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12 Jan, 2015

Islam’s Golden Age to be major highlight of UNESCO fair in Paris

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 12 January 2015 (19 Rabee’ al-Awwal 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.



HalalTrip mobile app will drive Muslim tourism globally with new food spotting feature

Singapore, (CrescentRating & HalalTrip media release) 8 Jan 2015 – An app designed to simplify the travel experience of Muslims with a food spotting feature allowing users to share and rate Halal food across the world has been launched.

HalalTrip, one of the world’s biggest online travel agents for Halal travel, today announced the launch of their new app, making place discovery and trip planning for millions of travellers easier, fun and more intuitive than ever.

The new app brings together two key essential travel resources for Muslims; Halal food discovery and prayer times. Other features such as city guides and hotel-booking features will be added shortly. The app allows to “spot” Halal food dishes while on their travels and upload images, comment and share via social media to millions across the world. Halal food is one of the biggest drivers of tourism for the Muslim market. The app, which has both an English and Arabic user interface, also integrates CrescentRating’s in-flight prayer time calculator, which allows to work out prayer times and directions instantly while on board a plane.

According to CrescentRating, the sister company of HalalTrip, the Halal tourism sector was worth $140 billion in 2013. This figure is expected to reach $192 billion by 2020.

Over the last 12 months, CrescentRating has seen a surge in restaurants across the world wanting to certify their food as Halal. It’s restaurant rating launched just 2 months ago has now more than 50 rated restaurants across the world, including food places in Peru, Vietnam, Taiwan, Belgium, USA and Austria.

Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of HalalTrip, said the app has been launched in direct response to the global trend and will be a huge help for tourists who are planning to travel to any destination. He said: “We want to offer a complete travel experience with the help of the app. The app will also help users locate and share new Halal food spots in the cities they are residing”

“We want to make it easier and more fun for people to plan trips, and discover very important things that influence their travelling decisions such as places to eat along their journey. They can then share this with their network and other travellers.”

“Halal food is one of the most important aspects of Muslim travellers and we have seen a huge increase in the industry from restaurants wanting to become Halal and more Muslim-friendly to accommodate this market.”

“Muslims, just like the general population, love to discover new places to eat and share their experiences. This food feature will allow Muslims to share their experiences and track their journey. We believe this will drive Halal tourism across the world as tourists will be able to use the app as a reference guide for future travel.”

Over the next few months, HalalTrip will add new features to the app including a direct booking services.

The free app is available for both iPhone/iPad & Android smartphones and can be downloaded by searching for ‘HalalTrip’ in the App Store/Google Play.

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Kuwaiti-Egyptian Economic Ties Poised For New Stage Of Growth

KUWAIT, Jan 4 (NNN-KUNA) — A visit by Egypt’s President Abdelfatah Al-Sisi to Kuwait on Monday is expected to give an impetus to bilateral ties, economic, trade and investment in particular, as Kuwaiti non-petroleum exports to Cairo more than doubled during the third quarter of 2014, compared to the corresponding period in 2013. Non-petroleum exports to Egypt jumped by 110 percent in Q3 in 2014, ranking second in terms of growth after a 245.1 percent rise in exports to Brazil, according to data by Kuwait’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

Statistics on the three months reveal noticeable increase in bilateral trade, as Egypt ranked 15th biggest importer from Kuwait, receiving non-petroleum products worth KD 5.2 million. Over the same period, Egypt ranked 18 amid the word countries exporting to Kuwait with KD 29.5 million.

Kuwait has always been eager on supporting the Egyptian economy. The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) has offered Egypt 38 loans for financing projects in various sectors, with a total amount of approximately KD 661.58 million (USD 2.309 billion).

It also provided nine grants and technical assistance allocations totaling KD 1.97 million which financed technical and economic feasibility studies for several projects and other activities in the country.

In addition, KFAED has administered two grants of KD 4.8 million for the construction of schools that were affected by the earthquake in 1992, and for the reconstruction of some villages that were damaged by floods in 1995.

The two Arab countries are bound by many economic agreements, the first of which was signed in 1964.

In 1998, they signed an economic and technical cooperation accord, renewed in December 2012 to cover all trade and industrial fields, standard specifications, quality monitoring and small and medium sized projects (SMEs), as well encouraging the private sector and investments.

Last year, Egypt and Kuwait signed an agreement for enhancing trade and industrial ties, and a MoU for cooperation in exhibitions and conferences. In November 2014, up to 35 Egyptian firms took part in a special wide scale event held here on real state at home.

Kuwait is the third biggest Arab investor in Egypt with up to LE 12 billion (KD 492.4 million). This is about 25 percent of Arab investments in the country. Kuwaiti investments focus on industry, tourism, communications, construction and charity.

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Malaysia: Weak Ringgit A Boon For Tourism And Exporters

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia Jan 7 (NNN-Bernama) — The weak ringgit is a boon for the tourism sector and exporters, while enhancing Malaysia’s competitiveness, says Deputy Finance Minister Chua Tee Yong. He said Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) was monitoring the performance of the ringgit and trade activities to stablilise the situation. (BNM is Malaysia’s central bank)

“The weak ringgit to the US dollar is due to the short term drop in global crude oil prices. Oil is an export item that has contributed to the country’s trade surplus. It used to contribute about 40 per cent, but this has since dropped to 29 per cent. Since oil, represents a portion of income for the government, the ringgit has to bear with the current situation,” he added.

Chua also noted that most currencies regionally had weakened, especially those in the oil export industry. He told reporters this at the Hand Holding Retail Sector programme here, Wednesday. On Tuesday, the ringgit dipped to a five-and-a-half year low of RM3.55 to the greenback.

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IMF Expects Strong Economic Growth In Mozambique

MAPUTO, Jan 9 (NNN-AIM) — The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects Mozambique’s growth to remain strong and broad based in the medium term, with its macro-economic performance remaining robust. This analysis was revealed in a media statement issued by the Washington-based IMF after the IMF Executive Board completed its third review of Mozambique’s economic performance under an agreed programme supported by an IMF Policy Support Instrument (PSI).

A PSI is an agreement between the IMF and low-income countries which are not seeking IMF loans but are seeking endorsement from the IMF for their policies. This endorsement helps them to obtain loans or grants from other sources. The review noted that Mozambique’s economic growth is forecast at 7.5 per cent for 2014 with low inflation.

Despite these positive results, the IMF warned that “performance under the PSI-supported programme has been mixed”. It stated that “while all but one of the quantitative assessment criteria were met at end-June (2014), there were some slippages during the second half of the year and some delays in implementing structural reforms”.

The IMF stressed that “completion of the contract negotiations for the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a critical milestone for the launch of this project, one of the largest in sub-Saharan Africa”.

This refers to plans by the United States energy company Anadarko and Italy’s ENI to develop LNG facilities in northern Mozambique at a cost of tens of billions of US dollars to exploit the huge gas fields found in the Rovuma Basin, off the coast of Cabo Delgado Province.

The LNG is not expected to come on stream until 2019 at the earliest, but with the price of crude oil dropping to below 50 US dollars a barrel (with LNG prices also falling sharply) and the supply of LNG due to increase, there has been pressure on the two operators to speed up the implementation of their plans.

The IMF also warned that foreign aid is likely to decline over the medium term, resulting in Mozambique needing to borrow to improve physical infrastructure and human capital.

It concluded that “structural reforms focusing on public financial management, monetary policy tools, banking supervision, and business facilitation should be implemented vigorously to sustain growth and render it more inclusive”.

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Archaeologists Find Tomb Of Pharaoh’s Unknown Queen In Egypt

CAIRO, Egypt, Jan 6 (NNN-MENA) – Czech archaeologists said, the tomb of a previously unknown Egyptian queen, believed to be the wife of Pharaoh Neferefre, who ruled the country 4,500 years ago, has been found.

The tomb was found in Pharaoh Neferefre’s funeral complex in Abu-Sir, south-west of Cairo and is thought to belong to the ruler’s wife or mother, it was reported.

Egyptian Antiquities Minister, Mamdouh el-Damaty, said, the queen’s name, Khentakawess, was found inscribed on a wall in the necropolis. “This would make her Khentakawess III, as two previous queens with the same name have already been identified,” Damaty said.

Miroslav Barta, head of the Czech Institute of Egyptology’s mission, which made the discovery, said, the location of the queen’s tomb convinced archaeologists that she was the pharaoh’s wife.

Archaeologists also found about 30 utensils made of limestone and copper. “The discovery would help us shed light on certain unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which, along with the Fourth Dynasty, witnessed the construction of the first pyramids,” said the ministry.

Abu-Sir was used as an Old Kingdom cemetery for ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.

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Dubai Shopping Festival Opens

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 7 (NNN-WAM) – The main attraction of the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), the 20th edition of the Carpet and Art Oasis, was inaugurated yesterday, at the Dubai Festival City, displaying exquisite and rare carpets, hand-crafted in renowned rug making regions.

Held under the patronage of Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Chairman of DP World and Chairman of the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, Ahmed Mahboob Musabih, Director of Dubai Customs, opened the show, in the presence of Laila Mohammed Suhail, CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment, DFRE.

Themed as “20 Years of Spinning Art,” the show will run until Feb 1, and is hosting for the first time, a gallery for handmade carpets, featuring some 44 of the most famous rare fine rugs in the world.

“Dubai Customs keenly organises the Carpet and Art Oasis every year, as one of DSF’s core activities. The exhibition enjoys the full support of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, which forms an incentive for the Carpet Oasis’ Organising Committee to pay utmost attention to the quality and variety of exhibits,” said Sultan bin Sulayem.

Ahmed Mahboob Musabih, Director of Dubai Customs, noted that, the Oasis had met with resounding success, with the number of visitors flocking to the Oasis reaching over one million, and total sales value of more than Dh1.7 billion (USD 0.46 billion) .

“More than two and a half million carpets have been exhibited thus far,” he said, adding, “This edition of the Oasis features 58 stands with 42 companies displaying 220,000 carpets valued at AED2 billion (USD 0.54 billion). A total of 300 exquisite carpets were weaved to be displayed exclusively and for the first time at the Carpet and Art Oasis 2015.”

Ahmed Mahboob noted that this year’s Oasis is being held over an area of 6,200 square metres, and a 120-metre long and 12-metre tall panoramic facade was added to mark the 20th anniversary of the Oasis. The facade features new and old attractions of Dubai, namely Burj Khalifa, Dubai Metro, Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers, Atlantis The Palm, and Dubai Golf Club, among others.

The Carpet Oasis’ Organising Committee has completed the Naseej Al Walaa, or “Loyalty Weave”, Portrait, an initiative launched by Dubai Customs to create a handmade wall-hanging portrait of Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The initiative was held under the patronage of Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum, wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The exquisite piece of art features numerous stitches and rich colours. It has over one million knots and over 120 natural colours spread over an area of nearly 2 square metres. Made of 50% pure silk and 50% natural wool, the weaving was accomplished within three years with the help of 2,000 people. During the Carpet and Art Oasis 2015, the portrait and a book titled “Naseej Al Walaa” will be handed over to Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum.

On the sidelines of the Oasis, Dubai Customs is holding a “Thank You, Guardians of the Nation” exhibition, in line with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s directives to dedicate the celebrations of his Accession Day to the UAE Armed Forces.

The inauguration of the 20th edition of Carpet and Art Oasis saw the display of “Al Mahmal Al Shami” (a ceremonial palanquin carried on a camel which was the centre piece of the pilgrim caravan to Mecca). The Mahmal, decorated by its accessories, has the stamp of Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan and dates back to 1311 Hijri.

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Oman To Celebrate Nizwa’s Choice As Capital Of Islamic Culture For 2015

MUSCAT, Oman, Jan 7 (NNN-ONA) – The Sultanate of Oman is about to start a series of events, to celebrate the choice of its heritage-rich city of Nizwa, as the capital of Islamic Culture for 2015, by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO).

In a press statement, Under-secretary of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Sheikh Hamad bin Hilal Al-Maamary, announced that, the Ministry designed a special logo to celebrate this event. He said that the Ministry plans a wide array of events to celebrate this occasion. The celebrations include holding a number of seminars, lectures, exhibitions and media activities, he pointed out.

Al-Maamary added, the activities also include Fifth International Exhibition of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Documents and Coins, an exhibition on the museums system in the Sultanate and the exhibition of photography, as well as cultural and handicraft exhibitions.

He noted that Nizwa was chosen as the capital of Islamic Culture, due to the depth of its cultural influence, which dates backs to over 12 centuries, and its richness of heritage sites.

Nizwa is the largest city in the Al-Dakhiliyah governorate, about 140 km from the capital Muscat. The city has a population of 70,000 people. The civilisational influence of Nizwa is manifested through its many archaeological and heritage sites, such as, Nizwa Castle and the adjoining fort, which together, are considered among the most important military monuments in the Middle East region.

Nizwa Fort is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oman, due to the fact that it is an amazing example of old Omani architecture, that provides an illustration of the way Omani people lived in ancient times.

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U.A.E.: A Hot Spot For Film-Makers

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 8 (NNN-WAM) – Taking advantage of easy access, advanced infrastructure and scenic landscapes, the number of movies filmed in the UAE over the past few years have steadily increased, as the country has firmly positioned itself as an ideal location for film-makers looking to cut down on production costs and reduce paperwork.

Abu Dhabi, whose movie sector is overseen by the Abu-Dhabi Film Commission, ADFC, has a rebate system that offers up to 30 percent payback for film-makers. Dubai is also discussing such a move.

According to estimates, the two emirates have witnessed good returns from film shooting. “In a study commissioned by ADFC earlier this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, estimates that for every AED1 (USD 0.27) invested in the production rebate programme, AED4.5 (USD 1.23) of GDP will be generated within Abu Dhabi,” Paul Baker, Executive Director of Abu-Dhabi-based twofour54 intaj, a production facility and production services company, told the Gulf News daily.

“Because of this so called ‘multiplier effect’, PwC expects the total economic impact of the rebate programme in 2014 to be AED180 million (USD 49 million),” Baker added.

While, he said, film and TV production will contribute to the growth of the media industry and economic diversification in general, Baker noted that “those who come to Abu Dhabi for the duration of a production, are just as valuable to the economy. For example, Star Wars brought along several hundred cast and crew, who stayed in hotels and dined at restaurants in the emirates, which in turn contributed to the local tourism market and boosted hotel occupancy.” He added that the filming experience also helps local talent interact with some of the world’s best producers on set.

Dubai, which was one of the locations for Syriana (2005), and Mission Impossible 4 (2011) and 14 foreign movies, mainly from Bollywood, in 2014, including Happy New Year, is studying a rebate system to attract more film-makers to the emirates, a film commission official said.

“We are still new, and we don’t have a rebate system,” said Saeed Janahi, head of operation at the Dubai Film and TV commission, which started its mission in 2013. However, “we are working on it and will announce it soon, because the system exists everywhere in the world.

“Dubai is one of the favourite locations for Bollywood movies and many Bollywood movie premieres are also held in Dubai, after the city’s “exposure” and because it has “become a brand,” Janahi said.

Just like Abu-Dhabi, Dubai’e economy has also benefited from filming of movies and TV episodes. While no figures are available to determine how filming movies in Dubai has supported tourism, many filming locations noticed an increase in visitors seeking to see where scenes in movies were shot.

Commenting on the incentives offered, Janahi said, it is still premature to say how the rebate system would be. While acknowledging prices might be more than other places, he added, “the services are faster.”

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Qatar Airways Announces Amsterdam As First New Destination In 2015

DOHA, Qatar, Jan 6 (NNN-QNA) – Qatar Airways has revealed its first new destination this year, with the launch of daily flights to Amsterdam, starting June 16, Qatar News Agency (QNA), reported.

“Amsterdam has long been on our list of destinations to introduce in our network, and we are delighted to now be adding this European city to our route map,” Qatar Airways group chief executive, Akbar Al Baker said.

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner will operate two-way flights on the Doha-Amsterdam route.

The carrier’s latest announcement brings to 34, the total number of European destinations served by Qatar Airways.

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OIC Sec Gen Plans To Rope In Palestine And Jordan To Promote Al-Quds

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 6 (NNN-MA’AN) – With Jerusalem chosen as the capital of Islamic tourism this year, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Secretary General, Iyad Ameen Madani, intends to invite Palestinian and Jordanian Ministers of Tourism, to work out a plan aimed at promoting Al-Quds and its Islamic holy sites as a tourist destination.

The plan included connecting tourism agencies in Palestine and Jordan, with Umrah tour agents, he said, in an OIC statement. Madani said that, the ministers’ meeting would discuss a formula that would boost the movement of pilgrims to Al-Quds, pointing out that Saudi Arabia alone received more than six million pilgrims a year.

Al-Quds or Baitul-Maqdis is the Arabic name for the city of Jerusalem, which is important to the Muslims, as it is said to be the third holiest site in Islam. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, during the night, where he ascended to heaven in a journey called Isra’ and Mi’raj.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed the call by the OIC Secretary General, who represented the 57-member countries from around the Muslim world, to visit Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa.

Abbas, accompanied by Madani, also opened a photo gallery – ‘Al-Quds in Memory’ in Ramallah, organised by OIC’s Research Centre for History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), in cooperation with the Palestine Ministry of Culture.

The statement said that, the photo gallery was among the many OIC’s initiatives to support the Arab-Islamic identity of Al-Quds, in face of Judaisation, exercised by the occupation against the Palestinian people and to protect the architectural heritage of its place.

The exhibition displays 470 extraordinary historical pictures of Al-Quds, from the ‘Yildiz’ album of Sultan Abdul Hamid II and the archive of IRCICA, with translation of Arabic, English and Turkish languages.

Palestinian Culture Minister, Ziad Amr, said that, his ministry would organise the gallery in other Palestinian cities and other countries, to promote the history and strengthen the identity of Al-Quds to face the continuous aggression.

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Iran, Iraq discuss trade, security ties

Thursday 01 Jan 2015 – Tehran (IINA) – Iran’s Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said here on Wednesday that economic cooperation is considered as the utmost priority in relations between Tehran and Baghdad, IRNA reported.

Shamkhani made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Iraqi Transport Minister Baqer Al-Zubaidi. Referring to the establishment of the new government in Baghdad and the growing trend of security in Iraq, he underscored that the two neighboring countries have focused on bilateral economic cooperation.

He also explored avenues for bolstering all-out ties in reconstructing the devastations caused by terrorist attacks, as well as infrastructure and transportation.

In another meeting with the visiting Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid Al-Obeidi on Tuesday, Shamkhani stressed that all areas of Iraq will soon be cleared from terrorists. He said that not even an iota of Iraqi soil should be held by Takfiri terrorists, denouncing the unprecedented barbaric acts practiced against Iraqi Sunnis by terrorists. He also underlined the need for speedy return of displaced people to their homes.

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Oman, Nepal sign new air service agreement

Thursday 01 Jan 2015 – Muscat (IINA) – Oman and Nepal signed a new bilateral air service agreement, allowing designated carriers of both countries to operate 21 flights a week, BERNAMA reported.

Nepalese Tourism Minister Suresh Man and Director-General of Oman’s Public Authority for Civil Aviation Anwar al-Raisi signed the agreement in Muscat on Tuesday, Nepalese ministry spokesman Mohan Krishna Sharma said.

“At present, designated carriers of each country are operating a maximum of seven flights a week and the new agreement allows a maximum of 21 flights a week,” he affirmed.

Sharma said that currently Oman Air is the only airline operating direct flights between Kathmandu and Muscat, stressing that the new agreement will pave the way for the company to operate at least two flights a day.

Oman and Nepal signed the first air service agreement in 1997, but direct air service between the two countries began only in 2010, with Oman Air operating direct flights on Muscat-Kathmandu route.

It is to be noted that more than 10,000 Nepalese expats are currently working in Oman. In 2013, Oman Air carried 7,905 people to Nepal from Muscat.

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Turkey permits first new church in 90 years

Ankara, Sunday, 13 Rabi Al-Awwal 1436/ 04 January 2015 (IINA) – Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government has authorized the building of the first church in the country since the end of the Ottoman empire in 1923, according to AFP.

The church is for the country’s tiny Syriac community and will be built in the Istanbul suburb of Yesilkoy on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, which already has Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches. “It is the first since the creation of the republic,” a government source told AFP Saturday. “Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now,” he added. Turkey, which once had large Christian minorities, is now 99 percent Muslim, and critics of the ruling party AKP have accused it of trying to Islamicize its officially secular society.

However, as part of its bid to join the European Union Amlara has made efforts to widen minority rights and return some seized property and restore churches, monasteries and synagogues. The country’s ancient Syriac minority, which now numbers less than 20,000, live mostly in the southeast, and tend to be either Orthodox or Catholic. The church will be built on land given by the local council and paid for by a Syriac group, the government spokesman, who asked not to be named, said.

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Islamic bond sales projected 59% surge in 2015: IINA Report

Tuesday 06 Jan 2015 – Jeddah (IINA) – Global Islamic bond (sukuk) sales are expected a surge to $ 175 billion during 2015, a record increase of 59 percent, compared to 2014, during which they stood at $ 110 billion. In the meantime, the Islamic finance assets jumped to more than $ 778 billion over the last year, according to the latest report on Islamic banking sector, obtained by the International Islamic News Agency (IINA).

The report showed that the Islamic finance assets had achieved a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16 percent during the period from 2006 to 2012.

The report pointed out that the growth rate of Islamic finance assets has slowed in 2013, as it declined from 20.7 percent in 2012 to 8.7 percent in 2013, although the Islamic banking industry had achieved a total annual growth rate during 2012 and 2013, amounted to $ 1.2 trillion and $ 1.3 trillion respectively (i.e. a growth rate of 8.7 percent), based on disclosed assets by the Islamic finance institutions.

The breakdown by category included $ 958 billion for commercial banking, $ 251 billion for the sukuks, $ 44 billion for Islamic funds, $ 26 billion for Takaful and $ 21 billion for other segments.

The assets of Islamic finance and banking industry as a whole are projected to exceed the amount of $ 2 trillion in 2015, which represents a small portion of the global financial system. The report attributed the record growth of the Islamic banking industry to the increased clout of member countries of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), three of which are also members of the influential Group of 20 (G20) as well as the IDB’s highest global rating since a decade ago, and the continuous interest in this industry by the circles that report on financial system.

The report stated that there had been international tendencies to reconsider the traditional financial system since 2008, the beginning of the global financial crisis. This represented an unprecedented opportunity for the Islamic banking sector to prove its effectiveness.

The report noted that the world is currently looking for how to take advantage of the Islamic finance industry, which includes savings and wealth management, support of economic growth, in addition to the exercise of additional influence in global forums and decision-making agencies.

The report also pointed to transforming Islamic economy to a focus of attention towards the east and the Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which account for the largest share, exceeding 95 percent of the total Islamic financial assets in the world.

The report said that the Islamic financial institutions, such as IDB and the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB), can consider a targeted strategy to work with the three G20 Muslim member countries (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Turkey) in order to promote the strong presence of Islamic finance in the world.

Islamic finance has tangible benefits in terms of financial inclusion and sustainability, as well as maintaining steady growth (at an average annual projected growth of about 20 percent) amid the global financial crises.

The OIC seeks in its second 10-year plan (2015-2025) to urge member countries to develop a sound and well-regulated financial system in order to attract domestic savings and foreign investments, and to facilitate the flows of financial resources and foreign direct investments among the OIC countries.

The plan also aims to develop and promote the Islamic financial products and strengthen the financial infrastructure as well as the standards and regulations applicable in the financial sectors (banking, insurance and capital). Moreover, it aims to enhance the development of national legislative and regulatory frameworks for the promotion of Islamic financial products across the member countries and the world.

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Morocco ideal location for power hub in Mediterranean

Wednesday 07 Jan 2015 – Brussels (IINA) – Morocco is well located to become a real power hub between Europe and Africa, Maghreb Arab Press reported, citing André Merlin, president of Medgrid consortium.

“When we look at the geography of the Mediterranean, Morocco is the right location to develop electrical interconnections between Europe and Africa,” said the president of Medgrid, a consortium created in 2011 to promote and facilitate the development of an interconnection network between Europe and the countries of southern and eastern Mediterranean.

Merlin, who was speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, following the second Euro-Mediterranean Energy meeting, said the two existing interconnections and the other two planned between Morocco, Spain and Portugal enable Morocco to become a real power hub between Europe and Africa.

The interconnection between Morocco and Spain could be achieved in a very short period of time and would require 300 million euros, while the other interconnection with Portugal would require 600 million euros, he said, noting that this investment pays off as of its fifth year.

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LEAD STORY: Islam’s Golden Age to be major highlight of UNESCO fair in Paris

Wednesday 07 Jan 2015 – New York (IINA) – Islam once produced the world’s most scientifically advanced and intellectually productive civilization as reported by the American daily newspaper “The Times Union”, whilst many Americans might find far-fetched the idea that Islam spawned the most advanced and sophisticated civilization of its time.

That is the truth and you will probably hear more about it when this and more will be spotlighted during the United Nations International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies fair. Islamic science will be showcased in the fair, which will open on Jan. 19 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Islam’s Golden Age, extending from the 7th century to the 13th century, flourished while Europe and Christendom wallowed in the Dark Ages. Western society was considered a backwater, if considered at all.

Islam generated impressive advances in medicine, chemistry, physics, mathematics, astronomy, optics and philosophy. It created cities, observatories and libraries, and it engaged in far-flung commerce well before Christopher Columbus set sail.

Credit goes to Islamic genius for the discovery of magnetic compass and navigational innovation, for algebra and the refinement of the numbering system that originated in India, for papermaking and the scientific method. While Greek and Roman learning faded in the medieval West, Islamic scholars were preserving and enlarging it long before the European Renaissance or Age of Enlightenment.

The event, which is going to happen in Paris, will aim to raise awareness of light science and its importance to humankind and by doing that, it necessarily will have to highlight the Islamic achievements.

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‘The Quran in Conversation’ is a book for curious learners

Thursday 08 Jan 2015 – Houston (IINA) – Over half of the Americans (54%) know that the Qur’an is Islam’s holy book. Based on that number, it is likely that much less have much knowledge of its contents or if they do, they only know what is given to them by popular pundits, mainstream media, and polemical parties ranging from the liberal to the strictly conservative, Houston Chronicle online news reported quoting writer Ken Chitwood. The writer made these comments while reviewing a book on Qur’an namely ‘The Quran in Conversation.’

The Qur’an is the foundation and form of Muslim belief and ritual, providing an outline of their doctrine and a playbook for their piety, it is a complex collection of revelation that, for Muslims deserves the utmost respect, attention, repetition, and faithful interpretation, Ken Chitwood pointed out. .

Increasingly, it also demands our attention, respect, and faithful engagement and in order to befriend and dialogue with our Muslim neighbors, co-workers, and community members in a compassionate, and informed manner we need to approach the Qur’an with charity and a zeal for apperception from a Muslim perspective, not with our own lenses.

The Qur’an is quick becoming an American scripture, and the book ‘The Quran in Conversation’ provides a rich opportunity to understand it as such. As the editor Dr. Michael Berkel wrote in his introduction, “This book is written for readers of goodwill who are curious to learn more, who are rightly suspicious of rancorous distortions of Islam, and who would like to hear thoughtful Muslims themselves talk about their Scripture in ways that outsiders can comprehend.”

Relying on the first-hand accounts of more than twenty Muslims scholars and leaders, Berkel has assembled a collection of fresh American Muslim voices that speak to relevant issues of Islamic theology, women and Islam, global Islam, relationships with “the religious other,” and others.

Dr. Berkel said in an interview about his book, “One theme that emerged again and again during my conversation with Muslim community, one not portrayed in the wider media, was that of mercy and compassion.” This idea of rahma (mercy) is at the center of the Islamic experience. The fundamental nature of Allah is mercy.

He added, the sense of divine mercy overcoming all else came up again and again as a quality of God, therefore, I learned that whatever they say and you think Islam is, it is bigger and wider than that.

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Southeast Asian countries plan joint accommodation for Hajjis

Thursday 08 Jan 2015 – Makkah (IINA) – As many as eight Southeast Asian countries — including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, and China — have plans to rent out residential buildings for their pilgrims in the same neighborhood for Haj so as to provide a package of common services.

Nabeel Zamzami, member of the real estate committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the plan aims at reducing the cost of Haj operation and improving services for pilgrims. Haj missions of these countries have been instructed to bring down expenses by renting out residential towers that are licensed to accommodate more than 1,000 pilgrims, he said, quoting Haj mission officials from these countries. The officials also noted that residential buildings at different localities in Makkah create difficulties for pilgrims as well as for those engaged in serving them.

The Haj quota for Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, was about 171,000 in 2014, and there were 70 field offices (Maktab) to take care of their affairs. Around 22,000 Malaysian pilgrims performed Haj last year, while more than 15,000 pilgrims from the rest of the Southeast Asian countries came for Haj. Zamzami said that Indonesian pilgrims and Haj officials had to face a lot of problems last year mainly because their Haj mission and medical mission operated from two districts, located far away from each other.

The Indonesian Haj mission is currently negotiating to sign agreement with a number of residential towers to accommodate 11,000 pilgrims in Makkah’s Aziziyah district. Meanwhile, a meeting of the real estate committee, held here on Wednesday, discussed a plan to launch the real estate index that would help realtors to fix prices of real estate in the holy city. Rida Kurdi, a member of the committee, said that Makkah’s giant residential and hotel projects, which are under various phases of implementation, can accommodate huge number of pilgrims. The hotel projects are being implemented on a total area of 1.2 million square meters. There are 15,000 hotel rooms at Jabal Omar Project and 22,000 rooms at Abraj Al-Bait.

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Charter flight starts from Denmark to Gan, Maldives

January 7, 2015 – Sun.mv – Operation of a charter flight has been started from Denmark to Gan International Airport of Addu City.

Addu International Airport Private Limited has said that under the joint effort to operate international flights in Gan Airport by that company, tourist resorts in that region and tour operators, operation of a charter flight has been started from Denmark to Gan International Airport from Tuesday onwards.

Ahmed Shafeeg, Deputy Manager Operation of Gan International Airport said that flight named Jettime Boeing 737 has started its operations from Denmark to Gan. “From today onwards, there will be three flights every month until April 21. We are thinking to extend this period” said Shafeeg.

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Maldives targets 1.4 million tourists for 2015

January 5, 2015 – Sun.mv – Tourism Ministry has said that their target is to welcome 1.4 million tourists in 2015.

According to Tourism Ministry, their target for the year 2014 was to bring 1.2 million tourists. However, 1.4 million tourists have visited Maldives by the end of 2014. That is a 7.1 percent rise when compared to tourist arrival in 2013. 1.2 million Tourists have visited Maldives in the year 2013.

While more than 1.4 million tourists have visited Maldives last year, majority of the tourists have arrived in Maldives from Asia and Europe. According to the statistics of November 2014, most tourists have come to Maldives from China.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom has said that government aims to develop and widen the economy of the country and tourist arrival to Maldives can be made more than 1.2 million every year.

Bringing one million tourists to Maldives was a target set for the year 2012. The Maldivian government had narrowly failed to reach this milestone target in 2012. Tourist arrival in Maldives in that year was 958,027, which is 41,973 less than the target.

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Seljuk palace comes to light in Konya

KONYA – Anadolu Agency – New sections of a summer palace built for Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubad on the shore of Lake Beyşehir have come to the surface, but the fate of the ancient site remains unclear due to a lack of funding for its restoration.

“A sum of funds was allocated for the restoration. But there is no clear movement. Actually, works should start as soon as possible. Because stones are falling from the structures every year; they should be handled urgently,” said Çanakkale 18 Mart University Professor Rüçhan Arık, the head of the excavations.

He said the most important issue was the amount of funds, since they needed a modern lab and a larger, specialist staff. “The funds are enough for one month of work only,” he said. The most recent finds include a boathouse and shipyard belonging to the palace, named Kubadabad.

Arık said two other structures were found in the latest excavations and added that the function of the structures, which were found on the west side of the “Small Palace,” had not yet been determined. Arık said that during excavations over the past 34 years, 15 structures had been unearthed and restored in the region.

He added that among those structures, the “Small Palace” and the “Big Palace” had become two functional structures and their restoration and conservation projects had been approved, too.

Arık said the palace’s shipyard and boathouse, which they identify as “monumental structures,” were unearthed during the 2013 and 2014 excavation seasons.

“This is the first and only known lake shipyard. This discovery in Kubadabad shows us that the Seljuk people gave importance to shipping and water. At the same time, it shows that there was busy transportation traffic on the basin of Lake Beyşehir. It is understood that people used the waterway to reach Kubadabad. It should be restored, too. Right next to it is the Seljuk dam, called Gürlevi, with a pier in front of it. Other than these, we unearthed two areas called ‘Köşklü Bath’ and ‘Structure with three spaces’ and the palace worksite. A brand-new tile category emerged from the storage of the worksite. All of them are waiting for restoration and conversation,” said the professor.

The professor said they had exerted great efforts for Kubadabad to be included on a list of National Palaces, adding that the palace was finally set to be given support for restoration and conservation this year.

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UNESCO’s fourth chair opened in Istanbul

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – UNESCO’s fourth Chair on Management and Promotion of World Heritage Sites was launched on Jan. 7 at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. “From the historic areas of Istanbul, to the Selimiye Mosque, to the rock sites of Cappadocia … each of these sites has special meaning for the people of this country … each is also part of the wider history of humanity,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, at a signing ceremony at the university.

“This is the importance of this new UNESCO Chair on the Management and Promotion of World Heritage Sites – to develop innovative ways for community involvement in the sustainable management of sites and to enhance the capacities of management staff,” Bokova added.

“We are aiming to raise awareness on the management, protection and promotion of world heritage sites by using digital technology and methods,” said Mustafa Aydın, Kadir Has’ rector.

Bokova also said the way to manage cultural sites had changed dramatically in recent decades. “The chair provides a timely platform to rethink how we view and manage culture, to adapt our tools to new tests,” she said.

“Today, we must protect sites against violence and conflict. We must mitigate the threats of climate change. Cultural sites provide an open book on the management of diversity, carrying lessons of positive globalization. All of this calls for new skills and approaches, and I can think of no better place than Turkey to take this forward,” Bokova added.

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Interest in Lydian capital increases

MANİSA – Anadolu Agency – The number of tourists visiting the ancient city of Sardis in İzmir’s Salihli district has increased three fold over the last five years, thanks to promotional work. The ancient city was the capital of Lydia, the civilization that invented money.

Salihli Tourism Association Chairman Mustafa Uçar said that excavations had started in Sardis in 1910 and accelerated again after 1958, unearthing many historical artifacts.

Uçar said the excavations covered an area of 3,000 square meters and shed light on 1,400 years of history between the 7th century B.C and the 7th century A.D., with artifacts from the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman cultures, among others.

He said among the findings were an acropolis, a gymnasium, a synagogue, a bath, a court building, houses, 85 graves where Lydian kings had been buried and the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven holy temples of Christianity, built in 300 B.C. by the ancient Greeks and renovated by the Romans in the 2nd century A.D.

The ancient city had been overlooked for many years and rarely hosted tourists, said Uçar, adding that interest in the city has been increasing in recent years and it now draws tourists throughout the year.

“Eight to 10 buses of tourists come to Sardis every day,” he said, adding that ongoing excavations and promotional activities were the reason for the increase of interest in the ancient city.

“In recent years, both local management and non-governmental organizations attached great importance to the promotion of Sardis. Symposiums and conferences were held to showcase the importance of the ancient city and the status of the Lydian Kingdom in history. Catalogues and brochures were printed and delivered to travel agencies. The site was promoted in both in Turkey and abroad. As a result, tourist interest in the ancient city has increased every day,” Uçar said.

“The ancient city of Sardis hosted 22,000 people in 2010. This number increased to 27,000 in 2011, 30,000 in 2012, 43,000 in 2013 and 65,000 in 2014. The city is expected to welcome 100,000 tourists annually in the near future,” he said.

Uçar said that the traces of the Lydians, who had led the way for the invention of money, could be found only in Sardis, and expressed the importance of the Temple of Artemis to tourists. “It is the fourth largest ionic temple in the world. It had remained underground for many years, which is why it is still in good condition. It draws lots of interest from tourists,” Uçar said.

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Russia crisis ‘chance for Turkish tourism’

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – The crisis in Europe may create opportunities for the Turkish tourism businesses if airlines reflect the fall in oil prices on their ticket fees, according to Başaran Ulusoy, the head of the country’s leading tourism organization.

“The crisis in Russia poses opportunities for us,” said Ulusoy, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), while speaking at a sector event organized by daily Hürriyet on Dec. 22. “Let the airline companies support us and reflect the falling oil prices on ticket,” he said.

Turkey’s tourism sector, which employs around 800,000, attracts large numbers of Russian tourists every year, but the recent depreciation of the ruble remains a major concern for next year, as the citizens of the northern neighbor may cut spending.

“Developing ties with Russia is very important for us,” he said. “And our strongest hand in the issue is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” he added, referring to good relations between the Turkish leader and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

The tourism sector is precious for Turkey, said Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, the chairwoman of Hürriyet, in her addressing at the event,

“The tourism sector grew tenfold in the last decade,” she said. “Besides its economic input, the socio-cultural contributions are very important. Tourism means civilization, development and peace.” The event gathered representatives of some 90 percent of the sector, she noted, highlighting the Hürriyet supplements and publications that support the sector. Turkey has gone beyond limited sun-and-sea tourism, said Culture and Tourism Ministry Undersecretary Professor Haluk Dursun. “We should add culture tourism to this,” he said.

Daily Hürriyet is among the actors in the tourism sector, Editor-in-Chief Sedat Ergin said. “We are very pleased to see that our contributions to tourism are appreciated by the sector,” he added.

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Tajikistan develops horticulture

Centralasiaonline.com 2015-01-09 DUSHANBE – The ingenuity of Tajik farmers and gardeners could mean a golden age for fruit farming.

For generations, farmers in the mountainous nation have been planting gardens and vineyards on slopes, hills and arid but unirrigated soil where they couldn’t grow vegetables and cotton. They also started gardens on irrigated land if the climate in the area didn’t support cotton.

That resourceful use of land has increased in recent years as agricultural leaders fret about disappointing cotton prices and about soil depletion by the notoriously demanding plant.

In the past five years, farmers have planted 53,532ha of new gardens and 4,110ha of new vineyards. Land under gardens now comprises 175,896ha and vineyards 38,398ha, the Tajik Ministry of Agriculture says.

“The most important thing is that we have allowed the farmers to make decisions on what to farm,” Akhmajon Kobilov, deputy chairman of the Sughd Province government, told Central Asia Online. “Everything else is up to the market.”

The current situation favors horticulture because fruit and vegetable prices in Tajikistan remain consistently high and because the prospects for profitable exports are growing, Tajik analysts say.

“We can see now that farmers prefer setting up new gardens on the sites of failed earlier plantings (of other crops),” Bakhodur Toshmatov, a scholar at the Sughd branch of the Tajik Institute of Horticulture and Vegetable Cultivation, said. “They seize every opportunity to plant fruit trees. Gardens also grow on so-called cotton plots where soil composition won’t permit bumper cotton and vegetable crops.”

“Five years ago, we stopped farming wherever it lost money,” Haji Tulkin Dehkonov, CEO of the Assor Co. in Kanibadam District, said.

Tajik farmers, historically unable to match larger and mechanised foreign rivals on price, have had to adjust some old attitudes. During numerous workshops, international organisations such as Welthungerhilfe (World Hunger Aid), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and local NGOs recommend aggressive implementation of modern technologies.

“For the past two years, we have been explaining advantages of the new technologies, including intensive horticulture (which minimises resource input), to the farmers,” Makhinakhon Sulaymonova, chairwoman of the NGO Neksigol, said. “We are trying to convince farmers to drop stereotypes and conservatism and to learn from countries harvesting high yields.”

However, the entire country has only about 150ha of intensively farmed plots, the Ministry of Agriculture reported. That’s because nobody is pushing to implement the strategy, scholars say.

To encourage intensive horticulture to take off, authorities have greatly simplified procedures for transferring vacant land to such farmers.

The Sughd Grain Co. took advice from HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation and set up a 20ha farm on the Somgar steppe (Bobojon Gafurov District) three years ago.

Ninety-nine percent of sweet cherry, plum and peach saplings thrived. Italian specialists supervised the whole process. Workers harvested 4-5kg of fruits from every tree (20 tonnes total) last year, during the first-ever harvest on the farm. The company expects a full-fledged crop of at least 100 tonnes next year.

“You can grow almost any kind of fruit on the more-than-200km-long right bank of the Syr Darya River in Tajikistan,” Toshmatov said.

Authorities plan to carve out farm plots for intensive horticulture on 10,000ha on the Somgar steppe.

The Sughd administration already has received more than 900 requests from farmers and entrepreneurs for land allotments. In order to plant fruit trees as early as the spring of 2015, the administration in February 2014 began operating a pumping station to supply the steppe with Syr Darya River water.

“Intensive horticulture development can become a major stride not only in crowding out (imported) genetically modified fruits but in restoring Tajikistan’s (former) status as one of the leading fruit exporters in the post-Soviet space,” Dushanbe economist Saydali Gulov said.

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Turkmenistan builds railways to serve region

Centralasiaonline.com 2015-01-05 ASHGABAT – Turkmenistan is building various transportation routes to enhance Central Asia’s inter-connectivity and to help Afghanistan climb out of decades of war.

The December launch of the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan railway – also called the North-South Transnational Corridor – is a testament to Turkmenistan’s growing activity in building regionally and internationally significant transportation and communications projects, observers say. The railway links Central Asia to Persian Gulf ports.

Specialists at the Institute of Strategic Planning and Development of Turkmenistan already have drawn up an approximate map of how the North-South and planned East-West (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT)) railways will look by 2020. They’ll have a considerable workload: freight simply transiting Turkmenistan by rail will amount to about 25m tonnes of goods per year, the institute predicts.

“This will come to pass after the completed railway linking Kazakhstan and the Persian Gulf and the (TAT) railway, which is presently under construction, reach their projected carrying capacity,” said Sakhra Annanepesova, an employee of the institute.

Turkmen government agencies are calculating the benefits of completing the numerous infrastructure projects on their agenda.

“The new mainlines will allow (relevant Turkmen agencies) to reduce transportation costs by one-third and to double their profits from allowing cargo to transit Turkmenistan,” said Danatar Kasymov, a spokesman for the Railway Transport Ministry.

“Turkmenistan will benefit from gaining new routes on which to export its petroleum products, liquefied natural gas … and agricultural produce,” Annanepesova said.

Benefits for neighbouring countries

Soon, other countries like Kazakhstan will gain access to international markets using Turkmenistan’s transportation infrastructure, economists say. Transportation routes that could benefit neighbouring countries include the TAT railway and the planned Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia and Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Oman-Qatar transit and transportation corridors.

As a result, a number of Central Asian media outlets are comparing the country’s transportation infrastructure to an intersection of seven roads, referring to Turkmenistan’s seven existing junctions with neighbouring countries’ railways.

“Turkmenistan is a unique economic bridge between Asia and Europe,” Turkmen Ambassador to Kazakhstan Magtymguly Akmyradov recently said, evaluating emerging opportunities to carry Kazakhstani grain and other goods to the Persian Gulf by rail rather than by slow ships.

Meanwhile, the Railway Transport Ministry has sent its construction workers east to finish the TAT project.

Track-laying and bridge-building teams are already there, Kasymov said. And they’ll help a struggling neighbour too: “They’ll lay the Afghan segment of the railway (as well),” he added.

Tajikistan and Afghanistan are particularly hopeful about the TAT. “This railway will allow our country to escape our inability to reach the outside world,” Tajik Deputy Transportation Minister Jumakhon Zukhurov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in an interview, referring to Tajikistan’s landlocked location and rugged topography.

“Completing such large-scale regional projects will create a spirit of camaraderie and of a shared future: it will result in strengthening peace and stability,” then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in Atamurat, Turkmenistan, where the TAT construction ground-breaking took place in June 2013.

Meanwhile, some observers point to several difficulties that Turkmen workers could encounter while laying the TAT railway in both Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, including security problems in northern Afghanistan.

However, Kasymov is confident that workers will complete the TAT railway on time. Completion is expected in 2015. “These days you hear all sorts of things, but we Turkmens well know that as they say, ‘You never know until you try,'” he said.

“The TAT railway is equally important for Turkmens, Afghans and Tajiks,” Kasymov said. “It will benefit all peoples if it is built and enters operation.”

Turkmenistan does not shy away from expressing its hopes that the TAT project, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline and the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia transit and transportation corridors will help establish peace and stability in the region – most important, in Afghanistan.

“The projects that Turkmenistan has proposed to Afghanistan gives us a good chance of overcoming our country’s economic backwardness, illiteracy and poverty,” Halil Sherip, a resident of Jawzjan Province, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Turkmen service.

“Anyone who interferes with the project, power lines, gas pipelines, job creation or people’s capacity to earn money will be opposing the future of his own people…People who endlessly wage war or poison others with drugs should know that, and the government and media should explain these kinds of things to the public.”

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Brunei gears up for tourist influx

January 05, 2015 – Borneo Bulletin Online – Brunei tourism industry has been seeing a big influx of tourists coming via cruise ships and in a span of eight days the numbers are going to swell by over a thousand. Some 1,280 tourists will arrive on two cruise ships – Silver Wind on January 7, 2015 and Crystal Cruise on January 12, 2015 – carrying 390 and 890 passengers respectively.

Both cruise ships will dock at Muara Port. The cruise ship Silver Wind will arrive on January 7, the stopover being part of an 11-day cruise from Singapore to Bali. The cruise ships are brought to Brunei by Freme Travel Services as the shipping agency.

While in the Sultanate, the passengers will go on a city tour and sightseeing around the capital as well as visit other places of interest.

The arrival of tourists on cruise ships boosts business in the tourism sector. Luxury buses are chartered to transport the tourists to various places of interest in the capital.

Transport, food & beverage sectors and tour companies as well as other related businesses stand to gain from such visits.

Statistics show that in 2013 the number of cruise vessels, passengers and crew arrivals at Muara Port stood at 25 ships with 26,865 passengers and 16,351 crews compared to 19 ships with 19,913 passengers and 7,989 crews in 2012.

The Ports Department, Ministry of Communications has lauded the services of these cruise liners in choosing Muara Port to be one of their ports of call, resulting in the increase in the number of tourists coming to the country.

The department will continue to work closely with the Brunei Tourism Board to conduct joint marketing and promotion including issuing printed promotional materials, maps, informational brochures and others such as upgrading facilities and signage in order to attract more foreigners in the region and around the world to visit the Sultanate.

The Ports Department will also continue its efforts in negotiating with cruise owners and shipping agents to attract more cruise vessels to make frequent calls at Muara Port without losing sight on the importance of maritime safety and security aspects.

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Bangladesh: Eco-friendly bamboo-made handicrafts becoming popular

RANGPUR, Jan 08, 2015 (BSS) – The eco-friendly bamboo- made handicrafts have become popular again among the common people to flourish the sector and bring fortune for hundreds of the unemployed rural people in the northern districts.

Understanding harmful impacts of using synthetic goods, common people are showing more interest in using bamboo-made handicrafts and the private sector entrepreneurs have been producing, marketing and popularising those to meet their demand.

Like many other entrepreneurs, Noman Ali, 42, has set an example in reviving the lost aristocracy of bamboo-made handicrafts through producing the next generation charming ones in village Moksudpur under Badarganj upazila of Rangpur.

Following his footsteps, many youths of the village and adjoining areas have already engaged themselves with the profession to achieve self-reliance through producing and marketing quality bamboo-made handicrafts having huge market demand.

Success of Noman Ali and his fellows have ushered in a new era in protecting, flourishing and modernising bamboo-made handicrafts and commercial farming of bamboo in the area attracting many others in the prospective venture.

Noman Ali and others are producing bamboo- made handicrafts with eye-catching looks and designs including beds, khats', doors, windows, furniture, tables, chair, fruit trays, tiles, boxes, baskets,phooldani’, beauty boxes, show- cases and others goods.

After completing education, Noman Ali failed to get job when he formed `Chhit Laksmipur Samaj Kallyan Samity (CLSKS)’ involving local unemployed youths in 2000 in search of fortune through locally taken initiatives.

Members of the organisation first started earth-filling and road repairing works and tree plantation in public places voluntarily when local NGO ‘Come to Work’ provided them with cost-free training on income-generation activities.

In 2007, the NGO assisted 12 CLSKS members in taking part in a skill-development training course on `Producing Bamboo-made Handicrafts’ with the financial assistance of Bangladesh Forest Research Institute in Dhaka.

During the course, Noman Ali delivered speech at a seminar there on `Creation Job Opportunities for Rural People’ that attracted attention of the high government officials, local and foreign experts brining the turning point in his life.

He came back home with his trained team members and started producing bamboo-made handicrafts and achieved success in attracting the consumers and local people when demand of their products started rising faster.

Later, Noman Ali had a chance to visit China where he participated in a 13-day ‘International Training Workshop on Bamboo and Rattan Processing and Utilisation’ at Nanjing Forestry University in Nanjing city in June 2008.

He was then surprised to see in China that modern handicrafts like beds, ‘khats’, doors, windows, furniture, tables, chair, fruit trays, tiles, boxes, ware drops, baskets, `phooldani’, beauty boxes, show-cases and other goods could be produced using bamboo.

Noman Ali has been getting huge orders form Dhaka and other parts of the country in recent years for producing and supplying various bamboo-made handicraft products and many visiting foreigners purchase those from his own showroom.

He said unemployed youths just need assistance and modern machineries to flourish the eco-friendly handicraft sector that has been on the verge of extinction due to various reasons, including appearance of harmful plastic goods in local markets.

Highly lauding the successful initiative, Agriculture and Environment Coordinator of RDRS Bangladesh Mamunur Rashid stressed for enhanced GO-NGO efforts in extending proper patronisation to explore the prospective bamboo-made handicrafts sector.

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Indonesia to promote ecotourism in Norway

6 January 2015 London (ANTARA News) – Indonesia will again participate in Reiselivsmessen, the largest travel and tourism expo in Norway to be held on January 9 to 11, 2015, stated Indonesian Ambassador to Norway Yuwono A. Putranto.

Speaking to ANTARA News here on Monday, Putranto remarked that the travel exhibition will be held for the fourth time at Telenor Arena in Oslo where the visitors will be able to find their next dream vacation.

“Visit us for more information about travel and tourism in Indonesia and learn about the diversity that Indonesia has to offer. We will bring back Green Indonesia as our theme and will showcase the various tourism destinations in our country,” the Indonesian envoy noted.

Putranto remarked that Indonesia will promote ecotourism and will showcase its indigenous cultures from Kalimantan and Nusa Tenggara through the display of traditional dance forms and local weaving.

According to him, more than 100 countries will participate in Reiselivsmessen, and therefore, Indonesia will highlight its ecotourism potential by showcasing Subak, the traditional agricultural system in Bali; traditional weaving; Tamrau marine ecosystem in West Papua; Sawai village at the Manusela National Park in Maluku; and At-Tariq Islamic boarding school in Garut, West Java.

He stated that during the exhibition, Indonesia will be given the first opportunity to deliver a presentation on “Exploring the Survival Genius of Ethnic Cultural and Ethnical Shopping for Life in Indonesia.”

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Donggala Heritage 2015 to conserve cultural heritage

9 January 2015 Palu (ANTARA News) – The Donggala Arts Council will hold Donggala Heritage 2015 on January 23 to 25, in Banawa, Donggala District, 40 kilometers northwest of Palu, Central Sulawesi.

“Donggala Heritage 2015 is part of the efforts to preserve the citys most valuable cultural heritage,” Secretary of the Donggala Arts Council Zulkifly Uun Pagessa stated here on Friday. “The city’s existence must be maintained because it belongs to the community.”

Pagessa remarked that an exhibition, film screening, music performance, and focus group discussions are the four program activities outlined for the event. “The discussions will be organized to talk about the legacy and future of Donggala as a port city,” he pointed out.

Pagessa noted that the Donggala Arts Council invites the public to commend and contribute in the cultural movement.

According to him, since centuries, Donggala City has become one of the cultural melting pots not only on the island of Sulawesi but also in eastern Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

As a trading centre and port city since the 16th century, Donggala has become a stopover for merchant ships from all over the world.

In recorded history, merchant ships from Spain and Portugal have anchored in the port city of Donggala. Long before that, merchant ships from all over the archipelago, Jung ship from mainland China and merchant ships from Gujarat and Persia have also anchored in this citys dock.

Pagessa remarked that various historical relics such as the round-shaped colonial era building, old buildings, and the port have not been maintained well.

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Indonesia to promote herbal and traditional medicine businesses

9 January 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The government will strive to leverage the Indonesian herbal and traditional medicine (jamu) by encouraging the small and micro business sector, Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Minister A.A.G.N. Puspayoga stated here on Friday.

“We will provide encouragement through a variety of efforts, such as facilitating the provision of Small and Micro Business License (IUMK) for entrepreneurs,” said Puspayoga.

The IUMK, as set forth in the regulation, is granted to SMEs that meet the requirements determined by the regional government based on the regulation of the home minister.

The IUMK helps micro enterprises to get exemptions from fees, charges, and/or other levies, while small businesses are provided relief in the form of no extra charges, fees, and/or other charges. “We have coordinated with cross-sectoral institutions to encourage the growth of jamu SMEs,” he stated.

In addition to the IUMK, the ministry will also initiate a campaign to increase people awareness regarding the benefits of consuming jamu.

According to Puspayoga, the Minister of Industry, Minister of Trade, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Health, and Minister of Agrarian and Spatial Planning launched the jamu drinking movement.

To ensure the implementation of this policy, a presidential decree (Perpres 98 Tentang IUMK) commissioned the home minister to coordinate the implementation of IUMK with the other ministries, government agencies, local governments, and NGOs.

In the meantime, the governors responsibility is to provide guidance and supervision regarding IUMK to the regent or mayor.

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Gambia: Minister – Coastal Tourism Environmentally Friendly, But…

The Daily Observer (Banjul) – 6 January 2015 – The Environment, Climate Change, Water Resources, Parks and Wildlife minister, Pa Ousman Jarju has asserted that coastal tourism is often considered the “environmentally friendly” alternative to more exploitative livelihood options, contributes to threats related to pollution, contamination and degradation of fragile sites.

He was speaking recently while presiding over the inauguration of the Folonko (sacred site) Fence Project in Kartong, Kombo South District, West Coast Region (WCR). The project was funded.

The minister explained that the objective is to “demonstrate and support the adaptation of best practice approaches for sustainable tourism that reduce the degradation of marine and coastal environments of trans-boundary significance”.

“The importance of Folonko to the people of Kartong and surrounding communities, in terms of livelihood support, could not be over-emphasised. Therefore, realising the dream of Folonko being fenced is a great achievement that the Coast Project has realised. This is attributed to the hard work of all partners involved,” he stated.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), in collaboration with the Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard), the minister indicated, implemented on behalf of The Gambia government, this project on collaboration actions for sustainable tourism known as the “Coast Project”.

“The Coast Project was a Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funded project, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) implemented, that was executed by UNIDO in collaboration with UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organisation). The project was a five-year project (January 2009-June 2014). In a bid to address such environmental threats, the Coast Project was developing. It aims to reduce impacts on the environment from coastal tourism through introduction of policy changes and strengthening of public private partnership.

The project approach is providing important lessons on how to sustain an emerging and dynamic tourism sector in Africa, while conserving fragile coastal ecosystems within the context of rapidly changing environments and increased international tourism. The project has demonstration sites in nine African countries, (The Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Seychelles, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique).

However, Kartong as you already know was chosen to be The Gambia’s demonstration site of the Coast Project out of the initially four demo sites identified (i.e. Tumani Tenda, Boating and Fishing Association of Denton Bridge, Sanyang and Kartong)”.

The minister concluded by thanking the donors for providing funding at a tune of US$50,000.

Speaking earlier, the project coordinator, Abubacarr Kujabi, underscored that an authentic culture is something that is valued by tourists seeking to experience real cultural diversities. Thus, he stressed that protecting the culture from any form of threat that will affect it, is a step in the right direction.

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Nigeria Tourism Collaborates With Eight Countries to Promote in-Bound Tourism

The Guardian – 6 January 2015 – Mrs Annette Ibe, Deputy Director, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), said the organisation had completed arrangements with resident diplomatic communities in eight countries to promote in-bound tourism.

Ibe said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Tuesday. She listed the countries as: Mexico, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Cuba, Gambia, Turkey, Venezuela and Israel.

She said under the arrangement, Nigerian students could go to any of these countries for tour purposes, likewise students from these countries could come to Nigeria. “This arrangement is an unprecedented milestone in collaborating with the diplomatic community.

“This in essence will pave way for the development of in-bound tourism which is lagging behind because our tourism potential is not well marketed.

“This collaboration will bring about great development in the tourism sector and immense revenue will be generated from the foreign tourists,” she said. Ibe urged the government to install the needed basic infrastructure at tourists’ sites to help the NTDC in achieving the set goals for the development of the sites.

She said that the roads leading to most of the tourists’ sites were dilapidated and could discourage tourists from visiting them.

“Government should repair these roads and build new ones around the sites to encourage both local and foreign tourists,” Ibe said. According to her, Nigerian tourist sites, if well developed, could be the most preferred haven for tourists in the nearest future.

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Mozambique: LAM Introduces Cheap Flights

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique – 6 January 2015 – Mozambique Airlines (LAM) has announced the introduction of cheap airfares, known as “Letzgo”, for selected domestic flights as from January.

The cheap flights will all be at night, and will be between the cities of Maputo, Beira, Nampula, Tete and Quelimane. The price reduction is substantial. A normal return ticket from Maputo to Beira costs 13,625 meticais (about US$432). With a Letzgo ticket, the price falls to 8,928 meticais.

Meanwhile, LAM has also announced that it is increasing the number of flights between Maputo and the new international airport in the northern port city of Nacala to five per week.

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Nigeria: First Ever Merger of Travel Companies Goes Mainstream…

This Day – 3 January 2015 – Travellers are in for a seamless travel experience as four major travel agencies are coming together in what is regarded as the first ever merger of travel companies called Travel Investments Company Limited (TICO). The travel agencies are Quantum Travels Limited, Touchdown Travels, Finchglow Travels Limited and Dees Travels.

These major players in the Nigerian travel industry have been in operation for decades. Their decision to form this consortium was not made from the comfort of their financial success but from the depth of their experience in the market.

Together, they pool a wealth of experience, skill and competence that gives TICO the competitive advantage and its drive to work towards building a brand that will become a foremost leader in the global travel industry.

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Iran, Turkey calligraphers meet in Istanbul

Sun Dec 21, 2014 – PressTV – Iran’s Consulate in Istanbul has hosted a meeting of Iranian and Turkish calligraphy maestros in line with expansion of cultural cooperation between the two countries.

A number of Iranian and Turkish calligraphy maestros took part in the cultural gala that was held on December 19.

To promote interactions among the Iranian and Turkish calligraphers as well as Islamic calligraphy art, the participants proposed to launch the Islamic World Calligraphers Association.

A workshop of Nastaliq calligraphy style was recently held in the Persian-language education center in Istanbul. The event received a warm welcome by the center’s Turkish students.

Considered one of the highest Islamic art forms, calligraphy became an indispensable part of Persian society in the beginning of the Islamic era. It was not only practiced by professional artists but also by the royalty and nobility.

Six basic popular calligraphy styles are referred to as Naskh, Thuluth, Muhaqqaq, Rihani, Tauqi, and Riqa.

Nastaliq and Cursive Nastaliq are known as the most attractive Persian calligraphy styles, broadly used in copying Arabic words, romantic and epic Persian poetry and literary manuscripts.

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Oman launches new travel packages to boost tourism

Khaleej Times – 10 January, 2015 – Moving forward to attract more tourists during the upcoming tourism season, Oman Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with Oman Air, the national carrier airline of Oman, recently held a promotional event at the Conrad Hotel Dubai.

The event aimed to reinforce the joint venture between both parties to promote Oman as the leading tourist destination for short breaks. The session included informative and interactive presentations on Oman’s tourism infrastructure and facilities along with the announcement of attractive and cost-effective holiday packages designed for GCC visitors, including luxury hotel stays and return tickets from Oman Air.

Oman has emerged as one of the top destinations among GCC travellers for short breaks, registering a 17 per cent increase in GCC citizens’ numbers at the end of the third quarter. According to the latest statistics by the National Centre for Statistics and Information, over 701,311 inbound tourists from the GCC visited the Sultanate until September 2014. The proactive measures undertaken by the Omani government to sustain the seamless expansion in the country’s tourism sectors have complemented this growth. The country has witnessed a spurt in developing activities in its infrastructural facilities, including airports, roads and rail networks, and maritime sectors.

Salem Adi Al Mamari, director-general of Tourism Promotion, Oman Ministry of Tourism, said: “Compared with other countries, Oman offers a wide range of variety in its geographical features, making it an attractive destination for all-year-round tourism. From ancient forts to most modern hotels, beaches to mountains, cuisines to spas, and recreation to relaxation, we have something to satisfy the needs of even the most discerning travellers. Besides, the Sultanate boasts of the world-class airports, wide network of highways, superior ports to make the travel inside and outside the country more smoothly. We have partnered with Oman Air to offer economical and interesting travel packages to attract potential travellers to see our country as well as remind the existing travellers to visit again.”

Oman Air, the national airlines of Oman, were present as the official airline for the Sultanate of Oman. Underlining the airline’s commitment to service excellence, Oman Air’s Business Class seat on board its A330 fleet has been voted by Skytrax as the Best Business Class Seat in the world for two years in a row, in 2011 and 2012. Oman Air passengers can now experience a whole new level of on-ground service with Oman Air’s premium front-end check-in facility exclusively for first class and business class guests, besides Oman Air’s Premium Lounges located at Muscat International Airport.

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Flying Qatar Airways to get less expensive

The Peninsula – 08 January, 2015 – Flying with Qatar Airways (QA) may become relatively cheaper soon as the national carrier yesterday announced plans to reduce fuel surcharge keeping in view the significant fall in crude oil prices in global market.

This was announced by the QA Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker in response to a question at a press conference held for the global launch of the QA’s world’s first Airbus A350 XWB. “As far as reduction in fuel prices is concerned there will be no reduction in ticket fare (base fare), but there will be a reduction in the fuel surcharge that we charge on every passenger,” said Al Baker.

However, he did not announce any figure and other details when the decision will be implemented.

He further explained that ticket prices will not come down by the same percentage as the oil-price decline for the simple reason because fuel costs account for only a certain percentage of the airline’s operating costs.

According to industry standards, the fuel surcharge represents nearly one fifth of the total fare of a one-way ticket.

QA, being the global launch customer of the Airbus’ ultra modern and fuel-efficient A350, has become the first carrier to receive the extra-wide-bodied aircraft, which is scheduled to begin commercial operations from February 15 on the Doha-Frankfurt route. The press conference was held at the Premium Terminal of Doha International Airport, which was attended by over 150 local and international journalists.

Also in attendance at the meeting were Didier Evrard, Airbus Executive Vice President Head of Programmes and Eric Schulz, Rolls-Royce President of Civil Large Engines, both of whom previously attended the official delivery of the aircraft from Airbus to QA at a ceremony held in December at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse, France.

Al Baker said: “We are ready to commence operations with the A350 XWB and are delighted to introduce another level of service with our expanded fleet.

“The engineering design of the A350 XWB is modern, technologically refined and spacious, and we are proud to welcome yet another fine aeroplane into the Qatar Airways’ fleet.”

Following the press conference, media were given the opportunity to take a tour the newly inducted aircraft.

As global launch customer for the state-of-the-art airliner, QA will be the only airline to fly this aircraft type for the foreseeable future, and was a significant contributor to its cutting-edge design in partnership with aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, and engine manufacturer, Rolls-Royce.

The A350 XWB will comprise a two-class configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring 80-inch fully flat beds and 17-inch HD in-flight entertainment screens. Economy Class will comprise of 247 seats, each 18-inch wide in a 3-3-3 configuration, with up to a 32-inch pitch.

Each individual seat will feature a 10.6-inch in-flight entertainment screen, and more space at shoulder level for passengers in window seats, thanks to a vertical side wall panel design.

Over 70 per cent of the A350 XWB’s weight-efficient airframe is made from advanced materials combining composites (53 per cent), titanium and advanced aluminium alloys.

The aircraft’s innovative all-new carbon fibre reinforced plastic fuselage results in lower fuel burn as well as easier maintenance.

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India seeks Iran help to expand trade with Central Asia

Islamic Republic News Agency – 08 January, 2015 – Indian Ambassador to Tehran Shri Niraj Srivastava said in Gorgan on Wednesday that his country wants to expand trade with the Central Asian republics and Russia through Iran benefiting from the Iran-India railway corridor.

Speaking to IRNA on the sidelines of his visit to Golstan Province to inspect railways on Iran northern borders, Srivastava hailed operation of Incheborun international railway recently in presence of Iranian, Kazakh and Turkmen presidents and said Iran’s South-North corridor has provided a very good potential for transit of India’s exported goods to the Central Asian republics and Russia.

He said Iranian railway is of high importance for India’s foreign trade, so Secretary General of Indian Commerce, Chief Consulate of Indian Foreign Ministry and a number of representatives of Indian commercial and transportation companies had joined him in the working visit.

He added that over recent years, India shipped two container consignments to Astara through Iranian soil tentatively, which proved very economical and fruitful.

He said once travelling home, he would brief a conference, attended by representatives of Iran, India and Russia, on ways of benefiting from Iran’s railway capacity.

Also referring to a $ 15 billion trade between Iran and India, the ambassador said the trade can be increased as India encourages other countries to use Iranian route.

‘India asks Iran to help India expand trade with the Central Asian republics and Russia.’

Meanwhile, member of the board of directors of the Islamic Republic Railway Mohammad Gharavi told IRNA that the Indian ambassador and the accompanying delegation were visiting Golestan Province to inspect the country’s railway and the condition of cargo transportation from India to Central Asian republics instantly.

He said that in the visit, Indians inspected South-North corridor and were briefed on the economic benefits of and the time span for transportation through the route so as to ferry their cargo containers to Central Asia and Russia.

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Oman’s growing popularity as a cruise destination

Oman Tribune – 08 January, 2015 – The steady progress of Port Sultan Qaboos as a major maritime cruise tourism hub of the Arabian Gulf validates the Sultanate’s foresight in converting the port into a dedicated tourism facility.

The shifting of the cargo handling activities to Sohar port has been progressing smoothly. It might take some more time for Port Sultan Qaboos to be a full-fledged cruise port of world standard. But tourist arrivals already point to the smooth cruise of the port. On an average one cruise ship berths at Port Sultan Qaboos daily during the season, according to the records.

Tour operators say that a liner on the average brings in 1,500 passengers. That means the city already experiences an influx of 90,000 tourists every week, with higher tourist inflow during weekends and holidays.

The figures point to the massive growth potential of the port. The growth of Port Sultan Qaboos augurs well for Muscat in other ways also. It dovetails perfectly into the programmes of the authorities to preserve the heritage areas around Post Sultan Qaboos in their pristine condition. Cruise tourists are not the run-of-the-mill backpackers and their idea of enjoyment is not spending time in some outlandish manner.

Those hopping on to a cruise ship are a class apart. They have a different taste and would value culture and tradition for their intrinsic worth. The setting up of a cruise hub in Muscat is the best thing that could have happened to the areas of Muttrah and Old Muscat where the discerning can still listen to footfalls of history.

Muscat’s charm is in its rootedness. Areas of Muttrah and Old Muscat symbolise the Sultanate’s unbreakable umbilical to its golden past. It was a past in which communities led a sustainable and self-sufficient life and were at peace with themselves and the world. The idyllic setting of Port Sultan Qaboos ringed by imposing hills dipping into the sapphire blue sea presents a breathtaking salute to any tourist arriving in a cruise liner.

The soulful surroundings will ensure return of the tourists thirsty for environment that nourishes the spirit. The bustling Muttrah Souq offers tourists as good a journey into the Arabian past as any other place in the Middle East. The museums in Muttrah and Old Muscat add to the charm of the area. Beyond Muscat lie the other wonders of the Sultanate that would add to the tourists’ hunger for more – be it adventure tourism, beaches of silver sands, deserts of golden dunes, verdant wadies, or drives to mountain summits and into long starry nights on roads of international quality. The access of Port Sultan Qaboos to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean will set it apart from other Gulf ports offering similar services. That is an invitation for the world’s largest cruise ships to dock and explore the whole of the Arabian landscape. The fact that the port allows ships to avoid the heavily used Strait of Hormuz could be publicised to stress the advantages.

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Oman can benefit a lot from winter tourism

Oman Daily Observer – 08 January, 2015 – No one denies that tourism sector forms an important economic resource for all countries. It also plays a significant role in inspiring the establishment of many new service and industrial projects and increase employment opportunities for the national workforce. This is especially true in the countries of the region, which are heavily dependent on revenues from oil and gas sector.

Many states around the world accord considerable attention to tourism sector. They also provide the sector with all the prospects and potentials for growth. Moreover, countries provide this vital sector with all the means and channels by implementing various projects.

As is known, many people around the world acknowledge Sultanate as a country endowed with viable and unique tourism assets and has great prospects in the sector.

However, from this perspective, the persistence and commitment in providing support and incentives to tourism sector has become a necessity. It also became a priority for all stakeholders to pledge and help citizens to enter this sector. This will give potential entrepreneurs the impetus to embark on investments and engage in this area and establish tourism institutions as we see in many countries around the world.

The government bodies concerned, private organisations and other stakeholders should facilitate the work and operations of tourism enterprises. They should eradicate bureaucratic procedures. Bureaucratic constraints hit the hopes of some young entrepreneurs. It compels them to stop working in this field and discontinue in establishing and managing tourism projects in the country.

Plans, ideas, proposals and programmes for development of tourism assets should extend to encompass the various regions and tourist attractions in the country.

Recently I came to know of two important events on this issue. The first was the launch of a horse-drawn carriage in the Wilayat of Al Hamra. The introduction of this ingenious idea would undoubtedly increase tourist traffic in this wilayat. It would also add a new tourist attraction to the place. In general, the idea of introducing horse-drawn carriages could also be expanded to many tourist areas and sites in the other governorates and wilayats.

The second was the arrival of a European tourist group from the Italian city of Milan in the Governorate of Dhofar. The visit was within the plan of tourism campaigns organised by some companies both in Oman and abroad during winter. These organised tourist groups come in implementation of the plans developed by the stakeholders in collaboration with tourism and hotel companies. The objective was to bring more visitors to the governorate, as well as to other governorates starting from November to the first quarter of the new year. This is due to the climatic conditions, the advent of winter and severe cold, as well as snow, which covers many parts of the European countries.

The arrival of this group comprising 240 tourists in Oman during this period of the year proves to be a positive development. This gives foreign tourists an opportunity to move around the country. The fact that the governorate will soon see the launch of the new airport which will offer greater room for landing and takeoff of larger planes reinforces this step. It will also provide an opportunity for enhancing and boosting tourist movement throughout the year.

Like Dhofar Governorate other governorates are also witnessing construction boom with large buildings, including hotels and apartments coming up to serve tourists. This will add to the existing capacity and will attract and bring more tourist delegations to the governorate.

A leading developer of tourism in Oman, Muriya Tourism Development, has signed an agreement with an Italian company aimed at arranging regular tourist trips to Dhofar Governorate and other governorates. The agreement no doubt represented a significant contribution to the development of tourism in the country. It gave a significant support to tourism strategy which aims at increasing the number and appeal of tourist sites in the Sultanate. These kinds of agreements will help in attracting more tourists in all seasons of the year.

With the inflow of tourist groups the hotel and service institutions operating in recreational fields, are required to expand to provide betters services for the tourists.

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A desert oasis of projects…

Gulf Daily News – 08 January, 2015 – A desert oasis of hotels, resorts and shopping malls is being planned for underused land in the southern half of Bahrain. The Southern Municipal Council yesterday revealed its plans to draw up a list of all government-owned land in the Southern Governorate, which covers an area stretching from Sakhir to Zallaq and includes Askar, Riffa and Isa Town.

This land will then be parcelled up according to its size, location and investment potential before being offered to developers on long-term leases. “What is now wasteland in most of the area covered by the governorate will in the next 10 years turn into an oasis of multi-million dinar investment projects,” said council chairman Ahmed Al Ansari.

“There is a lot of municipal land that we could utilise better by offering it to investors rather than being left unattended. We have asked the municipality to provide us with a list of these plots of land urgently, which will be organised by location, size and the possible projects that could be carried out on them before being offered to investors at the next stage.”

The idea is to promote the Southern Governorate as a major tourist destination “throughout the year”, Mr Al Ansari said, not just when events are being held at Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) or during the Bahrain International Air Show, for example.

“There are only two hotels in the area and it could certainly support at least a couple more for those who enjoy a desert view rather than staying in Manama or Muharraq,” he said.

“We could also have more family attractions such as the Lost Paradise of Dilmun – while Askar and Jaw, which will become frequent destinations for travellers once the new bridge between Bahrain and Qatar is built, could also benefit from a shopping complex, luxurious resorts and other attractions.”

Mr Al Ansari said that the council was looking to improve the Southern Governorate, while maintaining those aspects of the area that already make it attractive.

“We have to think business and how much municipal revenue from other services and fees the government could make,” he said.

“Bahrain is an attractive destination for visitors, tourists and investors and we can do a lot over the next few years to maintain its attractiveness and at the same time allow development to take place.”

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500,000 health tourists coming to Iran for medical treatment

Islamic Republic News Agency – 09 January, 2015 – The number of foreign tourists coming to Iran for medical treatment will reach 500,000 annually, a senior official with the Ministry of Health and Medical Education said on Thursday.

Jalal Naeli, Health Ministry director for the department of economic cooperation made the remarks in his speech to a conference on health tourism in Mashhad, the capital city of the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi.

Naeli said the number of heath tourists coming for medical treatment is not accurate since most of them arrive in the country on tourism agenda and then receive medical services as well.

It is estimated that between 150,000 to 200,000 health tourists come to Iran annually, Naeli said, adding that the figure is expected to rise to 500,000 a year.

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Oman-Iran meet discusses trade, aviation ties

Oman Daily Observer – 09 January 2015 – The Omani- Iranian Joint Economic Committee today held its 15th session at Grand Hyatt Muscat Hotel.

The Omani side in the Committee was led by Dr Ali bin Masoud al Sunaidy, Minister of Commerce and Industry and the Iranian side was led by Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade.

Minister of Commerce and Industry said during the meeting discussed a number of important issues including enhancing trade exchange between the two countries.

He pointed out that while the value of bilateral trade increased from about RO 225 million in 2012 to about RO 340 million (about $ 1billion) in 2013, this figure is very low compared to the value of imports of both countries.

He added that the meeting discussed bilateral cooperation in air transport routes as there is only one route to Tehran.

The two sides agreed to add another city to this line after completing the work at Sohar Aiport.

The move is expected to enhance air transport between the two countries, especially Oman Air is currently using a big aircraft to transport traders and commodities.

The Minister of Commerce and Industry also said that the Sultanate imports meat, poultry and table eggs from Iran and that Ashgabat Agreement will open the door for enhancing trade between the two countries and other countries as well.

The two sides considered the possibility of signing the vet and agricultural quarantine agreement and cutting short the current procedures.

The Iranian side welcomed the proposal and pointed out that the issue has been discussed during a previous visit by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Al Sunaidy also said that the meeting covered the basic industries and pointed out that the Iranian side expressed his sincere desire to set up some industries that produce steel and its derivatives in Duqm. These industries may include spare parts, house appliances, vehicles, ethylene, propylene, aluminium and steel.

Iran already exports steel products but the intention is to set up some major industries.

A number of Iranians are now holding senior and executive positions at major companies.

Many of them are currently exploring investment potentials and if they managed to conclude agreements with the investment companies in the Sultanate, there we might see some Iranian projects in the Sultanate.

Sunaidy said that there are 259 Omani- Iranian joint companies where Iranians own between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the shares of these companies.

He said these companies are working as agents or mediators and today we are considering how to shift to the direct investment.

The meeting also touched on setting up the Iranian Hospital in Barka over an area of 60,000 square meters, in addition to cooperation in police, customs, housing, energy, marine transport, communications, tourism and sports, as well as activating the scientific cooperation between the two countries within the framework of the Joint Scientific Committee.

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Gulf Air set to launch new routes

Gulf Daily News – 09 January, 2015 – Gulf Air yesterday began its official countdown to the highly anticipated launch of the airline’s direct operations to Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Regional Airport, Gassim, and Taif Regional Airport scheduled to begin from tomorrow with four flights per week to each destination.

At a Press conference held at the Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, and hosted by Gulf Air in collaboration with the airline’s Saudi Arabia general sales agent, Al Tayyar Travel and Tourism Group, the airline celebrated the upcoming strengthening and expansion of its network.

This will see its existing Saudi operations to Dammam, Riyadh, Medina and Jeddah supplemented by the addition of services to Gassim and Taif, taking the total number of Saudi Arabian destinations serviced by the airline to six.

‘We are three days away from the launch of Gulf Air’s newest route services that will further strengthen Gulf Air’s Saudi Arabia network while extending our product and service offering to a broader passenger base across the kingdom,’ Gulf Air acting chief executive Maher Salman Al Musallam told the Press conference.

‘With a strong presence in this market dating back to 1950, when Gulf Air launched its Dammam operations, and 1982, when the airline launched its Riyadh operations, we are delighted to provide superior travel solutions that, supplemented by the support of our general sales agent Al Tayyar Travel Group, will cater to the travel needs of our Saudi passengers,’ he added.

‘The longstanding relationship between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is based on close ties between the two leaderships and the social, cultural, and political similarities between both countries,’ Al Tayyar Travel and Tourism Group vice-chairman and deputy member Dr Nasser bin Aqeel Al Tayyar said.

Dr Al Tayyar also emphasised Gulf Air’s leading position in the Middle East.

Boasting one of the largest Middle East networks with double daily flights to more than 10 regional cities and a network that extends to 41 destinations, Bahrain’s national carrier is well positioned to link all of Saudi Arabia’s destinations to cities in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia through Bahrain International Airport.

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