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2 Mar, 2015

Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei to benefit from AirAsia ASEAN Pass

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 02 March 2015 (11 Jumaada al-Awwal 1436). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




malaysia logo

Click on the image to get a full list of all the great festivals and events right across Malaysia this year.

The fabulous Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015, or MyFEST 2015, as will witness an endless celebration of festivals, events and happenings. MyFEST 2015 is set to make Malaysia the top-of-the-mind tourist destination, encouraging tourists to stay longer in order to enjoy the festival offerings nationwide. Themed “Endless Celebrations”, the year-long calender is packed with festivities of every genre; for instance cultural festivals, shopping extravanganzas, international acclaimed events, eco-tourism events, arts, music showcases, food promotion and other themed events. The Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 campaign leverages on smart partnerships in line with the National Blue Ocean Strategy that nurtures stakeholders engagement, support and participation. The symbiosis enables Malaysia’s tourism efforts to be competitive and to remain one of the prime contributors to the socio-economic development of the nation. As Malaysia is blessed with various cultures, the new campaign seeks to showcase and celebrate Malaysia’s bountiful, diverse cultures and various festivities. The design for Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 logo depicts a traditional musical instrument known as the Rebana Ubi. The drum is a musical instrument which can be associated with Malaysia’s multicultural society, in line with the spirit of 1Malaysia. Therefore, the logo design reflects an important part of the country’s heritage, traditions and culture.

For a full listing of all the great festivals, activities and events this year, pls click on this link


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

Click here to see the fabulous new website

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

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

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

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


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



World Bank lends Uzbekistan $195m to build railway

TASHKENT, 2015-02-17 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors February 13 approved a US $195m (477.7 billion UZS) loan to help build the Pap-Angren Railway Project in Uzbekistan. The project is expected to improve connectivity in the Fergana Valley and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 200,000 tonnes yearly, benefiting a population of 7.6m, the World Bank said in a press release. Workers are building a 124km-long railway between Angren and Pap. The project is expected to be completed in July 2016, UzDaily reported.

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IDB provides US $14 million for higher education project in Burkina Faso

Jeddah, KSA, 18.02.2015 –, An agreement providing for a US$ 14 million financing from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to support higher education in Burkina Faso was signed at the IDB Headquarters between Jean Gustave SANON (Minister of Economy and Finance and IDB Governor for Burkina Faso) and Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali (IDB President).

The financing is expected to contribute to phase II of the expansion of Students’ Hostels at the University of Bobo-Dioulasso Project. Bobo-Dioulasso is Burkina Faso’s second largest city located 350 kilometers south-west of the capital, Ouagadougou. In 2009, IDB had provided US $10 million financing for the first phase of the project.

At the meeting, the Minister spoke of the transition taking place in his country and underlined that preparations for presidential and legislative elections would not affect the priority to the timely implementation of the planned development projects. He stressed the desire of his country’s private sector to benefit from the services provided by the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), IDB’s private sector development arm. The Minister lauded the existing strong
relations between the IDB Group and Burkina Faso stressing keenness to continue this partnership.

The IDB Group Chairman, Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali, while expressing pleasure over the ongoing relations between Burkina Faso and the IDB Group, hoped that the ministerial visit would advance cooperation between the two sides. He emphasized the readiness of the IDB Group to support the country through its affiliates including the International Islamic Trade Financing Corporation (ITFC), the Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit (ICIEC), the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) as well as the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI).

Since 1978 when Burkina Faso joined IDB, the Group has approved nearly US$1.2 billion towards financing various projects comprising agriculture, education, power generation, health, industry, mines, roads and water supply as well as foreign trade operations.

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Turkish Deputy Prime Minister lauds partnership with Islamic Development Bank

Jeddah, KSA, 22.02.2015 – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Republic of Turkey and IDB Governor for the country, Dr. Ali Babacan and his accompanying delegation paid a visit to the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group headquarters on Sunday and were received by IDB Group Chairman, Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali.

At a meeting attended by all IDB Group entities, the two sides discussed ways to support and elevate the ongoing partnership between the IDB Group and the Republic of Turkey.

Expressing satisfaction over the strong relations between his country and the IDB Group, HE Dr. Babacan lauded the existing cooperation as very important, effective and active in terms of development of the member countries.

The Deputy Prime Minister then referred to the rise in Turkey’s exports from US $26 billion in 2002 to US $160 billion last year as an instance of the country’s successful economic and development experience. He then touched upon the tangible improvements in income distribution as well as the remarkable developments in health, education and social sectors as other indicators showing that the Turkish Economy has grown much stronger than it was prior to the global economic crisis.

The IDB Governor for Turkey, furthermore, spoke of his country’s chairmanship of the G20 in 2015, the first time ever a Muslim country chairs the group, and enumerated a number of key topics that are to be addressed during this period.

Referring to Turkey’s cooperation with the IDB Group as the gateway to Ankara’s cooperation with member countries of the IDB, HE Dr. Babacan touched upon the Bank’s significant experience in supporting the economies of the least developed nations and voiced his country’s readiness to provide further cooperation to the IDB Group.

The IDB Group Chairman, Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali, for his part, expressed appreciation on behalf of the Group and the member countries for the continuous support provided by the Republic of Turkey.

Furthermore, Dr. Ali stressed the major role Turkey has played in furthering cooperation amongst member countries through the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (COMCEC) in Istanbul.

“The fact that HE President of the Republic of Turkey has been personally chairing COMCEC since its establishment, clearly displays the great significance that the country attaches to cooperation amongst member countries in addition to the great support Turkey has been providing to the IDB Group member countries in all development fields”, Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali stated. “Turkey’s tangible support to the economies of the Central Asian Republics immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as its extensive technical, financial and economic support to IDB’s African member countries are clear instances of the country’s enthusiasm in promoting cooperation amongst IDB member countries”, he added.

Turning to Turkey’s chairmanship of the G20 in 2015, the IDB Group Chairman mentioned the various important regional and international aspects associated with this issue in integrating the developing countries into international cooperation and trade programs.

Also during the meeting, the heads of the IDB Group entities spoke of the important focal role Turkey plays in supporting development activities through different projects implemented in Turkey or in partnership with the local private sectors of other member countries.

The Republic of Turkey is a founding member of the IDB. The Group’s approved financings for Turkey have surpassed US$2.2 billion, of which US$1.3 billion have gone to 92 projects covering financing, industry, transport, power generation, health, water supply as well as the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). To date, 80 of the said projects worth US $870 million have been successfully completed. The majority of the IDB Group financings with Turkey come in the framework of the Member Country Partnership Strategy (MCPS) with the country covering the period 2010-2013 and have exceeded the target of US $2 billion set in the strategy.

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Children Exposed to Art of Jawi Calligraphy at Early Age

Wednesday, 25 February 2015 BruDirect.com BRUNEI DARUSSALAM: Children need to be exposed to Jawi Calligraphy from time to time because knowing Jawi helps in reading Al-Quran. Jawi writing actually has its origins in Arabic calligraphy.

Dyg Hajah Aminah binti Haji Momin, the Director of the Language and Literature Bureau (DBP) made the remarks at the finals of the Jawi Reading Competition and prize presentation for the 2014 Calligraphy and Jawi Writing and Jawi and Roman Alphabet Banner Designing Competition.

The Director added the competition was among efforts to inject new life to Jawi Writing to ensure its survival in the technological era. Dyg Hajah Aminah stated the status of Jawi would never be threatened and in fact it would parallel Rumi or the Roman alphabet because the majority of Bruneians are Muslims who have high regards for Jawi calligraphy.

8 boys and 9 girls representing primary schools in the country took part in the contest. Among other things, the competition also promoted Jawi reading and writing as an educational source in the skills section of the National Education System For the 21st Century (SPN21) and to improve the command of Jawi among students.

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New Maldives airport plans unveiled

Sun.mv – February 25, 2015 – The development plans for Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), including a new runway, have been unveiled.

Speaking at a press conference at the President’s Office today, Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed said that since President Abdulla Yameen’s assumption of office, the plans have been focused on just developing the terminal – but the new developmental plans unveiled today would see the whole airport transformed.

In addition to a second runway, the new airport would contain a modern taxiway, aerobridges, and a new road connecting the airport to the Hulhumalé-Malé bridge.

The new airport will have a capacity of 7 million passengers per year – a threefold expansion compared to the current airport.

The project would be implemented in two phases, said Saeed, and the second runway, fuel firm, cargo terminal, and apron expansion works would be carried out by Beijing Urban Construction Group, while the project to construct the terminal has been awarded to a Japanese company.

Singapore’s Changi Airport Group has been appointed as the consultant for this project, which will be completed in 2017.

Saeed further said that the initial investment of $400 million has been doubled to facilitate the new plans, and efforts are ongoing to obtain loans from a Japanese bank to fund the terminal project, and from a Chinese bank for the remaining areas of the airport development project.

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Iran launches €2.4b high-speed rail project

Tehran Times – 26 February, 2015 – The construction of a high-speed railway, extending about 400 kilometers from Tehran to Isfahan, started on Wednesday. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani officially launched the project during a visit to the city of Qom, which is located between Tehran and Isfahan.

The railway is projected to be built over the course of four years at a cost of €2.4 billion. Trains running on the Tehran-Isfahan railway can reach speeds of about 350 kilometers per hour.

The project will save an estimated 550 billion rials (about $ 20 million) annually in fuel consumption.

Iran’s Bank of Industry and Mine will provide $ 1.8 billion of the total finance through China Export and Credit Insurance Corporation (SINOSURE). China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) will implement the project in cooperation with Iran’s Khatam al-Anbia Construction Headquarters.

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Kuwait-Bahrain railway launch planned by 2018

Kuwait Times – 01 March, 2015 – GCC ministerial sources said that the first leg of the GCC railway would start from Kuwait to Bahrain via Saudi Arabia. A bridge connecting Doha and Bahrain is due to be built between the two countries. A line from Saudi Arabia to Abdu Dhabi and Al-Ain and another from Muscat to Sahar also are in the offing covering an estimated total distance of 2,117 kilometers. The sources added that project’s estimated total cost would be $ 15.4 billion and that, according to the GCC supreme council, the project would be concluded by 2018.

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All Makkah projects ‘must display Islamic identity’

Arab News – 27 February, 2015 – Makkah Gov. and Chairman of the Central Haj Committee Prince Khaled Al-Faisal stressed the need to ensure all projects in Makkah are designed to display an Arab and Islamic identity.

During a meeting in Jeddah on Thursday with members of the Higher Supervisory Committee of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques expansion projects, Prince Khaled said efforts must be unified, swiftly completed and stick to the allocated budget.

Faisal Wafa, chairman of the technical committee overseeing the projects, briefed the governor on the completed stages of the projects, as well the remaining tasks.

According to Wafa, the completed portions of the expansion projects have greatly increased the capacity of the mosque and the mataf (the area for the circumambulation of the Kaaba). Wafa also pointed out that greater achievements are expected as the project enters its third stage, covering the southern region from the King Fahd expansion area to Safa, a total of 81,567 square meters.

The second phase of the project is scheduled for completion next Ramadan, during which the ground and first floors of the tawaf expansion project will be completed to accommodate more worshippers and pilgrims. According to Wafa, the completed expansions will increase the capacity of the mataf by nearly 105,000 pilgrims per hour and can accommodate an additional 80,000 worshippers.

The project has included the allocation of a separate level to accommodate people with special needs and elderly worshippers, he said. Director of the Umm Al-Qura University Bakri Asas thanked Prince Khaled on behalf of the Technical Committee for his continuous support and dedication to the expansion projects. He also thanked King Salman for his efforts to ensure the rapid completion of the remaining stages of the expansion project.

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Domestic, Foreign Direct Investments In Malaysia Hits Rm235.9 Billion Last Year

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Feb 26 (NNN-Bernama) — Domestic and foreign direct investments in Malaysia hit RM235.9 billion in 2014, up 7.52 per cent, from RM219.4 billion received in 2013, said International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed.

Domestic Direct Investments (DDIs) accounted for RM171.3 billion or 72.6 per cent of total investments, a bulk of which was in the manufacturing, services and primary sector, while the remaining RM64.6 billion or 27.4 per cent came from foreign direct investments (FDIs).

In 2013, DDIs stood at RM159.94 billion while FDIs amounted to RM59.45 billion.

Mustapa said the country’s investment performance in 2014 exceeded the average annual investments target of RM148 billion set under the 10th Malaysia Plan.

The ratio of FDIs and DDIs was in line with the government’s drive to actively promote domestic investments, as outlined in the Economic Transformation Programme and the 10th Malaysia Plan, he said at a press conference to announce Malaysia’s investment performance here Thursday.

Total investments approved were in 5,942 projects which is estimated to generate about 178,360 job opportunities, many of which will be in high technology and high value-added industries.

“The services sector accounted for the largest share of total potential employment in the economy with 98,540 job opportunities or 55.3 per cent, followed by the manufacturing sector with 78,340 job opportunities (43.9 per cent) and primary sector with 1,480 employment opportunities (0.8 per cent),” he said.

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Kuwait Has Potential As Leading Tourist Destination – UNWTO

KUWAIT CITY, Feb 25 (NNN-KUNA) — Kuwait is “very prepared” to be an important tourist destination in the region with its great potential, said Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai.

In a joint press conference with the Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdulmohsen Al-Madaj, Rifai expected a promising future for the tourism sector in Kuwait.

“I believe that Kuwait could provide a tourist model different from that prevalent in other Gulf states,” he said.

He pointed out that Kuwait also has advanced tourism infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, means of transportations, entertainment and recreational facilities.

Rifai also noted that there is a real political determination to develop this sector.

All indications prove that the tourism sector will witness a remarkable leap in the future, he said.

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Malaysia: Melaka International Airport Gives Boost To State Tourism

MELAKA, Feb 25 (NNN-Bernama) — As the entry point by air into the state, the Melaka International Airport (LTAM) in Batu Berendam has become busier since Malindo Air began operations to it last November.

The airport, says the state Exco for Transport and Rehabilitation Projects Lim Ban Hong, can be the catalyst for boosting Melaka’s tourism industry.

He added that Malindo Air’s five times weekly flights to Penang,Kelantan and Pekan Baru (Indonesia)are a key factor in encouraging the arrival of both local and overseas tourists.

“It includes tourists from Indonesia, particularly Pekan Baru, with Melaka being a medical tourism state now.

“The air entry point is now a very important one for the state and we hope that in time, we will start receiving tourists from other countries such as China,” Lim said.

The LTAM, completed in 2011, has a 2,135 metre runway with a 45 metre clearance for large aircraft, including the Airbus 320.

It started operations on a low key note but seems to have received a new lease of life with Malindo Air’s presence.

Melaka has set a target of 15 million tourist arrivals in the state in 2015 with 120,000 of them being medical tourists seeking specialist treatment at private hospitals.

Lim said the frequency of flights will encourage bigger participation by travel agents in Melaka and also promote it on the international stage as a heritage site.

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Dubai’s Magnificent Wetlands In The Desert

DUBAI (UAE), Feb 26 (NNN-Bernama) — Mega malls, towering skyscrapers and beautiful beaches. These are undoubtedly what Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) is famous for.

Within the hustle and bustle of this sprawling city that never sleeps, this writer found that there is another side of the city that will appeal to any nature lover, a wetland reserve and a sanctuary for migratory birds.

Dubai’s Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary (RAKWS) is located at the head of the Dubai Creek, a 14km long water course. Hence its name Ras Al Khor which means “Cape of the Creek”.

According to its official website, the sanctuary covers an area of 620 hectares. During the winter months November-April, it is the home to more than 20,000 water birds of 67 species and a perfect ground for birdwatchers.

RAWKS also hosts more than 500 species of flora and fauna.

This writer made it a point to visit this park after searching the Internet about local attractions in Dubai besides the usual shopping malls and beaches.

Wildlife sanctuary? Dubai? It was hard to imagine in a place known to be sitting on a desert but there it was!

It was even easy to spot this wetland site even from afar. Not only because of its vastness but the serenity of its surroundings and the clear winter sky.

The whole area is fenced off, a clear indication that it is a protected area.

When the writer arrived at the park, there were only three vehicles parked at the designated car park indicating no big crowd. After all it was a Monday morning, a working day.

The sight of the birds there mesmerise visitors. The most distinguished of all the migratory birds at RAWKS is the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), with its pink feathers being the most conspicuous feature.

This writer made the right decision to pick this particular viewing platform as this spot was near where the flamingoes practically parked themselves.

A check in the internet showed Greater Flamingo is the most widespread species that can be found in parts of Africa, southern Asia (coastal regions of Pakistan and India), and southern Europe (including Spain, Albania, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Italy and the Camargue region of France).

It is said to be the largest species of flamingo, averaging 110-150 cm (43-60 inches) in height and weighing 2-4 kg (4.4-8.8 lbs).

There are about 500 Greater Flamingoes at the sanctuary and their presence at the sanctuary are clearly felt. Even the garbage bins at the sanctuary’s car park portrayed colourful pictures of the Greater Flamingoes. What more, the bird is also the mascot for Dubai’s Wild Life protection programme.

It was a pleasant short walk from the entrance to the observation deck. Instead of concrete walls flanking both sides of the walkway, it was covered with palm leaves.

“Palm leaves from date trees,” this writer made a guess while taking a closer look. After all date trees are very significant in Dubai, with many road dividers and parks planted with the trees.

Inside the observation deck, there were only five people excluding the park attendant.

As two of them appeared with ‘powerful and well equipped cameras’, this writer was convinced that they were professional photographers.

These two already ‘captured’ the best spot to snap photographs of the flamingoes.

The writer had to be contented with the little space between the two to get some shots of the flamingoes and at times deliberately ‘encroached’ into the ardent bird enthusiasts’ well-guarded territory.

According to park attendant Zulfiqar Ahmad, the park opens its door from 9.00 am to 4.00 am from Saturday to Thursday and entrance is free.

“The best time would be the feeding time from 10.00 am and 3.30 pm,” Zulfiqar from Pakistan told this writer.

There are three observation decks built at strategic corners of the park to enable visitors observe the wildlife. The one we were on is the first station.

Binoculars and telescopes are provided for close-up views of the birds. Posters and information on the wildlife species adorned the walls within the observation deck.

While briefing the writer on the park, he pointed to the posters and several times took a peek at the telescope and called the writer to take a look as well.

On the flamingoes, Zulfiqar said; “I was told these flamingoes are from Siberia and Iran. They are very clever. At night they will rest behind the mangroves and gather here when nearing feeding time. “They will be here from 8 am to 5.30 pm.

When asked about visitors to this part of the sanctuary, he lifted a visitor’s book and pointed that they came from as far as UK, US, China, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Italy.

According to Zulfiqar, the sanctuary was a major draw during the holiday season where the first station alone would receive about 200 visitors a day.

“In December 2014, I counted 3,000 visitors for the first station alone. The other two stations combined number of visitors were 2,000,” said Zulfiqar.

Meanwhile, the two camera totting gentlemen that this writer mentioned earlier were Jason D’Almeida, a qualified mechanical engineer and Dr Saurendra Das, a medical doctor.

Both genial gentlemen share one thing in common, “the love for nature.”

They were excited when the writer wanted to interview them on their bird watching hobby and were even willing to be photographed.

Jason has been living in the UAE for more than 30 years. The Indian citizen left his engineering profession to take up professional photography.

“I have been to this sanctuary a couple of times. I like the place so much. It is a peaceful place and brings me closer to nature. It is one of the few places in Dubai which has not lost its natural elements to urbanisation,” said Jason adding that he also liked to photograph people, places and culture.

As for Saurendra, the visit to the sanctuary was his first.

“For every place I visit, I do a google search to look for birds and wildlife places. I found out that at this sanctuary there is a big flock of flamingoes and I immediately planned to visit this sanctuary on my trip to Dubai,” he told the writer.

The New Delhi, India, based doctor found the sanctuary an excellent place to get good shots of the elegant birds.

“The viewing room is an excellent idea that allows you to get close to the birds without impeding on their routine activity and privacy. Seeing the feeding activity right in front of the viewing window is a huge benefit for photographers and bird enthusiasts. The room is very strategically built to give the viewer and the photographer a panoramic view as well as a close up view of the birds,” said Saurendra.

Both Jason and Saurendra lauded the Dubai government’s efforts in protecting the wildlife and establishing RAWKS.

“For me this is one of the best efforts of Dubai. The marina is man-made but Ras Al Khor (RAKWS) is not, it is natural. For someone who has lived in Dubai all these years and watched the city grow, Dubai’s endeavour to preserve its natural environment is greater than their effort to build Burj Khalifa,” added Jason.

The Burj Khalifa (formerly known as Burj Dubai) is a magnificent skyscraper located at Downtown Dubai and dubbed as the world’s tallest building.

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LEAD STORY: Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei to benefit from AirAsia ASEAN Pass

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 (NNN-Bernama) — AirAsia, one of the world’s leading budget airlines has introduced the ‘AirAsia Asean Pass’ and the ‘AirAsia Asean Pass ‘ in an effort to boost travel by making traveling within the region a seamless experience.

malaysia logo

Click on the image to get a full list of all the great festivals and events right across Malaysia this year.

AirAsia, headquarters in Malaysia said AirAsia Asean Pass and AirAsia Asean Pass holders could enjoy flights at a fixed-rate to over 148 routes across all 10 Asean countries.

The countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

“Acting like a single currency, it lessens the hassle of (converting) foreign exchange rates as flights are valued according to credits, allowing guests to be creative in planning their trip through Asean,” it said in a statement.

The passes are available from today at www.airasia.com, with the AirAsia Asean Pass retailing at RM499 for 10 credits and AirAsia Asean Pass for RM888 with 20 credits.

Flights with a duration of below two hours are valued at one credit, while flights of two hours and above are valued at three credits with no processing fee charged for flight redemptions using both passes.

Airport charges/tax and other fees are payable separately.

AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes that the pass would enable the airline to bridge communities and attract more foreign tourists to the region, a perfect instrument to promote ASEAN integration.

“We are working on additional enhancements that will further benefit guests traveling from non-Asean destinations,” he said.

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Iran To Join Pursuit of Halal Tourism

TEHRAN, Feb 28, (NNN-IRNA) — Iran plans to turn to the world’s hub for halal tourism which could draw as many as 15 million Muslims a year from around the world, a top official says.

Vice President and head of the Cultural Heritage Organization Massoud Soltanifar says Iran is seeing a steady rise in the numbers of tourists visiting the country.

Five million tourists visited Iran last year, half of them travelling to Mashhad and Qom to visit Shia shrines, he said, according to Press TV.

Soltanifar said the government has a special plan to expand Halal tourism. “With this measure, Iran will attract 10-15 million foreign tourists every year.”

Halal tourism is geared at Muslim families, with non-alcoholic policies and separate facilities for women and men being on the itinerary.

According to international tourism reviews, there is a high potential for Halal tourism boom in the Middle East.

Soltanifar sais Iran is also working to absorb 20 million foreign tourists annually in the next 11 years.

“Thanks to the new government’s approach and interaction with the world, we are seeing a rise in foreign tourists from European and Islamic countries.”

The official says some destinations are among the government’s priorities for development, including Qom where there is insufficient tourism infrastructure.

Qom in central Iran is one of the main centers of teaching in Shia Islam. Many pilgrims from neighboring countries and around the world also travel to the city to visit a holy shrine.

Mashhad in northeast Iran is home to the shrine of Imam Reza, a grandson of Prophet Mohammad. The city attracts pilgrims from Iraq, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Pakistan, India and elsewhere.

Iran has a diverse landscape and its tourism industry offers a myriad of recreational opportunities.

They range from hot mineral water showers in the northwest to hiking and skiing in the Alborz mountains to magnificent architectural sight-seeing in the center and beach holidays in the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea.

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New Impetus For Malaysia As Business And Conference Destination

MELBOURNE, Feb 25 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia impressed delegates and participants at the Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meeting Expo (AIME) 2015 with its world-class business venues and its ability to host large-scale conferences and exhibitions.

Led by Zulkefli Sharif, Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), the Malaysian delegation of 24 industry partners and 36 officials promoted three new campaign initiatives — Malaysia Year of Festivals (MyFEST) 2015, Malaysia Like Never Before, and Malaysia Twin Deal X (MTD-X), a value-added corporate meetings and incentives promotion.

The Malaysian delegation to the annual expo included destination marketing companies (DMCs), hotel operators and a convention centre.

Zulkefli said MyFEST 2015 continues the momentum of Visit Malaysia Year 2014, and this year there will be more events and festivals in Malaysia.

Themed ‘Endless Celebrations’, MyFEST 2015 will aim to boost Malaysia’s tourism industry by encouraging visitors to stay longer to enjoy festive offerings throughout the year.

“MyFEST 2015 is set to make Malaysia the ideal go-to destination. Business visitors can extend their stay to experience one of our many cultural celebrations and festivals as there is always one right around the corner,” said Zulkefli.

MyCEB also unveiled the “Malaysia Like Never Before” campaign and MTD-X promotion for corporate meetings and incentives planners.

“Malaysia Like Never Before” is tailored to the incentives market and highlights the unique features of five key Malaysian destinations — Langkawi, Georgetown, Kuala Lumpur, Mount Kinabalu and Kuching.

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Jordan’s Queen Alia Airport Named Best Airport In Middle East

AMMAN, Feb 24 (NNN-PETRA) — Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) has rocketed through the ranks to come in at first place in the categories of ‘Best Airport by Region: Middle East’ and ‘Best Improvement by Region: Middle East’, the Airport International Group (AIG) announced.

The new rankings were announced in the 2014 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Survey, the world’s leading airport passenger satisfaction benchmark programme, according to a press release by the AIG, the Jordanian company responsible for the rehabilitation, expansion and operation of QAIA.

The Survey published by global trade representative of airports, Airports Council International (ACI) – revealed that QAIA has registered unprecedented improvements in all 36 listed services and facilities in both the ‘Best Airport by Region: Middle East’ category and the ‘Best Improvement by Region: Middle East’ category.

“Jordan has proven to be a prime business environment and an ideal investment destination. We are pleased to have partnered with the Government of Jordan to construct what has become a globally acclaimed aviation gateway in the heart of the Middle East.

“Not only is QAIA a major national asset, but it has also made significant contributions to the government, positively impacted employment rates and promoted the Kingdom as a regional transit hub,” said Chairman of AIG Khalifa Al Suwaidi.

Meanwhile, the CEO of AIG, Kjeld Binger, stated that “It is truly gratifying to see that our dedication and progress have been recognised by such a prestigious global accolade, which celebrates the commitment of airports worldwide to continuously improving passenger experience.”

He said AIG always believed in the boundless potential of QAIA, which now officially ranks number one in the categories of ‘Best Airport by Region: Middle East’ and ‘Best Improvement by Region: Middle East’.

“This unprecedented achievement is a great honour for us as we continue to work towards setting QAIA as a sustainable pillar in Jordan’s prosperity and as a source of pride for all Jordanians. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of AIG’s employees, as well as QAIA’s partners and shareholders for their steadfast support, without which this proud milestone would not have been possible.”

The ASQ Survey is the world’s leading airport passenger satisfaction benchmark programme, and covers over 300 airports in more than 50 countries worldwide, with over 550,000 passengers interviewed in 2014 alone.

It provides the most authoritative and extensive analysis of airport service performance, and is trusted by over 300 airports around the globe and more than 60% of the world’s 100 largest airports.

The programme is an Airports Council International (ACI) initiative in partnership with aviation business analysis specialists, DKMA, who provide independent market research, analysis and information solutions exclusively for the airport industry.

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‘Muslim Face’ Facebook alternative to be launched soon

Wednesday 25 Feb 2015 – London, (IINA) – Catering to the growing influence of social media among Muslims, a new Islamic social media platform, “Muslim Face”, is set to be launched during the second quarter of 2015 to connect Muslims in a socially responsible network, news agencies reported.

Muslim Face was co-founded by two Muslim entrepreneurs Shoaib Fadie and Rohail Amin M. Shoaib. It was developed to be a social media site that, according to the founders, is socially responsible, safe for families and respectful of Islamic religious values.

It is noteworthy that the beta version of the new social media platform, Muslim Face, is currently being tested by over a thousand users around the world and with a successful completion of the beta testing, Muslim Face will be launched soon.

“This social platform is an international project. It is designed from a Muslim point of view, but also opens up new opportunities with the rest of the world. It is basically a network by Muslims, through Muslims, presented to the world,” explained Fadie.

Muslim Face, added Fadie, is teen-friendly and allows youngsters of 13 years to use the platform because of its highly safe and socially responsible content and filters. This emphasis on family values minimizes parental concern over children using the social media outlet.

He also stressed that the new social media platform will be launched in several languages including English, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, the Malaysian language Bahasa, Turkish, and Indonesian. Additional languages will be added to the platform as the translation becomes available.

Co-founder Rohail Amin M. Shoaib explained that Muslim Face offers different benefits for different users. It will provide incredible networking opportunities for investors, entrepreneurs, customers and partners. It has the potential to open a gateway to market Islamic goods and services worth a substantial US $6.7 trillion.

Noteworthy that MuslimFace.com is registered as a company in the UK under the name Muslim Face Limited, and is in the process opening offices in the Middle East, Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) and Asia.

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Obama nominates 1st U.S. ambassador to Somalia since 1991

Wednesday 25 Feb 2015 – Washington (IINA) – President Barack Obama has nominated a career diplomat to be the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia in nearly 25 years, filling a post that has been vacant since the Horn of Africa country collapsed into chaos in 1991, forcing the closure of the American embassy, AP reported.

Obama on Tuesday tapped Foreign Service veteran Katherine Simonds Dhanani for the job, which will be based in neighboring Kenya until security conditions permit the embassy in the Somali capital of Mogadishu to reopen, the State Department said. It added that the nomination is a sign of the U.S. commitment to Somalia.

“This historic nomination signals the deepening relationship between the United States and Somalia,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “It also allows us to mark the progress of the Somali people toward emerging from decades of conflict. Somalia has considerable work ahead to complete its transition to a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nation.”

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London aims to be one of largest capitals of Islamic finance

Thursday 26 Feb 2015 – London, (IINA) – London is bidding to become a leading centre for Sharia-compliant finance, according to the UK’s foreign minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood.

Speaking at The Telegraph’s Middle East Congress on Wednesday, Ellwood, undersecretary of state at the Foreign Office, said the capital had ambitions to stand alongside Dubai and Kuala Lumpur as a global hub for Islamic finance, The Telegraph reported.

Noteworthy that Britain became the first country outside the Muslim world to issue an Islamic bond, known as Sukuk, last year. The £200m bond attracted healthy investor interest and was the first step in encouraging wider investment from the region.

Britain was also committed to promoting a “peaceful and prosperous” Middle East and expanding trade ties with the region, which topped £35bn last year, said Ellwood. He added, “We must promote inclusive political participation and job creation across the region.”

It is noteworthy that there are currently six Islamic banks in Britain, while another 20 lenders currently offer Islamic financial products and services, more than any other Western country. The sovereign Sukuk market, which makes up only 0.1pc of global financial assets, is predicted to expand by 20pc a year, according Robert Gray, chairman of debt finance at HSBC.

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MVR 60 million loan scheme announced for start-ups and SMEs

Sun.mv – February 26, 2015 – Ministry of Economic Development has announced plans to issue loans up to MVR 60 million for start-ups and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), under the Sharia Compliance Scheme of the Islamic Development Bank (ADB).

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed told Sun Online that the interest-free loan scheme would be introduced in March.

Up to MVR 1 million will be issued per business and the loan does not require any collateral, he said.

The loan will be issued to businesses in four categories, which are wholesale and retail trade, agriculture, travel, and guest-house development.

Priority will be given to start-ups and SMEs, but all businesses are invited to apply.

The government has also recently introduced a loan scheme called Get Set, aimed at young entrepreneurs. Also, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has announced several loan schemes to develop the fisheries sector.

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Special envoys have left for China and Japan to hasten the airport development

Sun.mv – February 28, 2015 – Special envoys have left for China and Japan to hasten the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The emissaries are Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed, State Minister of Finace, Ahmed Munawar and Foreign Secretary Ali Naseer.

Speaking from the airport before the flight, Economic Minister Saeed said they would meet with Japan Bank of International Cooperation and the Exim Bank of China to hasten the loan for the airport development. He said the process of acquiring the loan is ongoing and the purpose of the visit is to speed up the process.

“The loan is at an advance stage already. JBIC (Japan Bank of International Cooperation) is at the final stages of the loan. Likewise, the Exim of China is also at the final stage. Saeed said.

Saeed said they are acquiring about 400 million US dollars from the Japanese bank and an amount between 300 and 400 million from Exim.

Thought he did not say the interest rate directly, Saeed said the interest rate on the loans are very low.

The Economic Council has previously stated that they would start the airport development work later this year.

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Qatar-Japan consortium seeks projects in Turkey’s Afşin Elbistan

DUBAI-Reuters – A group of Qatari state-linked investors and three Japanese power firms have signed an agreement to study the possibility of developing projects in Turkey’s Afşin Elbistan region, one of the Qatari firms said in a statement on Feb. 22.

The Afşin-Elbistan region holds up to 45 percent of Turkey’s reserves of lignite, or brown coal, and Turkish authorities have been keen to attract investment into the region to help meet growing electricity demand.

A $12 billion deal with Abu Dhabi National Energy Co to develop several power plants in the region collapsed in August 2013 after TAQA said it would delay its planned investment amid difficult financing conditions at a time of currency volatility in emerging markets including Turkey.

This decision forced Turkey into talks with other potential investors including Qatari and Chinese parties.

A consortium of Mitsubishi Corporation, Marubeni and Chubu Electric Power on the Japanese side and Qatar Holding and Nebras Power from the Gulf state signed an agreement on Feb. 20 to study projects in the region, Nebras said in a statement.

The group will evaluate projects including the development, operation and maintenance of lignite power plants, but it was yet to reach any agreement over projects with the Turkish government, the statement said.

The potential development is the latest in a string of business deals involving Qatari and Japanese entities.

Mitsubishi is set to be named preferred bidder to construct the 2,400 megawatt Facility D gas power plant in Qatar, Project Finance International, a Thomson Reuters company, said on Feb. 17.

Last week, a consortium headed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries agreed a $3.33 billion contract for a subway system in Doha, according to Japan’s Nihon Keizai (Nikkei) newspaper.

The newspaper also reported last week that Marubeni and Nebras Power had signed an agreement to build a gas power plant in Kenya.

Nebras Power is an internationally focused infrastructure investment firm 60-percent owned by Qatar Electricity and Water Company, with the remainder split between Qatar Petroleum and Qatar Holding.

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Turkish Airlines profit almost triples, plans $3 bln investment

ISTANBUL – Reuters – Turkish Airlines posted a 2014 net profit that almost tripled yesterday and unveiled plans to invest more than $3 billion mostly on its fleet, partly financed by a bond issue in the coming months.

Net profit rose to 1.82 billion Turkish Liras ($739 million) from 683 million liras, in line with a Reuters poll forecast of 1.81 billion. Sales rose 29 percent to 24.1 billion.

The airline said it and its subsidiaries planned around $3.74 billion in new investments this year, most of it on increasing its 261 fleet of aircraft. The national carrier plans to close this year with around 300 airplanes.

The company’s destinations for flights have increased to 264 from 243 over the past year, including 45 domestic and 219 international destinations in 108 countries, the company said in a written statement on Feb. 25.

Turkish Airlines carried nearly 55 million passengers in 2014, a 13.3 percent increase in passenger numbers year-on-year. The number of passengers on domestic routes was up 13.2 percent in 2014 from the previous year and international arrivals increased by 13.3 percent, the company added in its statement.

Meanwhile, Chairman Hamdi Topçu told a news conference that Turkish Airlines will start to harvest the positive effects of decreasing oil prices by summer 2015.

Topçu noted that the company was in the final stages of a planned bond issue to diversify its sources of aircraft financing, adding that the issue was expected to be completed in the first half of the year.

The bond would be at least $500 million and could reach a volume of $2-3 billion with a maturity of up to 14 years, Chief Financial Officer Coşkun Kılıç said, adding that it would be used to finance existing aircraft as well as new planes.

Topçu also revealed that Turkish Airlines was in the early stage of talks with Malaysia Airlines over leasing aircraft. A senior executive at the airline said in January that it was considering expanding its fleet and was studying a list of Boeing and Airbus models including the double-decker A380.

On Feb. 25, Topbaş said the carrier would need larger Boeing 747-8 and Airbus A380 aircraft in the future but no management decision had yet been taken.

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Turkish university develops new Turkish keyboard

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Istanbul-based Boğaziçi University has developed a new keyboard with Turkish letters, the university announced on Feb. 24. The new keyboard is called the “E keyboard,” and will compete with the previous F and Q keyboards for Turkish writers.

A group of researchers under the leadership of Mahmut Ekşioğlu had worked for three years to develop the new keyboard, Boğaziçi University said in a statement. The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) supported the project, for which they will also take the patent.

Ekşioğlu said the new keyboard was developed and made more optimal by studying the ergonomic layout of letters. He said in the new E Keyboard, letters were laid out taking into consideration the capacity of fingers and their moving space.

Turkish writers mostly use the QWERTY or Q keyboard, which is nearly the same as the English version but with different keys for the Turkish letters ç, ğ, ı, ö, ş, ü.

However, the Turkish alphabet is different from its English counterpart, and is thus concentrated on the right side of the keyboard.

The FGĞIOD or F keyboard is another type of keyboard developed by Turks which has nothing in common with the Q keyboard, which is the most internationalized keyboard. The F keyboard is rarely used by Turks.

With the new E keyboard, Ekşioğlu said performance in writing rises, and it provides a more healthy and comfortable usage.

In the framework of the project, Ekşioğlu said they conducted research with participants of different ages, and the ergonomic criterion was determined by experimental studies. The speed capacity for each finger was also determined according to the speed with which each finger types a single button.

Ekşioğlu said the E keyboard was developed based on experiments and mathematical calculations, while the F keyboard had no scientific basis.

The Boğaziçi University team has studied the binary combinations of the fingers, the time needed to type two buttons one after another, and the letter combinations of the Turkish language.

“Taking those into consideration, we obtained 152 keyboard models,” Ekşioğlu said, adding they had arranged performance and health experiments for what they considered to be the three best models. He said they had also used electronic gloves to capture motion data and measure tendon movements in the experiments.

“To write a typical Turkish text, using the E keyboard makes you use much less tendon movements than with the F or Q keyboard,” he said.

Ekşioğlu said making too many tendon movements can raise the risk of hand-wrist musculoskeletal disorder. Ekşioğlu said they have not found any literature about the methods used to develop the F keyboard.

He said that while developing the F keyboard, the Turkish letter frequency of the Turkish National Corpus was not taken into consideration, but rather that of the 1950’s Turkish dictionary. “The pointing fingers are overloaded,” Ekşioğlu said.

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Urartian jewelry techniques as new today as 3,000 years ago

VAN – Anadolu Agency – Techniques used for ornamenting jewelry that were used by the Urartian Kingdom nearly 3,000 years ago are still in practice in the sector even though technology has dramatically changed.

“Technology has developed but the techniques have not changed. In the ancient era, gold was put between leather and turned into a plaque with the method of forging,” Van Yüzüncü Yıl University (YYU) Archaeology Department Professor Rafet Çavuşoğlu said.

“Today this is made by machines. Today technology has changed but the ornamentation technique remains the same. I could hardly finish the drawing of an Urartian-era belt, which is on display at a museum today, in 1.5 months. This shows us the improvement of Urartian people in the jewelry sector,” he said.

In addition to its development in agriculture, livestock and architecture, the Urartian Kingdom, which ruled the eastern Anatolian region in the eighth century B.C., remains a source of inspiration for today’s jewelry sector with its methods used in processing metals.

HDN YYU’s Archaeology Department has so far unearthed countess artifacts during excavations. Çavuşoğlu, the head of the department, said ornamentation techniques such as coating, embossment, filigree and granulation were used 3,000 years ago on earrings, necklaces, collars, rings, brooches and belts.

The techniques remain popular today despite developing technology, adding that even the smallest ornamentations had been processed in the jewelry carefully using mountain crystals.

Çavuşoğlu said the jewelries, used by both families living in the palace or ordinary people, were very attractive.

“The Urartians used metals like gold, silver, copper, lead and iron in various forms of jewelry. In addition, 20 types of semi-precious stones were used in the jewelry. We divide the Urartian jewelry according to the body parts like the head, neck, leg, hand and foot jewelry. They had two basic techniques, namely casting and forging. The jewelry comes to life with these techniques, which are still used today,” Çavuşoğlu said.

The Urartian techniques are still used in “Mardin işi” and “Trabzon Hasırı” (jewelry types unique to Mardin and Trabzon provinces). “Gold or silver is processed after being turned into filament with this technique. It was quite popular in the Urartian era just like today,” he said.

Çavuşoğlu said a rare bracelet from the Urartian era, on which all ornamentation techniques had been used, was on display at the Van Museum.

“The fine details in jewelry makes us think about the tools used by the Urartians. They were all handicraft works. When we examine even a very small earring, we see that it has many fine details. The Urartian people used the mountain crystals as a magnifying glass while working on the fine details. It is very hard for a normal person to process small geometrical designs on jewelry. We see these designs when we examine it with magnifying glasses. This is why mountain crystals had a very important place in the Urartian era,” he said.

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Museum constructed at Caesar’s castle

TOKAT – Anadolu Agency – A museum is under construction on the castle of Zile, known for Roman Emperor Julius Caesar’s famous phrase “veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) to the Roman senate. A stone building, which was established on the land on the right side of the historic castle in the northern province of Tokat, is set to open as a museum when the refurbishments are complete.

Speaking to press members in the castle, Culture and Tourism Ministry Undersecretary Haluk Dursun said Zile was an extraordinary place and the building in the castle would serve culture as a city museum, and that observation terraces could also be established in the castle.

Zile Mayor Lütfi Vidinel said they would display various artworks in the museum, adding, “We expect to host many tourists when the museum is open. When the Roman Emperor Caesar won a victory against Pharnaces II of Pontus, Caesar wrote this phrase. This is why the castle is known as the Caesar’s Castle. Foreign tourists examine the stone where this phrase is written.”

In historical documents, it is reported that Caesar waged a bloody war against Pharnaces II in Zile’s region of Altıağaç. Both sides suffered losses during the war and Caesar wrote this phrase in a letter to the Roman senate. He also built a stone tablet and inscribed this phrase in it.

There is also a small Roman theater carved on the rocks in the northeast of the ancient Zile Castle, which was built on a mound.

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Bangladesh plans new Dhaka International Airport

SANGSAD BHABAN, Feb 23, 2015 (BSS) – The government has a plan to construct a most modern new airport with international standard titled “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport” around Dhaka to build Bangladesh as a hub between the East and West in the movement of aircraft, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon said today.

Replying to a question from Jatiya Party lawmaker Begum Salma Islam, the minister said the TPP (technical project profile) for conducting the detailed feasibility study of the project and fixing the project area as per the decision of an ADP meeting held on December 23 has been farmed.

The Civil Aviation Authority would implement the project through its own funding, he said, adding consultants would be appointed after the approval of the TPP.

Menon said the timeframe for implementation of the project would be fixed later after endorsement of the main project, while the place for the project would be finalized in the light of the report of the feasibility study of the consultant.

Responding to a question from treasury bench member M Abdul Latif, the minister said various plans have been taken to make the national flag career Bangladesh Biman profitable.

The plans, Menon said, include phasing out very old F-28 and DC-10-30 aircraft, modernization of the Biman fleet by procuring four new generation Boeing 777-300 ER aircraft and taking lease of two 777-200 ER aircraft.

Besides, the work on purchasing two Dash 8-Q 400 aircraft is now at the final stage to run those on domestic and regional routes, he said.

The civil aviation minister said two more 737-800 aircraft and four 787-8 aircraft would be procured by 2015 and 2019-20 respectively under a deal inked with Boeing Company as part of modernization of the Biman fleet.

He also said steps have been taken for rearrangements of Biman routes and increasing weekly flight frequency on the profitable routes like Jeddah, Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur. “Initiatives have also been taken to expand the Biman service to some new destinations like Guangzhou, Colombo, Male and Tokyo in near future in consideration of their commercial viability,” he added.

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Bangladesh holds five-day handicraft exhibition

DHAKA, Feb 20, 2015 (BSS) – Finance Minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith today inaugurated a five-day handicrafts exhibition at the National Museum at city’s Shahbag area aimed at promoting traditional products. “Bangladesh is a land of rich cultural heritage and it is visible in every walk of life,” he said while inaugurating the event.

The Minister applauded the initiative for holding the fair saying it gave a big opportunity to the craftsmen by providing them with a platform to showcase their products. He urged the well off in the society to extend their helping hands towards the craftsmen.

The National Museum organised the exhibition marking the International Mother Language Day on 21st February where 27 stalls have been set up to display handicrafts from different parts of the country.

Deputy Director of Bangla Academy Dr Aminur Rahman Sultan presented the key-note paper. Chairman of University Grants Commission Professor Nazrul Islam chaired the function. The objective of the event is to identify and protect the fading traditional crafts and improve market facilities for the products.

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SiKAP Phone App Launched

Wednesday, 25 February 2015 BruDirect.com – BRUNEI-MUARA: Several initiatives and strategies have been carried out in the land transport sector as part of efforts towards realising the Ministry of Communications’ Vision. Among them are the Introduction of the Land Transport System (SPD) and enforcement of the Demerit Points System (SIKAP).

The Minister of Communications, Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awg Haji Abdullah bin Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Haji Bakar underlined the initiatives and strategies during a ceremony to launch the SiKAP Mobile Application and the Land Transport Department’s Short Messages Service yesterday.

According to Yang Berhormat Pehin, the launching of the latest services was also the Ministry’s initiative towards providing effective system and services for the public. Yang Berhormat Pehin also shared the positive outcome from the introduction of SiKAP.

Yang Berhormat Pehin said according to statistics from agencies such as the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF), the Ministry of Communications and the Public Works Department, the number of fatal road accidents in 2014 was 25 percent lower than that of the previous year; as well, serious and light injuries also recorded 35 percent and 12 percent respectively.

Yang Berhormat Pehin also touched on the SPD, SiKAP Mobile Application and the Land Transport Department’s Short Messages Service. The SPD is an ICT system that enables online transactions with multiple effective functions in ensuring smooth management of road transportation. It is hoped that this system would provide a customer-friendly service for all road users in the country.

The Minister also hoped that the Land Transport Department would enhance its efforts towards reaching out to the public through innovative services such as these. The department’s SMS service will issue early reminders on the status of the vehicle and driving licences a month before the expiry date.

The Drivers’ Safety System, SiKAP Mobile Application and the Land Transport Department’s SMS service are introduced to improve the department’s service quality through the use of the Info-Communications Technology facilities to ease management of services for the public. The public can use the SiKAP Mobile Application by first typing Online JPD and download it from the “App Store” or “Google Play”.

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10th Belait Travel Fair Held in Brunei

Saturday, 28 February 2015 BruDirect.com – SERIA, KUALA BELAIT: Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) is the exclusive airline sponsor and host for the two-day Belait Travel Fair which opens today at Pusat Insani in Seria.

The fair will be open to the public from 9am to 7pm on both days and visitors are advised to come early to pick up the very best travel bargains.

Visitors will have access to exclusive fares and packages on all RB destinations. They can purchase their dream holiday from participating travel agents; Anthony Tours, Century Travel, Darussalam Holdings Sdn Bhd, Freme Travel Services, Pan Bright Travel Services and Southern Cross.

Additionally, all visitors who purchase tickets for travel on RB at the fair will be entered into a grand draw and stand a chance to win a return economy class tickets to London, Melbourne, Bali, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City from RB; or an Apple iPad or a Momax iPower Go External PowerBank sponsored by Abacus; or a 40′ LED Samsung TV sponsored by BIBD.

‘Lucky dip’ prizes will be drawn three times on each day. Royal Skies team members will also be on hand to man the ever popular ‘Spin The Wheel,’ where lucky winners will receive either Royal Skies Miles, RB merchandise or attractive vouchers from Royal Skies partners.

The 10th Belait Travel Fair is supported by Abacus Brunei, Tourism Malaysia, Baiduri Bank, Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD), The Royal Customs and Excise Department of the Ministry of Finance as well as Royal Skies partners, Coffee Bean Brunei, Sushi Tei, Shinobu Shabu Shabu, Pastamania and Auntie Anne’s.

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The Black Beauty of Brunei Darussalam

Sunday, 01 March 2015 BruDirect.com TASEK MERIMBUN, LAMUNIN: “The Black Beauty of Brunei Darussalam”, is an illustrated book that takes its readers on a journey to explore the beauty of the country’s only ASEAN heritage park, Tasek Merimbun. The 168-page book contains images depicting Tasek Merimbun’s highly diverse ecosystem. The book was launched by Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The author of the book is Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Muda Omar Ali ibni Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Paduka Seri Pengiran Perdana Wazir Sahibul Himmah Wal Waqar Pengiran Muda Mohamed Bolkiah, The museum’s curator of natural history and manager of Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park.

According to the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Laila Diraja Dato Seri Setia Awg Haji Hazair bin Haji Abdullah, the book was launched in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of Tasek Merimbun as the ASEAN Heritage Park.

Also present at the ceremony was Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia Dr. Haji Awg Abu Bakar bin Haji Apong, the Minister of Education. The ceremony took place yesterday at Balai Purun, Tasek Merimbun.

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Brunei History Centre Embarks on Historical Research

Friday, 27 February 2015 BruDirect.com – SUNGAI LIANG, KUALA BELAIT: The Brunei History Centre under the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) in collaboration with the Academy of Brunei Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) yesterday conducted the Mukim Liang History and Heritage Research in Belait District.

The first-of-its-kind project which was launched on February 26, focuses on Kampong Sungai Liang, and will be carried out for two more days, February 28 and March 2. As part of the project 62 students will interview 34 storytellers.

Mohammad Faisal bin Hj Mat Salleh, a History Officer from the Research and Documentation Division under the Brunei History Centre, told the Bulletin that the project aims to collect the country’s historical evidences to be documented with a possibility of producing publications.

When asked about how the story-tellers were picked, Mohammad Faisal informed that the process was initiated two months before the commencement of the project with the cooperation of the Village Consultative Council members in identifying the whereabouts of the villagers.

“Kg Sungai Liang was picked because it was the first settlement in Belait District and before it became a whole kampong’, it was originally six separate villages,” added the officer.

Mohammad Faisal also mentioned that they will be focusing on five of the villages, namely, Kg Perumpong, Kg Tunggulian, Kg Keluyoh, Kg Padang and Kg Gana.

Topics that will be covered in the interviews include socioeconomics, sociocultural, village background, and also the development of the villages.

The students will visit historical places of interest and see whether preservations are being done or not, and also investigate and analyse how Kg Sungai Liang was formed.

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Bali Travel Fair to invite cruise travel agents

1 March 2015 Denpasar (ANTARA News) – The organizing committee of “Bali Beyond and Travel Fair” (BBTF) 2015 will invite cruise travel agents to take part in the event to be held in Bali, in June 2015.

“We still have three months. They might come because cruise operators want to know what tourism objects and attractions to be offered to cruise passengers,” Organizing Committee Chairman of BBTF 2015 I Ketut Ardana said here, Sunday.

Bali will invite cruise operators to bring more foreign tourists to the island. A big cruise ship could carry more than 5,000 tourists that usually stay longer in luxurious hotels and spend a lot of money, he said.

Bali has adequate harbor infrastructure to accommodate cruise ships, he added. Benoa Seaport in Denpasar often receives foreign cruise ships but mostly of medium seize with one thousand to two thousand passengers, he noted.

BBTF 2015 is expected to be participated in by hundreds of travel agents including 50 platinum travel agents from various countries that could bring at least 10 thousand tourists per year.

Some 325 potential buyers are also expected to take part in the fair. The buyers are among other things from the United States, European nations, Middle Eastern countries, South Africa, North and South Asians, India, ASEAN member nations, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Latin American countries.

Some 370 sellers from various fields such as hoteliers, travel agents, corporations, transportation companies, and restaurants, are also expected to join the travel fair. Last year, 278 sellers participated in the event.

The implementation of the travel fair will cost some Rp23.2 billion, up from Rp21.7 billion last year.

The Indonesian government has targeted to attract 12 million foreign tourists this year, and 20 million by 2019.

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Indonesia expects Russia to implement visa-free arrangement

22 February 2015 Kuta, Bali (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian government expects Russia to give Indonesians visa-free facilities on a reciprocal basis to ease people-to-people connectivity between two countries, particularly through the tourism sector.

“Free visa negotiation is underway by considering the aspects of reciprocity, advantages and security,” said Foreign Affairs Ministry’s acting director of Central and East Europe Directory Ibnu Hadi here on weekend.

In terms of visa-free arrangement on a reciprocal basis, Hadi mentioned that Russia had implemented it with Thailand, “Then why dont they do the same with Indonesia?”

Since early January 2015, Indonesia has officially waived visa requirements for visitors from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia wishing to travel to the country.

Hadi said Russia is among the countries which have the potential to become one of the major markets for the Indonesian tourism. According to data from the Tourism Ministry, Russia is one of the top twenty sources of tourist arrivals in Indonesia.

In 2013, a total of 93,622 Russian nationals visited Indonesia, and in 2014 the number decreased to 88,775.

The decrease, Hadi said, was caused by some factors, such as no direct flight from Indonesia to Russia and the sluggish Russian economy which caused Rubel currency to depreciate against the US dollar.

The Russian honorary consular based in Denpasar, Bali, Chairul Nuku Hamka, explained that almost 72 thousand Russian tourists visited Bali Island in 2014. “On average about four to five thousand Russian tourists visit Bali per month,” he said. In 2015, the Indonesian government plans to cooperate with Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia in implementing visa-free arrangement on a reciprocal basis.

The government has set itself the target of raising the number of tourist arrivals to 20 million by 2019 through the visa-free arrangement.

However, Ibnu Hadi said not all states used reciprocity in implementing free visa policy and Australia is one of the examples. Nationally, Indonesia recorded 9,435,411 tourist arrivals in 2014, up 7.2 percent from 8,802,129 recorded in 2013.

Promoting tourism abroad is part of Indonesian representatives economic diplomatic efforts, as proclaimed by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi). Indonesia is currently providing visas on arrival for tourists from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

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Indonesian government enhancing border areas to face AEC

23 February 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesia Ministry of Underdeveloped Villages, Region and Transmigration will work towards developing the villages located in border areas to better face the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2015.

“We will prioritize the development of villages located in the border areas and the outer islands that directly face the neighboring countries,” Task Executor for Director General of Development and Villager Empowerment Suprayoga Hadi stated here on Sunday (Feb. 22).

The ministry is supporting the capacity building programs of the government in several underdeveloped regions to enhance infrastructure and human resources, particularly for the villages in the border areas. “With regard to infrastructure development, the border villages must be equipped with good dock facility, so that the connectivity would not be tenuous. The government will also impart education and training to develop the skills of human resources,” Suprayoga noted.

The government has set a target to develop several villages, including those in North Kalimantan and Natuna District as they are the northernmost islands located in Karimata Strait. The villages in northern Sulawesi that border the Philippines will also be developed.

“We are targeting to develop the economic condition in the regions, including the villages and underdeveloped areas. We hope that this program will be implemented in one year,” Suprayoga remarked. The plan to develop the villages is in line with President Joko Widodos directive to enhance several villages located in the border areas.

According to the ministry, at least 1,138 villages located in the border areas are targeted for infrastructure and human resource development. Suprayoga said the program, which had been initiated since early 2015, is expected to be successful in improving the competitiveness of the local people.

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Nigeria: Arik Introduces New Dubai Schedule, Better Connections

The Guardian – 27 February 2015 – ARIK Air, West Africa’s largest carrier, has introduced a new schedule for its Lagos-Abuja-Dubai route as the airline moves its operations to Terminal 2 at Dubai Airport.

The new schedule, which became effective on February 20, 2015, has guaranteed better connections within Nigeria. Furthermore, the fares to Dubai are now flexible making it possible for passengers from any point in Nigeria to pay the same fare as Lagos and Abuja passengers.

The days of operation will continue to run as five per week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

The outbound flight now departs Lagos at 4:15 pm and arrives in Abuja at 5:30 pm. The connecting flight leaves Abuja at 6:30 pm (local time) and arrives in Dubai at 4:30 am (local time, next day).

The inbound flight leaves Dubai at 6:00 am (local time) and arrives in Abuja at 10:15 am (local time). The flight departs Abuja later at 11:15 am and arrives in Lagos at 12:30 pm.

This new schedule aims to allow passengers to effortlessly connect to Dubai from major Nigerian cities as it guarantees same day connection in each direction via Lagos and Abuja. Guests in Kano, Benin, Gombe, Enugu, Ilorin, Port Harcourt and Warri are going to benefit greatly from the new schedule.

All flights will operate using a new Airbus A 330-200 seating 217 passengers on board with a configuration of 30 business and 187 economy class seats.

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Uganda: USAID Gifts Tourism With Information Guidebooks

The Observer (Kampala) – 25 February 2015 – Tourism for Biodiversity (T4B), a USAID-funded programme, implemented by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), has boosted the tourism sector with ‘educational and information guidebooks’ for three national parks: Lake Mburo, Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley.

The books, produced in partnership with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), seek to educate people about the three national parks where T4B works. The books have already been distributed to educational institutions such as Makerere University, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC), Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and Igongo cultural centre.

“To us academicians, this is food, especially food that comes at the time of famine,” said Philip Nyeko, the head, department of Forestry, Biodiversity and Tourism at Makerere University, while receiving the books on behalf of the university. This is the first time I am seeing UWA officially donate books to us.”

Prof Buyinza Mukadasi, the director, Makerere University’s Directorate of Research and Graduate Training, asked AWF and UWA to consider having periodic meetings with conservation bodies to share knowledge and churn a way forward for the sector.

The department also demanded that AWF and UWA help it simplify its research papers into readable books that can be consumed by the public. UWA’s executive director, Dr Andrew Seguya, applauded AWF for producing the books, saying they would go a long way in “guiding society about the beauties and resources we have in our parks.”

Seguya challenged the universities to invest in doing more research about the people and nature around the parks. Kidepo, for example, is surrounded by six different small ethnic groups, among which is the Ik, who are not Karimojong but speak a language close to Spanish. Kidepo is one of the least visited parks in Uganda but was recently voted by CNN as the third best park in Africa.

Speaking to students of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Charly Facheux, AWF’s vice president Conservation Projects, revealed that the organization aimed to build a critical mass of Africans who would take charge of their own conservation issues.

“We want to have African leaders talk about African wildlife. We don’t believe in other people coming to speak about African wildlife,” Facheux said.

Two years ago, AWF started the Conservation Management and Training Programme (CMTP), which brought together young African leaders for a two-year fully-paid course in conservation in Nairobi, Kenya. The course, which has had participants move across the continent, has so far trained 11 Africans, who have taken up leadership positions in different conservation bodies. The calls for the next training are on and will be closing in March.

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Gambia: Stakeholders Discuss Tourism Strategic Plan

The Point (Banjul) – 26 February 2015 – Stakeholders on Monday gathered at the Kairaba Beach Hotel to discuss the strategic plan of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The meeting was organised by the Ministry, Gambia Tourism Board and the National Assembly Select Committee on Tourism.

Speaking at the official opening ceremony, Benjamin Roberts, Minister of Tourism and Culture, said the purpose of the forum was to have a thorough look at the document and debate its nitty-gritty.

The tourism industry is a chain link, the Tourism minister said, adding that the industry faces challenges, hence stakeholders needed to brainstorm and chart the way forward to tackling the challenges.

This professionalism is key, he said, adding that to promote their products, they needed to spend more time on their online marketing. Hon. Alhagie Sillah, chairman of National Assembly Select Committee on Tourism, in his remarks said the document had been reviewed and, as the Select Committee, it is their responsibility to ensure institutions progress.

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Nigeria: Aviation Stakeholders Tasked On Customer Services

This Day – 27 February 2015 – Kano — Managing Director of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Saleh Dunoma, has challenged stakeholders in the Aviation industry to ensure excellent service delivery to airport users in line with the ‘Aviation Commits’ initiative aimed at re-packaging, re-branding and re-directing the aviation industry.

Dunoma who stated on Wednesday during awareness workshop held at Malam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), noted that the Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka has been promoting customer service at a key factor in the federal government transformation in the aviation sector.

The FAAN boss who spoke through the Regional Manager, Alhaji Zakari Mamuda added that in continuation of his show of concern to the welfare of customers, Chidoka launched the Aviation Passengers Service (APS) portal and the Aviation Helpline so as the provide a platform where the flying public can access real time information about airlines operations and services at any of the airports in Nigeria.

According to him, FAAN has in recent past improved its facilities and infrastructure in all the airports across the country, adding that the Minister of Aviation has also approved the performance management system (PMS), which he said was aimed at measuring, monitoring and improving service delivery in the airports.

Also speaking at the workshop, MAKIA manager, Alhaji Gambo Abubakar Aboki said in its bid to improve the customer experience, the federal government and management of FAAN embarked on various facility upgrades in the airport across the country.

He reminded aviation stakeholders that good customer service is about making sure that the customer comes back, “but is also about ensuring that they go away happy. For our kind of business in aviation, it may be that we do not have to do much to make customers come back since they must pass throughout airports if they have to fly.”

He further stated : “We are committed to develop and constantly modify our performance measurement systems by adopting a quality benchmarking approach and strengthening our feedback mechanism. Constant quality assessment is also required in this industry, considering the nature of the typical airport user as a global citizen who is constantly in touch with the latest service standards around the world and therefore demands to be served with same dedication and efficiency in the course of his travel experience.”

General Manager, Customer Services, Mrs. Ebele Okoye also urged aviation stakeholders to cultivate an attitude geared towards lifting services to world best practices, urging them to imbibe communication skills that can create positive impression on airport users.

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US Muslim Sitcom Corrects Misconceptions

OnIslam & News Agencies Friday, 27 February 2015 WASHINGTON – Taking on topics that affect Muslim Americans such as surveillance, racial profiling, online bullying, media bias, and mosque protests, a new sitcom has been announced by actor and writer Aasif Mandvi, bringing Muslim families closer to Americans.

“It began with Katie Couric saying that what Muslims need in America to fight bigotry might be its very own ‘Cosby Show,'” Mandvi told NBC News on Thursday, February 26. “We took that idea at ‘The Daily Show’ and created a sitcom parody that we aired a portion of on ‘The Daily Show.'”

Mandvi has wrapped up his campaign for new series, “Halal in the Family,” to finish post-production on the new web series, a sitcom starring a Muslim-American family. It was first aired in 2011 under the title “The Qu’Osby Show.”

Starring Mandvi and Sakina Jaffrey, the series mixed all elements of American comedies in a Muslim package. The idea was further developed to combat racism and bigotry towards Muslim Americans and came under the new title, Halal in the Family.

“We wanted to create the web series to use satire and comedy as a way to shed light on some important issues,” said Mandvi, “And make people laugh.”

Producers saw the sitcom as urgently needed to combat misconceptions about Islam after a 2014 “American Attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims” survey by the Arab American Institute found that only 27 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Muslims.

The sitcom also seeks to challenge harmful stereotypes of Muslims and to expose a more Americans to the real, everyday experiences of their Muslim neighbors. “By using satire,” wrote Mandvi in his Indiegogo appeal, “We will encourage people to reconsider their assumptions about Muslims while providing a balm to those experiencing anti-Muslim bias. I also hope those Uncles and Aunties out there will crack a smile!”

The project received support from the Muslim, Asian, and civil rights organizations advising the project.

“By using satire, we will encourage people to reconsider their assumptions about Muslims while providing a balm to those experiencing anti-Muslim bias,” said Mandvi.

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German, Finnish Radio Broadcast Qur’an

OnIslam & News Agencies Saturday, 28 February 2015 HELSINKI – For the first time ever, Finnish and German radio stations announced plans to broadcast the holy book of Qur’an in weekly sessions, accompanied by its translation and interpretation to increase people’s knowledge of Islam.

“It’s nice to hear my translation be read aloud,” Professor Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, who translated Qur’an into Finnish, told Yle’s Radio 1 channel. “It is important that the Qur’an is read in its entirety, and not just select items that show that Islam is bad and violent or good and beautiful. All of the text material is served up for the listener to assess,” he added.

Hämeen-Anttila was speaking after concluding an ambitious project with Pasila district studios of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle to broadcast the Muslims’ holy book. The project is a radio series in which the Qur’an will be read cover-to-cover in 60 half-hour-long installments.

Each installment will begin with a discussion between Imam Anas Hajjar, a leader of the Finnish Muslim community, Professor Hämeen-Anttila.

The discussions will explore the religious and historical context of the text to be read. “We haven’t been at loggerheads, but Imam Anas Hajjar and I have often read the same passage and approached it from a very different point of view,” he says.

“Imam Hajjar reads practical, contemporary meanings into the text and I see it as an historic work that is tied to the time in which it was created.”

According to Hämeen-Anttila, the two men’s discussed “everything between heaven and earth” during the radio series, including the role of Satan as well as men’s behavior instructions when in the company of women.

Meanwhile, Yle called on the most authoritative representatives of Islam in Finland to make the program and the resulting series has their approval.

“The program is an important step in understanding one another. It is an attempt to tell the story of The Koran and what it contains,” Imam Anas Hajjar said. There are between 40,000 to 45,000 Muslims among Finland’s 5.2 million population.

In Germany, Radio Deutschland starts in March a new series for recitation of the Holy Qur’an. Coming under the title, “Qur’an declares”, the series starts next week on Friday, March 6, with passages from Qur’an on weekly basis, Germany radio director Willi Steul told Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In the four minute reports, a spokesman should first read a verse from the Qur’an, who will be followed with an Islamic scholar offering interpretation. The series starts on March 6 at 9:55 clock.

Germany is believed to be home to nearly 4 million Muslims, including 220,000 in Berlin alone. Turks make up an estimated two thirds of the Muslim minority. The Qur’an is a revelation from God, the creator of the worlds, so He is the original author.

There is only one Qur’an which is in Arabic, with many of its translations in several languages. There could be multiple translations by different authors in the same language such as English. The Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) through the archangel Gabriel who helped the Prophet memorize the Qur’an, as reported in several authentic Hadith narrations.

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Qatar Airways deepens code-shares with Bangkok Airways

The Peninsula – 25 February, 2015 – Qatar Airways (QA) has strengthened relationship with Bangkok Airways with the addition of further code-share routes. The new code-shares come after a year of rapid expansion for QA across the globe, with the addition of 12 new destinations last year, with frequency and capacity increases.

QA Group Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker, said: “It has been a period of rapid expansion for QA, with new route launches around the globe. The addition of these code-share routes with Bangkok Airways further enhances our competitive offering, providing our passengers with an unrivalled global network among the leading airlines.”

The expansion of the agreement with Bangkok Airways will enhance QA’s passengers’ options as it adds 10 additional sectors from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, Udon Thani, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Nay Pyi Taw and Siem Reap, with Koh Samui to Singapore, Phuket and Kuala Lumpur and Phuket to Chiang Mai.

This will strengthen and complement QA’s current code-shares from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi, Lampang, Trat, Sukhothai, Samui, Mandalay, Yangon and Phnom Penh.

Passengers travelling onto code-share destinations from Bangkok will also benefit from a superior travel experience on board QA’s A380 aircraft, which commenced service to the city last December.

Complementing the airline’s four-times daily service to Bangkok, the aircraft allows passengers the opportunity to experience the latest aircraft to join the QA fleet.

Those travelling onwards from Phuket will also benefit from the airline’s direct daily scheduled service from Doha, which commenced last year. The route was previously served from Doha via Kuala Lumpur.

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Islamic investment in Bahrain forum spotlight

Gulf Daily News – 25 February, 2015 – The upcoming Global Islamic Investment Gateway (GIIG) in Manama will help consolidate Bahrain’s standing as a leading innovator in Islamic finance always open to exploring new ideas, according to Economic Development Board (EDB) chief economist Dr Jarmo Kotilaine.

With more than 700 delegates now confirmed, the event will unveil a new online tracker, which will connect investment capital from the GCC with fast-expanding markets in OIC countries across the world.

The new Investment Monitor has already been the catalyst for creating a pipeline of around 100 potential new deals. ‘The global investment portal is yet another example of new thinking on Islamic finance and it is appropriate that it is being launched in Bahrain, which has been at the forefront of innovation in Islamic finance for decades,’ said Dr Kotilaine.

‘Bahrain is the longest established hub for Islamic finance and we are proud to welcome this pioneering event.’

The conference, which is being held at the Gulf Hotel next Monday and Tuesday, is set to bring together some of the largest investors in the region to examine potential opportunities within OIC markets ‘“ a group of economies that is expected to see annual growth at an average rate of 5.4 per cent in the next five years, significantly higher than the global average.

‘We know that from the strong growth figures in these markets that there are significant opportunities in a range of areas,’ Dr Kotilaine said.

‘However, we also know that for many investors, the challenge will be in finding ways to access these markets, many of which will be relatively early in their development.

‘The conference will launch the Investment Monitor which is an innovative way to link viable projects that need investment with senior level investors who have significant capital looking for opportunities that are at an advanced stage.’

The Global Islamic Investment Gateway is being organised by EDB, Thomson Reuters, and the Islamic Development Bank. Around 50 c-suite level speakers are confirmed for main sessions and panels over the two days.

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Bahrain approves executive regulations for tourism sector

The Peninsula – 26 February, 2015 – The Cabinet yesterday endorsed executive regulations or bye-laws for the legislation that regulates the tourism sector, including providing guidelines for classifying hotels and licensing tour guides. The occupation of tour guides was created when the law was issued in 2012.

Prime Minister and Interior Minister H E Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani chaired the Cabinet’s weekly session at Emiri Diwan. The meeting ratified a draft decree on fixing a date for the election of the fifth term of Central Municipal Council (CMC).

The Cabinet ratified draft executive regulations of Law No. 6 of 2012 on tourism. It comprises provisions to regulate hotel and tourism establishments and licence requests, their issuance and renewal.

It addresses relinquishing, transferring and cancelling the licence, commitments of the licensees, fees and wages for services provided by Qatar Tourism Authority, classification of hotel and tourism facilities, licensing of tourist guides, inspection measures and procedures to appeal against QTA decisions.

The Cabinet ratified a draft Emiri decision amending some provisions of Emiri Decision No. 35 of 2014 on the regulation of Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (Kahramaa), distributor of electricity and water, reports Qatar News Agency.

It endorsed a draft Cabinet decision amending the regulation of some administrative units that constitute the Ministry of Energy and Industry and specifies their powers. The session also endorsed a draft Cabinet decision amending the regulation of some administrative units that make up the Ministry of Environment and assigns their powers. The Cabinet approved its draft decision, amending the regulation of some administrative units that make up Kahramaa and specifies its powers.

The session ratified a draft decision by the Minister of Development Planning and Statistics to establish departments at the administrative units that make up the ministry and specifies their powers.

The Cabinet reviewed and took decisions on a draft law amending some provisions of Law No. 40 of 2004 on the guardianship of funds of minors; and a letter by the National Committee on Arms Embargo on the 30th report of the panel’s work from September 1 to December 31, 2014.

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Khor Rori, Salut offer fresh look at history

Oman Daily Observer – 26 February, 2015 – The archaeological sites at Khor Rori, Salut and Ras al Jinz are not only beautiful sites from tourism point of view, but they are of great historical interest for historians and archaeologists. The excavations have thrown enough light on the life and time of the people living in these areas several years ago. Professor Alessandra Avanzini, Director of the Italian Mission to Oman (IMTO) spoke about these sites during her participation in the International Conference on Archaeological Parks and Sites.

“These sites, without doubt, not only are of great beauty, but also of great historical interest. The new archaeological data which has emerged from Khor Rori has changed the historical reconstruction of commercial and cultural contacts between the Mediterranean and India, with the region of Dhofar and the port of Khor Rori at the geographical centre of two worlds.”

“The excavations in Salut changed our previous ideas which had up to then considered the interior of Oman as a peripheral region in relation to the Gulf and Persia, and they have demonstrated that this area was instead an important centre of cultural diffusion which had contacts with the north of India from as early as the second millennium BC,” said Prof Alessandra.

She expressed happiness over her 20 years of acquaintance with Oman and recalled her memories when she was invited to Oman in 1995. “This was when I was invited to visit excavation site at Ras al Jinz and then suggested to visit Salalah to see Khor Rori. As I believe with everyone who visits Khor Rori, I was also immediately entranced by the great beauty of the site, perched as it is on the rim of the Indian Ocean. But it was only gradually that I came to realise its great historical importance.”

Prof Alessandra emphatically said that throughout its long history, from the end of the fourth millennium till today, Oman has always been a bridge between cultures.

“During these 20 years I have had the opportunity of witnessing the transformation of Oman, a transformation 251660which has been carried out with a speed unthinkable in old Europe — new roads, buildings, commercial centres, as well as new gardens, schools, hospitals, museums. And last, but not least for me, as an Italian and music lover, I have had the unforgettable experience of attending concerts with great orchestras and famous conductors in the Royal Opera House Muscat, a theatre with outstanding acoustics. Development in Oman has indeed been carried out in a harmonious way,” she said.

Prof Alessandra admitted that during these 20 years in Oman she changed not only the perspective of her studies, but also her own attitude towards work “and perhaps, in general, even towards life.”

Commenting on her field of research, Prof Alessandra said: “My field of research is the history of Arabia before Islam, and in particular the study of inscriptions. There are very few scholars in the world in this field of research; rather than a community of scholars we are instead a small club perhaps more interested in the opinion of the other members of the club than in disseminating the knowledge of this very interesting history to a wider audience.”

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Key conference on Bahrain tourism held

Gulf Daily News – 26 February, 2015 – Bahrain’s tourism sector organised a forum, “Sustainability of Quality and Services in the Tourism Sector”, to mark Arab Tourism Day.

The discussion focused on the elements of tourism in Bahrain and the vision of the government in developing facilities for recreation and family as well as business and conferences.

Industry and Commerce Minister Zayed Al Zayani stressed on the importance of quality of services in this vital economic sector and to focus on family tourism and create multiple tourist destinations for citizens and visitors.

He also confirmed the importance of media in advertising to promote Bahrain and highlight its heritage and long history and its hospitable people known for their generosity as the foundation of tourism in the kingdom.

He confirmed government’s interests on cruise ships that arrive in Bahrain to provide the highest quality of services that highlight the kingdom’s attractions and reflect the civilised image of the country.

At the end of the forum, the minister announced a tourism award in Bahrain, which will cover all the tourist services. It will be a great opportunity for investors in this sector to compete in providing the best service.

Bahrain, in collaboration with Food and Travel Magazine, will host an event to announce this award and will be published for the first time in the Middle East region before the end of this year.

Other who took part in the forum included luxury travel firm Fox PR owner Lysbeth Fox.

With over 20 years of experience in the luxury, lifestyle and travel sectors, she has created high quality and innovative media campaigns for some of the best known luxury travel companies world-wide. She was also responsible for the repositioning of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

Also taking part was Mark Jankel, one of the UK’s leading chefs. He is executive chef at the Notting Hill Brasserie, founder of the renowned Street Kitchen with his partner Jun Tanaka.

The dialogue was moderated by Arnon Woolfson, an expert in strategic branding industry.

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Qatar to spend $225bn on development projects

The Peninsula – 27 February, 2015 – Thanks to investments in FIFA 2022-linked infrastructure projects, Qatar’s non-hydrocarbons sector has been growing rapidly as part of a economic diversification strategy, according to Administrative Control and Transparency Authority Chairman H E Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah.

The share of the non-oil sector in the GDP by the year-end is expected to cross 50 percent-mark and the energy sector’s contribution to the national economy is likely to be 46.4 percent by year-end, Al Attiyah said.

Real GDP growth this year is expected to be 7. 5 percent, he told the Middle East Conference 2015 ‘Impact of Oil Prices Falling on the Middle East and North Africa’ in London yesterday, reports QNA. He said Qatar hoped to spend $ 225bn over the next five to seven years on projects, including the ongoing new port, rail and sports infrastructure projects,

He said FIFA-related projects were providing huge incentives for investment in non-oil and gas sectors.

Al Attiyah reviewed latest developments in oil prices and their impact on the exporting and importing countries, investment opportunities in Qatar and government efforts in the area of transparency and fight against corruption.

In a statement on the sidelines, he said oil prices had been fluctuating since 1985, when prices dropped significantly and that decline continued until 2000, when the average price of a barrel plunged to $ 18 and then began to climb gradually and reached over $ 115 and then began to fall, and these prices continued at that level for several years.

Al Attiyah said oil prices were not always stable and depended on factors such as the contraction of the global economy and the production of shale oil in the US. He said in the global oil market there was currently a surplus of 2m barrels a day and that was putting pressure on prices, which are going down.

Al Attiyah said fluctuating oil prices were not considered a bad thing and must be handled and adapted, especially in the Gulf and North African countries where the cost of producing a barrel is less than in other countries and producers, especially shale oil production whose cost is high.

He stressed the need for adopting new policy for drafting and controlling budget and financial reforms to cope with the situation.

In his keynote speech before the meeting, Al Attiyah said Qatar’s investments aimed to expand production capacity, covering crude oil, liquefied natural gas, refined products and petrochemicals industry. Qatar’s investments in the energy sector in the past five years exceeded $ 80bn, he said.

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Expo 2020 to feature towering sculptures in the UAE

Gulf Today – 01 March, 2015 – Preparations for the Dubai Expo 2020 took yet another twist on Saturday when the Expo team announced the launch of a one-of-a-kind interactive art showcase and the creation of the new logo for Expo 2020 Dubai.

The art campaign is dubbed ‘For Everyone’ and will consist of 21 towering sculptures designed by leading global, regional and local talent will be unveiled across prominent UAE locations. The sculptures have been conceptualised to express the essence of Expo 2020 Dubai through the powerful medium of art.

Starting from Sunday, March 1st, the ‘For Everyone’ campaign will build awareness about Expo 2020 Dubai and the rich history of World Expos through a series of interactive initiatives, as well as provide a platform for people to collaboratively shape how Expo 2020 Dubai is for them, through dialogue and debate.

In addition, a competition for the country’s budding designers and artists to create the new logo for Expo 2020 Dubai will be launched. Open to UAE residents and nationals, the design competition runs from late March to April with the winning brand unveiled on October 20th 2015 the start of a five year countdown to the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Addressing a well-attended media at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State, Board Representative of the Dubai Expo 2020 Higher Committee and Director General, Bureau Dubai Expo 2020 disclosed that the launch of the ‘For Everyone’ campaign is expected to be an awareness building and engaging series of public activities that will support the UAE and Expo 2020’s participation in Italy’s World Expo – Expo Milano 2015 that’s taking place on May 1st to the end of October.

She said that the UAE will have a country pavilion within Expo 2015, focussing on the country’s efforts to address food and hunger issues and dually promoting Expo 2020 Dubai’s theme and subthemes.

“Our core objective is to build on inclusive ideas that deliver something special. Our World Expo will be for the people and will touch every corner of the UAE’s unique tapestry of culture, innovation and ambition. This is about creating an opportunity for people to envision the future and their role within it,” said Reem Al Hashimy.

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Shurooq to organise ‘Sharjah Food Festival’

Gulf Today – 01 March, 2015 – The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) is preparing to launch the 9th edition of Sharjah Food Festival which will take place from March 25 to April 4, 2015.

The festival will take place in four of the Emirate’s premier leisure and tourism destinations: Al Qasba, Al Majaz Waterfront, Heart of Sharjah, and Al Montazah, after being held in Al Qasba in the last eight years.

The 11-day culinary event will include many exciting activities for all members of the family such as regional and international celebrity chef demonstrations at live cooking stations, cooking contests for adults and youngsters, live entertainment, and the opportunity to sample the best examples of the world’s favourite cuisines.

The festival’s activities will include demonstrations by international celebrity chefs, ice carving and fruit carving competitions and cake decorations alongside many food and recipes related contests, games and quizzes for all members of family.

In addition, there will be celebrities cooking competitions, and other cooking competitions for government employees, schools and universities’ students, live music performance platforms, weekend market, food carts. The festival will host stands for restaurants serving various types of cuisines from around the world.

Speaking on the occasion, Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer, Chief Operating Officer at Shurooq, said: “The Food Festival has been highly successful over the last 8 years and has gained a widespread fame and popularity inside the UAE and abroad, thanks to the great efforts exerted by Shurooq staff to ensure the festival is well organised, and the large scale participation from supporting companies and top chefs who visit Sharjah for the festival from all over the world.

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QTA, QDB to establish Tourism Incubation Zone

The Peninsula – 01 March, 2015 – As part of efforts to promoting local tourism sector, Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) and Qatar Development Bank (QDB) have recently signed an agreement to establish a Tourism Incubation Zone at the newly opened Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC), said a statement yesterday.

The agreement falls under QTA’s initiative of supporting tourism start-ups and scale-ups.

The contract between QTA and QDB will drive QBIC’s mission to develop the next QR100m companies in Qatar by encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs to become private sector investors and address gaps that exist in the country’s tourism value chain, to help position Qatar as a tourism and hospitality hub.

Issa bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi, QTA Chairman, said: “As the entity in charge of planning, regulating, and promoting sustainable tourism in Qatar, QTA closely works with stakeholders from the public and private sectors to support various initiatives aimed to develop a mature and booming tourism sector.”

He added: “One of the ways of achieving this aim is by backing start-ups and scale-ups tourism projects, in line with the objectives of the National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030 aimed to advance Qatar’s tourism industry and help in diversifying the economy and reducing Qatar’s dependence on its hydrocarbon resources.”

Gaps in Qatar’s tourism value chain will be addressed by different means including the incubation of start-ups, scale-ups and the hosting of new international companies setting up in Qatar. Identified projects include a luxury dhow dining cruise company, a luxury coach company, a 4×4 car leasing company, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions (MICE) companies, Events Destination Management companies (DMC), and integrated ticking and mobile information centers.

Abdulaziz bin Nasser Al Khalifa, QDB’s CEO and Chairman of QBIC, said: “We are proud to partner and work closely with our colleagues at Qatar Tourism Authority to implement an initiative that is vital for the advancement of Qatar’s tourism sector and one of starting points towards achieving tourism strategy as part of Qatar 2030 vision and this is in line with QBIC’s main mission of developing the next QR100m companies in Qatar.”

These projects will be developed in collaboration with the local and international private sector and the support of QDB and QBIC. QBIC, through the Corporate Incubator Zone, will provide incubation services to scale ups, help setup of international firms, build capacity of entrepreneurs and business leaders, and support promoting QTA’s business programs directed at SME’s.

Aysha Al Mudahka, CEO, QBIC, said: “We’re delighted to establish the tourism Incubation Zone at QBIC that promote QTA’s objectives. With our purpose-built facilities and entrepreneurial expertise, QBIC is the best place for tourism businesses to get off the ground and flourish.”

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