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28 Jul, 2014

“I Felt So Good”: Even Hindus Joined The Ramadan Fast

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 28 July 2014 (1 Shawwal 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



كل عام و انتم بخير

Islamic Travel Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil and Assistant Editor Sana Muqbil Shamsi wish all our readers EID UL FITR MUBARAK. We pray that the Holy Month of Ramadan has led to some deep soul-searching and that the year ahead will see the Islamic world emerge from its state of self-inflicted darkness, disunity and despair and finally attain enlightenment, peace and wisdom.



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.



Chinese tourists to Maldives grows 20.2% in first half of 2014

(Xinhua) 2014-07-23 – Tourist numbers to Maldives have passed the 600,000 mark in the first six months of 2014 with China posting a hefty 20.2-percent growth from the previous year, the Maldives Tourism Ministry said in its latest data on Tuesday.

In total 601,513 tourists have visited Maldives in the first six months of 2014. This is an 11.5-percent increase compared to the corresponding period of last year when 539,667 tourists visited the string of islands in the Indian Ocean famous for its pristine beaches.

China currently holds the record for the most number of tourist arrivals from a single country with 171,249 tourists entering Maldives this year so far.

Most of the tourists who visited Maldives this year came from the European countries. A total of 279,886 tourists from various European countries have visited Maldives this year so far.

Among the European countries, most of the tourists who visited Maldives appear to be from Germany with a total of 43,188 tourists.

Asia and the Pacific Region held the second-most number of arrivals, 279,621, at the end of June 2014, leading to a growth rate of 22.3 percent for the period.

Even though the number of tourist arrivals have increased, the amount of time they spend in the Maldives has decreased by 0.4 percent, the Maldives Tourism Ministry said in its data. According to the statistics, a tourist spends an average of 6.3 days in the Maldives.

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

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Samina Baig becomes first Pakistani woman to conquer seven highest peaks

ISLAMABAD, (Dawn.com), July 27th, 2014: No mountain is high enough for Samina Baig, who became the first Pakistani woman to climb all seven highest peaks in the seven continents in just under eight months. “We had the greatest honour to hoist our green flag on the seven summits,” said Mirza Ali who accompanied Samina Baig on the seven summits adventure, updating his Facebook page.

At 9am, Samina Baig stood at the top of Mt Elbrus, the highest peak in Russia, with her brother, holding the Pakistani flag high for a picture. With this summit, the 23 years old climber completed the challenge of climbing seven of the highest mountains around the world, including Mount Everest which she conquered in May, 2013.

Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) confirmed the news on Saturday. “We are planning a reception for Samina Baig when she returns this week,” said ACP Executive Council Member Karrar Haidri.

The two flew out to Russia, after Alaska, where they pushed to capture the highest mountain in Europe, Mt Elbrus, which is 5,642 metres tall, bringing their ‘Seven Summits’ adventure to an end.

Samina Baig was part of an adventure diplomacy mission, funded by a few passionate climbers outside Pakistan, a few embassies in Islamabad and managed by the Serena Hotels, with no support from the government of Pakistan.

“The adventure diplomacy, gender equality and women empowerment project came to its amazing end with great success,” Mirza Ali said on his Facebook page. He also updated the news on his twitter account for the followers of the two climbers.

Hailing from Shimshal Valley in Hunza, both climbers had summated Mt McKinley, Alaska, reaching 6,168 metres into the sky on July 3. Samina Baig became the first Pakistani woman to climb to the top of the highest mountain in North America.

“Samina Baig set the record of capturing the summits in record age of 23 years and record time,” said Mirza Ali on his Facebook page.

In March, Samina Baig and Mirza Ali reached the top of the 4,884 metres-high Mount Carstensz Pyramid, the highest peak in Indonesia. In the last six months, the duo Samina Baig and Mirza Ali had made history in December when they climbed Mt Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak in South America.

In January, they conquered the highest peak in Antarctica, Mt Vinson, and then the 5,895 metres-high Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in February.

Last year, Mirza Ali was unable to reach the top of Mount Everest. His plan had changed after an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas and climbers on Mount Everest, which was considered one of the deadliest accidents in climbing history.

Summating Mount Everest is still on his to do list, said Mirza Ali. If he also climbs Everest, the brother and sister will be the first siblings in the world to conquer the seven summits.

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Over two million worshippers throng holy mosques

Makkah, Saturday, 28 Ramadan 1435/ 26 July 2014 (IINA) – More than two million faithful thronged the Two Holy Mosques to offer Ramadan’s last Friday prayers.

Authorities had put in place all arrangements to ensure ease and comfort for them amid scorching sun. The passion and fervor of the devout could be gauged by the fact that the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah were full to the brim more than a couple of hours before the noon prayers. All the floors and courtyards and King Abdullah Expansion Project in the Grand Mosque were full of worshipers. The rows of worshipers spilled over to the streets of central area. According to estimates, over 1.5 million worshipers offered prayers in the Grand Mosque led by Sheikh Saud Al-Sheraim.
Sheikh Salah Al-Budair was the imam in the Prophet’s Mosque where about half a million worshipers offered prayers in an atmosphere of piety and devotion.

On Thursday night, the 27th night of Ramadan, popularly considered the Night of Power, over three million faithfuls in the Grand Mosque supplicated Almighty Allah to pardon their evil deeds. There were poignant scenes all over with many worshipers crying loudly beseeching Allah to have mercy on them and on the Ummah and favoring world peace and tranquility. Leading the Qiyamul Lail (late night) prayers, Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, chief of the Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, supplicated for the Muslims in general and those in Palestine in particular. He also sought Allah’s mercy in ending the sufferings of Muslims in different parts of the world.

Meanwhile, all preparations have been made for the Khatmul Qur’an (end of the recitation of the Holy Book in taraweeh) in the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque on Saturday, where over three million worshipers are expected to gather. Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, arrived in Makkah Friday to oversee all arrangements till the end of Ramadan.

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Two tourism buses launched in Tehran’s district 12

Tehran, July 27, IRNA — Two tourism buses will be launched in Tehran Municipality’s District 12 in the second half of the current Iranian year (Sept. 23, 2014-March 20, 2015), said managing director of Tehran Bus Company.

Monday edition of the English language newspaper Iran Daily quoted Peyman Sanandaji as saying that the two buses are to familiarize tourists with the history of ancient monuments and cultural centers in Persian, English and Arabic. Sanandaji also said the buses work from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

They are active on two loop routes. One route starts from Imam Khomeini Square, crosses 30th Tir Street, Jomhouri Street, Shahid Mostafa Khomeini Street, Sarcheshmeh Junction, Amir Kabir Street and terminates at Imam Khomeini Square.

Historical monuments such as Post Office, Abgineh Museum, National Majlis Building, Adrian Fire Temple and National Garden Gateway are located on this route.

The other route stretches from the southern end of Imam Khomeini Square, passes Khayyam Street, Molavi Street, Sarcheshmeh Junction and terminates at Imam Khomeini Square.

Ancient sites such as Tehran Bazaar, Bank Tejarat historical building, Bank Sepah ancient building, Golestan Palace and Khanat Caravansary are located on this route.

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Oman A’duqm Authority Celebrates Early Operation Of A’duqm Airport On Wednesday

A’DUQM, Oman, July 20 (NNN-ONA) – As part of the events organised to mark the blessed Renaissance 44th anniversary, the Special Economic Zone Authority in Duqm (SEZAD), will celebrate on July 23, the early operation of A’Duqm Airport.

The celebration is to be held in collaboration and cooperation with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Public Authority for Civil Aviation and Meteorology and Oman Airport Management Company.

The celebration of the early operation of A’Duqm airport comes after completing the works of the runway, internal roads, safety and security tests on the runway and trial landing.

Yahya bin Said al-Jabri, Chairman of SEZAD, expressed his joy for the early operation, which coincides with the blessed Renaissance Day celebrations, and hailed the achievements made by the Sultanate since July 23, 1970.

In a press statement, he said, ‘The simple celebration that will be held at SEZAD next Wednesday, will be under the sponsorship of Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Salim al- Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, in the presence of a number of officials at SEZAD, the Public Authority for Civil Aviation and Meteorology, Oman Air, Oman Airport Management Company and companies operating in the Zone. as well as sheikhs and dignitaries of the Governorate of Al Wusta.

Al- Jabri pointed out that, the early operation of A’Duqm Airport will facilitate access to SEZAD by investors, employees in the Zone and citizens. It will save the time and effort that was consumed during travel between Muscat and A’Duqm.

He pointed out that SEZAD and Oman Air consider operating a regular route between Muscat and A’Duqm, instead of leading flights – the system in use currently.

He also said that, SEZAD is looking forward to having daily and regular flights between Muscat and A’Duqm and to make A’Duqm Airport open for charter and shipping flights. The number of flights will be increased to 4 a week (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday) instead of 3 flights between Muscat and Ja’aloni.

“A’Duqm Airport is an important pillar in rehabilitating A’Duqm, to be a regional transportation and logistics hub,” he continued.

It should be noted that last June SEZAD, in cooperation with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, was awarded the contract for the third package, which includes the passenger terminal, the 37-metre high air control tower, the control building, the air cargo building and the firefighting building.

The award of the third package comes after the completion of the first two packages, which include the airport runway and the internal roads.

The passenger terminal stretches over 5,700 square metres and the passenger terminal capacity is 500,000 passengers per annum, at the first stage. The air cargo building, which stretches over 8,000 square metres, will enable the airport to handle about 20,000 tonnes of cargo items each year. The third package is expected to be completed during 2016.

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Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Heads Down Under To Build On Growing Australian Link

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, July 21 (NNN-WAM) – Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry is heading for Australia later this month, for a three-destination road-show, aimed at capitalising on growing awareness in, and business from, ‘Down Under.’

A nine-strong industry delegation, led by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and including Etihad Airways, DMCs, hoteliers, tour operators and Yas Island representatives, will be in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane from July 29-31, training retail travel agents and MICE consultants on the latest destination offerings.

The road-show comes just weeks after Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the U.A.E., sealed a five-year sponsorship deal with leading Australian football team, Melbourne City F.C. and follows the airline’s July 15 launch of daily services from Perth to Abu Dhabi.

“Our timing could not be better,” said Mubarak Al Nuaimi, Director, Promotions and Overseas Offices, TCA Abu Dhabi. “Etihad’s new sponsorship deal and the new Perth flights will bring increasing focus on Abu Dhabi and we need to capitalise on this.

“We anticipate meeting around 350 agents and consultants from both the leisure and MICE segments, including key influencers from Australia’s top retail travel chains and wholesalers and tour operators, who currently contract Arabian Peninsula products.”

The roadshow comes as more Australians than ever, check into Abu Dhabi’s hotels and hotel apartments. In the first five months of this year, some 16,952 Australians stayed in the emirate’s hotels – an 8% rise on the same period last year. In all, the Australians delivered 62,187 guest nights – a 15% year-on-year up-swing and stayed, on average, 3.67 nights – which is up 7% on last year.

Abu Dhabi’s tourism stakeholders believe that more can be achieved from the Australian market, particularly from visiting friends and relatives, and the stop-over trade.

The management of Abu Dhabi’s entertainment destination of Yas Island, says that, Australia represents a significant and developing share of its business.

“Yas Island is very keen to build on both the existing stop-over market and the point-to-point market from Australia,” said Clive Dwyer, Director, Yas Island Destination Management.

“We are capitalising on our convenient location for long-haul travellers, whether they are seeking a memorable short break, or are here for a long stay, to indulge in our unique destination offerings. We’re also planning to further tap into the visiting friends and relatives market from Australia, as well as, point-to-point for those looking to conduct inspiring, unconventional business events.”

Dwyer estimates around 30,000 Australians visit Yas Island per year, with an average annual growth rate of 4%. “This stems from a strong interest in sporting events and activities, such as the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Yas Links Abu Dhabi golf course, as well as from Yas Island’s world-renowned theme parks – Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi,” he said.

“We expect that the opening of Yas Mall later this year will make Yas Island even more attractive for long-haul travellers to take advantage of, while on their trips to Europe and other destinations.

“The significance of the Australian market to Abu Dhabi as a whole, is also evident in a number of partnerships, including Etihad Airway’s link with Virgin Australia and its major sponsorship of the Etihad Stadium Melbourne Australia, Sport Australia Hall of Fame and Sydney Opera House.”

Australia is now the top room night producer for Etihad’s destination management company, Hala Abu Dhabi, which has tailored specific stopover products for the Australian market and is to launch additional market-relevant initiatives. These include adding 24-hour hotel check-in and out and a B2C booking engine on Etihad’s website, to facilitate stopover bookings.

The five-star, beachfront hotel, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, says that it is benefitting from being part of Etihad Airways’ complimentary stopover and hotel stay scheme.

“We have seen exceptional growth in booked room nights by Australian guests over the past two years. In 2013, the total number results in an outstanding 426% increase, compared to the total number of room nights booked by Australians in 2012. Encouragingly, the positive trend is continuing with Australians booking a further 66% increase in the first five months of this year, when compared to the same period last year,” said Doris Greif, General Manager.

The hotel has this year played host to a number of official Australian government and trade missions, including the recent visit of the Minister of Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, as well as an incentive group from a leading car manufacturer.

“Our Australian guest mix is varied and includes both business and leisure elements, with a large number of them choosing Abu Dhabi as a stopover destination.” DMC Arabian Adventures, which recently appointed a representation company for Australia and New Zealand, says, Australia is now its top leisure source market, producing a 50% increase in business this year over last, with exclusive hotel deals for the Australian market, including 24-hour check-in and check-out.

Abu Dhabi’s four star Mafraq Hotel also reports growing interest from Australia, with guest numbers in the first six months of the year almost reaching its 2013 total.

“The Australian market is still fairly new for us and we will focus this year and next on increasing business from both its leisure and MICE segments,” said Fahim Zaman, Director of Sales and Marketing.

TCA Abu Dhabi is also planning to host a mega familiarisation trip to Abu Dhabi for key Australian travel agents and professionals in Oct.

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No Cancellation Of Tour Packages From Tourists – Tourism Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia July 21 (NNN-Bernama) — Tourism Malaysia has not received information on any immediate cancellation of tour packages from tourists in Europe, including from Russia, Scandinavian and Benelux countries.

However, Tourism Malaysia will monitor the market reaction closely as some tourists from the mentioned areas travel to Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand on Malaysia Airlines (MAS) which also code share with Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM).

“This is the peak period as many tourists from these markets are currently on a long summer break and normally they will use MAS to fly not only to Kuala Lumpur but also to other tourist destinations in the Asean region,” Tourism Malaysia said in a statement.

In the first four months of this year, Malaysia received 31,945 tourists from the Netherlands, an increase of 13.5 per cent over the figure in the same period of 2013.

The same period also saw an increase of tourist arrivals from Eastern Europe with 55,771 (25.1 per cent), Northern Europe 227,545 (8.9 per cent), Southern Europe 46,043 (29.9 per cent) and Western Europe 179,574 (15.9 per cent) as a result of the promotional efforts in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

Last year, Malaysia received a total of 427,995 tourists from Western Europe with 83,955 tourists from the Netherlands, 107,541 from Eastern Europe, 548,729 (Northern Europe) and 109,447 (Southern Europe).

Meanwhile, Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz and Tourism Malaysia expressed their deepest condolences to the families and next of kin of the 298 passengers and crew members of MH17.

“Our sympathies, sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences go to each and everyone affected by this tragedy,” he said.

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Morocco Records 10.64 Pct Increase In Air Passenger Traffic In H1 2014

CASABLANCA, July 25 (NNN-MAP) — Morocco has re orded a 10.64 per cent increase in the number of air passenger traffic in the first half of 2014, the Moroccan Airports Authority (ONDA) says.

The number of international passengers flying into and out of Morocco rose to 8.4 million during the first half of 2014 from 7.5 million passengers during the same period of 2013, the ONDA reported Thursday.

Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, the kingdom’s largest city and a major international tourist destination, and Marrakech-Menara Airport were the busiest airports in the first six months of the year, welcoming 5.9 million passengers, or 69 per cent of the overall air passenger traffic in Morocco.

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First CARICOM-Turkey Foreign Ministers Meeting Opens In Istanbul

FISTANBUL (Turkey), July 19 (NNN-CARIBBEANNEWS) — The first meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was hosted by Ahmet Davutoğlu, minister of foreign affairs of Turkey, in Istanbul on Friday, said the Turkish foreign ministry.

Davutoğlu and Irwin LaRocque, CARICOM secretary general, signed a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of a consultation and cooperation mechanism back in September 2011, with a view to institutionalising relations between Turkey and CARICOM member states.

CARICOM has become an important partner for Turkey, the press release stated, especially that they both share common interests in international organisations.

In March, during the CARICOM heads of government summit in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Turkish foreign minister attended as a special guest. This meeting enhanced Turkish-CARICOM relations and set the groundwork for expanded ties. It was during this meeting that Davutoğlu invited the CARICOM foreign ministers to hold the first meeting between CARICOM foreign ministers and Turkey.

According to the press release, this meeting is the highest level event organised between Turkey and CARICOM, and “will provide an opportunity to evaluate current progress and determine the necessary steps to ensure further development of cooperation and to review our bilateral relations with member states.”

The Turkish foreign ministry said, “The meeting, which constitutes one of the steps aimed at implementing our outreach strategy to different regions of the world, will be the beginning of a new era between Turkey and CARICOM.”

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1,069 Islamic Funds Worldwide Managing Assets Worth US$75.1 Bln – Kfh

KUWAIT, July 19 (NNN-KUNA) — The global stock of Shari’a compliant assets under management (AuM) expanded by a fair 4.9 percent during the first half of 2014, and reached a new high of USD 75.1 billion due to the ongoing capital allocations to Islamic products and performance based gains, a report by the Kuwait Finance House (KFH) has said.

The number of Islamic funds rose from just over 800 in 2008 to an estimated 1,069 as by June 17, 2014, the report added on Friday. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia hold more than 60 percent of total Islamic fund assets globally.

According to the report, the total Islamic finance assets around the globe reached approximately USD 1.8 billion at the end of 2013, and is widely projected to surpass USD 2 trillion as early as the third quarter of this year.

The KFH report also said that the Islamic banking and sukuk sectors continue to dominate the industry, with respective 80 percent and 15 percent shares in aggregate assets.

The industry’s future is expected to be reinforced by growing economic prominence of traditional Muslim jurisdictions, increasing international stakeholder awareness of Islamic finance value propositions, and facilitative regulatory initiatives in aid of Shari’a compliant financial structures in various parts of the world.

European domiciles with pronounced ambitions in Islamic fund management have attracted a significant portion of Islamic AuM – Luxembourg with 8 per cent and Ireland with 4 percent, said the report.

The emerging Islamic finance markets of Indonesia, Pakistan and the UAE have been making commendable progress in Shari’a compliant asset management, alongside other areas of the Islamic finance industry.

The report revealed that equities continue to dominate the portfolios of Islamic asset managers, accounting for 44 percent of total Islamic AuM. The universe of Shari’a compliant stocks around the globe is steadily expanding.

In view of prevailing conservative attitudes among some retail Islamic investors, approximately 16 percent of Shari’a compliant AuM is invested in low-risk money market instruments.

These short-term liquid instruments are especially sought after in Malaysia – it accounts for 27 percent of aggregate Islamic investments in money market securities – which has built up an active domestic Islamic money market.

Shari’a compliant investments in real estate at present make up only a small portion of total Islamic AuM and are made mostly by GCC-focused real estate funds and a few Shari’a compliant real estate investment trusts (REITs) operating out of Malaysia.

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Govt Scheme To Minimise Wastage Of Fruits, Veggies

NEW DELHI, July 22 (NNN-PTI) — Government has launched a scheme for technology upgradation and establishment and modernisation of food processing industries across the country to minimise wastage of perishable fruits and vegetables.

Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said the National Mission of Food Processing will be implemented during the 12th Plan period to set up primary processing centres, collection centres besides technology upgradation, establishment and modernisation of such industries.

“These schemes of the mission are implemented by the state governments and they have full powers to receive sanction and release funds to the eligible applicants,” she said in Lok Sabha.

Badal said the Ministry has entered into an agreement in 2012 with France for promoting cooperation in the field of food processing and allied sectors.

She said under technology upgradation scheme, grant-in-aid has been sanctioned by the Ministry to 3438 units in 11th Plan and 2509 in 12th Plan for setting up and modernisation of food processing industries.

Replying to a supplementary, Badal said government has decided to review the policy to set up Mega Food Parks as out of the 40 such Parks sanctioned, only 22 are in process while proposals of 14 applicants were rejected.

Badal also said for the first time, the country has produced more fruits and vegetables than cereals in 2013.

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Malaysia Can Become A Digital Economy By 2020, Says Minister Ahmad Shabery

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia July 25 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia can meet the challenge of becoming a digital economy by 2020 with the increasing daily use of new technology, said Communication and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

He said with the rapid development in the digital world and the digital-based economy, the information and communication technology (ICT) sector could contribute to the growth of the Gross National Income (GNI) by 2020 by 17 percent compared to 10.5 percent in 2010.

“In 2012 alone, the ICT sector has contributed RM113 billion (12 percent) of the RM941 billion Gross Domestic Product by offering 762,400 jobs.

“Even though it is a big challenge, we can achieved it. Malaysia’s performance was good as it has been placed 12th in the Institute of Management Development World Competitiveness Scoreboard 2014, going up three places from 2013 and 30th in the World Economic Forum’S Global IT Report 2014,” he told a media conference on Digital Malaysia “State of the Digital Economy” Update here today.

Also present were his deputy Jailani Johari, Multimedia Development Corporation (MDec) Corporate Strategy Deputy president Dan E. Khoo and MDEC chief operating officer, Ng Wan Peng.

He said the positive development in the digital economic sector in a short period of time was proof that Malaysia could achieve the status of a world-class data centre by 2020.

“Statistics showed that data is being utilised every 60 seconds. For instance, globally every minute there are 700,000 searches, 178 emails sent, 13,000 applications being downloaded into Iphones and 320 new accounts opened” he said.

He added such data was important for analysis, predictions and targeting new opportunities in the digital economy sector.

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Saudi Arabia To Open $530b Bourse To Foreigners In 2015

RIYADH, July 25 (NNN-AGENCIES) –Saudi Arabia plans to open its stock market, the Arab world’s biggest, to direct investment by foreign financial institutions in the first half of next year, the market regulator said on Tuesday.

The opening of the Saudi market, capitalised at about $530 billion, is one of the most keenly awaited economic reforms in the world’s biggest oil exporter. The bourse would be one of the world’s last major exchanges to begin welcoming foreign money.

“The market will be open to eligible foreign financial institutions to invest in listed shares during the first half of 2015, with God’s permission,” the Capital Market Authority said in a statement.

Saudi authorities want to open the stock market to create jobs, diversify the economy beyond oil and expose local firms to more market discipline. They have been preparing the reform for years and have completed most technical preparations.

But the government has delayed implementing the reform, apparently concerned about causing volatility in the market as well as the political sensitivity of allowing foreigners to build large stakes in top Saudi companies.

Currently, foreigners are limited to buying Saudi stocks via swaps involving international banks and through a small number of exchange-traded funds, which are relatively expensive and inconvenient options. Foreigners are at present believed to own no more than about 5 percent of the Saudi market, and to account for a smaller fraction of stock trading turnover.

Potential foreign interest in Saudi stocks is huge, because of the country’s strong economy – the International Monetary Fund on Monday raised its forecast for Saudi growth this year to 4.6 percent – and the presence of some of the region’s top blue-chip firms.

These include Saudi Basic Industries Corp, one of the world’s largest petrochemicals groups, and National Commercial Bank, the kingdom’s largest lender, which plans an initial public offer of shares later this year that could be worth $4 billion to $5 billion.

“This is a massive move for Saudi and for the region,” said Rami Sidani, head of Middle East investments at Schroders, a top European fund manager, which already has about $250 million invested in Saudi Arabia through indirect means. He added that the country “will definitely attract massive inflows”.

The Saudi market index jumped 1.6 percent in early trade on Tuesday in response to the news, bringing its gains so far this year to 16 percent.

Foreign investors are estimated to own about 15 percent of other, much smaller stock markets in the Gulf such as Dubai. If foreigners raise their ownership of Saudi Arabia to that level, it could mean an inflow of some $50 billion into the country.

In practice, Saudi authorities are expected to use a tight regulatory framework to ensure that inflows are much slower. The CMA said it would publish next month draft regulations for the reform; there would then be a 90-day public consultation period.

Proposals circulated by Saudi authorities to the financial industry in the past have indicated Saudi Arabia will follow a model similar to China, Taiwan and some other major emerging markets in opening its bourse.

Qualified foreign investors, awarded licences based on factors such as the amount of their assets under management, would be given quotas for their investment in the market, while there would be ceilings for foreign ownership of companies.

Under one set of proposals, foreign institutions would need to have at least $5 billion of assets under management globally to obtain licences; each institution could own no more than 5 percent of a Saudi firm, and all foreigners combined could own no more than 20 percent.

A senior Saudi banker, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said he expected only a “handful” – perhaps 10 – investment licences to be awarded initially, and that authorities would then grant more licences gradually as they monitored the impact on the market.

Because it is closed to direct foreign investment, the Saudi market has been excluded from major international equity indexes compiled by companies such as MSCI, even as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were upgraded earlier this year.

Opening the Saudi bourse would be expected to lead eventually to its inclusion in such indexes, helping to make the Gulf a mainstream destination for international investors. Sidani estimated Saudi Arabia could ultimately account for around 3 to 5 percent of MSCI’s emerging market index.

“This is a potential game changer for the region – a very important milestone that people have been waiting for,” said Salah Shamma, co-head of regional equities at U.S. fund management giant Franklin Templeton.

Following regulatory reforms in the past couple of years, the Saudi market is one of the most stable and tightly regulated in the Middle East, fund managers say. It has avoided the wild swings seen in recent months in markets such as Dubai.

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Dutch Exhibit Explores New Muslims’ Life

OnIslam / 24 Jul 2014 – Offering a deep insight into the lives of Dutch reverts to Islam, a new exhibition is held in the Amsterdam Museum which puts a spotlight on increasing number of reversions and elaborates upon the spiritual process as well as the practical aspects of this change.

“From the start of my research, I was interested in finding ways to communicate my results to a broader audience than solely other academics,” anthropologist Vanessa Vroon-Najem, who planned the exhibition, told OnIslam.net.

“I have been employed at the Amsterdam Museum since 1999 and the timing for an exhibition on conversion to Islam was perfect,” she added. The idea of the exhibition, held in the Amsterdam Museum from April 11 to June 29, is based on the Ph.D. research of Vroon-Najem who reverted to Islam in 1996.

The exhibition ‘Converted. Becoming Muslim – being Muslim’ was also suggested to offer people better information about the rising religion in the Netherlands, where the number of reverts has exceeded 15,000.

Along with Vroon-Najem research, the exhibit could not see light without the work of Photographer Saskia Aukema. “My proposal was well received, also because of the beautiful photographs made by Saskia Aukema of reverts to Islam,” Vroon-Najem said.

Photographer Aukema already had plans to do a project on reverts to Islam. “A project like this could show the normative, regular face of Muslims in the Netherlands instead of religious radicals and violence we see in the media,” she explained to OnIslam.net.

“A lot of people think in terms of ‘us’ against ‘them’ when they talk about Islam. Converts cross those imaginary boundaries and connect them both. I was already preparing my side of the project for over six months when I met Vroon-Najem, who had already been doing research for quite some years,” Aukema added.

According to Vroon-Najem, this joint approach has pushed the project forward. Alongside the exhibition, a book entitled ‘Converted’, a collaboration with photographer Saskia Aukema, will also be published.

“Aukema convinced me that we should also try to make a book for a broad audience at the same time,” she said. “To write an accessible book about the subject of conversion to Islam had been my goal for some time, but she pushed me to have it published at the same time that I would defend my dissertation, coinciding with the opening of the exhibition.”

The Amsterdam exhibition aims to expand knowledge about this social development, tackle preconceptions and challenge the visitor to put aside their stereotypes regarding images of Muslims and converts. “The project crossed my path while working as a volunteer for the annual National Converts Day in 2013,” Noureddine Steenvoorden, a Dutch who reverted to Islam over 10 years ago, told OnIslam.net.

Steenvoorden, an active member of the National Platform for New Muslims (‘LPNM’), has become one of the faces advertising the event. “I agreed and Aukema, the photographer, afterwards followed me around on a Friday afternoon as I went about my daily business of visiting the mosque and going to the skatepark,” he said. “She wanted to give an unbiased view of new Muslims and how they incorporate worship into their daily lives.”

Working on the project also changed the view photographer Aukema herself had of reverts. “In the beginning of the project I wondered whether some of the younger people would be compelled to consider Islam as a form or rebellion against their parents, because the religion is still very controversial in our country,” she said. “But during my first visits to gatherings of convert women, I soon proved to be wrong. The challenge to improve the relationship with their parents was a topic at almost every meeting. I tried to capture that in my photo’s, showing convert woman lovingly together with their mothers.”

Vroon-Najem believes there was a direct need for more insight in the life of Muslim reverts.

“Muslim women in the Netherlands are regularly perceived as being oppressed. As a consequence, women’s conversion to Islam is mired in stereotypes, for instance the persistent image that conversion occurs because of marriage, disregarding women’s agency,” she said. “Muslims and Islam have also been at the center of a heated public debate in the Netherlands and during the past few decades, politicians from several political parties have voiced their doubt about the feasibility of being Muslim-Dutch. I felt it was important to challenge these doubts and stereotypes through academic research and through offering participants a platform to tell the story of their conversion themselves.”

Muslims make up one million of the Netherlands’s 16 million population, mostly from Turkish and Moroccan origin.

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“30 days of Fasting” photo campaign held in Russia

islam.ru / 24 Jul 2014 – The center of Russian-Arab cooperation has organized “30 days of Fasting’” photo campaign, which took place at the Central mosque of St. Petersburg. Renada Jalil-Hoja, an photographer, who lives in the city of St. Petersburg, took photographs of Muslims during midday prayer. This campaign’s aim is to show blessings of Islam, to tell about the life of Russian muslims through photos, and to invite people to fast during the Holy month of Ramadan. The organizers of the event are planning to conduct an art charity exhibition, which will show the life of Russian Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

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Muslims flock to see giant wooden Qur’an in Indonesia

World Bulletin / 19 Jul 2014 – Thousands of visitors have been rushing to Indonesia to see the largest Qur’an carved out on wood in Palembang, South Sumatra. Starting work on the giant wooden Qur’an in 2002, a team of writers, carvers, carpenters and painters led by Ihsaniyah Islamic boarding school caretaker Syofwatillah Mohzaib began carving timber from the Tembesu tree, which is known to be termite-proof and durable.

Seven years and US$170,976 later, the project, named Al-Quran Al-Akbar (The Biggest Qur’an) features 15 chapters of the Qur’an carved on both sides of 315 revolving timber panels measuring 177cm x 140 cm. The structure, which is five-storeys high, will get even bigger as chapters 16 to 30 are currently being carved.

“I was inspired to make Al Akbar after completing the calligraphy and door ornaments at the Palembang Grand Mosque. I wanted to make the largest wood-carved Koran in the world,” Syofwatillah was quoted by the Jakarta Post.

“The creation of Al-Akbar was achieved purely with private donations and several larger donors, so it took a long time to finish. Work was suspended several times because we ran out of money,” Syofwatillah added.

Syofwatillah also he hoped to build a special 11-story building to house the wooden Qur’an, which is currently in his boarding school.

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World first invisible-ink Qur’an displayed at Tehran Qur’an exhibit

Presstv / 21 Jul 2014 – A copy of the Holy Qur’an written with invisible ink has been showcased at the 22nd International Holy Qur’an Exhibition in Tehran. Inscribed by Mohsen Khanjari Anbouhi, the handwritten copy is the world’s first invisible Qur’an, which has been displayed in the Written Works Section of the exhibition.

Khanjari’s masterpiece has been written in Naskh calligraphy by using nanotechnology and invisible real gold ink that can only be seen under a special light. The copy is in Uthman Taha style and each page measures 29 by 20 centimeters. “The ink used in writing the copy only becomes visible when infrared light is shed on it,” Khanjari said.

He plans to donate the copy to Astan-e Quds Razavi after the conclusion of the Qur’an exhibit. Many Iranian and international artists have flocked to the 22nd International Holy Qur’an Exhibition in Tehran to present their latest creations.

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6.3 million Umrah visas issued

Arab News / 22 Jul 2014 – More than 6.3 million Umrah visas have been issued since the beginning of the season, an increase of 900,000 over the same period last year, said Mohammed Al-Bijawi, Haj Ministry branch director in Madinah.

This does not include the last 10 days of Ramadan, in which the number is expected to further increase, he said.

“There has also been a 1.4-percent decline in the number of overstayers,” said Al-Bijawi. “Pilgrims who stay past the expiry of their visas usually have health issues or experience a delay in departure for one reason or another,” he said.

“We can thank the drastic drop in the number of Umrah overstayers to the effective control mechanisms undertaken by the Haj and Interior Ministries, in addition to the cooperation of the 48 Umrah service providers within the Kingdom and the 2,000 foreign agents,” he said. “There are also several field committees conducting ad hoc checks on visa validity on the ground.”

The Haj Ministry recently made it mandatory for Umrah firms not to send new groups of pilgrims until existent pilgrims have left. “It is through such measures that the ministry has succeeded in controlling pilgrim traffic,” he said.

Prince Khaled bin Saud bin Khaled, assistant foreign minister, had earlier affirmed that the number of incoming pilgrims never exceeds 400,000 pilgrims at a time.

Madinah’s transport network, meanwhile, is operating for the third year in a row. Thousands of commuters travel to and from the Prophet’s Mosque via five tracks in Taiba.

The project was launched through liaison between the Madinah Municipality, the Madinah Development Authority, the Transport Ministry, the Madinah Traffic Department and the carrier company.

Representatives from 16 countries including Spain, Russia, Kuwait, Palestine, Algeria, Tunisia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Turkey and several other countries are displaying a variety of their works at the exhibit of this year.

Iran’s international Qur’an exhibition which is annually held during the blessed month of Ramadan, aims at stimulating development and promotion in concepts of the holy Qur’an. The 22nd International Holy Qur’an Exhibition kicked off at the Sacred Defense Garden Museum on July 6, and will be running until July 22.

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Lebanon’s tourism sector shows signs of blooming

Daily Star / 22 Jul 2014 – The Tourism Ministry said Tuesday that the number of Arab tourists increased by 90 percent in June, compared with the previous year. “We don’t want the months of May and June, that witnessed this improvement, to be an exception, instead we want them to be a model for the coming months,” Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon said, arguing that the increase in tourism resulted from Lebanon’s “renewed openness to Gulf countries and the new dynamic in the tourism sector that accompanied the security plan.”

A statement released by the ministry cited an 80.5 percent increase in Saudi Arabian tourists this June, pointing out that the number of visitors topped 7,000 in June compared with approximately 4,000 during the same month in 2013.

The largest increase was in the number of Kuwaiti and Emirati tourists, with more than 4,000 and 800 respectively in June, an increase of approximately 123 percent compared with the previous year. The improvement came after several Gulf countries lifted their travel Lebanon advisories in May, shortly after the formation of Tammam Salam’s Cabinet and the implementation of the security plan in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.

“As long as the agreement holds, it can’t be shaken by imported terrorism that in turn won’t influence the tourism movement,” Pharaon said, referring to the political and security agreement reached by the government. Pharaon pointed out that as result of this agreement, terrorism “won’t get hold of the determination or will of the Lebanese toward stability and neutrality of Lebanon from regional events.”

The statement released by the ministry showed that the highest number of Arab tourists visiting Lebanon in June were Iraqis, at more than 16,000. In second place, the number of Jordanian tourists to Lebanon slightly topped Saudi Arabia, with approximately 7,500 in June.

On top of increased Arab visitors, other nationalities made up 29 percent of tourists in Lebanon this June. At the top of the list, French tourists increased by a sizable 61 percent compared with June 2015, at more than 10,000. Germans and Swedish tourists followed rank, with more than 5,000 Germans, and a little less than 5,000 Swedish visitors in June.

The tourism minister expressed hope that tourism would see a revival during Eid al-Fitr and the month of August, after tourism declined in July due to tensions over terrorist cells targeting the country.

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The spectacular Green Mosque in south-eastern Turkey

World Bulletin / 24 Jul 2014 – People around the world have heard of the spectacular Blue Mosque in Istanbul. But there is another mosque worthy of visitors’ attention, for different reasons — the ivy-covered Yesil Mosque, or Green Mosque, in Adana, in southern Turkey, along the Seyhan River, about 20 miles from the Mediterranean sea.

While the Blue Mosque may be more spectacular, the Green Mosque may in its way be more inviting. It is probably the greenest construction in Turkey, with ivy enveloping its walls and a kind of botanical garden full of colorful flowers providing the faithful with a naturally cool place to pray in the midst of the summer heat.

Unlike many other minarets which soar into the sky like sleek stone towers, the minaret of Yesil Mosque is completely covered with leaves that completely hide the construction from view. Rather than looking like a building, the mosque looks almost like leafy garden somehow shaped like a mosque.

Known as one of the most beautiful places in Adana, Yesil Mosque charms many visitors. Beyond providing an unusual beauty and a cool place to pray, the ivy serves another purpose: It protects the building.

The Yesil Mosque Protection and Sustenance Association is in charge of maintaining the condition of the building. And the integrity of the construction has been maintained without any restoration since 1965, when the minaret was constructed and the previous wooden building was converted into a concrete one.

“The ivy- clad condition of the mosque is an outcome of no effort,” said said Kadir Or, the president of the association. “It has happened out of coincidence; but for about 40 years, we try to maintain its vividness. The ivy we had first did not drop its leaves. As it would harm the construction, we applied a new kind of ivy, bringing it from Toros Mountains. Since then, it has come to be known as Yesil Mosque and has attracted people’s attention.”

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Maldives tourist arrivals increase 11.5 percent in first half of 2014

Sun.mv – July 22, 2014 – Tourist arrivals in the Maldives increased 11.5 percent from January to June 2014 with the total number of arrivals at 601,513 during the first six months of the year, compared with the same period of 2013, Ministry of Tourism has revealed.

Europe remained the leading market generator to the Maldives with 46.5 percent shares at the end of June 2014. Arrivals from Europe were recorded at 279,886 tourists for the period.

Asia and the Pacific Region held the second-most number of arrivals, 279,621, at the end of June 2014, leading to a growth rate of 22.3 percent for the period. Maldives received a total of 83,347 tourists in the month of June, a 9 percent increase compared to June 2013.

China took hold of 36 percent shares during the month of June 2014. Total arrivals from the market reached a total of 171,249 during the six months until the end of June 2014 with a growth of 20.2 percent.

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Muğla becomes metropolitan city, signaling changes to tourism

MUĞLA – Anadolu Agency – With the southwestern province of Muğla recently gaining the status of a metropolitan city, many of its districts have become neighborhoods, heralding changes to the areas touristic character. Having Turkey’s longest coastline with 1,484 kilometers, Muğla hosts more than 3 million tourists every year thanks to its historical natural beauties, with statesmen, Hollywood stars, and billionaire businesspeople regularly visiting the world famous province.

With Muğla gaining the status of a metropolitan city, Bodrum’s Turgutreis, Gümüşlük, Bitez, Göltürkbükü, Yalı, Ortakent Yahşi, Yalıkavak and Gündoğan; Fethiye’s Ölüdeniz and Göcek; Ortaca’s Dalyan, Marmaris’ Beldibi, İçmeler, Armutalan and Bozburun; Ula’s Akyaka; and Milas’ Güllük district have become “classy” neighborhoods.

Fethiye’s popular district Ölüdeniz is one of the tourist attractions that have become neighborhoods. The area is widely popular among tourists thanks to its coast, beach, sea and Babadağ, which is considered one of the best paragliding centers in the world.

Ula’s Akyaka, which received the title of “Citta Slow” recently, is also now a neighborhood. Akyaka is very popular for daytime excursions among blue voyage travelers for its natural beauties and coves.

Dalyan, meanwhile, known for the ancient city of Kaunos, 2,500 year-old rock graves, caretta carettas and mud baths visited by thousands of people every year, has now become a neighborhood of Ortaca.

Muğla Metropolitan Mayor Osman Gürün said the tourist season had started earlier this year across Muğla and the hotel occupancy rate was high, adding that the city was witnessing a change with the metropolitan city law. “But this change will not cause the tourism districts to lose their nature and unique features,” Gürün emphasized.

Gürün stressed the importance of diversifying tourism in the region.

“We have to give importance to cultural tourism. Our projects will start in the coming days for this goal. We need to diversify tourism in the sports and health fields and increase the amount of money tourists spend. As well as the tourist number, we need to provide a financial increase. Rather than tourists who spend less money, we need to draw those who spend more,” he added.

Gürün said they would prepare Muğla for the future by making a 20-25 year “tourism master plan,” without spoiling its cultural and historical structure, adding that the goal was to make the city “Turkey’s number one.”

“Muğla has 195 ancient sites and excavations are ongoing in some of them. We are in a very important region in terms of health and sports tourism. We should take advantage of our values, without damaging them. We should make tourism available throughout the year, not only in certain months. We will hold talks with sector representatives about this issue,” he said.

Bodrum Hoteliers Association President Halil Özyurt said the Bodrum peninsula was very popular among holidaymakers, particularly thanks to its Gümbet, Bitez, Yalıkavak, Turgutreis, Türkbükü, Göltürkbükü, Gündoğan, Ortakent, Gümüşlük and Akyarlar neighborhoods.

“Places that host world stars such as Michael Douglas, Zoe Saldana, Pamela Anderson, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell were districts in the past; now they are neighborhoods. We need to provide the necessary service so that we can host our guests in the best way,” Özyurt said.

He described Bodrum as Turkey’s “window opening to the world” and was a region with 7,000-8,000 years of history and culture. “Bodrum has a unique position in the world. Luxurious hotels, yachts are everywhere in the world, but you rarely see Bodrum’s historical beauties mentioned globally. But once you visit Bodrum, you fall under its spell,” he said.

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‘Interactive’ nature museum to open in Antalya

ANTALYA – Cihan News Agency – Turkey’s first “interactive” nature museum is set to be opened in the southern province of Antalya, with plants and animals unique to the region introducing to visitors in their own “technologically-enhanced” environment. The museum will be located in the Termessos National Park with the support of the Mediterranean Development Agency.

As part of attempts to increase the recognition of Antalya and its surroundings for nature-based tourism, the museum also aims to raise awareness on the ecosystem and establish a natural education center. The interactive nature museum will be equipped with technologies such as interactive

floor projections, interactive books, digital travel screens, a library database system, a presentation system and diorama stands. Hundreds of animal and plant species in Antalya and its surroundings will be shown at the museum. The museum will also prevent the smuggling of unique species to museums and collectors abroad.

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Turkey moves to protect ancient sites from mass tourism

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Turkey is increasingly keen to preserve its heritage amid recent examples of mass tourism damaging unique sites. ‘A balance must be achieved between attracting tourists keen to visit Turkey’s classical heritage and protecting ancient sites from being harmed,’ according to a professor

Fresh off of gaining two new entries to the UNESCO World Heritage List, Turkey is more eager than ever to exercise greater caution regarding access to ancient sites, in an effort to avoid the fate that has befallen other ancient sites damaged by 21st-century tourism.

“A balance must be achieved between attracting tourists keen to visit Turkey’s classical heritage and protecting ancient sites from being harmed,” Professor Neslihan Dostoğlu, head of Istanbul Kültür University’s Architecture Department, said in the wake of the northwestern city of Bursa and its historical Cumalıkızık district being added to the UNESCO World Heritage List last month in Doha.

Having presided over the UNESCO project for Bursa and Cumalıkızık, Dostoğlu said a more controlled and conscious protection of the areas would take place under the United Nations body.

The professor said a balance must be struck, as about 2.5 million overnight stays took place in Bursa in 2013 alone, excluding the number of tourists visiting the city in daytrips according to data from the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry.

Turkey has been keen to preserve its heritage amid recent examples of mass tourism damaging unique sites. In 2012, an ancient Mayan stone temple at Tikal, Guatemala, was damaged by tourists flocking to the site for an “end of the world” party.

Tourist hordes have also been warned off by local people on the remote Pacific Ocean destination of Easter Island – home to hundreds of mysterious carved stone heads. According to news reports, pressure is also growing on Italian authorities to take drastic action against the daily influx of visitors to Venice who crowd the city’s narrow streets and Renaissance squares.

Noting that they had to submit a report every five years to the UNESCO committee over the condition of their sites, Dostoğlu said the new designation will make the city more careful about its heritage, preventing building or construction work which might harm the silhouette of the historical view.

“One has to offer a management plan to UNESCO while applying. So, when we presented the Bursa field management plan to the committee, we specified the regions with a core field, which is the actual region under UNESCO’s protection and a protection field to make sure that the core field will be protected,” Dostoğlu said.

Amid the worldwide fears over damage to heritage sites, Turkey’s Permanent Representative to UNESCO, Ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsalı, said Turkey should be regarded as a super-state in the world with its civilization and cultural heritage and not as a developing-world country anymore.”

Turkey is now among the top 15 countries in terms of entries on the UNESCO list with 13 sites.

The ancient site of Pergamon – modern-day Bergama – and what experts describe as its “multi-layered cultural landscape” is expected to increase the international popularity of the historic site, according to archaeologist Bülent Türkmen from the UNESCO department of the local municipality.

The site receives about 450,000 to 500,000 tourists a year, but the homeland of parchment paper faces the problem of being known only for some of its sites, Türkmen said.

“While applying to UNESCO, we wanted to emphasize the multi-layered cultural landscape of the region, including remains from the Ottoman period and the historic city center, where people still live and keep shops,” Türkmen said.

Some other internationally known historic sites on the UNESCO list are the world’s first psychiatric hospital in Asklepion and the Acropolis hill, hosting great temples and a dramatic theater dating back to 7 B.C.

Türkmen said local sights like the Red Basilica, 18th-century Greek houses around the castle, the arasta bazaar from the Ottoman period, caravanserais and historic Turkish baths right in the middle of the city center had also entered the list.

He noted that tourists were coming to the city on daytrips and did not spend much time exploring, adding that he expected the UNESCO designation to change this. Shopkeepers in the city center also welcomed the UNESCO move by celebrating the addition in one of the central squares last month.

Pergamon’s entry onto the UNESCO list will spur a market revival and contribute financially to the shopkeepers of the region, Türkmen said.

According to Botsalı, the ancient city of Ephesus near İzmir and the black basalt walls of Diyarbakir in Turkey’s southeast could be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria of which the first is to represent a “masterpiece of human creative genius.”

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Tajikistan ranked as one of top 10 travel spots by Globe Spots

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-07-22 DUSHANBE – More foreign tourists are coming to Tajikistan every year, a windfall for the country’s economy. In 2013, 208,000 tourists arrived, up from 183,000 in 2011. In the first half of 2014, 74,000 tourists came, but that number doesn’t reflect peak tourism time.

A growing tourism industry holds the promise of keeping Tajiks from having to go abroad for work. As many as 1m Tajiks are working abroad.

A 2010-2014 government programme to develop tourism simplified requirements for foreigners. Tourists arriving from a country that lacks a Tajik embassy may obtain a visa on the spot at Dushanbe International Airport.

As part of the tourism promotion programme, the government also waived a Soviet-era rule requiring every arriving foreigner to register either at the Foreign Ministry or the local Department of Visas and Registrations (OVIR) within three days. That requirement no longer applies to tourists.

“Tourism is the most profitable area in the world’s economic development,” Akhtam Abdullozoda, chairman of the government Committee of Youth, Sport, and Tourist Affairs, said. “That’s why we are taking steps to attract tourists. Tajikistan is 93% mountainous, and eco-tourism; mountaineering; rafting; guided hunting and cultural, historical and archaeological tourism are all available. Our diplomatic missions abroad annually distribute up to 10,000 leaflets in various languages listing tourist destinations.”

This year, Tajikistan ranked among the top 10 worldwide destinations according to a survey by Globe Spots. The website praised Tajikistan for “a dramatic diverse landscape that will leave you dumbstruck at almost every turn.”

“Tourists mostly visit the Zarafshan Valley, as well as the Pamir Mountains,” Deputy Chairman Ruslan Shodikov said. “Baljuvan, Ramit and Varzob are popular cultural destinations. Residents of these regions can freely host tourists without the help of tourist agencies.”

“We want to introduce home stays, which will allow residents of these regions to earn money while giving tourists relatively cheap places to stay. We also want to put this into practice in Panjakent. Gorno-Badakhshan, which still has few hotels, already has 53 guesthouses.”

Community-based eco-tourism is of particular importance because the majority of Tajiks live in the countryside, Shodikov said.

“Tajikistan has high potential for offering a unique experience, including national parks, Lake Sarez and Islamic holy places,” Kirgizbek Kanunov, ex-chairman of the Pamir Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PEKTA), said. “People have become bored with typical, monotonous tourism. Residents of rural areas … could become tourism service providers themselves and make decent money.”

However, the country will have to step up its tourism-promoting efforts, officials and industry observers agree.

“The government officially declared tourism a priority sector, but in practice, it’s failed to … tackle tourism problems,” Kanunov said. “The high cost of tourist services, especially of airfare, makes Tajikistan the least attractive country in Central Asia.”

Pilgrimages to Islamic holy places in Tajikistan also have the potential to draw a large number of tourists, observers say. “We can, and ought to develop tourism in our country using Islam’s cultural heritage,” member of parliament Ismoil Talbankov said. “Every year more than 6,000 (Tajiks) leave to complete the Hajj. We need to have them pass out leaflets and popularise (our) Islamic holy places to other Muslims.”

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Brunei Prepares Students in Professional Culinary and Hotelier Services

Sunday, 20 July 2014 BruDirect.com BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Two more companies specialising in hotel services and food beverages sealed an agreement with the Brunei Technical Education Institute in providing training courses to students of the Sultan Saiful Rijal Technical College.

The new participating partners were the StarLodge Hotel and Millennium Fast Food and Restaurant who joined six other firms in facilitating an Apprenticeship Training Program in Professional Culinary and Hotelier Services. The agreement strengthens cooperation between the parties concerned toward improving educational quality and training modules in making the youths more marketable and job-ready.

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was the Assistant Director of the Brunei Technical Education Institute, Dr Hj Md Zamri Hj Sabli. StarLodge Hotel was represented by Dyg Christina Baker; while Millennium Fast Food and Restaurant was represented by Awg Hj Masri Hj Hamzah.

Meanwhile, another agreement was signed between the Labour Department, represented by the Commissioner, Awg Shahriman Hj Besar, and thirty students of the Sultan Saiful Rijal Technical College who will undergo the two-year apprenticeship scheme.

The ceremony was witnessed by the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education (MoE), Dr Hjh Anita Aziz Binurul Zahrina Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia Hj Awg Abd Aziz.

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Local products showcased at Ramadhan Expo in Brunei

Monday, 21 July 2014 BruDirect.com BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Local entrepreneurs will have the chance to promote their products during the Ramadhan Expo. The expo organised by Syarikat Perdana Sendirian Berhad is taking place at the Hassanal Bolkiah Indoor Stadium in Berakas. The expo offered 40 booths selling mainly import items to local products. It includes clothes, furniture and local delicacies for the upcoming Hari Raya festival. The 10-day expo will end next Saturday and open from 11 am until 11 pm except for Friday which opens from 10am until 12 midnight.

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Chinese envoy invites Indonesian Muslims to visit China’s Islamic community

Minggu, 20 Juli 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xie Feng has invited Indonesian Muslims to visit the Islamic community in China. “In the autonomous region of Xinjiang there are 23 thousand mosques and almost 30 thousand religious officers. We want more and more Indonesians to visit China, to forge friendships and know each other,” Xie Feng said at the fast-breaking dinner with acting Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama and a number of orphans here on Saturday.

The Chinese ambassador said Muslims in China were also performing the fast during the holy month of Ramadhan. They receive protection from the Chinese government to perform their religious services. “The Indonesia-China Muslim friendship, which has existed for a long time, is an important part of relations between the two countries,” he said. The Chinese embassy also distributed two thousand donation packages among orphans and the disabled.

“Through this donation activity, the Chinese embassy expects it will distribute similar donations and offers friendship from the Chinese people, particularly Chinese Muslims, to the Indonesian people,” he said.

The ambassador also said he appreciated the Indonesian people, who have cast their vote in the July 9 presidential election. “We believe the Indonesian people are smart enough to choose the head of state they like,” he said.

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Uganda: New Packages Boost Domestic Tourism

The Observer – 20/7/2014 – A series of new innovations by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has led to a surge in the growth of domestic tourism, with the latest official calculations pointing to an increase in the number of Ugandans embracing tourism spots.

According to records at the national parks of Mburo, Queen Elizabeth and Semliki, the number of Ugandan visitors has surpassed that of foreigners, pointing to a trend that could change the face of tourism in the country. With much of the western world undergoing a financial squeeze, there had always been worries that there could be a slowdown in foreign tourists coming to visit Uganda.

Officials attribute the renewed interest among Ugandans in tourism to the newly-introduced incentives such as budget accommodation packages, night game drives and computerized access to the parks. Previously, tourism was regarded a preserve for foreigners. That is, however, changing.

Mburo has recorded a 25 per cent increase in Ugandans and other East Africans visiting the park, Queen Elizabeth, 20 per cent, while Semliki has done remarkably well with a 50 per cent jump, according to official figures.

“This is an encouraging trend and we want to market it aggressively because we cannot entirely rely on foreign tourists alone,” says Patrick Tushabe, the manager in charge of tourism facilities at Mweya in Queen Elizabeth national park.

At Queen Elizabeth, there’s a new eatery, Tembo restaurant, which serves local dishes at affordable charges, especially for those that cannot afford the pricey meals at Mweya Safari lodge. Meals at Tembo restaurant go for as low as Shs 10,000 and Shs 15,000. Previously, it was difficult to find local dishes served in the park.

Low-budget accommodation is now available. By transforming former UWA staff quarters at Mweya (headquarters of the park have been moved to Katunguru), Tushabe says they have introduced pocket-friendly accommodation facilities. The facilities include non-self-contained single rooms, self-contained single and double bed-roomed cottages, a hostel and self-catering cottages.

Charges range from as low Shs 20,000 for single rooms, Shs 40,000 to Shs 75,000 for self-contained cottages and Shs 42,000 for hostel accommodation per night. Family or group self-catering cottages cost between Shs 200,000 and Shs 300,000 per night. Accommodation at the nearest Mweya Safari lodge goes for roughly $200 a night.

According to Nelson Guma, the area conservation manager at Queen Elizabeth national park, 70,000 tourists visited the park last year, attracting Shs 6bn revenues from accommodation charges, game viewing, boat rides and other activities in the park. Guma says they expect to attract 80,000 tourists this year. Ugandans pay between Shs 15,000 (students) and 25,000 per individual to access the park.

Mburo and Semliki national parks have such services. For instance, Mburo has introduced special night game drives for tourists to see the park’s different herds of elands, buffaloes, hippos, impalas, waterbucks and zebras.

“They (night game drives) are hugely liked by our local clients and have become our flagship package,” Christine Nakayenze, a senior warden in charge of tourism, explained.

The boat ride on Lake Mburo is the other big attraction that has a special package.

Mburo has also established low cost accommodation facilities and a restaurant at the shores of the lake. At Mburo and Queen Elizabeth, tourists have gained easy and efficient access to both parks, thanks to the introduction of the wildlife smart card.

Both parks have embraced the UWA smart card, which clients can use to pay for all activities at one point of entry. Once at the entry gate, tourists pay for services and activities of their choice and the money is loaded onto the card. Guma, the manager at Queen Elizabeth, notes that the smart card has reduced on inconveniences that tourists used to face while paying for every activity. The cards have also reduced the burden of moving with cash and falling victim to thieves.

Semliki park has partly benefitted from the newly-constructed road between Fort Portal town and Bundibugyo district. Statistics show that since the road was completed and opened in 2012, the number of visitors has doubled to 6,000 last year, from the average 3,000 in the years gone by.

Richard Muhabwe, the warden in charge of Semliki national park, adds that they also have constructed self-contained cottages, which cost between Shs 30,000 and Shs 80,000 per night. These cottages are available for single, double and family or group tourists.

Major attractions to the Semliki include the miraculous famous female and male Sempaya hot springs, nature walks along the Semliki river banks, as well as the rare sight of rare birds, plant species, and red and while Colobus monkeys.

Mburo is revered for its huge population of zebras, the rare elands and impalas. Also, the park has the most-sought-after ‘omuboro’ tree, treasured for its aphrodisiac prowess. In Queen Elizabeth, major attractions include elephants, tree-climbing lions, kobs, crater lakes, crocodiles, hippos and buffaloes.

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Nigeria: Emirates Now Offers UAE Visa Services in Lagos

Daily Trust – Lagos — Emirates and its commercial partner, Dubai Visa Processing Centre, have inaugurated the Dubai Visa Application Services in Lagos, Emirates said in a statement. The introduction of this facility is aimed at providing high quality services to applicants from Nigeria seeking the United Arab Emirates visa when travelling to Dubai, it stated.

It said the new Dubai Visa Application Centre would offer greater comfort and convenience and enhance the visa application experience of applicants and travel agents from the country.

It added that the DVAC in Lagos was operational for accepting visa applications and delivery of UAE visas for travel to Dubai. “This inauguration marks the expansion of DVPC’s operation in the African region. Now, the company through its six DVACs operate in four African countries including Algeria, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa,” the statement said.

It recalled that the DVPC operated DVAC located in Lekki, Lagos, was inaugurated by the Regional Manager, West Africa, Emirates, Mr. Manoj Nair, on July 1, 2014, adding that Dubai-bound passengers on Emirates and those wishing to stop in Dubai for a few days could now apply for their UAE visas at the new DVAC.

The Chief Operating Officer, DVPC, and Special Projects, VFS Global, Mr. Vinay Malhotra, said, “the DVPC is honoured to be associated with the Emirates in facilitating the UAE visa application process for Dubai-bound travellers in Lagos, Nigeria. “Through this new dedicated facility inaugurated in Lagos, we aim to extend a service that is professional, accessible and convenient for direct applicants and travel agents.

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New flight from Moscow to Gabala, Azerbaijan

25 July 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Russian Metrojet Air Company has started regular flights on Moscow-Gabala-Moscow route. APA reports that the first plane from Moscow arrived in Gabala International Airport on July 24. The plane departed from Domodedovo at 18:00 (Baku time) and landed in Gabala at 20:30. the flight from Gabala was implemented at 22:00. The flights have been implemented by Airbus-320 aircrafts.

Airticket from Moscow to Gabala is €69. Metrojet plans to implement daily flights from Moscow to Gabala and from Gabala to other Russian citizens in the future. Currently, Metrojet organizes tour packages for Russian tourists to Gabala and other Azerbaijani regions. A lot of flights have been implemented from Gabala International Airport to European 20 countries repeatedly, to African and American continents once. For the present, Gabala-Moscow-Saint Petersburg, Moscow-Gabala, Baku-Gabala flights are implemented from Gabala International Airport. Regular flights on Moscow-Gabala and Gabala-Moscow-Saint Petersburg route have being implemented by EK.Alyans company since 2012.

Gabala International Airport was lunched on November 18, 2011.

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Over two million Muslims benefit from Saudi Iftar project

Riyadh, Saturday 21 Ramadan 1435/ 19 July 2014 (IINA) – The project of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for providing iftar (fast-breaking meal) to the needy people abroad in Ramadan has benefited more than 2 million Muslims in 41 countries. Abdul Majeed Al-Amry, director general for external relations at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, said that the project distributes more than 35,000 Iftar meals daily during the holy month. In a telephone call to the Saudi Press Agency from Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said the meals are mainly distributed inside mosques and Islamic centers.

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ISESCO signs deal to train Muslim youth

Jeddah, Monday 23 Ramadan 1435/ 21 July 2014 (IINA) – The Islamic Organization for Education, Science and Culture (ISESCO) and the Saudi Education and Training Company signed an agreement on Thursday to provide unemployed Arab and Muslim youth with training and new job opportunities.

Zuhair bin Ali Azhar, CEO of the Saudi Education and Training Company, inked the agreement with Ahmed Sayeed, director of external relations and international cooperation at ISESCO, in the presence of Abdul Aziz Al-Tuwaijri, director general of the organization. The strategic partnership aims to assist Arab and Islamic countries implement educational and training programs to combat unemployment amongst youth. Azhar said the agreement would pave the way for cooperation with universities in order to assist the 11 million graduates entering the Arab labor market annually. “Our graduates need serious rehabilitation and training to enter the job market,” he noted, adding, “It is undeniable that our population is increasing, and innovative solutions are required to improve the educational outcome and curb unemployment.”

He indicated that the company is currently developing a number of projects, including electronic libraries with Arabic content, adding that the solution to Arab unemployment lies in strengthening education and training programs for youth. Sayeed, for his part, reiterated ISESCO’s commitment toward improving education and developing the potential of Muslim youth.

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Holy Qur’an translated into Swahili

Madinah, Monday 23 Ramadan 1435/ 21 July 2014 (IINA) – The King Fahd Glorious Qur’an Printing Complex has finished the translation of the Holy Qur’an into Swahili, the official language of Kenya and Tanzania and a spoken language in Uganda, Congo and different African countries, said Muhamamd Al-Oufi, secretary-general of the complex. Swahili is the mother tongue for five million people and a second language for 50 million. The number of Holy Qur’an translations is now 63. The complex has translated the Holy Qur’an in 32 Asian languages, 15 European languages and 16 African languages. Inaugurated by King Fahd in 1984, the complex currently publishes a total of 90 publications, including Qur’an translations, books of Hadith and the biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Its website offers various recitations, textual search, translations and exegetic commentaries, in addition to images of early Qur’an manuscripts.

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OnIslam & Newspapers Sunday, 20 July 2014 CAIRO – A Muslim student has been ranked as France’s top high school student, presenting a role model of active French Muslims who have been suffering from Islamophobia and negative portrayals in the French media over the past years.

“I am so proud of my marks,” Myriam Bourhail, from the Picardy town of Villers-Cotterêts, told The National on Sunday, July 20. “I worked hard for this and am lucky enough to find all subjects interesting to me.”

The French student of Moroccan origin has been feted at the French parliament for getting the highest marks in this summer’s baccalaureate examinations. The 18-year-old student has completed “faultless papers in English, Spanish, physics, mathematics and science and ended up, despite slightly lower ratings for sport, history, geography and philosophy, with an average of 21.03 out of 20”.

“I wouldn’t say I really worked harder than the other students. Perhaps I was a little more passionate about what I was learning, I have a real curiosity,” the Muslim student said.

Bourhail says that her parents, Mohamed and Nadia, are the main reason behind her success. “I have also had great encouragement from my parents and the wonderful help of my teachers. My father has always stressed the importance of culture, history and learning,”

She said her father, who also has baccalaureate diplomas in mathematics and natural science, had always pushed her and her siblings “to give the best of ourselves and also to direct us towards culture”.

Aspiring to become a surgeon, Myriam will take medicine studies at university next September, like her elder brother.

Myriam’s success was faced by bias after being overlooked by the city council that didn’t mention her achievement on its official website. “I cannot say why, but it is on our Facebook page,” a press officer said.

During her visit to the Parliament, she was accompanied by local MP, Jacques Krabal, who represents the left-wing Parti Radical de Gauche. “Myriam is to be congratulated on her wonderful achievement. She is a superb example, a credit to her school and a model of integration in French society,” Krabal said.

With a facebook page of about 4,000 fans, Myriams’ father believes that his daughter will be the mayor of their town one day, eyeing a political change to the far-right policies.

France is home to a Muslim minority of six millions, Europe’s largest. French Muslims, estimated at nearly six million, have long complained of rising discrimination and hostile sentiments in the European country. A recent IFOP poll found that almost half of French see Muslims as a threat to their national identity.

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OnIslam Correspondent Sunday, 20 July 2014 NEW DELHI – Every year, as India Muslim prepare for observing Ramadan, many Hindus share these preparations to partake in the fasting of the holy month that holds special significance not only for Muslims but also for many Hindus.

“I have been keeping fast during Ramadan for the last 14 years. It gives me inner strength,” Sunil Shrivastava of Vidisha town in central India told OnIslam.net. “I was inspired by the devotion of one of my Muslim friends, who is a devout Muslim. I thought I should observe fast for at least one day in solidarity with my friend. But after fasting for a day, I felt so good that I have started fasting regularly during the holy month.”

He further said that his family is not opposed to his decision and they support him.

For Mehul Kumar, resident of Raisen district in central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Ramadan is something which taught him discipline. He started observing fast almost nine years back, when he was not keeping well and a Muslim imam suggested him to keep fast to remain healthy.

“I kept fast for few days during Ramadan for the first time and, instead of feeling hungry and low, I was able to find my inner strength. And then it became a regular feature for me,” he told OnIslam.net. “For the last three years, I have been observing fast throughout the month.”

Even his son, who is 17, has started keeping fast.

In Ramadan, Muslims dedicate their time to prayers, self-restraint, good deeds and charity to the poor. Adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset. The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.

This year more than 150 Hindu prisoners in Tihar Jail of Delhi are also keeping fast, along with Muslim inmates. These Hindu prisoners decided to keep fast from the first day and would continue till the last day of the holy month, when the Eid festival would be celebrated.

For the majority Hindu community in India, Ramadan is associated with delicious and tasty food items that they relish with their Muslim friends when the latter break their daylong fast. Over the years, the number of people keeping fast with Muslims has been increasing.

There are many Hindus, who keep fast on four Fridays of Ramadan and this number increases on the last Friday of the month, which Muslims in India consider very auspicious.

“I think it is the time to exercise self-restraint,” said Anil Tiwari, who has been observing fast for the last 11 years on some days of Ramadan along with his wife Anita. “During this month, we understand the importance of food and also think about the poor people who often have to go without food,” Tiwari added.

Moreover, special iftar parties are organized annually by Hindus for the Muslims during Ramadan in which different organizations and individuals participate every year. “We also want to become a part of month long Ramadan. That is why we organize iftar parties. From VIPs to common people, everyone is invited for these parties,” said Surendra Nath Singh, a local politician in Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh.

During the election time, political parties and politicians host very grand iftar parties in order to gain the support and votes of the Muslim community. Few years back, the country’s highest Islamic seminary Darool Uloom Deoband even issued a fatwa (decree) against these political iftars and termed them anti-Islamic. They even asked the Muslims not to attend them.

In the last few years, iftar has become a grand affair and for many Hindus it has become a part of their annual calendar. Arranging iftars in mosques is also very common among Muslims of India. At many places even rich Hindus arrange iftar meals for the Muslims and send delicious food items to the mosques for iftar parties.

“For us this tradition has been going on for years. Our father used to send food items to the mosques during Ramadan,” says Akshat Jain, whose family has been sending iftar meals to mosques for many years. “Now we are continuing this tradition so that those who observe fast can enjoy them.”

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Dubai top destination for global events, exhibitions

Saudi Gazette – 24 July, 2014 – As the global financial crisis continues to grip the world’s most advanced economies, the UAE holds prime position – among a handful of nations, the Middle East giant stands well positioned for growth, boasting an optimistic business community and robust investment opportunities.

Ranked fifth in financial stability by the World Economic Forum, and among the top twenty for ease of business, competitiveness and efficiency, the UAE is poised to become the world’s next top business hub. GDP grew at a rate of 4.1 percent in 2013, expanding to 4.5 percent year on year with 2015 forecast by the IMF to achieve similarly impressive numbers. Dubai in particular leads the way for growth, accounting for 30 percent of the country’s overall GDP.

Budget surpluses and strong economic growth in the UAE create an environment where progressive budgeting and ambitious infrastructure planning further innovation, trade, and dialogue. With the directives and guidance of the UAE government “the government continues to invest in economic diversification, paving the way for other sectors such as the exhibitions industry to widen their scope“ says BR Communications FZE, Managing Director – Bahaa Fatairy.

At the epicenter of trade and travel, the exhibition industry reinforces Dubai’s vibrant tourism sector, bringing in visitors, exhibitors and upping demand vertically across related services such as hospitality, logistics, and F&B. Gitex Technology Week, Arab Health and Dubai International Boat Show remain only a few of the internationally renowned events bringing the world’s attention to Dubai’s burgeoning events and exhibition sector, a top contributor at 5 percent of Dubai’s economy, Successful in it’s bid to host the 2020 World Expo, all eyes will be on the world-class city and it’s ability to host large scale exhibitions. Described as the engine driving Dubai’s economy, it is up to individual stakeholders in the region to capitalize on growth opportunities and push future expansion.

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International Textile Fair set to debut in Dubai

Khaleej Times – 19 July, 2014 – Dubai will stage its debut International Textile Show from November 3 to 4, at Dubai International Exhibition and Conference Centre, Hall No. 4, bringing together textile manufacturers and designers from all over the world under one platform.

The International Textile Fair (ITF) is expected to give further boost to the booming UAE textile industry, which was valued at $ 13.2 billion (Dh48.5 billion) in 2011, and is growing at 9.9 per cent annually, according to industry figures. The ITF will the first dedicated international textile show in the Gulf region.

The two-day fair will attract textile manufacturers and designers from China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Italy and other countries. The organisers are targeting trade visitors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, UAE, Oman, Iraq, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other GCC countries to visit the fair.

“Shows like these are held regularly in cities like Paris, Milan and New York and it is high time Dubai staged such an event. That is why we decided to organise the International Textile Show at the Dubai International Exhibition and Conference Centre,” says Dilip Nihalani, the man behind the show, and whose company Nihalani Brothers is one of the oldest players in Dubai’s textile trade. “Dubai has emerged as a leading retail fashion hub and what was missing was a top-class international fabric show. This fair will fill the gap.”

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Jannah to launch more hotels in UAE

Gulf Today – 19 July, 2014 – Abu Dhabi-based Jannah Hotels and Resorts is planning to launch more apartment hotels in the UAE as part of an ongoing expansion programme, its CEO Nehme Imad Darwish said on Friday.

He stated that the expansion is intended to match a steady growth in the UAE’s hospitality sector, adding that it would witness a boom due to the hosting of Expo 2020 in Dubai.

“There is a need for more apartment hotels in the UAE especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to meet an expected high growth ahead of Expo…we have such plans and we have the experience and capabilities to manage more units,” he said.

He noted that there is a strong demand for hotel apartments in the UAE given their various facilities including spacious rooms, kitchens and many other services provided to guests at competitive prices compared with hotels.

Darwish urged investors to focus on the tourism sector given its growing role in the UAE’s economy, adding that there is a need for more tourism projects in the country.

His figures showed demand for hotel apartments would grow by 20-25 per cent annually in the next few years because of growing appetites by guests for such units.

“Through our participation in a hotel conference held in London recently, we found that hotel apartments will be the driving force in growth in the hospitality sector,” he said.

Darwish disclosed plans by Jannah to expand in the UAE, mainly in Dubai, with an intention to enter partnership agreements with other companies and businessmen wishing to set up hotel projects in the emirate.

He also revealed that Jannah group has signed agreements to manage four new hotels, including and Al Seef Resort by Andalus as well as two agreements with bin Rubahye company for the management of two hotels in Dubai Marina. He said negotiations with other firms are under way for the management of more hotels.

He said Jannah’s expansions through the UAE are part of a strategy by the group to boost business in the country and that it could focus on 10 hotels that could be made the most successful in the region.

Darwish said the group had launched three new brands targeting three types of guests, including Jannah, Andalus and Jannah Place .

He also disclosed plans to inaugurate the luxury Al Seef Resort shortly, adding that the resort would be managed by Andalus group and would mainly serve families from the UAE and other Gulf countries. He said the property comprises luxury apartments equipped with the latest facilities and it’s located in a beautiful area overlooking palm gardens and beaches.

“This resort is a new addition to the luxury tourism in Abu Dhabi – Al Seef Resort by Andalus and other hotel apartments are set to be the ideal choice for tourists and visitors in the near future.”

He said the new resort, located near a large shopping mall, comprises 213 suites and swimming pools, several restaurants and cafes, and a large sport centre.

Jannah group has recently unveiled a project involving an Andalusian village within Al Seef Resort by Andalus and it includes key Andalusian features in the heart of the Abu Dhabi desert. The resort offers major opportunities to businessmen to set up branches for their companies and includes 22 retail outlets.

Jannah aims to provide the guests and visitors with a chance to enjoy shopping at the various outlets inside the Andalusian village as the shops have a large area, exceeding 64 square metres plus a 21-square-metre outdoor space.

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SCTA launches early bookings campaign for domestic tourism

Arab News – 19 July, 2014 – The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) has launched a comprehensive campaign aimed at encouraging early planning and reservation of domestic tourism trips in different parts of the Kingdom to keep accommodation prices and other costs in check and to help promote local tourism.

“Through this campaign, the commission aims to promote early reservation, especially for major services such as accommodation,” an SCTA official said Thursday. According to tour operators, tourism expenses may be reduced by as much as 50 percent through early booking.

“The campaign seeks to limit the large influx of domestic tourists booking at the last minute, which results in exorbitant accommodation prices and unavailability, much to the shock and dismay of many,” the official said.

Several tour operators and specialists in the tourism sector also stressed the importance of flights and hotels well ahead of time to lower overall expenses, increase options and avoiding unpleasant surprises. “Tourists are also left with more options to choose from and will be kept better informed of price changes,” said Saud Al-Sehaimi, executive director of the Jawlah tour company.

SCTA President Prince Sultan bin Salman has consistently reiterated the importance of booking early to regulate market forces. The SCTA has also stepped up inspection and monitoring visits to accommodation facilities across the Kingdom to ensure commitment to approved price lists, which should be visible at receptions.

The official Saudi website www.sauditourism.com.sa provides detailed information about hotels and furnished apartments throughout different parts of the Kingdom, in addition to offering various and updated lists for tour operators and licensed tourist guides. Tourists can also find reviews of the most significant historical and tourism sites on the website.

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Gulf airlines voted amongst the best in the world

Emirates 24/7 – 19 July, 2014 – Gulf carriers have taken top billing at the Skytrax World Airline Awards, with Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Oman Air securing spots in the top 10 list across various categories. While Emirates bagged the top prize for the Best Inflight Entertainment in the world with its award-winning ICE system, Etihad claimed third spot in the Best Airlines in First Class.

Qatar Airways emerged second in the top three Best Airlines of 2014, beaten by Cathay Pacific Airways, which claimed the top spot, while Singapore Airlines came in at third place. Meanwhile, Oman Air grabbed the fourth and the eight spots in the Best Business and Economy Class lists, respectively.

The awards, which were announced at the Farnborough International Airshow, are regarded as an industry benchmark of passenger satisfaction levels of airlines throughout the world that is delivered via a survey format based on analysis of business and leisure travellers, across all cabin travel types.

The awards night saw Gulf carriers win several accolades in succession with Emirates – which just took delivery of its 50th A380 superjumbo – coming in at fourth place in the Best Airlines category for 2014, while Etihad Airways took the ninth spot; rounding up the top five in the same category was Turkish Airlines.

In the Best Inflight Entertainment category, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways also grabbed spots in the top 10 list that was headed by Emirates, coming in at positions seven and 10, respectively. Etihad, which will be unveiling its First Class Apartments and The Residence later this year, was in the top three list of Best Airlines in First Class; Emirates and Qatar Airways also took key positions, coming in at fifth and eighth places, respectively; Singapore Airlines bagged the top prize for Best Airline in First Class.

Qatar Airways, meanwhile, was cited as Best Airline in Business Class, which also saw Oman Air come in at number four.

Meanwhile, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways also made it into the top 10 categories for Best Airline Lounges First Class and Business.

The World Airline Awards Customer Survey operated between August 2013 and May 2014, during which time 18.85 million customer surveys were completed. The survey covered full-service and low-cost airlines. More than 105 nationalities participated in the survey, covering over 245 airlines, from large international airlines to smaller domestic carriers. The surveys measure standards across 41 key performance indicators of airline front-line product and service.

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Two Dubai water parks rated among world’s best

Khaleej Times – 20 July, 2014 – They are the Wild Wadi Water Park and Aquaventure Waterpark, ranked sixth and eighth respectively in TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice awards. Two of Dubai’s water parks are among the world’s top 25, says travel rating site TripAdvisor.com.

They are the Wild Wadi Water Park and Aquaventure Waterpark, ranked sixth and eighth respectively in TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice awards, which are based on data gathered from reviews over the past 12 months.

TripAdvisor announced the winners of its Travellers’ Choice Awards for Amusement Parks and Water Parks around the globe on Tuesday. Wild Wadi, located in front of the Burj Al Arab, offers tens of rides and attractions for the entire family. It is themed around the tale of Juha, a character from Arabian folklore. Aquaventure Waterpark, located at Atlantis The Palm Hotel, features water slides, shark-filled lagoons, rapid river adventures and a children’s play area with rope bridges, water cannons and a private beach with lush tropical landscapes.

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Saudi airports to handle 100m travelers by 2020

Arab News – 22 July, 2014 – Saudi Arabia’s 27 airports will accommodate 100 million travelers by the year 2020, said a report issued by the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA). Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Saud, GACA president, approved the strategy. “This strategy coincides with modernization projects witnessed in the field of civil aviation, especially after the Council of Ministers issued a decision that approved the strategy aimed at increasing operational competency,” said Prince Fahd.

The sector has made significant achievements, which includes opening air fields, allowing new air carriers to operate in the Saudi market, developing and establishing regional airports and launching privatization programs in the civil aviation sector, he said. “We aim to increase the productive competency of the sector and strengthen the Kingdom’s standing in the international civil aviation arena,” he said.

The report highlights major civil aviation initiatives, such as increasing passenger seating capacity, developing and establishing airports throughout the Kingdom, coming up with programs to transform regional airports into international operations, privatizing airports and the civil aviation sector and strengthening competition in land services, such as cargo handling.

The report also suggests creating programs aimed at strengthening competition in air catering and air cargo and consumer protection programs for air travelers.

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Abu Dhabi Int’l gears up for huge 30 million passenger rise by 2017

Khaleej Times – 22 July, 2014 – Abu Dhabi International Airport has geared up for a huge spike in passenger numbers during the summer season, through a series of facility developments and service upgrades.

The airport’s developments for this summer are part of the Capacity Enhancement Programme for Abu Dhabi International Airport. The programme will lift the capacity ceiling to 18 million passengers a year. This will be boosted by a further 30 million passengers when the Midfield Terminal opens in 2017.

A range of recently completed ground improvements and new offers at the capital city’s main air gateway will ensure a smooth and enjoyable passage through the airport’s main passenger terminals, according to Abu Dhabi Airports, as the number of travellers are set to soar to record levels.

These developments include 20 new boarding bus gates that are now fully open to passengers and flights at Terminal-3 increasing the airport flight capacity by 44 per cent as the airport now has a total of 66 boarding gates.

Six new code E aircraft stands for wide-bodied aircraft have also been built in time for the summer rush. These new aircraft stands will increase the airport’s aircraft handling capability at any given hour throughout the day by 10 per cent, with a total of 63 stands.

In Terminal 3 — the building dedicated to home air carrier Etihad Airways flights — 16 new x-ray machines are now in place to speed up the security process for transfer passengers. An enhanced and expanded baggage transfer system has also been introduced for handling transfer luggage between connecting flights, which will be able to handle more luggage, more efficiently and faster than previously, through increasing the handling capacity by 40 per cent.

Companies and agencies working at the airport have also ensured their preparedness to the anticipated summer season by increasing their manpower in various functions including ground services, check-in services, passport control and Police.

For those travellers looking for fast track check-in and immigration and an all-round VIP experience, the Golden Class, operated by NAS, offers a variety of “meet & assist” convenient services at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The service also includes a limousine offering, baggage porters, and delivery and storage. A special summer promotion is currently running until September 30th offering travellers up to 75 per cent on fast track & parking packages for families up to 6 members. The Abu Dhabi Duty Free summer season sale has now begun with a 50 per cent discount on many items while stocks last. Shoppers can also take advantage of the new ‘buy on departure and collect on return’ shopping service. The service is available at Abu Dhabi International Airport Terminals 1 and 3 and includes all products available from the duty free.

Ali Majed Al Mansoori, chairman of Abu Dhabi Airports, said: “The number of flights we will handle during the peak travel months will leap by 18 per cent to nearly 170 every single day of the week compared to last summer. We’ve made great improvements all around the airport to ensure that all passengers, whether arriving, departing or transferring, will have a great start to their holiday journey.”

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Rail, port projects in Oman to boost income

Times of Oman – 23 July, 2014 – Oman wants to develop railways to diversify sources of income and develop the Omani ports to make them competitive and contribute towards the gross domestic product. Minister of Transport and Communications Dr Ahmed Mohammed Salim Al Futaisi has said that the focus was on developing a train network to enable the transport industry to become a vital resource of the Omani economy and help Oman become the gateway to the region.

Al Futaisi added that as per the vision, the aim was to link Omani ports with other GCC networks as soon as possible and integrate the transport system, bringing ports, trains, roads and airports into one integrated scheme of things. “That will be achieved by building competitive networks with big business and building safe and effective networks, operated by Omani management, to achieve sustainable development of the sector,” said Al Futaisi.

Al Futaisi added that the total railway track length of 2,244km would be divided into nine segments spanning from the Yemeni border in the south to the UAE border in the north, and will feature double non-electrified track, mixed freight and passenger traffic, maximum speed of 80-120km/h for freight trains and 220km/h for passenger trains.

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SCTA launches tourism complaint service

Arab News – 23 July, 2014 – The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) has launched a mobile phone complaint service to allow citizens and expatriates to inform it about any lack of proper facilities.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, the SCTA president, launched the “Mobile Phone Complaint Service” and “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) projects recently at the commission’s headquarters in Riyadh. Hamad bin Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, vice-president of the SCTA for marketing and programs, said the projects would allow citizens to complain and inform the organization on how to improve services and facilities.

The new service would be delivered through an SCTA application for Android and IOS systems. The system allows for the uploading of images and determining locations for easy follow-up, he said. Al-Sheikh said the SCTA is committed to developing the industry to ensure better services for tourists. He said the CRM project allows the SCTA to communicate more easily with individuals and companies.

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Qatar Tourism Authority’s regional Eid promotions start

Saudi Gazette – 23 July, 2014 – QATAR Tourism Authority (QTA) has launched a GCC-wide advertising campaign to promote events and activities taking place in Qatar during Eid in an effort to attract regional visitors.

QTA will be marketing the Eid Al-Fitr festival in the five GCC countries of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Oman in all forms of local media. The festival will be a seven-day extravaganza starting on the first day of Eid.

Tourism data released by QTA on the results of the first quarter of 2014 revealed that the total number of visitors from around the world rose by 26 percent, while the percentage of visitors from Kuwait rose by a staggering 42 percent.

Tourism data from the same period showed that total GCC visitors grew by 5 percent, with 188,621 tourists from Saudi Arabia, making it the largest single source of GCC visitors.

“Our aim is to make Qatar a favorable destination not only for international but also for GCC visitors. Given that we share the same values, culture and traditions, it becomes our duty to make Qatar as approachable and attractive to them as possible, particularly during the Eid festivities, so that we can celebrate together,” said Rashed Al Qurese, Marketing and Promotion Director of QTA.

QTA is teaming up with various entities to make it a memorable Eid Festival These include: the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Heritage; Katara Cultural Village; Souq Waqif; The Pearl-Qatar; Qatar Shooting and Archery Association; Lusail Circuit; Al Dosari Zoo and Game Reserve; Al Rayyan Radio; and Aqua Park Qatar. And the shopping malls participants are: Hyatt Plaza, City Center Doha, Landmark, Al Khor Mall, Lagoona Mall, and The Mall.

Last year’s successful Eid Festival saw more than 75,000 people visiting Qatar. QTA oversaw preparations to receive, residents and regional visitors, ensuring their enjoyment of the entertainment activities, games, and celebrations organized by QTA and supporting organizations. Dozens of cultural and entertainment activities are scheduled for the seven-day event across Qatar. They are suitable for all ages and preferences.

QTA is launching a website for Eid (eidinqatar.qa) which will have complete information of the various activities happening in the various locations. QTA will also engage via its own social media channels on twitter, Instagram and facebook. The hashtag for Eid will be: #eidinqatar and for Arabic, it will be #العيدفيقطر. Use these hashtags to get a glimpse into the activities happening around Qatar. In addition, all activities and events are listed on the website www.onqatar.qa

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Etihad, Jet Airways keen to boost growth of India aviation industry

Khaleej Times – 24 July, 2014 – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, and Jet Airways, India’s premier international airline, have outlined plans to reinforce their long-term commitment to the growth of India’s economy and aviation industry, including a major new turnaround strategy for Jet Airways to return to profitability in three years.

The two airlines have been codeshare partners since 2008 and their relationship was strengthened in November 2013, after Etihad Airways received approvals to acquire a 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways, marking it the first investment by a foreign carrier in India’s airline industry.

The wide-ranging partnership has numerous advantages for travellers, including enhanced connections across the world through an expanded codeshare agreement, and reciprocal ‘earn and burn’ rights and tier level recognition on the JetPrivilege and Etihad Guest frequent flyer programmes.

Jet Airways and Etihad Airways also stand to benefit from cost savings and synergies in areas such as fleet acquisition, maintenance, product development and training, and continue to explore collaborative purchasing opportunities for fuel, spare parts, insurance and technology support.

Supporting the partnership, the Jet Airways Board recently approved a three-year business plan to reshape the airline and secure its long-term future. The plan incorporates a series of critical measures that lay the foundations for a return to profitability, such as long-term network, fleet and product developments to optimise the airline’s domestic and international operations.

Focus areas for international operations will include network developments, including new services to markets such as Europe, China, Australia and Southeast Asia, expanded frequencies to existing routes and additional codeshares. Jet Airways’ two and three class aircraft product will also be enhanced and the seat count optimised on wide-body Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 aircraft.

In addition, the domestic business model will improve connectivity across India and worldwide, while removing complexity in product and fleet, including the standardisation and reconfiguration of the Boeing 737 fleet.

To initiate the three-year turnaround plan, the Jet Airways board and management team have already worked with auditors to clean up its balance sheet and write down overvalued non-cash assets.

Jet Airways has announced a new team at the helm with Cramer Ball as its new chief executive officer and Subodh Karnik as the chief operating officer pending regulatory approval.

Naresh Goyal, chairman of Jet Airways, said: “The coming together of Jet Airways and Etihad Airways has already proved a success for the two airlines and, importantly, has been beneficial for travellers, and will also bring significant benefits to the Indian economy, both in terms of growth, job creation, trade and tourism.”

James Hogan, president and chief executive officer of Etihad Airways, said: “India represents a considerable opportunity for airlines worldwide, with more than 42 million international travellers reported last year and impressive future growth rates predicted by IATA. The challenge is ensuring that our industry is efficiently catering to rising demand, not only in India’s major destinations, but also smaller cities that remain largely unconnected and underserved.

“The Etihad Airways and Jet Airways partnership has significantly improved connectivity between India and the UAE, and through our combined network and codeshare partnerships with other airlines, the Indian public has convenient access to destinations across the Gulf region, Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America.”

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Flydubai to start Mumbai flights in October

Khaleej Times – 24 July, 2014 – Dubai-based flydubai on Wednesday announced the launch of flights to Mumbai, bringing the total number of destinations served by the carrier in India to seven, with 25 flights a week. Commencing on October 28, flydubai will operate direct flights five times a week between Dubai International’s Terminal 2 and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, while also increasing the frequency of its flights to Delhi to five weekly. Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive officer at flydubai, said: “India and the UAE have enjoyed close historic relations and have been dynamic trade partners.”

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QTA lines up Qatar Summer Festival events

The Peninsula – 24 July, 2014 – Water fountain shows, an Entertainment City and an inflatable Aqua Park are some of the exciting activities at the Qatar Summer Festival to be hosted by Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) from August 4 to 27 at venues across the country. The evening water fountain shows will be held on the Corniche, the inflatable Aqua Park is in Al Wakra and the Entertainment City at Doha Exhibition Center.

The Entertainment City will comprise areas to provide fun and entertainment to various segments of visitors. They include adventure, freeze, interactive, toddlers’ and food zones and a stage to present shows and activities. Outdoor activities such as bike riding, kayaking and other games will be held in Al Khor along with activities in malls, including commercial sales, raffle draws and prizes.

A highlight of the festival is the ‘Disney On Ice presents Rockin’ Ever After’ show from September 24 to 27 at Qatar National Convention Center. The festival will give citizens, residents and visitors from the region an opportunity to enjoy activities that will appeal to all ages, especially kids.

It is part of Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030, launched by QTA in cooperation with stakeholders in the public and private sectors. The strategy serves as a road map for the development of the tourism industry and as a guide for QTA in its efforts to position Qatar as a world-class hub with deep cultural roots.

QTA plays a key role in the effort to develop a sustainable tourism sector and increase the sector’s contribution to a diversified national economy. Rashed Al Qurese, Director, Marketing and Promotions, QTA, said: “The festival is part of QTA’s efforts to make Qatar the best tourist destination for families in the region.

“Through it, we will offer quality performances to present Qatar’s entertainment options and warm hospitality. We seek to stimulate the tourism sector and enhance its role in the national economy. We support owners of tourist facilities and other stakeholders in the sector, adding value to their efforts and helping them promote their offerings at home and abroad.”

Tourist data released by QTA on results of the first quarter of 2014 revealed continued growth in the tourism industry, with the total number of visitors from all parts of the world rising by 26 percent, and from Kuwait by 42 percent.

Hotel occupancy also rose by more than 10 percent compared to the same period last year. The total number of regional and international visitors in the first quarter reached 387,022, representing a 9 percent year-on-year increase. Visitors increased from most corners of the globe, with particularly good performance coming from within the GCC countries.

Overall, GCC tourists were up by 5 percent, with Saudi Arabia being the largest single source of visitors with 188,621.

The average hotel occupancy rate rose from 68 percent to 75, assisted by the 1.9 percent decrease in available rooms from 13,551 in Q1 2013 to 13,251 in Q1 2014 due to renovation-related closures. Total revenue at four- and five-star hotels increased by 5.4 percent, reaching QR999.4m for the quarter while three-star hotel revenue reached QR1m.

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Tehran to host confab on documentary film, Iran archaeology

PressTV – Mon Jul 21, 2014 – Iran is planning to hold an international conference on contributions of documentary films to Iranian archaeology at the capital city of Tehran. The conference titled the International Conference of Documentary Film and Iranian Archaeology is to host many filmmakers and experts from around the world to discuss on the issue through the produced films and documentaries.

The gala will be organized by Iran’s Documentary and Experimental Film Center (DEFC) in collaboration with the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO). “Role of Documentary Films in Introducing Archaeology”, “What Is Documentary Film of Archaeology”, “Connection between Documentary and Archaeology”, and “Documentary and History of Archaeological Researches” are among the articles to be discussed in the conference. The conference is scheduled to take place at the National Museum of Iran from January 5 to 7, 2015.

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Iranian-made film ‘Melbourne’ to open Venice International Film Critics’ Week

PressTV – Tue Jul 22, 2014 – Iranian drama Melbourne directed by Nima Javidi has been selected to open Critics’ Week section of the 71st Venice International Film Festival in Italy. Javidi’s debut feature-length film will experience its international premiere at this year’s Italian festival.

Melbourne chronicles the story of a young couple on their way to the eponymous Australian city to continue their education. But just a few hours before their departure, they become involved in a tragic event.

The film is slated to be screened at the 29th Critics’ Week section playing out of competition. The festival’s officials became acquainted with the movie at the 2014 Cannes’s Film Market, the director said. The 71st annual Venice Film Festival is scheduled to take place in Venice, Italy from August 27 to September 6, 2014.

The aim of the Festival is to raise awareness and promote all the various aspects of international cinema in all its forms: as art, entertainment and as an industry, in a spirit of freedom and tolerance.

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