up the top five is the Al Jadaf Area Development Culture Village (Arabian Bays) project by Dubai Holding which has a budget of $ 11.6bn to be completed by 201,” said Meed.

The landmark projects include the ongoing Business Bay project, currently valued at $ 11.2 billion, which is expected to be fully completed in two years’ time; as well as Mohammed bin Rashid City, which is being developed jointly by Dubai Holding, Emaar and Meydan Sobha at a cost of $ 11 billion for completion in 2023.

Emaar’s Downtown Dubai development project, with a budget of $ 10.9 billion, is expected to be fully realised in 2020, the time when Meydan also hopes to complete the full development of its Meydan City project at a cost of $ 7.3 billion. Add to this the Dubai government’s Expo 2020 build-up, which will cost $ 7 billion and will be in place by 2019, Meed said in a statement.

“As the market revives there is an imperative need for more accurate, real-time and definitive information on Dubai’s real estate sector to manage the risk of overheating of the sector,” said Edmund O’Sullivan, chairman of Meed Events, the organisers of Dubai Real Estate 2020.

The event will create a platform for Dubai’s regulators and leading real estate institutional investors, government and private developers, lenders, advisors, consultants and property professionals to discuss issues and identify solutions for the emirate to move towards a more mature real estate market. Highlights of the conference include critical discussions by the UAE Central Bank, the Dubai Land Department and the Real Estate Regulatory Authority on fiscal regulations, reducing the dependency of developers on investors and limiting speculative buying, as well as a Dubai Municipality presentation outlining the future real-estate development plans, land release programmes and the overall master plan for the city.

The Dubai Real Estate 2020 conference will address the development and sustainable evolution of Dubai’s real-estate market — the world’s fastest growing real-estate market according to Forbes magazine — with fresh insights from leading local and international property experts.

“The UAE property market is currently experiencing an exciting phase in its development with a number of significant projects scheduled to break ground and many already underway. These projects will drive growth in the property market and the wider UAE economy including the hospitality and retail sectors. Winning World Expo 202 added further stimulus to a buoyant economy underpinned by a rising population, booming tourism industry and significant environmental, cultural and infrastructure projects,” said Ian Albert, regional director of Colliers International Middle East.

Business Monitor International said in its second-quarter 2014 update that construction projects worth $ 212 billion are under construction in the UAE but only $ 25.3 billion projects are in the tendering or pre-tender phase.

Chesterton, an international property agency, said projects valued at more than $ 12 billion had resumed construction work in the UAE over the past year-and-a-half. Projects worth more than $ 5 billion have reportedly been awarded during the first quarter of the year and around $ 23 billion worth of projects are expected to be awarded in 2014. “This clearly reflects the positive sentiment in the investment scenario of the economy which is expected to continue in medium term,” Chesterton said in a report.

According to estimates by property experts, the total value of project awards in the UAE will be close to $ 50 billion in 2014, which is 10 per cent higher than 2013 when projects worth $ 44 were awarded.

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