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15 Dec, 2014

Oman Air Launches Muscat-Jakarta Flights

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 15 December 2014 (22 Safar 1436). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.




Malaysian handicraft store Karyaneka has launched its first online portal and mobile application, which allows customers worldwide to purchase Malaysian-made handicrafts of outstanding craftsmanship. Karyaneka teamed up with two leading local e-commerce portals, FashionValet.com and Groupon.com to set up the online portals: http://www.karyaneka.my and http://www.karyanekastore.my. The full catalogue of its products includes pewter, woodcarving, silver brassware, Malaysian fabrics like songket and batik, and many more. This initiative was made possible through its partnership with Tukul Cipta Industri Sdn Bhd (TCI). Executive Director of TCI Abdul Munaf Dr. Sultan believes that this new venture will help the globalisation of the local arts and crafts industry. TCI will also introduce Karyaneka through various platforms such as online sales, vending machines at strategic tourist spots and kiosks, online and offline catalogue-based sales as well as boutiques in major cities around the world. Currently, the catalogues are available at all hotel rooms in the Klang Valley. The initiative aims to bring Malaysia’s heritage to greater heights internationally, even to London, Paris and New York City via the Karyaneka International boutique cafés, which will create a positive impact on Malaysia’s arts and crafts industry.

For more information, visit Karyaneka’s website at http://www.karyaneka.my and http://www.karyanekastore.my.


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.




Turkey’s Rixos Hotels moves headquarters to Dubai

Dubai, December 10, 2014, Gulf News : Turkish hotel operator Rixos Hotels has moved its headquarters to Dubai, according to a company statement on Wednesday.

Rixos said that it aims to position itself by leveraging and integrating its key resources in Dubai.

The emirate will host the World Expo 2020, a trade fair that is expected to attract 25 million visitors. By 2020, the emirate is anticipated to have 20 million annual visitors. This has led some hotel operators to boost their inventory here.

Rixos has 30 hotels open in 11 countries, with 22 in the pipeline. It aims to double its portfolio size within the next five years.

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Malaysian woman student named best speaker in Cambridge tournament

BEIJING, Dec. 10 (Xinhuanet) — International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) student Ameera Natasha Moore has been named best overall speaker in the recently concluded Cambridge University Women’s Debate Open.

Ameera, 21, and her team-mate from IIUM, Sara Rahim, 19, were the highest ranked team in the tournament, also known as the Norton Rose Fulbright Cambridge Women’s Open, after accumulating the most speaker points in all four preliminary rounds.

In receiving the award, the third-year law student outranked debaters from renowned institutions including Oxford University, Durham University, Trinity College Dublin, University College London, Vienna University, Berlin University, St Andrews University, Warwick University, the London School of Economics and Tel Aviv University among others.

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Oman Air Launches Muscat-Jakarta Service

Oman Air’s first flight from its home base of Muscat to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta took off on Friday 12 December. The new service will operate four flights per week and will offer convenient connections at Muscat to exciting destinations throughout Oman Air’s rapidly-expanding network.

The new route will utilise Oman Air’s new A330 -300. Oman Air’s new Airbus A330-300 features 24 new Business Class seats designed by BE Aerospace. Fitted in a 2-2-2 configuration, each comfortable and spacious 21-inch wide seat converts to a 77-inch long, fully flat bed. Oman Air’s superb service, state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system and pioneering mobile phone and wi-fi connectivity can be enjoyed throughout the aircraft.

Oman Air’s Chief Operating Officer, Abdulrahman Al Busaidy says: “We are delighted to now offer air travellers the opportunity to fly with Oman Air to Jakarta. Not only is this an exciting and vibrant city, but it also provides a centre from which to explore the cultural richness, natural beauty and geographical diversity of Indonesia.

“I am sure that the service will meet strong demand from both leisure and business travellers and we have already accepted a high level of bookings. In addition, the timing of the launch enables us to help reunite families and friends as they come together over the winter holiday period.

“In addition to introducing thousands of travellers from around the globe to the countless attractions of both Jakarta and Muscat, we look forward to welcoming them aboard our superb A330 aircraft. Here they will be able to relax, enjoy the flight and experience the very highest levels of comfort, space and onboard service. There really is no better way to fly than with Oman Air, the airline of First Choice.”

Return flights between Muscat and Jakarta can be booked through your local travel agent, local Oman Air office or by visiting www.omanair.com. Economy Class returns are priced from OMR 267 per person, with Business Class return starting from OMR 805.

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Malaysia Wins Asia’s Best Golf Destination Award

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia’s reputation as a golfing haven have been further enhanced when it won the “Asia’s Best Golf Destination Award” at the World Golf Awards held at the Conrad Algarve Hotel in Portugal on Nov 15, this year.

The recently opened The Els Club Teluk Datai, designed by the golf legend Ernie Els, within the 10 million old rainforests of Langkawi island, was awarded the Best New Golf Course in Asia and Best New Golf Course in the World awards.

The World Golf Awards are aimed at celebrating and rewarding excellence in golf tourism, world class courses and golf destinations.

The Awards are part of World Travel Awards, currently celebrating its 21st anniversary as “the Oscars of the travel industry.

The worldwide voting process for 2014 began on June 20, 2014 and closed on Oct 2, 2014, and votes were made by professionals working within the golf travel and tourism industry and media professionals from 130 countries.

Votes were also cast by the public (golf tourism consumers), submitted online via the World Golf Awards website.

Malaysia Golf Tourism Association (MGTA) which has been playing a key role in extensively promoting and marketing Malaysia as a golfing destination to international tourists is thrilled and proud with these achievements.

MGTA president Ng Eu Shen expressed his pride over the international achievements and felt happy over the awards won by local golf industry players as winners are active MGTA members.

He attributed Malaysia being voted as a great golf destination was not just because of the great golf courses in the country but Malaysia also has products and services that are value for money.

“Hall of Famer Ernie Els has a great reason to build Asia’s first Els Club here, he knows what’s good and the tremendous natural surroundings that Malaysia is blessed with where he can design an award winning golf course,” added Ng.

Malaysia, the land of diverse attractions, is a veritable paradise for golfers offering a choice of over 200 golf courses and that are open all-year long. Last year, golf tourism receipts surpassed RM300 million compared to RM296 million in 2012. The target for this year is to reach RM310 million.

MGTA is a non-profit organisation with the goal to create greater international awareness of Malaysia as “Asia’s Best Kept Secret” when it comes to golfing holidays.

MGTA was formed under the initiative of the National Key Economic Area (NKEA) in March 2011 under the Entry Point Project 9-B (EPP 9-B).

It is funded by Tourism Malaysia to serve as their golf tourism marketing arm. It comes under the purview of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MOTAC) and PEMANDU (Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit).

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Jordan Launches Reforestation Project For 40 Million Trees

BEIRUT, Dec. 11 (NNN-DAILYSTAR.LB) –The Agriculture Ministry Wednesday morning set the wheels in motion for a reforestation project to plant 40 million trees, sponsored by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Lebanon, Maurice Saade, announced during a news conference at the Grand Serail that the FAO would offer the Agriculture Ministry technical help and funding to the tune of almost $300,000 starting early 2015.

The aid will be dedicated to forming a unit to coordinate the national reforestation program. “The rapid deterioration in the forest wealth hurts the hearts of all Lebanese because losing the natural heritage is irreparable,” Saade said.

He described the reforestation initiative as a rarity in the Middle East and North Africa region, “where protecting the forest wealth is often absent from the list of decision-makers’ priorities.”

Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk and Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb, who was representing Salam, attended the launch ceremony and gave speeches. Other ministers, U.N. officials and business figures were also present.

“Lebanon’s first capital is its green forests, but it’s deteriorating as a result of irresponsible human behaviors such as random logging, fires, overgrazing and urban expansion,” Machnouk said.

However, it wasn’t all bad news. “The disappearance of green spaces is occurring at a rate of approximately 0.4 percent annually, while reforestation is estimated at 0.83 percent annually,” he added.

And despite the fact that Lebanon’s emissions constitute just 0.07 percent of global emissions, the negative repercussions for the country will increase as climate change means water becomes more scarce, Machnouk said.

“Reforestation aims to preserve the ecological diversity and natural environmental systems, protecting the soil from erosion and improving the earth’s ability to absorb rainwater,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of the premier, Shehayeb said: “We are brought together by our desire to regain Lebanon’s greenery, a characteristic that is a part of the country’s identity and a longtime feature of the country of Cedars, which has lost a lot.”

“There are many dangers to our greenery,” he added. “Its first results are the decrease of green spaces to almost 13 percent of Lebanon’s area, and soil erosion.”

There have been many reforestation attempts in Lebanon, Shehayeb said. “We plant trees every year, and yet green spaces are decreasing.”

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Saudi Investor To Build Africa’s Tallest Building In Morocco

RABAT, Dec 13 (NNN-AGENCIES) — A Saudi investor is to build Africa’s tallest building in Morocco, with construction of the 114-storey tower to begin in June, the project’s manager has said.

The skyscraper in Casablanca will be 540 metres high, taller than the 223-meter Carlton Centre in Johannesburg which currently holds the title for tallest building on the continent.

“It will be Africa’s highest tower,” project manager Amede Santalo said.

It will be built by the Dubai-based Middle East Development LLC, owned by Saudi businessman Sheikh Tarek Binladen, and will cost an estimated $1 billion (800 million euros), he added.

The project’s working title is the “Al-Noor Tower” (Tower of Light in Arabic), but it is expected eventually to be named after King Mohamed VI.

“We chose Morocco because it is the gateway to Africa and Europe, a modern country and politically stable,” Santalo told AFP.

The tower is due for completion in June 2018. “The height of the tower is 540 metres to remind us that Africa has 54 countries. Everyone in Africa will feel part of that tower,” the project’s website says.

It will have 114 floors — the number of surahs or chapters in the Holy Quran — and the facade will be covered by patterns representing Africa’s 1,000 languages. It will be built on a 25-hectare plot and will include a seven-star hotel, a business centre and a shopping mall.

Casablanca, Morocco’s commercial hub, already hosts the world’s tallest minaret at 210 meters, at the Hassan II mosque. The world’s tallest tower is in Dubai, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa, which opened in January 2010.

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Qatar National Day Festivities Kick Off At Darb Al Saie

DOHA, Qatar, Dec 9 (NNN-QNA) – Qatar National Day celebrations have been officially launched at Darb Al Saie and will last until Dec 20.

The opening ceremony started with patriotic poems delivered by a group of children, while the Qatari flag was hoisted by all participants, in an expression of unity and loyalty to the homeland, as the national anthem played in the background.

The ceremony featured a huge show of all the activities and entities taking part in Darb Al Saie, which hosts the events over a morning period from 8.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon, and an evening period from 6.00-8.00 p.m.

Darb Al Saie’s organising committee, also announced the schedule of activities that will be held there, including performances, exhibition of handmade products, as well as, several cultural and artistic activities.

This year’s edition will see the participation of Karwa, Qatar Rail and Qatar Airways in the celebrations, as well as, some activities by Al Shaqab stud.

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Egypt Discovers Tomb Of Ancient King’s Wife In Luxor

CAIRO, Egypt, Dec 12 (NNN-MENA) – The Egyptian-French archaeological mission, working at the Ramesseum Temple in Luxor, discovered the tomb of Karomama, divine wife of ancient Egyptian king Amun, the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry said in a statement.

“The tomb is in the form of a 5-metre deep well, with a funeral chamber, where the teams unearthed some twenty statues belonging to Karomama,” Youssef Khalifa, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Sector, said in the statement.

Khalifa added that the discovery has a great historical importance, as it sheds more light on the important ancient figure, Karomama, due to the rare antiquities carrying her name, noting that the tomb was located inside the Ramesseum Temple and it dates back to the Ramesside period, over 3,000 years ago.

On the other hand, the joint team working at the nearby Karnak Temple, discovered on Wednesday, three small complete statues, including one for ancient king Osiris, in addition to a broken statue base.

Also in Luxor, a Spanish archaeological team, restoring the tomb of Amenhotep Huy, has recently discovered the sarcophagus king Amun’s singer.

Luxor, about 670 km south of the capital Cairo, was the capital city of ancient Egypt, under the name of Thebes, and it is believed to be the richest host of antiquities in the world.

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Malaysia Major Events Target Over 100,000 Tourists in 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Dec 7 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia Major Events, a division of Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and an agency of the Tourism Ministry, is targeting to attract more than 100,000 international tourists visiting this country through various events scheduled next year.

Its general manager, Tony Nagamaiah said he was optimistic the number could be achieved as many interesting major events such as international concerts, sporting and musical events as well as festivals would be held next year in conjunction with Malaysia’s Year Of Festivals.

“This year, we are supporting more than 50 events and brought in approximately 100,000 international tourists while for next year, we secured 60 events and our target is more than 100,000 people,” he told Bernama in an interview here.

He said interesting events that had been listed for next year’s schedule included ‘Thriller Live!’, a musical extravaganza from West End London, which would be showcased only in Malaysia for this region in March at Indoor Stadium Putra Bukit Jalil here.

This event alone was expected to attract more than 10,000 tourists, especially Michael Jackson’s die-hard fans, and generate more than RM50 million in revenue.

“Other than that, we will be hosting the International Olympic Council Meeting where all the federation presidents will gather (in this meeting). We are also looking at some concerts such as Cold Play and Foo Fighters,” he said.

Nagamaiah said Malaysia Major Events, which was set up in 2011, was aimed to place Malaysia on the world map as the event venue of choice that could create and generate an impact to the country’s economy.

“We want to showcase Malaysia as a country full of excitement, fun and welcome as many tourists to see what the country has to offer in terms of tourism products and development.

“This is basically giving back to the economy where hotel rooms, airlines and taxi drivers will be fully booked and travel agents will make money,” he said, adding that all these would generate the economic engine and bring the revenue or return on investment (ROI) immediately.

Nagamaiah said the agency provided a shared platform with the public and private sectors and acted as a vital link in facilitating and promoting major events.

“We don’t organise events, but we work together with the local promoter. If they have ideas, they will come, share with us and provide a proposal, then we will evaluate the ideas. If the proposal is good enough and have good economic and tourism impact, we will work with them,” he said.

He said the agency would provide a start-up fund to the local promoter of between RM500,000 to RM3 million depending on the strength of their proposal for them to start the project rolling.

“But, they still need to go for other sponsors and also make money from ticket sales and (charge) participants’ fee for them to run a successful and profitable event,” he said.

Besides international events, he said, they also supported home grown events that had been initiated and staged within Malaysia by a local or national organisation.

“We do support and help our local events, we also want to elevate them to the next level to attract as many tourists from the region to this country,” he said.

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Qatar Airways Launches Flights To Eritrea’s Capital Asmara

DOHA, Qatar, Dec 8 (NNN-QNA) – Qatar Airways has continued its expansion into Africa, with the launch of flights to the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

The return Doha-Asmara service will provide two weekly flights to the country in the Horn of Africa, Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

“The launch of our flights to Eritrea shows our commitment to opening our doors for stronger business ties and greater commercial development with the global business community,” said Qatar Airways chief commercial officer, Marwan Koleilat.

The Doha-Asmara route will be operated by an A320 aircraft.

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Islamic Economy To Boom For Years

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec 8 (NNN-WAM) – Global industry for products and services abiding to Islamic or halal standards is expect to further expand in the years to come, according to a report released on Sunday.

The industry is going to rise from two trillion U.S. dollars last year to 3.7 trillion by 2019, as more non-Muslim countries jump on the bandwagon, said the global Islamic economy report.

Issued by the Islamic economy development centre and Dubai government, with the support of Dinar Standard, the report said, the spread of Islamic economic sectors, such as Islamic banking, halal food or religious fashion, Sharia-compliant lifestyle or religious travelling was no longer a matter of the Muslim world, “but an international phenomenon,” said Abdullah Al Awar, chief executive of the Islamic economy development centre.

In relation to producing conservative Islamic fashion, for example, such as veils and sheilas for women, the two non-Muslim countries like China and Italy have taken a lead, said the report.

The report also said that the halal food industry makes now up to 16 percent of the global food industry. Nearly all major Chinese cities have restaurants with halal food for Muslim residents and for the increasing number of Muslim tourists from the Arab world and South-East Asia.

Australia emerged as the leading producer of halal meat in the Asia Pacific region.

Islam prohibits the use of interest in financing. The religion also denies alcohol, pork meat, the production of weapons and entertainment for adults. The global Islamic halal economy is poised to grow by 10.8 percent per year.

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UNESCAP-Backed Central Asian Cooperation Forum Reviews Afghan Successes

ASHGABAT (Turkmenistan), Dec 8 (NNN-UNESCAP) — A regional economic cooperation forum of Central Asia and Afghanistan countries meets this week to discuss how regional cooperation can most effectively contribute to the stabilisation and economic development of Afghanistan.

The 2014 SPECA Economic Forum, focusing on the theme of “Improving connectivity: a key contribution of SPECA to the success of the Transformation Decade of Afghanistan”, brought together representatives of the Governments of SPECA countries, as well as Asian and Eurasian regional organizations and institutions.

The United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) was launched in 1998 to strengthen subregional cooperation in Central Asia and its integration into the world economy. The countries of SPECA are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) jointly provide overall support to the Programme.

Shun-ichi Murata, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) underscored that SPECA member states have great potential to develop their landlinked connections and to tap deeper regional and subregional markets, which will provide a major impetus to economic and trade diversification.

There are equally good prospects for Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) to serve as transit countries to ensure seamless movement of goods within and outside the subregion, as well as connecting to other parts of the world.

Improving regional connectivity is therefore critical for the SPECA countries to become landlinked, added Murata, in line with the priorities of the recently adopted Vienna Programme of Actions for Landlocked Developing Countries for Next decade 2014-2024.

By developing all of the key networks such as transport, energy and ICT infrastructure, in a coordinated and integrated manner, the benefits from improved connectivity with the rest of the world can be spread more evenly across and between countries, particularly to least developed and landlocked SPECA countries. Consequently, it can contribute to the process of graduation for least developed countries (LDCs), such as Afghanistan.

Christian Friis Bach, UNECE Executive Secretary, emphasised that within the SPECA framework, UNESCAP and the UNECE offer capacity-building and other forms of technical assistance that contribute to the efficient and safe operation of regional transport infrastructures and the identification of bottlenecks.

The numerous legal instruments of the UNECE provide a solid legal basis for the development of harmonised regulatory frameworks for regional transport. This meeting offered an opportunity for a strategic discussion on how to improve connectivity among SPECA countries in the coming years.

The participating SPECA member states as well as representatives of Russia, Iran and Pakistan supported the activities of the two Regional Commissions aimed at strengthening Inter-Regional and Intra-Regional connectivity for shared prosperity.

The forum is convened by UNESCAP and UNECE to discuss ways to harness regional integration to drive the post-2015 global development agenda in these countries.

The strategic importance of Central Asia makes it a unique region, and this is highlighted by the significant role it plays in the energy security of Europe and Asia, as well as its connective potential as a transport hub between two continents.

The region also faces unique challenges. All of the member countries are landlocked, with divergent economic development, and a rapid growth gap between the income levels of energy-exporting and non-energy exporting States.

In turn, Central Asian States face the urgent task of diversifying their economies, moving away from their present status as energy and commodity exporters. Strengthening regional cooperation is a key precondition for the rapid, balanced and sustained economic development of all the countries of the region.

Only through close regional cooperation can they fully capitalise on their strategic advantages and fight jointly and effectively the challenges that can potentially destabilise the region.

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Malaysia: Second Penang Bridge Lures More Investors To Mainland

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia Dec 8 (NNN-Bernama) — The Penang state government has acknowledged the importance of the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge as more firms on the island express interest in expanding their operations to the mainland.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said more high-tech manufacturing firms from the United States (US) and the European Union have announced expansion initiatives amid the opening of the Second Penang Bridge linking the island and Batu Kawan.

“Those already operating in Batu Kawan include Bose Systems, Haemonetics, Magneti Marelli Automotive Lighting (MAL), SanDisk, Seagate and VAT (Swiss semiconductor firm),” he said at the Invest Penang Supplier Day themed “Grow Your Business With International Partnership” here today.

The 24km bridge, a federal government project, was built at a cost of RM4.5 billion to ease the heavy volume of traffic on the first bridge, and has proven to be a key catalyst in developing the Batu Kawan industrial area.

Lim said multinational corporations (MNCs) have been a strong contributor to Penang’s economic growth dating back to 1972, adding the US and Germany were Penang’s second and third largest foreign investors in 2013 with total investments of US$155 million (RM507 million) and US$69 million (RM228 million) respectively.

“In aggregate, 40 per cent of Penang’s foreign direct investment came from the US and Germany, mainly in the electrical and electronics (E&E) sector,” he added.

Lim said E&E products have been Malaysia’s main traded items and have elevated the country to becoming a major link in the global E&E value chain.

He said from January to September this year, Malaysia exported US$58 billion worth of E&E products globally, posting a nine per cent increase over the previous year.

“Penang contributes 25 per cent of Malaysia’s total exports or 50 per cent of Malaysia’s E&E products exported overseas,” he added.

The Supplier Day event, attended by over 40 foreign and local sourcing companies and 250 supplier companies focusing on the E&E industry, aimed to promote the E&E ecosystem, enhance localisation as well as showcase joint-venture opportunities in Penang especially in the E&E supply chain.

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Mexico Sees Morocco As Gateway To Africa, Arab World

RABAT, Dec 9 (NNN-MAP) — Morocco is a gateway to Africa and the Arab world, says Mexico’s Deputy Foreign Secretary, Carlos de Icaza Gonzalez.

“Mexico’s choice to open an international trade office in Morocco is due to its unique geo-strategic location and the opportunities the country offers,” De Icaza Gonzalez said in an interview published Monday by the French-language daily Liberation.

Mexico last week opened a trade office in Casablanca, its first in Africa, to serve as a bridge for trade and investment opportunities between Mexico and the continent.

De Icaza Gonzalez highlighted the huge potential in Africa, adding that it was never too late to have an economic presence, especially as the process of the internationalization of the Mexican economy continues.

“Morocco is interesting first as an export hub for the continent and the North African region”, he said, underlining the will of several large Mexican companies to invest in Morocco in different sectors.

“We are here with some important companies like Bimbo (food industry) which is the largest producer and exporter of bread,” he said, adding that there is also Gruma in the food sector, which has 101 factories around the world and is the largest exporter and producer of corn and flour, and Cemex in the building material sector. Cemex, which has operations in 50 countries, is the largest producer and exporter of concrete.

The Director-General of the country’s trade and investment promotion agency, ProMexico, Francisco Gonzalez, said Mexico’s strategy in Morocco is to bring Mexican companies to set up shop in the Kingdom and continue the expansion across the continent.

“This strategy is based on an analysis that has been carried out for 10 years by our offices in Europe, visits, interviews and surveys with our embassies and offices,” Gonzalez Diaz noted.

“With the information collected, we have realized that the real gateway to the continent and Europe is Morocco thanks o its capacities and openness,” he added.

Last year, Morocco exported 679 million dirhams (about 76 million US dollars) worth of goods to Mexico and imported some 422 million dirhams from the Central American nation in return.

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Kenya Holds Meeting To Promote Islamic Finance

NAIROBI, Dec 10 (NNN-KBC) — Efforts by Kenya to promote the development of the country as a centre of excellence in Islamic financial products have gathered steam with a meeting here of stakeholders from its Capital Markets Authority (CMA), the Islamic financial services industry, government agencies and international experts.

CMA Acting Chief Executive Paul Muthaura told the gathering Tuesday that the deliberations would help in leveraging relationships with regulators and financial market infrastructure providers to support the development of the Islamic finance sector.

The capital markets industry has prioritized the development of Kenya as a centre of excellence in Islamic finance as a key priority under a 10-year blueprint for the transformation of Kenya into the heart of capital markets investment on the continent.

With an intention of unlocking the potential of Shariah-compliant investments to support infrastructure projects in Kenya, the CMA had earlier convened a stakeholders meeting with the Islamic Research & Training Institute and the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre (MIFC) to come up with recommendations and develop a plan of action towards developing a formal Islamic finance framework.

Muthaura said the deliberations were to enable Shariah-compliant financial services to respond to the investment diversification as well as funding needs of the economy.

“In the context of the recent announcement by the Government of Kenya that it will be seeking to issue its first Sovereign Sukuk in the near future, it is critical that the domestic financial markets are effectively prepared to leverage the opportunities arising from that increased visibility by providing a wider diversity of products to attract local, regional and global funds seeking ethical or Shariah compliant investments through the development of a globally competitive policy, legal and regulatory framework.”

Development of Islamic finance in Kenya over the last five years has been on an upward spiral, with the licensing of two Islamic banks by the Central Bank of Kenya, licensing of an Islamic insurance (takaful) company, registration of an Islamic Collective Investment Scheme, licensing of an Islamic asset manager, and the introduction of a Shariah component in the Real Estate Investment Trust regulations.

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Malaysia GDP growth highest among ASEAN

Tuesday 09 Dec 2014 – Kuala Lumpur (IINA) – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that his country has achieved GDP growth rate of 6.1 percent over the first nine months of 2014, reaching the highest growth rate in the ASEAN countries, BERNAMA reported.

Najib called on public sector employees to forecast the potential risks and challenges before the advent of 2015 through assessing the achievements and outlining what can be accomplished in the next year.

The key challenges mentioned by Najib include the social ladder, financial corruption and influence peddling, national solidarity, as well as applying a culture of high performance in the public service.

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Iran, Pakistan sign agreements on economy, security

Sunday 07 Dec 2014 – Tehran (IINA) – Iran and Pakistan have signed agreements aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation in several key areas, Iran’s Mehr News Agency (MNA) reported.

Iran’s parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told reporters after arriving from Pakistan on Saturday that the agreements are related to economy, security, parliamentary cooperation and combating terrorism.

During his meeting with Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain in Islamabad, Larijani stressed the importance of cooperation between Tehran and Islamabad to deal with border insecurity.

“We have a long history of cultural ties and I believe our efforts will help maintain peace with our neighbors,” he told Hussain. He added: “The presence of extremists and their activities at the borders have created a poisonous atmosphere in Iran, but we should not let these harm our relationship and I think we can overcome this together”.

Mamnoon described Larijani’s visit as a sign of Iran’s commitment to strengthening relations between the two countries.

The president emphasized his government’s policy of enhancing close ties with all countries “especially our neighbors including Iran.”

He mentioned Pakistan’s responsibility to construct a section of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline and called for more economic ties between the two countries.

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Ancient holy road to now serve Turkish tourism

AYDIN – Anadolu Agency – A 2,600-year-old ancient road located between the ancient city of Milet and the Temple of Apollo that was used to meet oracles during the Hellenistic era has been restored and reorganized as a walking trail.

Aydın Culture and Tourism Director Nuri Aktakka said works had been continuing since 2009 on the 25-kilometer, sixth-century road in Didim and that its route had been identified through satellite coordination.

He said that as part of the restoration plan, the road with sculptures, resting places and columns had been cleaned and that road signs had been erected.

The holy road was very significant in terms of history and nature, Aktakka said. “There are various traces from the ancient times on the holy road. There are sculptures and columns in some parts of the road. There are ancient resting places at two points. The whole road was covered with stone in the past, but it has been destroyed in many places. As part of our restoration plans, we identified these historical structures and reorganized them. We put road signs on the route. Now the 25-kilometer road has been opened as a walking trail. Tourists walking here will see the ancient traces on the road and view natural life on the route.”

Aktakka said prophecy was dominant in the ancient times and people from different regions came to the ancient city of Milet and used the road to meet oracles in the Temple of Apollo.

He said the holy road was popular among tourists thanks to its ancient features and that they planned to promote the road at international events.

“It is known that the ancient city of Milet was a coastal town of trade and education. Those visiting the city felt the need to meet the oracles who were living in the Temple of Apollo to learn about future.

They used the holy road at this time. We plan to organize international walking events and festivals on this road in the next years. Talks are continuing with tourism managers and travel agencies about the issue,” he said.

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City Theaters’ costumes awaiting new museum

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – The special accessories and costumes that have been used in the plays of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) City Theaters for more than a century are currently waiting to be displayed at long-planned new museum. The costume storage of the City Theaters is home to more than 100,000 props and costumes from hundreds of plays staged throughout its storied history.

Ottoman-era knives, original Ottoman police station emblems, a sherbet seller’s kettle, a Karagöz shadow play set, specially-made French heaters, a church bell from 1906, and costumes that were used in unforgettable plays are among the many objects currently being kept in a special room in storage – awaiting the new museum.

City Theaters Accessories Chief Özkan Balsoy said when a play was removed from the repertoire its costumes and props were always kept under protection in storage, right back to the first plays performed.

“The objects and costumes of some plays such as ‘Lüküs Hayat’ (Luxurious Life) and ‘Sersem Kocanın Kurnaz Karısı’ (The Shrewd Wife of a Silly Husband) are kept in a special area,” Balsoy said.

“From 1914 to this year, when we are celebrating the 100th year, we can estimate that the costumes and props of more than 2,000 plays are being kept in the depot. There are also many objects. The City Theaters never throws out anything, but keeps them because they may be needed in other plays. The number of these objects is between 100,000-150,000,” he added.

“The objects here are not given to plays without the decision of the administration. Let’s say that we need an Ottoman knife for a play. The decorator takes it from here with a debit voucher and the mold of the knife is taken for mass production. Then this object is given back, because this room is home to very special objects. We will have the chance to display them when we open a museum in the future,” Balsoy added.

“We keep the costume worn by Zihni Göktay in ‘Lüküs Hayat’ here. Every piece of the costume is still being kept, even its blue bead. The play was staged for 29 years without stopping, and Göktay was the only actor who always stayed in the play for the whole 29 years. The play held its premiere on March 6, 1985, but eventually we had to remove it from our repertoire in 2014 because of Göktay’s health problems. We still keep the vest, shirt, belt and trousers worn by him in the play,” he said.

Balsoy said other costumes worn by late actress Suna Pekuysal in “Lüküs Hayat” and late actor Savaş Dinçel in “Sersem Kocanın Kurnaz Karısı,” as well as a costume worn by late actress Bedia Muvahhit were being kept behind locked doors.

“These are very precious to us. We do our best to protect them. The construction of a museum is among the plans for the 100th anniversary of the City Theaters. It is our greatest wish to exhibit these costumes in a museum. Efforts are ongoing for this. After establishing the musuem, we will present all of these things to visitors,” he said.

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US returns Turkish artifacts

NEW YORK – Anadolu Agency – Historical artifacts from Turkey that were seized last year at Newark Airport were formally returned to Turkey on Dec. 11, at a ceremony held at the Turkish Consulate General in New York.

The artifacts include 65 pieces from the Hellenistic and other eras.

Special agent Andrew McLees said the seized artifacts had been sent to a fake name in the U.S. using fake documents, adding that investigations into the case had continued for more than a year.

“The artifacts were sent with a fake name and fake address. We had to follow a certain investigation process. We had to be sure about their real owner,” McLees said.

McLees said that after being seized at the border in February 2013, the artifacts were sent to a Wisconsin University professor who is an expert on Anatolian antiquities.

Among the returned artifacts are silver and bronze coins printed in Anatolian mints such as Miletos, Leukai and Phokai from the Hellenistic and Classical era, a bronze arrow head, and a bronze belt buckle.

The United States has returned 7,150 artifacts from 27 countries to their homeland since 2007, McLees also stated.

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Drought in Lake Van exposes long-submerged Ottoman structures

VAN – Hurriyet Daily News – Lakes and tributaries across Anatolia have been hit by climate change and a lack of rain over the last year, but what is a natural disaster for the environment has provided historians with an opportunity to check their facts in eastern Turkey.

The worst drought experienced by Lake Van in 15 years has exposed ancient cities and a number of historic artefacts that had until now long been submerged under water.

Parts of the old city of Erciş, which lies along the northern stretch of Turkey’s largest lake, as well as an Ottoman fortress are not only visible, but also accessible by foot on the desiccated lake bed.

A geographer from a local university says more ancient artefacts will be revealed if the water level continues to fall, including settlements and fortresses from the Urartian era.

“Settlements that were thought to be indestructible were submerged underwater. If the water level drops further, we will see more of the remains of an ancient city,” said Ali Fuat Doğu from Van’s Yüzüncü Yıl University.

The Urartian Kingdom dates back to around 1,000 B.C. and was one of the most important ancient civilizations to settle in Anatolia. The kingdom spread between the triangle formed by Lake Van, Lake Sevan in today’s Armenia, and Lake Urumiyah in western Iran.

However, although a boon to historians, the sharp drought currently experienced in Anatolia is raising concerns among environmentalists, particularly as several important lakes are facing extinction.

Lake Meke in the Central Anatolian province of Konya saw its volume fall by 99 percent over the summer according to scientists. Not far away, Lake Tuz, which has shrunk to 50 percent of its original size over the last 40 years, continues to vanish. Lake Sapanca in the province of Sakarya, east of Istanbul, has also witnessed an alarming drop in its water levels, while local activists have mobilized to save Lake Burdur, which has lost a third of its waters over the last 35 years.

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Bangladesh to get priority in global agricultural funding

DHAKA, Dec 13, 2014 (BSS) – Bangladesh is likely to get priority for adopting a project funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to address the climate change effect in agriculture sector. A study titled “Water Sector Track Record of Bangladesh”, carried out by the embassy of the Netherlands, estimated that each year 20,000 to 30,000 households lose their homes, land and livelihoods to river erosion and flooding.

Against the backdrop, the executive committee of Asia Pacific Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (APRACA) at a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lank assured that Bangladesh would be given priority for adopting the project along with other member-states of this regional group.

Bangladesh Bank (BB) deputy governor SK Sur Chowdhury, also the chairman of APRACA, requested the committee that Bangladesh should be prioritised for adopting the IFAD project as the country is the most vulnerable to climate change effects.

The deputy governor, who chaired the meeting, also presented a paper on the role of the central bank to address the adverse effect of climate change when he highlighted the green finance strategy of BB to cope with the challenges of the climate change.

Held in Colombo early this month, the 65th APRACA executive committee meeting was represented by 50 experts in the field of rural and agricultural financing representing Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and the host country Sri Lanka.

Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Ajith Nivard Cabraal inaugurated the meeting. This year’s the meeting focused on ‘Adaptation and Mitigation of the Impact of Climate Change on Rural and Agricultural Finance’.

There was also a detail discussion on the project on addressing climate change effect in the region with IFAD-funded project. The committee also decided to hold the next Executive Committee meeting in September 2015 in Iran.

Since its establishment in 1977, the APRACA has been promoting cooperation and facilitating mutual exchange of information and expertise in the field of agricultural and rural finance with the goal to alleviate poverty in the Asia Pacific region. A total of 70 institutions in 21 countries are affiliated with APRACA as its members.

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Demu train service introduced on Dhaka-Tongi-Dhaka route

DHAKA, Dec 10, 2014 (BSS) – Bangladesh Railway on Tuesday has introduced Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (DEMU) train service on Dhaka-Tongi-Dhaka route, said a railway ministry release here yesterday.

Railways Minister Mujibul Haque formally inaugurated the Demu train service at Tongi railway station in Gazipur in the morning.

The Demu train service styled ‘Tongi Commuter’ would leave Kamlapur at 5.25am and reach to Tongi by 6.10am. The train will leave Tongi by 7.40am and reach to Kamlapur station by 8.35am.

The train will make stopover at Dhaka Airport station and the service will remain close on Friday.

Speaking on the occasion, Mujibul Haque told the inaugural function that the government has taken a master plan by undertaking various projects for development of the railway service. The whole country will come under the network of railway service, if the projects are implemented in due time, said the minister.

“Different professionals including the office-goers people will get advantage by travelling with the Demu train service on the Dhaka-Tongi-Dhaka”, the minister added. At present, the railway is operating short-distance Demu train service in different routes across the country.

The passenger carrying capacity of each Demu train under the route would be around 600. Earlier, on April 24, 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched Demu train service on busy Dhaka-Narayanganj route for the first time to make commuters movement easier and faster and reduce traffic congestions in the southern part of Dhaka.

The Demu train service was also launched on Mymensinh-Joydebpur route on July 21 while Comilla-Akhaura and Dhaka-Akhaura on August 20, and Parbatipur-Lalmonirhat and Parbatipur-Thakurgaon routes on August 15. Each Demu train has the capacity to carry around 300 passengers.

High officials of the Railways Ministry including Acting Railway Secretary M Mansur Ali Sikder and Director-General of Bangladesh Railway Tofazzal Hossain, among others, attended at the inaugural function.

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Land port demanded in historic Mujibnagar

MUJIBNAGAR, Meherpur, Dec 11 (BSS) – Inhabitants of Mujibnagar of Meherpur have demanded setting up of a land port at this western frontier town to attract foreign tourists to the historic site having crucial links to the creation of independent Bangladesh in 1971.

“We the inhabitants of Mujibnagar are carrying out a campaign for construction of a land port here since 1981. We now urge the government to take effective and immediate steps in this regard,” chairman of Bagoan union parishad told BSS.

The residents of Mujibnagar are spearheading the campaign under a banner called “land port implementation committee” with Hossain being its convenor.

He said a land port can help in further development of the area drawing tourists from neighbouring India and other foreigners who visit India. The first Bangladesh government in exile is dubbed as Mujibnagar Government as it was sworn in the liberated area there at the onset of the Liberation War on April 17 though operated from India’s West Bengal capital of Kolkata.

The Mujibnagar government was formed with mandates of 1970 general elections, in which Awami League under Bangabandhu’s leadership won the overwhelming victory.

It was sworn in at Meherpur’s Baidyanathtala area which at that time was renamed as Mujibnagar as a mark of respect to Father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Talking to BSS Liberation War Affairs Minister Advocate AKM Mozammel Haque acknowledged the demand but said the development of a land port would require the consensus of both Bangladesh and India.

“Though all necessary infrastructures to operate a land port are there in Mujibnahgar, we can’t do anything alone as it is a matter of two countries. The Indian government would have to show their interest to set up a land port in Mujibnagar as well,” he said.

Local Awami League leader Advocate Abdus Salam said after the independence, Bangabandhu had given a written order to give special priority in development of the Mujibnagar and works were underway in line with the directive.

“But the development process was stalled for long 21 years after the August 15, 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu along with most of his family members . . . after returning to power in 1996 general elections the then Awami League government under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina resumed the process,” he said.

Mujibnagar, however, in recent years witnessed a spectacular development work involving Taka 100 crore under a project that envisage building of a huge memorial map and museum on 42 acres of land.

This huge map shows 11 sectors of Muktijuddha and different significant events and battles between Muktibahini and Pakistani occupation forces during the nine months of Liberation War.

It also aimed to portray the significant incidents including destruction of the Hardinge Bridge to destroy enemy communication lines, hoisting of the Bangladesh flag by ASM Abdur Rab, manifesto readout by Shahjahan Siraj and different incidents of genocide including killing of intellectuals.

The projection of battler on Shaldah River, battles of Kaderiya Banihi and battles at Kamalpur, Kushtia, Mirpur, Shuvopur Bridge are other major features of the project.

Surrounding of the map, 40 sculptures of important personalities centring the war were made.

Beside the map, a huge mural was made with historic March 7 address of Bangabandhu, genocide of March 25 black night, torture to women by Pakistani military, swearing ceremony of Mujibnagar government, secret meeting of sector commanders and surrender of Pakistani occupation forces.

Nilufar Yesmin, a NGO worker who came at Mujibnagar for a visit from Kushtia, said the huge memorial map of Bangladesh will help the new generation to know the true history of 1971.

Executive Engineer M Ashan Ullah told BSS that the work of huge memorial Bangladesh map will be completed by 2015.

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Indonesian armament exhibition held at National Monument

12 December 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian Armys primary weapons defense systems exhibition is being organized at the National Monument complex, Jakarta, on December 12-15, to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Indonesian Army’s day of struggle.

Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lieutenant General M. Munir, on behalf of Army Chief of Staff Gatot Nurmantyo, inaugurated the exhibition here on Friday.

“Through this event, we hope that the closeness shared between the Indonesian Army and the society becomes more solid. History is testament to the fact that the unity between soldiers and the society proved to be an unrivaled strategy in the implementation of the civil defense concept,” Munir noted in his remark on behalf of the army chief of staff.

Around 200 manufacturers of primary weapons defense systems are showcasing their weaponry for infantry, cavalry, field artillery, and air defense.

Moreover, the public can also catch a glimpse of the Leopard tank, helicopters, and Anoa Panser tank, among several others at the exhibition, which is free of cost for the visitors.

Companies such as PT Pindad, PT Saba Wijaya Persada, and PT LEN, are participating in the exhibition, which is also expected to showcase modernized armament and weaponry used by the Indonesian Army to guard and maintain national sovereignty.

Besides these attractions, visitors can also obtain information regarding the requirement procedures to be followed for those keen on joining the Army.

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Rwanda: Northern Corridor States Agree On Single Airspace Bloc

The New Times – 12 December 2014 – Heads of State of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the management of the Northern Corridor Air Space bloc.

Presidents Paul Kagame and his counterparts Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed the deal at the 8th Northern Corridor Integration Projects Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

Also part of the deal is South Sudan, which was represented by Vice-President James Wani Igga, who also signed on the MoU. In a joint statement issued at the closure of the summit, the leaders said the move would contribute to the development of the infrastructure for transmission, power trade, and reduction in the cost of air travel in the region.

“The Heads of State appreciated the conclusion of the Power Purchase and Wheeling Agreements and the signed MOU on Management of Northern Corridor Air Space bloc.

“They noted the contribution these will deliver in the development of the infrastructure for transmission, power trade, and reduction in the cost of air travel in the region,” the communiqué read in part.

The presidents directed Rwanda’s Minister for Infrastructure to convene a meeting of Airline Industry stakeholders to finalise negotiations on the 5th Freedom Traffic Rights on Entebbe-Nairobi-Juba-Nairobi by December 31 and address all outstanding issues to reduce the cost of air travel in the region and report to the next Summit.

Also in attendance, as observers, were Leontine Nzeyima, Burundi’s minister for East African affairs; Habtamu Baye Chekole, special envoy of the President of Ethiopia; and Samuel Sita, Tanzania’s minister for EAC affairs.

The presidents also noted with “appreciation the progress registered and renewed their commitment to fast-tracking the implementation of the infrastructure projects for transforming the Northern Corridor.”

The leaders meanwhile congratulated Kenyans on the occasion of the 51st Independence Anniversary due to be marked today.

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International Birders Praise Uganda

The Observer (Kampala) – 7 December 2014 – The recent attendance of three international birders, a first since the Big Birding Week started 11 years ago, raised the profile of one of Uganda’s tourism gems, and could make the event one of the most sought-after fixtures on the country’s tourism calendar.

Tim Appleton, the organiser of the world’s largest bird fair in the UK; Bill Thompson, the editor and co-publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, which is one of North America’s birding magazines, and Dominic Mitchell, the founder and managing editor of BirdWatch, Europe’s leading monthly magazine, were in the country recently and paid glowing tribute to Uganda’s nature.

Speaking during the launch of the Big Birding Week at Forest Resort beach in Kasenge, Mukono district, Appleton said: “Uganda has the potential to attract travelling birdwatchers of which are tens of thousands in the northern hemisphere.”

He added: “Uganda has the highest population of birds in Africa. Yet, birders also have a chance to see mammals and primates,” he said.

Uganda, which is the size of UK, boasts of more than 1,057 bird species, accounting for 11 per cent of the globe’s total, and 50 per cent of Africa’s.

Uganda is regarded Africa’s best destination for birders, with the African Bird Club ranking Uganda as home to two of the top 10 birding sites on the continent; Bwindi impenetrable forest national park is ranked number one while Murchison falls national park is ninth.

Seeing the potential that lies in birds, Nature Uganda, in 2003, started the concept of the Big Birding Week, which climaxes into the Big Birding Day. This year, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Uganda Bird Guides’ Club, among others, partnered with Nature Uganda to organise the event.

Rosemary Komutagi, the acting commissioner for tourism development in the Ministry of Tourism, who represented the minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Maria Mutagamba, said the number of birders visiting Uganda had increased, with last year alone registering 3,000 birders. Each birder, according to Komutagi, spent $5,000 on average, bringing in $15 million.

Komutagi called on tour operators to prioritise birds because they bring in more money than all the other tourism products. “On estimate, each birder spends about three weeks compared to one week of a safari tourist,” she said.

Appleton, however, noted that Uganda needs to improve its infrastructure if it is to attract more birdwatchers.

“You need nice wide trails because there is no point in having small trails where if a guy in front of you sees a bird, the one behind misses it,” he said.

He also asked UTB to get involved in the UK Birdfair, which, he said, attracted more than 22,000 people from 68 different countries annually.

Achilles Byaruhanga, the executive director of Nature Uganda, noted that despite the growing enthusiasm in birds, their numbers are reducing. According to Byaruhanga, in the last 30 years, Uganda has lost 90 per cent (from 100,000 to 10,000) of the grey crown crane (crested crane), which is the country’s national symbol.

“Although the interest is growing, we are losing the numbers. The challenge is matching the enthusiasm in bird watching to conservation,” he said.

He attributed the cause of this decline to the fact that most of the birds live outside the protected areas, on people’s private land, where they are easily killed. Between 1996 and 2001, Nature Uganda carried out research on areas where birds live. The research came up with 34 birding areas, among which is Mabamba, which is a Ramsar site.

“We need to work together as a team to conserve birds because birds don’t need a visa to fly,” said Herbert Byaruhanga, the chairman of Uganda Tourism Association (UTA).

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Nigeria: Enugu Holds Cultural, Tourism Festival

Daily Independent (Lagos) – 9 December 2014 – Enugu State annual cultural and tourism festival commenced last Wednesday with a pledge by the state government to ensure constant and persistent development of its tourism sector.

Governor Sullivan Chime, who declared festival open, said the fourth edition was aimed at promoting the culture of the state. Chime, represented by his Deputy, Raphael Nwoye, said the fiesta would also help to boost the state’s revenue base.’

‘It is at the forefront of this administration’s will to promote our culture and tourism potential. Culture is a train that binds people._ Tourism has become the major income earner for many countries of the world due to cultural festivals and carnivals.

“With Nigeria working assiduously to develop alternative and sustainable sources of revenue, we as a state, are eager to be at the forefront of this move,” he said.

Also, the Supervising Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr Chuks Ugwoke, said that the fiesta would attract thousands of visitors from within and outside. Ugwoke said the nine-day event would feature cultural dances and wrestling competitions, masquerade displays, beauty contests and children’s show to reawaken cultural values in the minds of the people.

Chairman, Enugu State Council of Traditional Rulers, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzu, said that the festival was to instill the culture of the people of the state into the younger generation.

“Many of our children do not know our culture. This festival is meant to teach our children the culture of the people of Enugu and Igbo in general.

“We need to promote culture and tourism. This festival will be one of the legacies that Governor Sullivan Chime will leave behind in the interest of the people,” Agubuzu said. Some of the participating states, who spoke to newsmen, said they were at the festival to showcase their dances, culture and to add colour to the event.

The Troupe Manager, Benue State Council for Arts and Culture, Mrs Monica Shonha, said the event would help strengthen relationship between Enugu and Benue.

“In festivals of this magnitude, we being an internationally recognised group has been invited to come and perform here to add colour to what is going on,” Shonha said. Highlight of the event was the food fair by participants from the 17 local government areas of the state. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Abia, Imo and Nasarawa participated at the opening ceremony of the festival.

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Nigeria: Arik Air Plans More Festive Season Flights to Key Destinations

Daily Independent (Lagos) – 11 December 2014 – Arik Air on Thursday announced plans to provide additional flights to key domestic destinations for intending passengers during the festive period between Dec. 19 and Dec. 24. The airline’s Managing Director, Mr Chris Ndulue, made the announcement in a statement signed by the airline’s Head, Public Affairs in Lagos.

In the statement, Ndulue explained that the move was in response to the yearnings of intending passengers who wished to celebrate Christmas and New Year period with their families and friends.

He said that the additional flights were necessary to ensure that many Nigerians got the opportunity to share the joy of the season with those closest to them.

“For many of our guests, the Christmas and New Year period is a time when families wish to be reunited at the end of a busy year. And the airline is therefore very pleased to announce that on many of our domestic routes, the airline will be scheduling additional flights. The airline will also be operating larger aircrafts to cater for the expected increase in demand,” he said.

Ndulue said that during the festive period, instead of the average 120 daily flights normally operated by the airline, it would increase its daily flights to an average of 140.

“The key domestic routes that will be affected during the festive season are Enugu, Owerri, Calabar, Lagos, Abuja and Asaba. “Between Dec. 19 and Dec. 24, 2014, Arik Air will increase the frequency of its flights on the Lagos-Owerri route from twice to thrice daily while Abuja-Owerri will increase from once to twice daily. Similarly, the frequency of flights on the Abuja-Enugu route will increase to twice daily, Abuja-Calabar to twice daily and Lagos-Asaba to twice daily.”

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that the airline had in the previous month, increased the frequency of its flight on some other key domestic routes. These routes are the Lagos-Calabar, Lagos-Enugu, Lagos-Benin, Abuja-Benin, Lagos-Kano, Abuja-Kano, Abuja-Asaba and Abuja-Ibadan.

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Gambia: Film Industry Essential in Society, Tourism Ps

The Point (Banjul) – 11 December 2014 – Momodou Joof, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, has said film industry is an essential pillar in a country as it has invaluable contribution to the development of a nation.

The functions of film as a public service could not be relegated to a marginal level in any country, PS Joof said while speaking at the official opening of the Motion Picture Arts Certificate (MPAC) programme.

He said the film industry, as a means of cultural expression, employment, communication, education and promotion, is also understood as the medium with which individuals and nations communicate with one another, perpetuate their ideals and enunciate their values.

In order to guarantee the fundamental human rights of freedom of communication for young people, women and civil society in general, capacity-building is a necessity for the filmmakers to equip them with the skills and techniques of motion picture production for their cultural expression and documentation of the norms, tradition and values, he stated.

Momodou Sanneh, Secretary General of NATCOM, said the project being launched is one of the six projects for which the National Communication for UNESCO had been able to secure funding from UNESCO in Paris under the 2014-2015 participation programme.

Mr Sanneh said the M-PAC (Motion and Picture Arts Certificate), training for young people and women filmmakers in The Gambia is a seminal programme that he hoped would be a precursor to the introduction of filmmaking programmes in tertiary institutions, especially the University of The Gambia.

The project is a pivotal one as it closely relates, but not limited, to one of the competency areas of UNESCO, he said. It was envisaged that by the closure of this project five short documentaries would be made that would showcase the cultural heritage of The Gambia, he stated.

Mr Sanneh further explained that film industry, as a means of cultural preservation and dissemination, employment, communication, education and promotion of culture is understood as a medium with which individuals and nations communicate with one another, perpetuated their ideas and enunciate their values.

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Baku emerges as top CIS destination for Russian tourists

11 December 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Russian tourists have again chosen Baku as one of their main destination in CIS. The index of Russian online hotel booking service Oktogo.ru shows Baku is among top five most popular CIS cities in 2014. Moreover, Azerbaijani capital is also a destination for long trips.

The rating is based on Russian tourists’ hotel reservation data provided for 2014. Earlier in May, Baku also topped the rating. The top-ten list is headed by Minsk, Kiev and Almaty. Baku on the fourth place is followed by Yerevan, Astana, Chisinau, Tashkent, Bishkek and Brest.

Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are the most popular CIS countries for Russian tourists. If Georgia was in CIS, its capital Tbilisi would enter the top five most popular cities in the rating.

Oktogo.ru’s statistics shows, the longest trips this year were made by Russian tourists to Baku for five days, and the shortest trips – to Vitebsk, Belarus, for one day and half.

CIS countries remain the main region supplying tourists to Azerbaijan, with such countries as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan. About 40 percent, out of more than 2.5 million foreigners who visited Azerbaijan last year were citizens of CIS countries.

Caucasian beauty Azerbaijan now attracts more and more tourists to enjoy the mild climate and historical sites. It is also attractive for businessmen with hosting lots of international events.

There are 530 hotels functioning in Azerbaijan, and their number has doubled in seven years. The country attaches great attention to tourists.

The country is developing its tourism sector by all means, to make it more affordable and comfortable for both local and foreign tourists. Now the sector is thriving in the capital Baku.

Besides Baku, tourists prefer to visit Nakhchivan, Naftalan, Khachmaz, Lankaran, Guba, Ismayilli, Masalli, and Sheki.

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Turkish designers to host fashion show in Baku

11 December 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Baku will host one of the grandiose fashion events on December 26 as famous Turkish designers will present their works here.

Talented Turkish designers, including Dilek Hanif, Gamze Sarajoglu, Ozgur Masur, Ozlem Suer, Raisa&Vanessa, Serli Kechioglu, as well as Tuvana Buyukchinar, Yildirim Mayruk, Zeynep Erdogan and Zeynep Tosun will present their exclusive collections to Baku audience.

The collections will include glamour evening dresses, classic suits, accessories, handicrafts and wonderful jewelry samples.

Gunay Musayeva, the cultural ambassador between Azerbaijan and Turkey will participate as the main model in the fashion show. Murad Dadashov will be the host of the show.

Creative Director of the fashion show is Hakan Ozturk, Project Manager is Xadije Aydeniz.

The event will be broadcasted by the Turkish media.

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Macedonia hosts Iranian cultural program

Tue Dec 9, 2014 – PressTV – Iran has mounted an exhibition of Persian arts in Macedonia to introduce the country’s traditions and artworks. The event presents Iran’s cultural achievements along with Persian paintings, photographs, pottery, calligraphy and handicraft.

A photo exhibition of Iranian historical city of Isfahan has been also held at the one-week event in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje. Taken by the Iranian photographer, Hamid Reza Malakouti-Khah, the exhibited photos, which include over forty 3D works, depict traditional architecture and tourism in Isfahan.

The program has been organized by Iran’s cultural office in Macedonia. Iran regularly holds cultural events in Turkey, Venezuela, Tunisia, China, Japan and Serbia.

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Saudi Plans Grand Mosque in Afghanistan

OnIslam Correspondent – Saturday, 06 December 2014 KABUL – Afghani Muslim scholars have praised plans by the Saudi Kingdom to build the country’s largest Islamic Center in Kabul, a project that has raised both hopes and fears in this landlocked country.

“We hope that establishment of the centre by Saudi Arabia will not amplify all those madrassas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some other countries that are known for spreading extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism,” Afghan religious scholar Hedaytullah Hedayat told OnIslam.net.

Hedayat stressed that the new centre should dedicate its efforts to spread the true Islamic teachings that are meant to spread harmony, peace and tolerance.

With an estimated cost of $100 million, the center on a hilltop in central Kabul will house up to 5,000 students in this massive Islamic center, complete with a university and a mosque which will be named after Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

The mosque, similar to the Faisal Mosque in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, also built by oil-rich Saudi Arabia in 1980s, will host 15,000 worshippers at a time.

Announcing plans for constructing the country’s largest Islamic center, the Saudi ambassador to Afghanistan, Mesfer bin Abdul Rahman Al-Ghaseb, assured Saudi’s commitment to working with both Afghanistan and Pakistan to build peace in the region.

“Our position is strong on restoring peace in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia enjoys close and frank ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan and we are trying to improve security in Afghanistan,” Mesfer bin Abdul Rahman Al-Ghaseb said on the occasion last November.

On behalf of his government, the ambassador has also signed a contract with a construction company to build the biggest Islamic center in Afghanistan to promote Islamic education. He has said lessons geared toward countering the extremist message will be emphasized at the center.

The Afghan government has been long been anxious about the role of some religious seminaries that preach militancy in Pakistan. Kabul government officials, however, have assured that the centre’s education programs will be overseen by the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs to assure that no individual or group exploits the devotee Afghans for their political objectives.

“Education curricula for the centre will be monitored by the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs and this will help all those who want to get an Islamic education inside the country,” acting Minister of Hajj and Islamic Affairs Yousaf Niazi told journalists while addressing joint press conference with the Saudi ambassador.

Muslim scholars hope that after the completion of the grand Islamic Centre in two years, Afghani students would no longer need to travel abroad to seek religious knowledge.

Shams-u-Rahman Frotan, a religious scholar in the Afghan capital Kabul, has also highlighted the importance of Saudi’s role in bringing peace to Afghanistan. “The Saudis can build up pressure on all the warring factions to resolve their differences through mutual understanding,” he added.

Unlike neighboring Pakistan, Afghanistan has been enjoying a relatively calm atmosphere regarding the inter-sect ties between the majority Sunni Muslims and the Shiite minority.

Yet, the 2011 Ashura bombing in Kabul was a major setback to this harmony. Security and spy agencies, however, blamed Pakistani extremists for this attack that claimed more than 70 lives, mostly women and children.

Afghan journalist Haseen Serat, fears for a proxy war between Saudi and Iran in Afghanistan. Expressing his thoughts over the matter, he said Iran was already busy consolidating its support base before this Saudi-sponsored project.

“Ayatollah Mohsini, an Iran supported scholar had built a huge complex with funds from Tehran to educate the new generation of Iranian supporters in Afghanistan”, he said.

Serat added that the Afghan government must ensure that no one exploits the situation for their political gains. With an estimated population of around 30 million, Afghanistan has witnessed arguably the longest armed conflict in the modern history that has devastated all sections of the society, including educational institutes.

Though, the relative peace of the past decade has brought some relief to the Afghans who have been plunged into violence ever since the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s. Only time would tell what future holds for this country lying in the heart of Asia.

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IDB to provide $ 1 billion financing to Cote d’Ivoire

Arab News – 11 December, 2014 – The Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) confirmed Wednesday that it would provide financing worth $ 1 billion on the basis of an agreement to carry out various development projects in Cote d’Ivoire during the next two years.

“I am happy to say that our agreement is progressing well,” said IDB President Ahmed Mohamed Ali during talks with Cote d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara at the bank’s headquarters here Wednesday.

Ouattara, who was accompanied by a number of ministers, commended IDB’s role in financing development projects in Cote d’Ivoire and other member countries.

“We are looking forward to greater cooperation and partnership with IDB in various fields including capability building for sukuk in order to mobilize resources for development,” Ouattara said.

The president also sought IDB loans to finance the country’s infrastructure projects. “We would like to make use of IDB’s expertise and contacts to attract more organizations to finance development projects in our country.”

The meeting saw the signing of a loan agreement worth $ 15 million to establish a vocational training center in the country. Cote d’Ivoire joined IDB in 2002 and the bank has extended more than $ 645 million in loans to finance its water, agricultural, industrial, trade, energy, transport and educational projects.

Meanwhile, the IDB and the Republic of Benin have signed two financing agreements worth $ 192 million for power generation and road construction in the country.

The documents were signed on Wednesday at IDB headquarters by Benin’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Demba Bah Dehiro, and the IDB president.

The first agreement covers $ 148 million of financing as contribution to the first phase of the Maria-Gleta Power Plant Phase I Project. The 120 megawatt power generation facility is expected to address the power shortage in the country and reduce imports of electricity from Benin’s neighboring states, thus saving huge sums of money.

The second agreement provides $ 44 million financing contribution for the road connecting the town of Banikoara to the border of Burkina Faso. The 54-km road is considered as one of the important roads in the country and bears major significance for socio-economic development of not only Benin, but also other West African countries including Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria.

The Republic of Benin, which joined IDB in 1984, maintains a solid cooperation with IDB. Since that date, the total financings of the IDB Group for Benin reached $ 375 million inclusive of contributions to several development projects in the fields of agriculture, education, power, roads, health and water supply, as well as to trade operations.

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Flydubai announces three new routes

Khaleej Times – 11 December, 2014 – Hargeisa, Somaliland: Flydubai on Wednesday announced the addition of three new routes to its growing network.

Flights to Hargeisa (Somaliland), Chennai (India), and Nejran (Saudi Arabia) will commence in the first quarter of 2015, further expanding the carrier’s footprint to 89 destinations in 46 countries.

From March 5, 2015, flydubai will become the first carrier to operate to Hargeisa, Somaliland from Dubai with four weekly flights. The airline has expanded its network in Africa in 2014 to 13 points served by 60 weekly flights.

“2014 continues to be a very busy year for flydubai. We have announced 26 new routes since January and took delivery of eight new aircraft to support the phenomenal growth plans. We are very excited about the untapped opportunities in the emerging African markets, the progress the UAE has made on the bilateral front in India and the ongoing strong ties with Saudi,” Hamad Obaidalla, chief commercial officer at flydubai, said.

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Kingdom to host forum on Islamic investment

Gulf Daily News – 11 December, 2014 – The Economic Development Board (EDB) and Islamic Development Bank (IDB) have announced the launch of the Global Islamic Investment Gateway (GIIG).

It is an initiative aimed at bringing together investors and cross-border Islamic investment opportunities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

The event, to be held in March next year, will attract decision-makers from investment banks, sovereign wealth funds, investment companies and family offices of high net worth individuals.

The Global Islamic Investment Gateway is organised by Thomson Reuters, the IDB, through its Business Forum ‘THIQAH’. It will be held at the Gulf Hotel on March 2 and 3 under the patronage of Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Premier and EDB Chairman, and IDB Group president Dr Ahmad Mohamed Al Madani.

The event is geared towards linking investors with opportunities aligned to their preference, and providing the information and assurance required to facilitate informed investment decision-making. It will be supported by an online portal which will collate international investment opportunities.

These opportunities have been refined with the help of Thomson Reuters’ internal specialists and are designed to be within a fortnight of being ready to go to companies’ investment committees for approval.

The organisers are collaborating with investment development agencies and investment originators in Islamic markets to obtain, review and standardise investment opportunities across sectors.

Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) markets are projected to grow at an average of 5.4 per cent until 2019, significantly higher than the rest of the world (3.6pc) and the high growth BRICS markets (3.9pc).

This increased economic growth is accompanied by a greater maturity in their financial markets, enabling greater involvement of private capital in their development.

‘The OIC economies are at the heart of the world’s most rapid economic growth and Islamic finance provides an excellent chance to connect capital to exciting opportunities in these markets,’ Dr Al Madani said.

‘This event can play an important role in making that process happen.’

‘We are committed to the development of the international Islamic finance sector and event such as this, which will enable real investment in viable projects, can play a great role in the process,’ Transportation and Telecommunications Minister and EDB acting chief executive Kamal Ahmed said.

Thomson Reuters Islamic Capital Markets global head Dr Sayd Farook said the event is meant for any investor looking for access to opportunities in emerging and frontier Islamic markets.

‘These markets have the value chains that have the potential to provide excellent returns for the capital in the GCC and this event will give investors the means to access them,’ he said.

SEDCO Capital chief executive Hasan Al Jabri said unlike other events that have focused on the intellectual issues around Islamic investment, GIIG looks at linking real investors with real opportunities and facilitating actual business.

The event will feature more than 30 OIC countries, split into the key regional sectors including GCC, Middle East and North Africa, CIS, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

It will cover all major investment sectors, driven by the opportunities presented by the investment development agencies and investment originators.

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Friendly policies boost Oman cruise tourism

Oman Daily Observer – 11 December, 2014 – Oman has bypassed a lot of GCC countries when it comes to offering facilities to cruise visitors, said Maitha al Mahrooqiyah, Under-secretary, Ministry of Tourism. Speaking on the sidelines of Seatrade Middle East Cruise forum in Oman, she said since 2012 cruise visitors can enter all ports of call in Sultanate with one visa, free of cost, for 48 hours.

“This facility has seen more cruise visitors coming to Oman over the years and it may be noted that other countries in the region still do not have such facilities in place.”

Regarding a common GCC visa, Maitha said that the issue has to be discussed beyond the scope of tourism and needs detailed consultation at various levels. She added that it has been one of several topics of discussion at GCC level meetings.

She said a number of new hotel rooms will be added to the market in the next few years and Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC) project will see more hotel options coming up for business visitors.

Khalid al Zadjali, Director of Tourism Events, said in the coming years Muscat will emerge as a flourishing home port for cruise liners with the completion of the airport project as it will help add more direct flights from emerging source markets of India and China.

He said that Port Sultan Qaboos, which will undergo a major expansion programme, has been coping well with the current cruise ship traffic and can handle around over three ships at a time.

Chris Hayman, chairman, Seatrade Communications, said that huge changes in operating practices in recent years and fall in fuel prices will boost the fortunes of cruise industry.

Saud bin Ahmed Al Nahari, CEO, Post Services Corporation, said the port in Muscat has come a long since handling four ships in 1996 to 19 ships in 2013. Claiming that PSQ is the single largest after Port Rasheed in Dubai, he said receiving Queen Mary 2 with 3,056 passengers onboard was a major challenge.

Earlier, Said bin Hamdoon Al Harthy, Undersecretary for Ports and Maritime Affairs at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, said that Port Sultan Qaboos is now dedicated to leisure and cruise activities with all container and general cargo moved to Sohar.

Khasab has recently received a new gangway to enable embarkation and disembarkation for cruise vessels in relation to tidal changes and this forms part of a master plan for Musandam. He also outlined plans for improving berthing for small and medium-sized ships at Shinas Port, north of Sohar, whilst berthing for cruise and leisure vessels is included in the 20-year vision for the development of Salalah port with a tender for a new breakwater due to be issued soon.

Other experts including Helel Black of Royal Caribbean, Peter Wild of GP Wild and Dario Rustico of Costa Crociere, spoke about the changing profile of cruise passengers with more youngsters taking to the seas for leisure. They spoke about how cruise ships can boost the economy of the host city, especially surrounding the port. Meanwhile, there was an agreement among the speakers about the emergence of India and China as new source markets for cruise travelling.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Qatar has joined Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi as the fourth partner of Cruise Arabia that was formed in 2013 to promote the growth of cruise tourism in the GCC. Qatar joins the Ministry of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman; Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing in the partnership.

Zadjali said, “It is a key aim of our partnership to encourage tourists to cruise in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, not only from the traditional markets in Europe and North America but also from emerging ones in China and India.”

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Nod for second phase of Qatar’s Hamad Int’l Airport expansion

Gulf Times – 12 December, 2014 – Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani yesterday approved the launch of the second phase of airport expansion by Hamad International Airport’s steering committee, with the fourth quarter of 2015 set as deadline for awarding the design contract, completing the design works and deciding the budget of the second phase.

This came at a meeting the Prime Minister held at the Emiri Diwan with a number of Cabinet members to discuss proposed solutions and decisions in the field of public transport in line with the directives of HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

At the outset of the meeting, HE the premier stressed the necessity that the ministers meet the dates of execution and delivery plans of projects related to development and economic improvement.

He highlighted the necessity of co-ordination between the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning to conclude the land allocation project in order to ensure the success of public transport plan and projects in the shortest time possible, with the allocation process to be finished by February.

HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser recommended that the Ministry of Transport accelerates the execution of public transport plans and continuously develop them in order to ease traffic density.

The premier stressed that the Ministry of Transport must submit details of a proposed budget to complete all the phases of the new port project and the awarding of its global operator before the end of the first quarter of 2015, and that the project is concluded according to the preset schedules.

He added also in this regard that the ministry must be committed to open Al Ruwais Port before February 1 and work side by side with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce to co-ordinate with the Foreign Ministry’s working team on the port to design a highly-efficient plan to operate the port and the services areas associated with it.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister stressed the importance that the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning and the Ministry of Environment suggest the appropriate lands for the complex of Qatar Aeronautical College, Gulf Helicopters and the pilots club.

He also directed that preparing the location of the truck parking project is completed as soon as possible with the Ministry of Transport assuming supervision of the project and committing to fixed dates of delivery and operation.

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Turkey a favourite tourist destination for Qataris

The Peninsula – 12 December, 2014 – Turkey remains one of the most favourite tourist destinations for Qataris and other GCC citizens. More than 27,000 Qataris visited the country during the first 10 months of this year, according to figures released by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office in Dubai.

Between January and October, the number of visitors from the GCC countries reached 211,241, marking a 39 percent increase from the same period in 2013, figures show. Kuwait tops the list, followed by the UAE and Qatar.

During the first 10 months, Turkey welcomed 120,632 Kuwaitis — the highest in the region. The UAE came second with 43,469 passport holders, followed by 27,002 Qatari tourists.

“Turkey remains a popular destination, not only for the GCC but globally,” Mustafa Ozdemir, Turkish Cultural and Information Attaché, was quoted as saying by a local website.

“The GCC contributes 5 percent of Turkey’s tourism revenue, with Qatar being one of the top contributors. It’s understandable that the GCC and Turkey have historical and cultural ties and this is evident in the increase of tourists over the last year. Residents are choosing the country based on its locality, cost of living and historical richness,” he added.

Last year, Turkey attracted over 39 million tourists, making it the sixth most popular tourist destination in the world. While Istanbul remains the most popular city for GCC tourists, Antalya, Bodrum and Bursa are fast becoming destinations of choice, especially during the peak July-August summer period.

“To further increase visitors and highlight Turkey to Qatar, we will be looking for opportunities to invest in tourism to foster sustainable growth and mutual understanding between our two countries,”.

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Iran pursues expansion of national railway to neighbors

Islamic Republic News Agency – 12 December, 2014 – Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi said on Friday that joining national railway to neighboring countries is on the agenda of the Iranian government.

Akhoundi said that development of border roads is the physical translation of the government’s policy of interaction with the world. In order to achieve this goal, he said the government is seriously seeking to join the country’s networks of railway and roads to the Asian networks.

In addition to efforts to join Iran’s railway to Iraq, the Iranian government is planning to join the domestic Qazvin-Rasht-Astara railway to the Republic of Azerbaijan, Akhoundi said.

The minister said that economic growth of the country highly depends on connections and interactions with the world. He said one way to fulfill this goal is to expand transport system in air, land and railway areas to help increase Iran’s share in the global trade.

He said that the recent inauguration of Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan railway — known as East Caspian Sea Corridor – was a successful model of implementation of this policy.

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Saudi Tourist Commission seeks UNESCO recognition of Hofuf

Arab News – 13 December, 2014 – Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), said that the tourism authority has begun work for registering the ‘Middle Historical Hofuf’ in UNESCO’s World Heritage List under the guidance of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

“All the contents of our national heritage will be restored, developed and preserved and opened for the public and investments,” he said during a visit to the Al-Ahsa municipality on Wednesday.

The SCTA president said that the commission is working with full partnership to accomplish the “Middle Historical Hofuf” project. The file of the project is expected to be ready for submission to the UNESCO in a year. He said: “The file needs lots of work to prove that this site is exceptional and deserves to be registered as a world heritage site.”

Prince Sultan also announced the opening of Aqeer tourist front and said that it would be connected to Hofuf as part of the heritage and historical project.

There are major malls in Riyadh, the Eastern province and in the Gulf. Hofuf must make the most of the opportunity to become a business hub as Al-Ahsa has a bright future, he said, adding that the region is being supplied with municipal services and a road network to help turn it into an economic and historical site.

The SCTA announced earlier this year King Abdullah’s approval for a proposal to register 10 sites for the World Heritage List in the next few years. The sites are: Rock drawings in Hema Well, Al Faw Village in the Riyadh Province, Al-Ahsa Oasis, Egyptian Haj Route, the Levant Haj Route, Zubaida Route, Al-Hejaz Railway, Al-Dre neighborhood in Domat Al-Jondal, Ze Ain Village in Al-Baha Province and Rejal Alma Village in Asir province.

Mayor of Al-Ahsa, Adel bin Muhammad Al-Mulheim lauded Prince Sultan’s announcement about the approval of the 10 sites to be registered with UNESCO including the Middle Historical Hofuf and said that it was a great asset of the Kingdom and needed to be preserved for its cultural heritage and national identity.

Al-Mulheim said that registering it will put it on the global tourism and heritage sites map.

“This region deserves to be registered on the list of architectural heritage sites. It still has some of the traditional structures and the modern buildings in the region are starting to look historical in terms of heights and fronts which will facilitate the registration process,” he said.

The mayoralty is eager to complete the infrastructure of all the historic district sites to the specifications of the UNESCO. The partnership with the commission will have a role in achieving all the objectives that aim to promote the architectural heritage of the region.

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GCC Rail, Metro Conference 2015 presents investments for SMEs

Saudi Gazette – 14 December, 2014 – As much as $ 149 billion worth of rail projects are in the planning or construction stages in the Arabian Gulf up to 2030, according to Zawya data. These projects include plans for national railway systems, city rail systems or metros, and trams.

Some of these will ultimately converge to form part of the ambitious GCC Rail project, which aims to unify the region and enhance people connectivity and freight movement.

Since conservative budget projections have always left room for larger surpluses, it firmly underpins the GCC governments’ wider commitment to sustaining long-term development in infrastructure, education, healthcare and social and economic projects in keeping with the growing demographics in the region.

The population of the six Arabian Gulf countries is expected to grow to 49.4 million in 2016, according to research by Riyadh-based Samba Financial Group.

The Sultanate of Oman, represented by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, will host the two-day GCC Rail and Metro Conference 2015 on Jan. 11-12, 2015 at Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Muscat.

The conference is the first joint event that endeavors to unite the GCC efforts in the rail and metro industries and services towards sustainable development for the GCC economies through maximizing the benefit from investment in this sector.

The conference will present the manufacturing, service and training opportunities available for investors and the private sector including SMEs in all GCC projects.

Further, the conference will tackle the challenges facing the private sector to effectively participate in the railways sector. It will also discuss developing policies and plans to overcome such impediments and encouraging the private sector’s participation.

Along with decision-makers in the rail and metro sectors in the GCC countries, elite speakers and experts in the related industries, services and training will take part in the conference.

The conference is the first joint event that endeavors to unite the GCC efforts in the rail and metro industries and services towards sustainable development for the GCC economies through maximizing the benefit from investment in this sector.

The conference will present the manufacturing, service and training opportunities available for investors and the private sector including SMEs in all GCC projects.

Further, the conference will tackle the challenges facing the private sector to effectively participate in the railways sector. It will also discuss developing policies and plans to overcome such impediments and encouraging the private sector’s participation.

Along with decision-makers in the rail and metro sectors in the GCC countries, elite speakers and experts in the related industries, services and training will take part in the conference.

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Dhofar Governor opens craft industries exhibition

Oman Daily Observer – 09 December, 2014 – The 44th Glorious National Day Crafts Industries Exhibition was inaugurated at Salalah Gardens Mall yesterday under the patronage of Sayyid Mohammed bin Sultan al Busaidi, Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar. The nine-day exhibition is organised by the Craft Industries Directorate in the Governorate of Dhofar. Present at the opening ceremony were Shaikha Aisha bint Khalfan al Siyabiyah, Chairperson of the Public Authority for Craft Industries (PASI), a number of officials in the Government agencies and the Omani Woman Associations in the governorate. The exhibition includes various craft projects, industries and products. On the sidelines of the opening ceremony, Sayyid al Busaidi launched the website of the Craft Industries Directorate to connect craftsmen inside and outside the governorate. The website has been designed to give easy access to various craft projects. It also has the service of postal shipping to inside and outside the Sultanate through direct e-payment.

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Al Tayyar, Amadeus in deal to revolutionize travel, tourism services

Saudi Gazette – 10 December, 2014 – AL TAYYAR Travel Group signed an agreement with Amadeus, a global travel solutions provider enhancing their operational efficiencies with specially designed distribution services being provided to the group’s customers worldwide. Al Tayyar Travel Group will utilize the innovative Amadeus distribution technology to maintain their competitive edge in the sector and be a market leader in the region.

The partnership agreement was signed by Dr. Nasser Al Tayyar, Deputy Chairman & President of Al Tayyar Travel Group and Mr. Antoine Medawar, President of Amadeus – MEA & Africa. The three year partnership lays the foundation to a strong business relationship between the two conglomerates strengthening their travel and tourism operations.

Dr. Nasser Al Tayyar said: “The Group is growing very fast within the region and globally. In line with our strategic growth and developments, we are choosing our partners judiciously to maintain the high quality of services that we provide to our customer and guarantee a high percentage of customer satisfaction in all markets we serve. We are pleased to partner with Amadeus, a company that enjoys unparalleled reputation in travel solutions. Special investments made by Amadeus in designing and developing specific solutions for us in accordance with our customers’ needs are appreciated. We plan to initiate several other projects in the days to come to develop the travel and tourism industry in the Kingdom and the global markets.

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Etihad Airways secures ‘World’s Leading Airline’ award for 6th straight year

Saudi Gazette – 10 December, 2014 – ETIHAD Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been awarded the highly coveted title of ‘World’s Leading Airline’ for the sixth straight year at this year’s World Travel Awards (WTA). In addition to winning ‘World’s Leading Airline’, Etihad Airways scooped up a further two awards ‘World’s Leading First Class’ and ‘World’s Leading Cabin Crew’.

World Travel Awards was established in 1993 to acknowledge excellence across the tourism industry and is widely recognised as a hallmark of ultimate quality. The awards are decided through a global vote by more than 500,000 travel professionals and high-end tourism consumers from 171 countries, with the ceremony held this year on the paradise island of Anguilla in the Caribbean.

James Hogan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Etihad Airways, said: “Winning three of the industry’s highest accolades is a demonstration of our commitment to be best in class in every market in which we operate.

“Etihad Airways strives for continuous innovation and improvement in product and service, because we know that is how we will maintain our industry leadership and create the best possible travel experience for our guests.”

Etihad Airways’ success at the 2014 World Travel Awards reflects the achievements of a remarkable year for the airline. In 2014 the airline unveiled its new Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner product and service offering, including The Residence by Etihad, the world’s first three-room suite.

This was followed by the unveiling of the ‘Facets of Abu Dhabi’ aircraft livery design and the airline rolling out its first Airbus A380 in Hamburg Germany and Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in Seattle, US. During 2014, Etihad Airways launched 10 new routes and also signed a transaction implementation agreement to acquire 49 per cent shareholding in Alitalia.

Graham E. Cooke, World Travel Awards Founder and President, said: “For over 20 years, the World Travel Awards has been rewarding brands which push the boundaries of industry excellence. Etihad Airways has now taken home the World’s Leading Airline award for six years in a row – a tremendous achievement. The airline’s strategy of organic growth, codeshare partnerships and minority equity stakes coupled with exceptional customer service, has delivered outstanding results and rising passenger growth.”

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Tiger Woods-designed golf course to be built in Dubai

Khaleej Times – 10 December, 2014 – Golfing superstar Tiger Woods will design an 18-hole championship golf course to be built in Dubai by Damac Properties.

The course, to be operated by the Trump Organisation, will include a clubhouse, restaurant and pro shop, Damac said in a statement on Tuesday. It’s due to open by the end of 2017 as part of 55 million square feet master community — the Akoya Oxygen. Plans for a Tiger Woods course were dropped by Dubai Properties Group in January 2011.

“Tiger Woods is one of the most famous and iconic sportsmen in the world who will bring his design expertise and worldwide playing experience to this amazing development,” Ziad El Chaar, managing director, Damac Properties, said in a statement to Khaleej Times.

“Add to that the golfing prowess and skills of The Trump Organisation, our leadership position in luxury real estate development, with the global appeal of Dubai, we believe The Trump World Golf Club Dubai, designed by Tiger Woods, will be a market leader, judged against the best golf courses in the world,” he added.

Woods has already gained a strong reputation for golf course design, with projects underway in Mexico and the United States. His first course to open for play will be El Cardonal in Mexico, which is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

“I’ve been fortunate to play great golf courses all over the globe,” Woods said in the statement. “I hope to bring elements of those great courses and others to the Trump World Golf Club in Dubai.”

This will be the Trump Organisation’s 18th golf property in the world and marks the second world-class course in Dubai with Damac Properties.

“Tiger Woods is the biggest name in professional golf,” said Mr. Donald J. Trump, Chairman & President of The Trump Organisation. “I can’t wait to see this stunning project come to life,” added Woods.

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Emirates to double flights to Barcelona

Khaleej Times – 10 December, 2014 – Emirates, a connector of people, places and economies, has announced plans to offer a double daily service to Barcelona, less than three years after its initial launch to the city.

From May 2, 2015, Emirates will add a further 3,724 seats per week to Barcelona increasing overall capacity by 51 percent. The extra service will be operated by a Boeing 777-200LR in a three class configuration, complementing the airline’s already successful daily A380 service. Timings for the new flight have been scheduled to create and facilitate more effective connections between Barcelona and key cities in the Far East, Middle East, Australia and Africa, via Emirates’ Dubai hub.

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Iraq says Nasiriyah airport infrastructure ready

Emirates 24/7 – 10 December, 2014 – Iraq has completed the construction of the infrastructure for the new Nasiriyah airport in its southern Dhi Qar governorate and the project would be finished in 2015, the Iraqi Media Network (IMN) reported on Wednesday.

“The infrastructure for the airport has been completed and only logistic and technical matters remain…it will be a joint civilian and military airport,” IMN said, quoting Abdul Rahman Al Taei, a member of Dhi Qar governing council. He said the airport would be commissioned in early 2015 but did not mention costs of the project, which has an area of nearly 20,000 square metres and is located at Imam Ali Military Air Base.

In previous comments, Dhi Qar governor Yehya Al Nasiri said the project would be undertaken by companies on an investment basis, adding that firms from Kuwait, the United States and Malaysia have expressed interest in investing in the project.

The Nasiryah airport and similar other projects in conflict-battered Iraq have been on the cards for more than four years but they have been held up by security problems and delayed transport ministry approval.

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