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11 May, 2015

Muslim MPs up to record 13 in UK Polls

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 11 May 2015 (22 Rajab 1436). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




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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.



Tunisian writer Shukri Mabkhout wins Arabic Booker 2015

Abu Dhabi, Wednesday 6 May 2015 — Tunisian writer Shukri Mabkhout won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his novel The Italian. The $50,000 prize was announced on 6 May in a press conference on the eve of the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates.

The shortlist, announced on 13 February, included Palestinian novelist Atef Abu Saif, Lebanese writer Jana Elhassan, Syrian writer Lina Huyan Elhassan, Tunisia writer Shukri al-Mabkhout, Moroccan writer Ahmed al-Madeeni and Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada. All shortlisted finalists receive $10,000.

This year’s judges panel was headed by the award-winning Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti; Ayman A. El-Desouky, an Egyptian academic; Parween Habib, a Bahraini poet, critic, and media expert; Najim A. Kadhim, an Iraqi critic and academic; and Kaoru Yamamoto, a Japanese academic, translator and researcher.

The IPAF is an annual literary prize supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by TCA Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

The prize was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with the aim of attracting more international attention for high quality Arab fiction. Both the winners and finalists can look forward to increased book sales both within the Arab world and internationally through translation.

Although the prize is often referred to as the Arabic Booker, the two prizes are not connected.

Delivering on its aim to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the prize has guaranteed English translations for all of its winners: Bahaa Taher (2008), Youssef Ziedan (2009), Abdo Khal (2010), joint winners Mohammed Achaari and Raja Alem (2011), Rabee Jaber (2012), Saud Alsanousi (2013) and Ahmed Saadawi (2014).

The Italian, published by Dar Tanweer Tunis, was selected from 180 entries from 15 countries across the Arab World.

The Winner, Shukri Mabkhout, will be granted $50,000 and guaranteed an English translation of his novel, as well as an expected increase in book sales and international recognition.

Mourid Barghouti, head of the judging panel, commented: “The whole of Shukri Mabkhout’s debut novel is as astonishing as its first chapter: piquing the reader’s interest through a mysterious event in the opening scene, the book gradually reveals the troubled history of its characters and a particular period in Tunisia’s history. The hero, Abdel Nasser, is complex and multi-faceted and even the minor characters are convincing as we believe the logic of their actions.

“However, his most striking creation is that of Zina, Abdel Nasser’s wife: skilfully rendered as a blend of confidence and diffidence, harshness and love, strength and fragility. She is a highly individual character who, rather than being pre-conceived, clearly developed during the act of writing.

“The novel brilliantly depicts the unrest both of the small world of its characters and the larger one of the nation, as well as exploring themes of personal desire, the establishment, violation and opportunism. Whilst it lifts the lid on Tunisian society, the book may also surprise many of its Arab readers who may recognise aspects of their societies in its pages too. From the first line to the last, The Italian is a work of art and an important contribution to Tunisian, and Arab, literary fiction.”

Shukri Mabkhout, was born in Tunis in 1962. He holds a state doctorate in Literature from the Arts College of Manouba, Tunisia, and is head of the Manouba University. He is on the editorial board of several refereed journals, including the magazine published by the Institute of Arabic Literature in Tunis (Ibla) and Romano Arabica published by The Centre for Arab Studies in Bucharest, Romania. He is the author of several works of literary criticism. The Italian is his first novel.

Short Synopsis of the novel:

The Italian is Abdel Nasser (nicknamed ‘the Italian’) and his mysterious assault on the Imam, his neighbour, during his father’s funeral procession. The book’s narrator attempts to uncover the motivations behind the attack, re-constructing his friend Abdel Nasser’s troubled history from childhood. It looks at Abdel Nasser’s time as a left-wing student at the University of Tunis, during the final years of the Bourguiba era and the beginning of Ben Ali’s, through to the period of radical changes that subsequently rocked Tunisian society, when the dreams of a generation were torn apart by the fierce struggle between the Islamists and the Left. The novel reveals the mechanisms of control and censorship exercised through the press as well as the fragility of human beings, their secret histories and buried wounds.

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Dubai Expects To Greet 20 Mln Tourists By 2020

DUBAI, May 4 (NNN-Xinhua) — Dubai expects to greet at least 20 million tourists by 2020 to the emirate, tourism and airline sources said on Monday. Dubai regards China as its top source market for more tourists in the future, said Issam Abdul Rahim Kazim, CEO of the Dubai corporation for tourism and commerce marketing (DCTCM).

He made the assertions at the opening press conference for this year’s tourism fair Arabian travel market which starts on Monday.

The tourism official also believed that Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are also among the major source markets.

Kazim told Xinhua that he will soon travel to Beijing for activities of the Dubai week in China, which will start later this week.

The week-long program seeks to introduce industrial sectors of the Gulf Arab emirate to China’s business community and its general public.

In 2014, 13.2 million visitors flocked to “Fly-Buy-Dubai,” as the emirate is nicknamed. The number of Chinese tourists surged by 25 percent year on year, Kazim said.

Commenting on a gradual comeback of Egypt’s tourism, Kazim said Dubai does not take Egypt as a competitor in the tourism sector as the two offers tourists with different kinds of travel and leisure products and services.

Dubai stands for beach holidays, family entertainment, shopping, leisure and business, he added.

He also said the The World Expo 2020 in Dubai, the first Arab city ever to host the world-famed event, will be a major boost to the sheikhdom’s growing tourist markets.

Sheikh Majid Al- Mualla, senior official with Dubai’s state-owned carrier Emirates Airline, said China’s “Belt and Road” initiative will certainly help boost the emirate’s tourism industry.

He added that the influx of visitors from Asia, as well as from growing markets in the West, will compensate the losses due to turmoil in a number of Arab countries.

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Turkish Airlines To Launch Maputo-Istanbul Service In October

MAPUTO, May 8 (NNN-AIM) — Turkish Airlines has announced that it will commence a thrice weekly service between Maputo and the Turkish city Istanbul from the end of October.

The flights will leave Istanbul just after midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and return on the evening of the same days. Passengers will have a short stopover in Johannesburg lasting just over an hour.

The airline is placing itself at the cheaper end of the market. Tickets are on sale for London to Maputo, via Istanbul, for 520 sterling pounds (about 790 US dollars) which is cheaper than flights available on Ethiopian Airlines or Kenya Airways.

Several other companies have flights to and from Maputo, including the Portuguese airline TAP, Qatar Airways, South African Airways and the national airline LAM. Only TAP flies directly to Europe (to Lisbon) in a code-share operation with LAM.

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Qatar PM Inaugurates Economic Forum 2015

DOHA, May 6 (NNN-QNA) — Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah inaugurated Tuesday the Annual macroeconomic forum 2015, hosted by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce.

He said that the world is currently facing complex economic and political challenges, particularly in the Middle East, adding that such challenges call for everyone to work together to overcome those challenges.

He said that the current strength of the Qatari economy in face of international crises calls for continuing to develop the Qatari private sector and diversifying the national economy to reach the goals of Qatar National Vision 2030.

Sheikh Abdullah acknowledged the great economic achievements Qatar made in recent and stressed that it requires further work to continue on the right developmental plan laid out by the Emir.

Moreover, the Prime Minister said that economic crises that hit the global economy one after the other highlighted the importance of having strong analytical capabilities, which is what today’s conference aims to develop.

The state’s authorities are currently cooperating with one another as well as the private sector to create an analytical framework for the future of the Qatari economy, whether the public or private sector. Such planning will also direct the use of resources in more efficient ways.

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“Jordan 2025″ Blueprint To Be Released May 11 – Planning Minister

AMMAN, May 6 (NNN-Petra) –– A blueprint for the Kingdom’s economic and social development, dubbed “Jordan 2025,” will be launched on Monday May 11 under the patronage of King Abdullah II, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Fakhouri announced Tuesday.

The 10-year plan charts the country’s future path as it defines an integrated general framework to govern social and macroeconomic and monetary policies, based on opportunity for all, and guaranteeing consistency, increased competitiveness, productivity and self-reliance towards achieving comprehensive and sustainable development.

The document sets out the roles of all concerned agencies and stakeholders in the economy, first and foremost of them being the private sector “that should play a prominent role in achieving the aspired-for goals.”

“The Ministry will in the next stage focus, in terms of priorities and methods of action, on raising growth rates and sustaining prosperity and competitiveness in full partnership with the private sector and civil society institutions,” Fakhouri told a press conference he held to launch the government website “Khabar” to enhance connectivity with all sectors of Jordanian society and also announce the date to release the blueprint.

He said the government has, through the document, focused on supporting the business and trade environment, competitiveness, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), job-creation and diversification of income sources for Jordanians.

The blueprint, the minister pointed out, will be carried out via the development executive programme in three stages — 2016-2018, 2019-2021 and 2022-2025.

He said the National Council for Competitiveness and Innovation is currently undergoing restructuring to enhance cooperation with the private sector and to bring in a larger number of business establishments.

The Council, he said, will assume the task of overseeing implementation of recommendations on business clusters contained in the “Jordan 2025″ plan to foster their contribution towards accelerating the pace of growth and creating more jobs, especially for the youth.

Commenting on Khabar Website, Fakhouri said it was meant to be a portal open to all citizens and government officials, policymakers, journalists, students, investors, donors and businessmen to enrich public debate and elevate the level of the decision-making process.

The website, he noted, contains studies and over 100 documents covering more than 30 sectors that had been prepared by the public and private sectors and international organisations as reference data.

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Azerbaijan may waive entry visa for Malaysians

Sunday 03 May 2015 – Baku (IINA) – Travelling to Azerbaijan can be expected to be easier for Malaysians, tentatively by the year-end, as there is possibility for the Azeri government to reciprocate Malaysia’s gesture of offering 30-day free visa to Azerbaijanis, BERNAMA reported Sunday.

Malaysian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Roslan Abdul Rahman said the proposal paper was already up and the negotiation is underway between the relevant authorities of the interior ministries of both countries.

“Visa-free for Malaysians to visit Azerbaijan probably can be achieved by the end of this year or the latest by next year,” he told BERNAMA.

Roslan said the people of Azerbaijan could come to Malaysia anytime as Malaysia has decided to grant them a visa-free facility for 30 days.

“Now we are working towards enabling Malaysians to be able to visit Azerbaijan visa-free,” he added.

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Iranian woman with no arms helps others to live with disability

Sunday 03 May 2015 – Tehran (IINA) – Zohreh Etezadossaltaneh was born without arms, but that hasn’t stopped her from excelling in many activities, ranging from painting to table tennis.

Now 52 years old, the retired Iranian teacher has dedicated herself to helping others with similar disabilities live full and satisfying lives. Her story is one of personal triumph and indomitable spirit. “Each body might have some limitations and deficiencies. But if you have a pure, elevated soul I think the body won’t matter,” she said. After receiving her primary education at a special school for disabled children, Etezadossaltaneh moved into the mainstream Iranian education system and eventually earned a degree in psychology, the Associated Press reported.

Now she works with young people with similar disabilities. Among her students is 9-year-old Roohollah Jafar, who lost his hands in an accident and is now learning from Etezadossaltaneh to paint and do calligraphy using his feet. At the start of their lesson, Etezadossaltaneh skillfully massages the boy’s feet with her own feet and guides him on how to hold and control a pen between his toes.

Etezadossaltaneh’s feet have become dexterous enough to hold a pingpong paddle or a paint brush. She has staged multiple exhibitions and supplements her retirement pension by selling some of her artwork. “She works so easily that I’ve totally forgotten she paints with her feet,” said her painting instructor, Parisa Samavatian.

Etezadossaltaneh’s skill at table tennis has led to her being featured in public exhibition matches. But she insists that she wants to be more than just a symbolic figure of inspiration. “I want to play seriously and get a name,” she said. “I want to represent my country in competitions overseas.”

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Plans announced for UK’s first women mosque in Bradford

Monday 04 May 2015 – Bradford, UK (IINA) – British Muslim women have announced on Saturday plans for the first women-only mosque in UK, to offer women a platform to present adequate religious service for women.

Bana Gora, the chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, made the announcement on the first day of the Daughters of Eve conference which involved women from across the country coming together to discuss issues including Sharia Law and the portrayal of Muslims in the media.

The announcement of Bradford Mosque Project (BMP) culminated a yearlong effort to find a suitable facility in the city’s existing mosques.

Gora expects the idea to create some debate, such as whether women would be able to lead prayers in the new mosque. She said for the past year the Council has been looking at facilities in the city’s existing mosques and this led to the BMP.

She said, “The aim of the Bradford Mosque Project is to build a mosque for women, and run by women. It would be the first of its kind in the UK. We hope that this is something we can start in the next couple of months.”

She said the idea had already created some debate such as whether women would be able to lead prayers in the new mosque.

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Sophia University in Tokyo offers halal lunches for Muslim students

Monday 04 May 2015 – Chiyoda War, Tokyo (IINA) – Catering to the needs of a growing number of Muslim students, Sophia University in Tokyo has started offering halal food lunches for sale in the university, bringing relief to Muslim students in the campus, OnIslam reported.

Serving halal meals to students started last month at Sophia’s Yotsuya campus in Chiyoda Ward, which offers about 150 units daily since April 16 for prices ranging between ¥240 (2$) and ¥500, (4.16$).

The fare ranges from hamburgers and fried chicken to curry with rice. The meals are prepared and served in accordance with Islamic law, which stipulates the correct method of draining animal meat of blood and prohibits the consumption of pork products and alcohol.

The decision to offer halal meals followed an earlier one to launch a student exchange program with four Southeast Asian countries last year.

“Since the nationalities of exchange students are becoming more diversified, we want to continue improving the environment for them,” a university spokesman said.

The University of Tokyo was the first to incorporate halal meat into its meal options in 2010 using meat ordered through the association, and four universities in the region have followed suit.

In January 2014, University of Yamanashi has also started offering halal meals in their menus to cater to the needs of the growing number of Muslim students.

Islam began in Japan in 1920s through the immigration of a few hundreds of Turkish Muslims from Russia following the Russian revolution.

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‘Floating Seahorse’ villas to be built off Dubai coast

Tuesday 05 May 2015 – Dubai, (IINA) – Dubai’s coastline could soon be home to “The Floating Seahorse” villas, The National daily reported. The floating home, described as “the first of its kind in the world”, was officially launched by developer the Kleindienst Group at the Dubai international boat show last month.

Each villa, designed and manufactured in Dubai, will have three levels one underwater, one at sea level, and an upper deck with a completely submerged master bedroom and bathroom, said the developer.

They will also be equipped with a kitchen, dining area, and a glass-bottomed Jacuzzi.

In picking the name for the project, Chief Executive Josef Kleindienst said: “The seahorse is an endangered species and we will create an artificial coral reef beneath the luxury retreats which will be a protected area in which seahorses can safely live and breed.”

“Very soon, people will be able to see up-close and personal, the beautiful and elegant Arabian horse of the ocean the seahorse.”

As part of the developer’s plans, 42 of the unique villas will each have their own plot in the Arabian Gulf, included as part of its stake in The World islands project, located 4km from the coast of Dubai.

A launch date has been set for the end of 2016.

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Ottoman-era domes being restored in mataf

Tuesday 05 May 2015 – Makkah (IINA) – The Ottoman-era domes, which were removed two years ago to expand the mataf (circumambulation area) at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, are being restored, according to Sultan Al-Quraishi, director of the projects administration at the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques.

The domes are being restored as per new arrangements that will restrict them to three sites. Work is underway to restore the domes in the northern part, including the mukabiriya (the chamber for the call for prayer). The technical committee for the expansion projects decided not to reinstall the domes on the masa side (the area in the Grand Mosque where pilgrims run between the holy areas of Safa and Marwah as part of the Sa’i ritual.)

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US student groups hold Islam awareness series

Thursday 07 May 2015 – California, (IINA) – Two Muslim student groups are cosponsoring an “Islam Awareness” event series this week, in an effort to highlight what organizer Osama El-Gabalawy has called an overlooked issue, Muslim identity and experience, The Stanford Daily News reported.

The series is held by the Islamic Society of Stanford University in California, (ISSU) and the Muslim student awareness network (MSAN) every year.

In the last few weeks, the groups have held a comedy show, a spoken word performance and panels on women’s issues in Islam and how to create safe spaces.

Upcoming events will include an interfaith Friday prayer and lunch open to the whole community on May 8 and a panel in which converts to Islam will discuss their Muslim identities on May 15. Another panel on Islamophobia in America is still on work.

“I think not too many people are familiar with what it’s like to be Muslim American, or even a lot of the things that affect the Muslim world and the people that live there,” said El-Gabalawy, a member of both groups.

For Kate Bridges-Lyman MA ’15, the ISSU Vice President, the most important thing about the series is getting people from the broader Stanford community to come to ISSU and MSAN events.

In another effort to improve the experience of the Muslim community on campus, the ISSU is pushing for the Office for Religious Life to hire a Muslim spiritual leader, Bridges-Lyman said.

“I think that having an actual Muslim chaplain is something that’s really important to help Muslim students with religion-specific questions, like, what does the Qur’an say about this, or how do I deal with Islamophobia those are issues that people outside the faith might not have a lot of insight into,” Bridges-Lyman said.

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LEAD STORY: Muslim MPs up to record 13 in UK Polls

OnIslam & News Agencies Saturday, 09 May 2015 LONDON – Making a new record in British parliament, a record of 13 Muslim lawmakers have been elected in one of the most unpredictable and extraordinary general elections in Britain, doubling the number from 8 in 2010.

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

“It is great news that there are more Muslim MPs elected than ever before. However, the House of Commons still does not reflect the diversity of the population,” said Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi.

Versi welcomed the appointment of eight Muslim women in the elections, seeing it as a welcome sign that more Muslim women have been elected this year, six Labour, one Conservative and one Scottish National Party (SNP).

The election included the first Muslim SNP MP, Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh, elected in the landslide by the nationalist party in Scotland as well as the first female Muslim Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani.

In Scotland, four Muslim candidates won seats for the first time for the opposition party and added to five who were re-elected

Yet, Anas Sarwar in Glasgow, who was the only sitting Muslim MP for Labour party not re-elected after falling victim of the sweeping SNP victories.

In one of election surprises, mental health campaigner Naz Shah won Bradford West back for Labour with a majority of 11,420 against Respect party leader George Galloway who had won the seat in a landslide bi-election in 2012.

After final count of votes, Labour has nine Muslim MPs, the Tories three and the SNP one. The Liberal Democrats party has only one Muslim MP, despite fielding 24 Muslim candidates all in unwinnable seats.

In May 7 elections, the Tories secured 331 seats, putting Cameron back in Downing Street with the once small gap between the Tories and Labour now gaping.

While the Labour won 232 of the declared results of the 635 seats, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56, Lib Dems eight, Plaid Cymru three, UKIP one, the Greens one and others 19, according to the BBC.

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Ancient wonder of the world ‘Lighthouse of Alexandria’ to be rebuilt

Saturday 09 May 2015 – Cairo (IINA) – The Lighthouse of Alexandria – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – will be rebuilt at its original location after the Egyptian Supreme Antiquities Council has given its approval to the plan, Russia Today (RT) reported.

“Members of the Permanent Committee of the Egyptian Antiquities have approved an old project, submitted previously by the Alexandria governorate, aiming to revive the lighthouse,” Antiquities Council Secretary General Mostafa Amin told Egyptian Youm7 newspaper.

Research and the final construction plan have been submitted and now the final decision rests with Alexandria’s regional government, Amin said.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos Lighthouse, was the first of its kind in the world and remained one of the tallest man-made structures for centuries – 450 feet tall (137 meters).

It was built on the island of Pharos by the Ptolemaic Kingdom in 280 BC after the death of Alexander the Great.

A series of earthquakes in the region caused the structure’s final demise between the 3rd and 12th centuries, the Cairo Post reported, citing the Greco-Roman archaeology professor Fathy Khourshid.

“The original building comprised three stages: a lower square section with a central core, a middle octagonal section and a circular section at its top,” Khourshid said.

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Arabic, Urdu among four most popular languages

Sunday 10 May 2015 – Riyadh (IINA) – Riyadh-based King Abdullah International Center for Arabic Language (KAICAL) has disclosed that Urdu ranked second and Arabic fourth among the major international languages.

Quoting a report, KAICAL said that according to a study on languages, Chinese is the most widely spoken language. However, English occupies the top slot in terms of the number of countries that speak the language, followed by Arabic. The study revealed that although the number of languages in the world stands at 7,102, the European continent has only 286 languages.

A total of 2,301 languages are spoken in Asia, 2,138 in Africa, 1,313 in the Pacific region and 1,064 languages in the Americas. According to the study by Ulrich Ammon, professor of languages at the University of Duesseldorf, about two-third of the world’s population speaks 12 major languages.

Ammon, who took 15 years to complete his project, said that 1.39 billion people speak Chinese, with all its dialects; while 588 million people speak Urdu followed 527 million speakers of English and 467 million Arabic. Spanish is the fifth major international language spoken by 389 million people, followed by Bengali with 250 million speakers. The rest of the languages are: Russian (254 million), Portuguese (193 million), German (132 million), Japanese (123 million), French (118 million) and Italian (67 million), according to the report published by “The Washington Post.” English is spoken in 101 countries, followed by Arabic in 60 countries, French (51 countries), Chinese (33), Spanish (31), Persian (29), German (18), Russian (16), Malay (13) and Portuguese (12 countries).

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Maldives ratifies bill to set up Islamic University

Sun.mv – May 5, 2015 – The Islamic University Bill has been ratified by President Abdulla Yameen. The bill, submitted on behalf of the government by Fonadhoo MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, defines the Islamic University as an independent institution with legal entity status.

It states that once the Act comes into effect, Kulliyyathul Dhiraasathul Islamiyya (Kulliyya) will be upgraded to a university.

The council of Kulliyya will become the council of the university, and the President of the Council of Kulliyya will act as the chancellor of the university until a new chancellor is appointed, states the new Islamic University Act.

The government said earlier that the Maldives is a Muslim country where the main source of the Constitution is Islam, it is therefore imperative to establish a law detailing the purpose, procedures and responsibilities of such an educational institution, which will help strengthen the country’s Islamic character.

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Maldives participates in Arabian Travel Market 2015

Sun.mv – May 5, 2015 – Maldives has participated in the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2015.

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) said that 92 representatives from 47 companies will be taking part in the ATM 2015 held in Dubai, UAE, from 4 to 7 May 2015.

Arabian Travel Market is the travel and tourism event unlocking business potential within the Middle East for inbound and outbound tourism professionals. Tourism destinations from the Middle East and around the world showcase a diverse range of accommodation options, tourism attractions and new airline routes.

The Maldivian delegation is headed by Deputy Minister of Tourism Hussein Lirar, Executive Coordinator of Ministry of Tourism Ibrahim Yusuf, and the Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), Abdulla Ziyath.

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European bank to invest 2.5 billion euros in Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – The European Investment Bank (EIB) plans to invest around 2.5 billion euros in Turkey this year, EIB Vice Chairman Pim Van Ballekom has said in a special interview with Hürriyet Daily News.

“We invested 2.1 billion euros in Turkey last year and we plan (to invest) 2.5 billion euros this year. But everyone is focusing on figures. For me, this is less important. Speed matters much more. It all depends on the quality of the projects. We only finance 50 percent of a project. We always need other finances as well. If the project is good, it is no problem for it to find financing,” he said.

The EIB has financed around 11 billion euros in Turkey over the last five years, according to the bank’s figures. This is the highest level since the bank started its operations in Turkey in 1963 and represents a yearly average of 2 billion euros, more than a quarter of the bank’s non-EU financing around the globe.

“The bank was originally an infrastructure bank, so one-third of our portfolio is infrastructure, also in Turkey,” said Van Ballekom.

“We do one-third in healthcare and one-third on SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). We do it along with the commercial sectors in any country, and Turkey is not an exception,” he added.

The EIB and the European Commission launched a new generation of financial instruments to help innovative companies access finance more easily in 2014. In the framework of new program, named InnovFin, the bank will make more than 24 billion euros available to finance support research and innovation in Europe by 2020.

The InnovFin, EU Finance for Innovators, program is just for European Union members, but Turkey is an exception, as it is included in the program even through it is not part of the union, another EIB official recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The EIB will be providing loans and guarantees from 25 million to 300 million euros directly to European and Turkish companies to foster innovation, according to the bank’s website.

According to Van Ballekom, Turkey has a very good track record economically and the country has overcome economic problems far faster than many countries in the European Union.

“From that basis, to remain at such a high level of economic growth is not possible. There is always a curve in the growth rates due to elections or weather conditions,” he said, adding reform processes and structural measures are part of a continuous process.

“That is not the case, for example, in Germany to say we did what we had to 10 years ago and that is enough. It is not the case. This is a gradual process. We do not have the luxury to say we’ve done the reforms and let’s expect a dramatic rise in the investment inflow. Competitiveness rules are changing constantly, but the Turkish government is flexible enough to get the answers. We can concentrate on the reforms after the elections,” he said.

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Nigerian first African to curate Venice Biennale art fair

VENICE – Associated Press – A Nigerian art critic and museum director was the first African to curate the Biennale contemporary art fair that opened May 9 for its seven-month run, while female artists are representing more countries than ever in national pavilions – trends seen as an informal rebalancing in the art world.

There’s Joan Jonas for the United States, Fiona Hall for Australia, Irina Nakhova for Russia, Sarah Lucas for Great Britain, Chiharu Shiota for Japan, Pamela Rosenkranz for Switzerland and Camille Norment for Norway. And those women are all from the more established Biennale participants in the Giardini, around one-third of the 89 national pavilions.

The prominence of women in the national pavilions – which along with the main show curated by Okwui Enwezor comprise the 56th International Art Exhibition – may be coincidence. Still, the force of the female numbers is gaining notice as somehow tapping into a zeitgeist and challenging the notion of the art world as being male dominated.

“I think it is wonderful so many women are representing countries this year. I think it is great,” Jonas said, sitting outside the U.S. pavilion – where she had just been approached by a woman who thanked her for giving hope to female artists.

Jonas, 78, received special mention by the jury Saturday for “an artist of significant oeuvre and influence,” while the top honor Golden Lion for best national participation was awarded to the Republic of Armenia for its pavilion presenting works by the Armenian diaspora on the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The Golden Lion for best artist in the international exhibit went to U.S. artist Adrian Piper, for her installation of hospitality desks inviting participants to commit to one of three rules, including “I will always be too expensive to buy.”

Jonas started her artistic career as a sculptor in the 1960s before moving into performance art and becoming an early adapter to video in the 1970s. She said that her participation in the Biennale would bring “a lot more attention to my work” – while adding that she always felt supported.

“I am an artist’s artist. From the very beginning, I had an audience. From the very beginning, I felt appreciated,” she said. “I couldn’t continue to work like this if I didn’t have the support of my fellow artists, and then many curators, over the years.”

Her show, titled “They Come to Us Without a Word,” comprises four galleries with thematic compositions of video installations, prints and objects that explore natural phenomena taking inspiration from passages by Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness. The pavilion’s central rotunda provides the theater for a fifth gallery, a study of light and reflection featuring Murano-made mirrors and a crystal chandelier.

At the brand new Australian pavilion, the first new building in Venice in 20 years, Hall’s show is its own natural history museum – a comment on colonialism and capitalism made through galleries of driftwood taxidermy collected from New Zealand beaches, hanging grass masks with scraps of camouflage, and a collection of rare and extinct animals woven from desert grass and other materials according to Aboriginal tradition.

“I’ve been very aware of carrying the Australian banner. And Australia wants to pass muster,” Hall said, while also musing that 50 years ago there would have been few women at the Biennale.

At the nearby Arsenale, which hosts part of the main group exhibition, Nigerian-born Enwezor does not play up being the first African curator at the Biennale. His career has focused more on periods, namely art of the 20th and 21st centuries, than geographies. His show, “All the World’s Futures,” is globally inclusive with artists from 53 nations, with no attempt to represent African art as such.

Enwezor has curated at least five other major international group shows, including documenta in Germany, and founded a journal of contemporary African art. Since 2011, he has been director of Haus der Kunst in Munich.

He said he has spent his 25-year career “working with artists across every cultural context. I am interested in their ideas and concepts, whether they are Indian, African, European, Asian, whatever. In that sense it is quite unremarkable.”

On the other hand, he conceded that the Biennale “for better or for worse is an exclusive club,” noting that “not that many female curators” had been tapped in its 120-year history. “To be part of this historical trajectory, to be part of an important aspect of our discipline,” he said, “that is deeply meaningful.”

Some of the African artists chosen to participate in Enwezor’s Biennale touted its significance.

“I grew up in Malawi,” said artist Samson Kambalu. “For me this is the first African curator, and the first time ever the world is looking at African art on an equal level.”

The contemporary art Biennale, held once every two years, runs through Nov. 22 at the Giardini, Arsenale and locations throughout Venice.

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Ancient theater of Magarsus ready to open

ADANA – Anadolu Agency – The theater of the ancient city of Magarsus, located in the southern province of Adana’s Karataş district, is getting ready to host culture and art events soon. Excavation work has been continuing in the ancient city for two years.

Magarsus dates back to the 5th century B.C. and its theater is 2,500 years old. The excavations have unearthed a large section of the theater, which is a typical Hellenistic-era theater.

The sea-view ancient theater, which is 150 meters in length, 30 meters in width and has a capacity of some 3,000 people, will serve culture and art events when the work is completed and the theater will once again open its curtains after 2,500 years.

Adana Culture and Tourism Director Sabri Tari said excavations had been ongoing at many historical sites around Adana in recent years, and for the last two years, a large part of the ancient theater of Magarsus had come to light.

“This year the theater will be completely unearthed, including the stage part, and opened to tourism.

Although the city was magnificent and important enough to print its own money, today only its city walls and theater survive. But when you stroll around the streets of the district, you can find the traces of Magarsus in the gardens and walls of almost every house. The theater, which has been unearthed during excavations, is as big and magnificent as the Ephesus, Side and Aspendos theaters,” Tari said, adding the theater would open very soon.

“When the work is done, the theater will regain its heyday, hosting new plays and welcoming audiences. You will close your eyes in its seats and hear the music of a play or an orchestra on the stage. Our next goal is to organize an event in Magarsus in the coming months to promote the ancient theater to the world.”

Magarsus was the religious center of Mallus, which was one of the most important cities of the Cilicia civilization, famous for its ancient temples.

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Turkish low cost carrier eyes new routes in Russia, Middle East, North Africa

ISTANBUL – Reuters – Turkey’s low cost carrier Pegasus wants to secure licenses to serve new routes, particularly in Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, company CEO Sertaç Haybat has said.

“We could be growing slower than we want due to the limited frequency distribution. So we are closely following growth opportunities in neighboring countries and places elsewhere,” Haybat told journalists.

He added that Pegasus has been in talks for a joint venture in Kazakhstan, while similar demands also come from Africa.

“We see great potential in Russia and Central Asian countries, but we cannot realize this potential. This is also the case in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan or Lebanon. There is huge potential, but the limited traffic rights have been obstructing our potential,” Haybat said.

The company’s primary target is to receive licenses for flights to new routes in Russia, the Middle East and North Africa next year, he revealed.

“It is, however, not clear how the traffic rights will be distributed in Turkey. We never get what we want, so we cannot be selective in picking up new routes,” he said.

Pegasus currently has flights to and from 91 points, 60 of which are overseas. Haybat said another factor limiting the company’s growth potential is Istanbul’s airport capacity.

“The third airport is set to come online by 2017. Istanbul’s air traffic will be deadlocked if any delay happens in the opening of the airport … Therefore, Atatürk Airport should not be closed and the capacity of Sabiha Gökçen Airport should be extended, in addition to making the third airport come online,” he added. Atatürk Airport, located on Istanbul’s European side, is set to close once the huge under-construction third airport is opened.

Haybat said Pegasus Airlines had increased its passenger numbers by 10.8 percent in the first three months of the year from the same period of 2014. “We expect to close the year with an increase in passenger numbers at around 15 percent,” he said.

The company carried a total of 19.74 million passengers throughout 2014. Pegasus Airlines now has 61 airplanes and this figure will increase to 65 by the end of 2015, Haybat said, adding that future orders will depend on whether frequency problems can be solved.

“We want to secure 25 optional airplanes, but we do not know how much frequency or what traffic routes we will have. This makes it difficult for us to make a decision about our airplane acquisitions,” he said.

The Pegasus CEO added that the company would be taking possession of a total of 75 airplanes from Airbus by 2022, but it has no plans to buy wide bodies at the moment.

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Turkish ministry offers investment incentives to 90 tourism facilities

ANTALYA – Anadolu Agency – The Economy Ministry has given investment incentives to 90 touristic facility projects in the first quarter of the year.

The 90 projects, 69 of which are new, benefited from the ministry’s investment incentives in the January-March period, according to data compiled by the Touristic Hoteliers Association of the Mediterranean (AKTOB).

The total budget for the investments was around 1.9 billion Turkish Liras, according to the data.

The Mediterranean resort of Antalya took the lions share, with 11 projects worth around 484 million liras. Antalya was followed by Istanbul, Aydın, Konya, Trabzon, İzmir, Muğla, Nevşehir and Ankara.

Some 18,585 new beds will be added to the overall capacity through the new investments encouraged by incentives in taxes and social security payments and 4,249 new jobs will be created, according to the data.

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Turkish Airlines to fly to two new destinations in eastern Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – Turkish Airlines is set to commence flights to the country’s first artificial island airport in the Black Sea region, along with the much-anticipated new airport in southeastern Turkey, thus increasing its total nationwide destinations to 46.

Turkey’s national flag-carrier announced that it will begin scheduled flights to Ordu-Giresun Airport from Istanbul on May 22, with flights also in the other direction. The number of weekly flights will be increased from four to five in June, the statement added.

The airline will also fly to the southeastern province of Hakkari, with daily mutual flights from Istanbul starting on May 26.

The Ordu–Giresun Airport on the Black Sea, which is the world’s first such facility outside of the Far East, is scheduled to be opened on May 22, with the attendance of both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The construction, which started in June 2011, cost around 360 million Turkish Liras ($132.6 million). Around 35 million tons of rocks were used to fill in a 1.8 million square meter area of sea.

The construction of the Hakkari Yüksekova Airport started five years ago, in a region where a decades-long armed conflict has taken place between the Turkish military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

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Kazakhstan builds new railways

2 May – Central Asia Online – ASTANA -– New ribbons of rail are stretching across the Kazakhstani landscape. They’re part of an ambitious economic policy that President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced in his annual address to the nation, which he delivered last November, two months early.

Nazarbayev called for construction of infrastructure, including railways. “We must create such a transport network that car, railway and air lines stretch to all directions from Astana,” he said in his speech, according to the government press office.

“We will invest US $20 billion (3.7 trillion KZT) in developing Kazakhstan’s infrastructure through 2020,” Zhenis Kasymbek, first vice minister for investment and development, said at a March 30 business forum in Astana.

Construction in Zhambyl Province has begun on the second track of the Shu-Almaty railway. The existing railway is 306km long. Heavy freight traffic and the chance to shorten the route by building a straighter line prompted officials to order construction.

The project calls for 110km of railway and about 100 structures, including 22 bridges. “Building the second track of the Shu-Almaty railway is an economic project of historic importance,” Kazakhstan Railways President Askar Mamin said at the opening ceremony of the construction project April 5 in Shu District, Zhambyl Province.

“Introducing a second track will increase the (annual) carrying capacity of the line by more than threefold — from 25m to 80m tonnes — and cut the freight transport time in half,” the Zhambyl Province press office said in a statement.

In addition, building a railway creates jobs in construction, repair and the production of building materials. Up to 1,500 Zhambyl residents will be employed to build the new line.

“I am certain that building the second Shu-Almaty railway will be a positive stimulus for the country’s economy,” said Zhambyl Province Akim (Governor) Karim Kokrekbayev at the opening ceremony.

“Recently, part of the Shu-Lugovaya railway was electrified,” Jamilya Safiullina, a train conductor with 12 years’ experience, told Central Asia Online. “We are seeing new lines being built and train transport time decreasing. This benefits passengers and freight shippers alike.”

One project under consideration is a high-speed railway between Astana and Almaty. But that idea is far off in the future.

“First of all, it’s a very expensive project,” Nazarbayev’s press office quoted him as saying in 2013. “Secondly, this railway will need constant attention and repairs.”

If built, that line would stretch 1,011km but would deliver passengers to their destination in only a little more than five hours.

At the same time, Kazakhstan is implementing a plan to make itself a Eurasian transport and logistics hub, according to a Kazakhstan Railways statement in March.

The work includes the beginning of construction of the Arkalyk-Shubarkol and Jezkazgan-Beineu railways and the development of the Khorgos Free Economic Zone.

“This (work) will allow us to create new logistic links for carrying freight across Kazakhstan between Europe and the Persian Gulf,” Mamin said in April in Aktau Province.

“We’re planning to increase the amount of (annual) transit traffic on our railway from 17.5m tonnes today to 36m tonnes by 2020,” said Sergei Anashkin, vice president of KTZExpress, a subsidiary of Kazakhstan Railways, in March.

Kazakhstan Railways is predicting a boom in trade nationwide, saying that it’ll grow from US $800 billion (148.8 trillion KZT) last year to US $1.2 trillion (223.3 trillion KZT) by 2020. Freight passing through Kazakhstan to and from Europe is expected to grow to 170m tonnes per year by 2020. The current level was not reported.

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Muslimah Fashion Trade Fair in Brunei

Saturday, 09 May 2015 BruDirect.com BERAKAS, BRUNEI-MUARA: Hijab (headscarves) are the current trend among female muslims, in view of today’s massive collection of choices available. Members of the public, especially among the women, now has the chance to get their hands on the diverse products available at the Muslimah Fashion Trade Fair currently ongoing at the International Convention Centre in Berakas.

The Muslimah Fashion Trade Fair will be held for three days until Sunday. Almost two hundred booths will be featuring a vast collection of muslimah fashion clothing, telkong or female prayer attire, kain songket and not forgetting also men’s apparel, of local and international brands.

The event will be gathering local Bruneian and overseas entrepreneurs, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey. It is jointly organised by Syarikat Peruncitan Busana Muslimah and International Event Organiser, W-O-J Wealth Sendirian Berhad.

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Uganda Tourism Sector to Hold Marathon in Mburo National Park

East African Business Week (Kampala) – 3 May 2015 – Explore Africa Safaris, a Tour and Travel Company based in Uganda with operations in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi in partnership with Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Uganda Wildlife Authority are organizing a marathon in Lake Mburo National Park as a way of promoting domestic and tourism tourism.

The marathon which is the first of its kind will be held on July 19th 2015 in Lake Mburo national park with an aim of raising funds to conserve the environment but also as away of giving back to communities living around the national park.

While speaking at a press conference to announce the development, Francis Mugoga, the Managing Director Explore Africa safaris said the marathon is another effort by Uganda to make tourism a main source of revenue considering the fact that Uganda is graced fully with a lot of nature resources which are not yet exploited.

“We as tourism agents are doing all we can to make sure that domestic tourism is promoted. This event will be attended by all kind of people from all over Uganda and east Africa. We are going to do this every year and the money got from it will be used to conserve the environment especially national parks. We encourage Ugandans to come in big numbers for this event because it is going to be unforgettable event,” Mugoga said.

Mugoga also assured Ugandans of security saying they selected Mburo National Park for the marathon because it doesn’t have a lot of fierce animals like lions and leopards and in addition, Uganda police and game ranchers will be standing beside the road to make sure that nothing wrong happens to the runners.

UTB CEO Steven Assimwe said the event is a necessary move towards promoting Uganda National Parks which at the moment are not well conserved.

“We have ten national parks and 12 game reserves in Uganda but only 6 of them are generating revenue to support the others. If we get promoting national parks, we will see more revenue coming in which will be helpful to government and Uganda as a nation. As Uganda tourism board we will continue to support private sector that bring any initiative that promotes tourism,” He said.

The marathon will combine exciting game drives, nature walks, lake cruises on Lake Mburo, great foods and people from all over the world.

Participates will also have an option of heading to queen Elizabeth National park for another experience of game drive, lake cruises on Kazinga channel and checking out the tree climbing lions found nowhere else in the world except in Uganda -queen Elizabeth and lake Manyara national park in Tanzania.

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Sail Tomini 2015 expected to boost tourism

8 May 2015 Palu, Central Sulawesi (ANTARA News) – Lore Lindu National Park spokesman Achmad Yani expressed optimism that the upcoming Sail Tomini 2015 can increase tourist arrivals in Central Sulawesi province.

“We are conducting maintenance work on several facilities at the national park in order to attract as many tourists as possible during the international maritime event of Sail Tomini,” Yani revealed here on Friday.

He noted that infrastructure and supporting facilities at the Lore Lindu National Park are being improved to draw more domestic and foreign tourists, as well as the participants of Sail Tomini.

The Lore Lindu National Park, a huge forested protected area in the districts of Donggala and Poso, was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and was formed through the unification of three existing reserves: the Lore Kalamanta Nature Reserve, the Lake Lindu Recreation and Protection Forest, and the Lore Lindu Wildlife Reserve.

The park, which is located south of the town of Palu, covers an area of 2,180 square kilometers, with altitudes ranging between 200 and 2.3 thousand meters above sea level.

Apart from its rich wildlife and picturesque landscapes, the Lore Lindu National Park contains over 400 granite megaliths in the Bada Valley, varying in size from just a few centimeters to 4.5 meters tall, the largest found in Indonesia.

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Indonesia to expand market for its products in Poland

6 May 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia is expanding its market share for its domestic products in the Polish market, where the two countries have potential in terms of trade.

“The main target of Indonesia in Poland is to expand its market share for its domestic products to compete with its competitors from the ASEAN countries, whose products already dominate Polands Mariwilska wholesale market center,” Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel said in a press release received here on Tuesday.

Gobel stated after a bilateral meeting with Minister of Economy of Poland Janusz Piechocinski.

“Indonesia’s trade value against Poland shows a positive value in the last five years, with an increase of 9.3 percent each year. Indonesia will open Indonesian Trade Promotion Center (ITPC) in Poland,” he said.

Another issue discussed in the meeting was the developments of the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, as well as economic partnership through the framework of Indonesia-European Union Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (I-EU CEPA).

The trade mission is to achieve the target of a three-fold increase in exports, where for Poland in 2019 the non oil exports are expected to amount to US$ 1.1 billion.

The minister brought 18 export companies of various sectors, namely textiles and textile products, tires, palm oil, coffee, fish products, and agricultural products to enter the Polish market.

The business luncheon this year was the biggest in the last five years because some 40 businessmen from Indonesia met with 70 trading partners from Poland.

Overall, the trade ministry has set itself the target of exporting non-oil commodities worth about US$ 2.28 billion to Italy, hoping the exports to increase to US$ 8.27 billion in 2019.

Indonesian non-oil exports to Italy in 2014 amounted to US$ 2.28 billion, while the Indonesian non-oil exports to Italy in the period from January to February 2015 reach US$ 346 million.

Indonesias main export commodities to Italy in the January-February 2015 period is palm oil with a share of 40.3 percent, coal with a share of 9.8 percent, a coffee with a share of 6.6 percent, t-shirt with a share of 3.8 percent, and leather shoes with a share of 3.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Indonesian imports from Italy in 2014 amounted to US$ 1.72 billion, and in January-February 2015 amounted to US$ 218 million.

The main products of Indonesias imports from Italy are dishwasher with a share of 13.8 percent, taps for pipes with a share of 7.9 percent, and tobacco processing machine with a share of 3.8 percent of Indonesias total imports from Italy.

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Indonesia corporate meetings event will increase tourist visits

8 May 2015 Surabaya (ANTARA News) – The 8th Indonesian Corporate Meetings and Incentives Travel Mart (ICMITM) being held in Surabaya, East Java province, is expected to increase tourist arrivals, an official of the Ministry of Tourism said.

“The ICMITM began on May 7 and will go on till May 9. It aims to optimize business opportunities in the tourism sector, especially in the fields of Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE),” Director General of Tourism Markets of the Ministry of Tourism Esthy Reko Astuty stated here on Friday.

She added that the number of participants at the event increased by the year.

“This year, some 500 multinational companies are participating in the event,” she affirmed, adding that 30 percent of them were newcomers comprising companies and providers of MICE facilities from across Indonesia.

“Such companies include hotel industries, meeting room providers, transportation service companies, tour and travel agents, theme park management, as well as team building and event organizers,” Astuty noted.

Moreover, she hopes that the annual event is not held only as a business meeting but promotes East Java as a MICE destination. Also, there are several MICE venues in Surabaya that can accommodate thousands of people.

The Indonesian Ministry of Tourism expects 12 million tourist arrivals in 2015. “Of this number, we hope 3 percent will be from MICE companies,” she remarked.

In addition, Head of Card Business of Bank Danamon Indonesia Lukas Djoesianto said that Indonesian tourism was improving through the MICE sector.

“The ICMITM provides an opportunity for companies to meet and interact with leading tourism business players, both domestic and foreign,” he pointed out.

Djoesianto added that the meeting will help the national tourism industry continue to grow to actively boost Indonesias economy, by providing job opportunities for the community, for instance.

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Indonesia to implement free visa policy for Japanese

4 May 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian government will implement a free visa regulation for Japanese people visiting Indonesia as part of efforts to boost economic relations.

“The Japanese government has requested that we immediately implement a free visa regulation for their people because Indonesian people enjoy the facility in Japan. Currently, we are processing the free visa regulation, and we promise them the service (free visa) in June,” Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said here on Monday.

According to Kalla, the free visa regulation can increase bilateral cooperation, particularly in the trade and economic sectors.

The vice president met with a delegation from the Japanese parliament in his office in Jakarta to discuss further potential cooperation between the two countries.

During the discussion, the delegation urged the Indonesian government to implement visa duty exemption for their people.

“We also discussed ways to boost relations between Indonesia and Japan, particularly in the economic and trade sectors,” Kalla noted.

The Japanese government has eliminated visa charges for Indonesian people who have electronic passports, or e-passports, which have been listed in the Japanese Embassy and the Consulate in Jakarta, Bali, Medan and Surabaya since December 2014.

The Japanese government provides free visa to Indonesians who visit the country for tourism purposes for 15 days. The e-passport eases the identification process of citizens who visit the destination country and minimizes risks of falsification of passports.

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Egyptian museum to host conference on handling Tutankhamun collection

Al-Ahram – Saturday 9 May 2015 – The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is to host tomorrow, Sunday, its first international conference, to discuss and select the best method to transport and display the treasured collection of King Tutankhamun from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the GEM.

GEM Director General Tarek Tawfik said the conference will host experts and curators from 15 countries at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) for five days where they would present scientific assessments of methods to guarantee safe transportation, effective conservation and appropriately display the Tutankhamun collection at the GEM.

The conference is held in the wake of reports published early this year on the inappropriate restoration of the beard of the boy king’s golden mask, now exhibited at the Egyptian Museum. Restorers used a simple epoxy resin to reattach the beard after it was dislodged during moving.

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Muscat’s Royal Opera House welcomes Iran’s Rastak ensemble

Reuters , Saturday 9 May 2015 – The sharp sound of a sorna, an Iranian oboe-like instrument, pierced the silence of Muscat’s Royal Opera House. Tandem drums drove an urgent rhythm, and a chorus of voices rose in volume to fill the auditorium.

As other Gulf Arab countries fret over what they see as a growing Iranian military influence, hundreds of Omanis turned out on Thursday to welcome the 14 members of the Rastak ensemble to their capital and drink in the sounds of Iranian folk music.

“The sheer presence of Rastak is a celebration of our close ties with Iran. It’s a neighbouring country and we have thousands of years of relations,” the Royal Opera House’s Nasser Al Taee said, highlighting Oman’s determined neutrality in an increasingly troubled region.

The sorna player, a young and playful man who would pick up half a dozen instruments during the evening, skipped to the front of the stage and urged the audience, a mix of Omanis, Iranians, Indians and Westerners, to clap along.

Rastak, founded in 1997 by a group of music students in Tehran, has brought its energetic brand of Iranian folk music to some of the world’s leading venues including London’s Barbican, but Thursday’s one-night performance was its first in the Gulf.

Tar player Siamak Sepehri, who leads the group, said he firmly believed music could help normalise Iran’s relations with its neighbours. But Rastak’s primary mission is to reconcile the diversity of Iran’s own musical traditions.

“We are trying to combine the regional sounds that are well known with those that are less well known… to create both a generational and geographical bridge in Iranian music,” he said.

Sepehri, born in Tehran, has roots in the southern city of Shiraz and the northern province of Mazanderan bordering the Caspian sea. Rastak’s members can trace their heritage to at least 17 of Iran’s 31 provinces, he said.

Farzad Moradi, the group’s Kurdish lead singer, said Iranian regional folk music could draw parallels with many neighbouring countries including Oman, but often at the expense of a definitive Iranian sound.

“Iran is a very large and diverse country… One of the challenges we face is that musical groups in each region typically work within their own musical tradition,” he said.

In Muscat, the fruit of Rastak’s omnivorous appetite was a uniquely varied sound: soulful laments blended into joyous dances and insistent rhythms supported lines of improvisation on a baffling array of traditional and modern instruments.

Cries of “encore” went up in Farsi and English, and Iran’s accidental ambassadors took to the stage once more.

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Smuggled artefacts to return to Egypt from Switzerland

Ahram Online, Saturday 9 May 2015 – A collection of 32 ancient Egyptian artefacts is to return back to Egypt in June after Egypt successfully asserted ownership of the objects.

Ali Ahmed, director of antiquities repatriation, told Ahram Online that the objects included limestone and wooden statues as well as a collection of limestone blocks from chapels across different pharaonic periods.

The objects were seized by the Swiss police within the framework of a bilateral agreement between Egypt and Switzerland that prohibits the illegal import and export of cultural properties.

Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty said the objects are to be handed over to Egypt’s ambassador to Switzerland at the Federal Office for Culture in Bern during an event to mark tenth anniversary of the passage into Swiss law of a prohibition on illegal trade in cultural property.

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Azerbaijani chovgan game exhibited at UNESCO

08 May 2015 – TODAY.AZ – An exhibition on Azerbaijani national Chovgan game, which was included to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, was opened at UNESCO headquarters.

Chovgan is a local form of polo in which teams of five try to hammer a leather or wooden ball into a goal while being serenaded with local folk music known as Janghi.

A presentation of the book “Karabakh horses” written by French writer Jean-Louis Gouraud was also held at UNESCO headquarters.

Alfredo Pérez, the assistant director-general for culture of UNESCO thanked the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Permanent Representation of Azerbaijan to UNESCO for organizing such event.

He also praised the role of Azerbaijan in implementing UNESCO Convention on protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Anar Karimov, permanent representative of Azerbaijan to UNESCO said Chovgan played an important role in formalizing the culture of the country`s people and identity.

Karimov stressed the support of the President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, UNESCO and ISESCO goodwill ambassador, Mehriban Aliyeva, in promoting the values of Azerbaijan.

Jean-Louis Gouraud said that Azerbaijan’ success in including Chovgan game in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage was motivated by an imperious need to safeguard it. The author also noted that the Azerbaijani Government attached much importance to protecting Karabakh horses.

There are two teams in Chovgan, consisting of five to six players each plus one odd player. If there are five players in the team, three of them act as attackers and two as fullbacks. And if there are six players, three of them act as attackers, two as fullbacks and one as a halfback. Regardless of the composition of the team there is no goalkeeper. The ball can be stopped while in movement by any part of the player’s body but strikes must be done only with a special club.

Duration of the game is 30 minutes (two 15-minute half-times). An amateur game lasts 20 minutes (10+10). The break-time is 10 minutes, after which the teams change sides.

In case of a draw, extra-time follows (no more than 8 minutes) and penalty kicks may follow. If the score is still a draw, the winner is determined by drawing lots.

UNESCO admits that Azerbaijani traditions are not only the country’s wealth, but also is very important for mankind. Originally, the UNESCO World Heritage list was reserved for buildings, monuments and sites of natural beauty. But in 2003, UNESCO agreed to start adding “intangible heritage”, and since then a number of more eccentric choices have been added to the list.

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Turkmenistan Airlines expands networks

08 May 2015 – TODAY.AZ – Turkmenistan Airlines (Turkmenhowayollary) is preparing to open new flights from Ashgabat to Milan (Italy), Urumqi (China), Tbilisi (Georgia), Samara and Kazan (Russia).

The company is planning to increase its number of flights from the international airport of Turkmenbashi to Istanbul (Turkey) and open regular flights from the seaside city of Aktau (Kazakhstan), the newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan reported.

“Turkmenhowayollary” significantly expanded the geography of its regular international flights. Thus, Boeing 737-800 has been flying on the route: Ashgabat-Paris-Ashgabat since the end of last year as well as to Ankara (Turkey) and Riga (Latvia).

On the Boeing-777-200LR the airline has run flights to the capital of Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur, where the citizens of Turkmenistan benefit from a visa-free entry into the country, Milan (Italy), Great Britain, Germany, Georgia, Russia and others.

An agreement concluded this year between the Turkmenistan Airlines and the Russian airline “Sibir” will significantly expand the geography of air travel for Turkmen citizens. From now on residents and guests of Turkmenistan will be able to buy tickets in Ashgabat for all flights that “Siberia” serves from Moscow to any city of the Russian Federation, where this airline flies: Novosibirsk, Abakan, Anapa, Astrakhan, Bratsk, Vladikavkaz, Volgograd, Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk, Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Mineralnye Vody and many others.

In addition, it is now possible to purchase tickets to Baku (Azerbaijan), Chisinau (Moldova), Madrid (Spain), Lisbon (Portugal) and Dusseldorf (Germany).

Turkmen pilots associated the development of passenger air travel with the comfortable liners of the new generation – Boeing 777-200 LR, Boeing-737-800, Boeing 737-700. They will gradually replace the old passenger aircraft, which consists exclusively of American cars since 2000.

The State National Service “Turkmenhowayollary” was founded in May 4, 1992. “Turkmenhowayollary” has completely updated its fleet in the years since Turkmenistan independence and replaced all its Soviet aircraft equipment and acquired: Boeing-767/300, Boeing-757/200, Boeing-737/800, Boeing-737/700, Boeing-737/300, Boeing-717/200, Challenger-605, Hawker-125/1000, in accordance with data published on the official website of the Turkmen Airlines.

Currently Turkmenistan Airlines operates regular flights to 15 cities in 11 countries in Europe and Asia: Abu Dhabi, Almaty, Amritsar, Bangkok, Birmingham, Delhi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Kiev, London, Minsk, Moscow, Beijing, Istanbul, St. Petersburg and also on domestic routes between the capital and regional centers in Turkmenistan, said the official website of the Turkmen Airlines.

Turkmenistan Airlines transported more than two million passengers and about 16,000 tons of cargo in 2014.

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Nizami Ganjavi Center’s activity recognized at Oxford University

07 May 2015 – TODAY.AZ – The activity of the Scientific Center of Azerbaijan and Caucasian Studies named after Nizami Ganjavi at Oxford University has been appraised at an event held at the Baku branch of the Moscow State Lomonosov University this week.

The event was attended by state and governmental officials, MPs, scientific and art figures.

Rector of the Baku branch of Moscow State University, Professor Nargiz Pashayeva said the aim of the event was to present another stage of the program on the establishment of the Scientific Center at the Oxford University.

The official website of the Center has been placed in the site of Oxford University, Pashayeva said, adding that the Center had been officially recognized. She congratulated the event participants.

Noting that Oxford University gained first place for its scientific research among the world universities, she said the scientific research by the University’s Oriental Studies department is an example to other higher such establishment in the world.

A memorandum on the establishment of the Scientific Center of Azerbaijan and Caucasian Studies named after Nizami Ganjavi at the Oxford University was signed on October 28, 2013.

Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, Elchin Afandiyev and President of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Akif Alizade stressed on the importance of the Center in popularizing Azerbaijan in the world.

The Center is involved in research, academic exchange, scientific and practical conferences, scholarship programs, implementation of cultural projects. One of the functions of the Center is to collect scientific information, resource and library fund related to Azerbaijan.

The popularization of science and public figures of Azerbaijan through the translation and publication of their work in English, French and German is an important part of the Center’s activity. It also develops educational and knowledge-based activities on the content of the program center for the 2015-2020 years.

Within five years, the program is planned to prepare three graduate students, undergraduates and translate the work of several Azerbaijani scientists into foreign languages.

The Nizami Ganjavi Program for the study of ancient languages and cultures of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus was established in 2013 when Professor Robert Hoyland came to Azerbaijan to visit archaeological sites and was invited to meet with the rector of the Baku branch of Moscow State University.

Their shared interest in education and research resulted in a joint decision to work towards the establishment of a Center in Oxford that could provide resources for students and scholars from all over the world to come together to investigate and discuss pre-modern history and the culture of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.

The first step in realizing this aim has been the creation of the Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Program, which will oversee excavations in Barda region of Azerbaijan, the translation of major works of Azeri and Russian scholarship into English and sponsor a number of graduate students.

This program will run for five years, in the course of which it is planned to establish a more permanent Center with a long-term endowment.

By this, the organizers want to fill a gap in modern scholarly work on the Caucasus, which tends to focus on recent politics and to ignore the long, rich and diverse history of this strategically and culturally important region of the world.

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Azerbaijani culture week held in Brazil

07 May 2015 – TODAY.AZ – The Cidade das Artes Concert hall in Brazil hosted a week of Azerbaijani culture with the support of the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

A concert program was shown with the participation of famous Azerbaijani art figures, featuring mugam and folk dances.

For the first time that kind of event was held in South America, and its target was to develop bilateral relations and promote Azerbaijani culture abroad.

Also, a photo exhibition titled “Azerbaijan yesterday, today and tomorrow” was held as part of the week.

Azerbaijan`s Ambassador to Brazil, Elnur Sultanov in his speech spoke about “developing cooperation” between the two countries, saying this event can contribute to expanding relations mainly in the cultural field.

Azerbaijani cinemas were shown as part of the event. In 2013, Brasilia hosted Azerbaijani movies at the “Mostra de filmes do Azerbaijao” festival held in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and San Paolo.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1993. The Brazilian Embassy in Azerbaijan was opened in 2009 and Azerbaijan’s Embassy was established in Brazil in 2012.

Since 2013, Azerbaijani capital, Baku, considered the pearl of the Caspian Sea, and Rio de Janeiro, became twin cities. The law goes on to say that both Baku and Rio de Janeiro are cultural heritage centers of the world – visited by thousands of tourists every year.

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Iran to refurbish aircraft fleet despite bans

Sun May 10, 2015 – PressTV – Iran has added a number of new planes less than 10 years old to its air fleet in order to renovate the sector despite international sanctions imposed on the country over its peaceful nuclear program.

A report by Tasnim news agency said on Sunday that the Iranian Minister of Road and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi will soon break the news on new planes and provide the details of the development.

Last month, Akhoundi noted that the country has been negotiating with companies supplying airplane parts in parallel with the progress of nuclear talks with the P5+1 group of countries.

“The current situation of the air fleet is not becoming to Iranian nation and the air fleet needs major investment. Therefore, we have conducted extensive negotiations with companies supplying planes … so that when sanctions are removed, contracts can be signed immediately,” he added.

The sanctions were imposed at the beginning of 2012 by the US and EU claiming that there is a military aspect to Iran’s peaceful nuclear program; an allegation Iran categorically rejected.

The Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group – the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – reached an interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in the Swiss city of Geneva last November, which was followed by a statement of mutual understanding on April 2, 2015, in the Swiss city of Lausanne. A key point of Lausanne statement was a promise to lift a series of economic sanctions on Iran. Following the understanding, Iranian officials said international companies have voiced interest in resuming cooperation with Tehran.

The Iranian minister of road and urban development said, “In parallel with renovating the fleet, we must be able to restructure major Iranian airlines because there are many airlines operating in Iran, but not all of them are fit for international competition.”

Akhoundi noted that the first priority in this regard was to upgrade Iran’s flag carrier, Iran Air, and turn it into a world-class company.

Earlier in April, head of Iran Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said the country needs to buy up to 500 passenger planes in the next 10 years to renovate its aging fleet.

Ali Reza Jahangirian added that Iranian airlines are currently operating with a fleet of about 140 aircraft, which is “very lower than average international norms in terms of international indexes of population and area.”

On May 4, vice president of Boeing for sales in Middle East, Russia, and Central Asia, told a United Arab Emirates newspaper that his company has set its sights on the Iranian aviation market and expects a “very strong” demand in the country.

“We’ve done a pretty good assessment on our side and we think the demand, should things open up, would be very strong,” Martin Bentrott added.

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US Muslim Muaddhin Concludes 50 States Tour

OnIslam & Newspapers Saturday, 09 May 2015 – MICHIGAN – The spiritually-motivated journey by an American Muslim who managed to raise the Adhaan (Muslim call to prayer) in 50 states was concluded in Michigan on Friday, May 8, with calls for tolerance and understanding.

“It was amazing,” Jameel Syed, the man behind the Muaddhin project, told Detroit Free Press on Saturday, May 9. “It was an epic journey on some many levels.”

Titled “Muaddhin: A Historic Journey Across America”, the journey was launched on April 3 from a mosque in Plainfield, Indiana, and reached out to 50 states from Hawaii to a mosque in Alaska and Disneyland in California.

According to the 40-year-old father-of- two, Syed, the initiative aims to showcase the beauty and diversity of Muslim communities across America.

Concluding his religious journey at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills, Syed explained how he interacted with Muslims and non-Muslims of different races and ethnicities. “I was in awe of the generosity and hospitality and love from people I never knew before,” Syed said.

Since the 9/11 attacks, US Muslims, estimated between 6-8 million, have complained of discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attire or identity.

With the recent murder of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the burning of an Islamic Center in Houston, Texas, which authorities ruled as arson, and the numerous reports of personal harassment, Muslims feel they are targeted in the States.

Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23 his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21 and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were found dead at a condominium complex off campus in February.

Another Muslim, Ahmed Al-Jumaili, 36, was shot dead while taking photos of snow in Dallas.

Aiming to share his experience with Americans, Syed plans to write a book about his journey.

With a cost of about $50,000 for the crew, Syed aims to produce mini-documentaries about the visual journey. “I don’t like throwing religion in people’s faces,” Syed said. Instead, he would casually interact with people he met on his trip, finding that many were curious to learn more.

Besides bridging gaps between faiths, the journey tackled racial and gender equity, fairness and peace.

Speaking at the Rochester Hills mosque, Syed referred to last week’s attack at the cartoon event in Texas.

The anti-Islam cartoonists “are hatemongers, and the people who reacted to it are hatemongers. It’s just sad this is the world we live in. Faith is supposed to bring people together, syed said, adding that the attack contradicts with Islam.

“Our position is a call to peace,” Syed said. “You’re not supposed to hurt anyone.”

The most challenging task for Syed was to catch the Adhan, which starts at a specific time in each stated. “It was not easy, but … God always comes on time,” he said.

A recent survey found that American Muslims are the most moderate around the world. It also showed that US Muslims generally express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see an inherent conflict between being devout and living in a modern society.

An Economist/YouGov poll found that a large majority of Americans believe that US Muslims are victims of discrimination amid recent attacks against the community.

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Oman Air wins two world travel awards in a row

Times of Oman – 07 May, 2015 – Oman Air, the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman, has won two awards at the World Travel Awards Middle East 2015.

Oman Air emerged on top in the ‘Middle East’s Leading Airline – Business Class’ and ‘Middle East’s Leading Airline – Economy Class’ categories at a glittering ceremony which held on May 5 at the Four Seasons Resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

This is for the second year in a row that Oman Air has taken the titles, which are voted for by travel and tourism professionals worldwide.

Abdulrahman Al Busaidy, the chief operating officer of Oman Air, said, “It is particularly satisfying to receive these awards now. We are just a few months into our ambitious programme of fleet and network expansion. This will see us increase the size of our fleet from 30 aircraft at the start of the programme, to 50 by 2018, and to 70 by 2020. Each of the new aircraft features newly-designed cabins, spacious and comfortable new Business Class and Economy Class seats and the very latest in-flight entertainment technology.”

On receiving the awards, Mohammed Al Shikely, general manager, marketing of Oman Air, said, “I am honoured to accept both these awards, on behalf of everyone at Oman Air. I am delighted that people throughout the global travel industry have been so impressed by our Business Class and Economy Class services, and I would like to thank them for voting for Oman Air.”

“Oman Air has added a number of exciting new destinations to our network, increased frequencies on some of our established routes and improved connections at Muscat International Airport. As a result, many thousands more people will have the opportunity to experience Oman Air’s outstanding Business Class and Economy Class services,” he said.

Graham E Cooke, president and founder of the World Travel Awards, added, “Many congratulations to Oman Air! These World Travel Award accolades recognise the commitment to excellence and continuing endeavours to improve products and services which Oman Air has demonstrated in the last twelve months.”

Oman Air’s new long haul business class cabin offers 24 seats, each of which converts to a 77-inch/196cm long fully lie-flat bed.

The seats are fitted in a 2-2-2 configuration and, thanks to an ingenious cabin layout, provide direct aisle access for every passenger.

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Emirates airline 2014 net profit up 40 percent on lower oil price

The Peninsula – 07 May, 2015 – Emirates, Dubai’s flagship airline, reported a 40 percent jump in annual net profit on Thursday, aided by savings from lower oil prices.

The airline, one of the world’s largest carriers of international passengers, posted a profit of 4.6 billion dirhams (1 billion pounds) for the financial year to March 31, chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum told a news conference.

The latest bumper profit increase from the carrier comes after a coalition of United States’ airlines and their labour unions accused Gulf rivals of receiving more than $ 40 billion in unfair subsidies — charges dismissed as false by all the carriers including Emirates.

Sheikh Ahmed said lower oil prices had saved the airline around 2 billion dirhams during the financial year, with fuel constituting 35 percent of operating costs against 39 percent in the previous 12 months.

Revenue also increased 7 percent year on year to 88.8 billion dirhams.

These helped offset 1.7 billion dirhams of lost revenue from runway maintenance work at its Dubai International Airport hub, which lasted for 80 days started May 1.

It also made up for the impact of the strong dollar, which cost the company 1.5 billion dirhams

The world’s biggest customer of the Airbus A380 superjumbo said profit for the wider Emirates Group, which includes airline services arm Dnata, rose 34 percent to 5.5 billion dirhams.

This was driven by a 10 percent year on year increase in revenue to 96.5 billion dirhams.

Seat occupancy, or seat factor, averaged 79.6 percent, Sheikh Ahmed said, up from 79.4 percent in the prior year.

Emirates paid a dividend of 2.6 billion dirhams to Investment Corporation of Dubai, the state investment vehicle which owns the airline and stakes in a host of Dubai companies. It paid around 1 billion dirhams for the 2013 financial year.

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QA announces daily flights to Ras Al Khaimah

The Peninsula – 07 May, 2015 – Qatar Airways has announced expansion to its UAE services with the launch of direct flights to Ras Al Khaimah, commencing on October 1.

Operating daily, QR1120 will depart Doha’s Hamad International Airport at 20:15 hours and arrive at Ras Al Khaimah International Airport at 22.30 hours. The return flight QR1121 will depart at 23:30 hours and arrive in Doha at 23:45 hours.

“The UAE is a market that is strong and full of confidence,” said Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker.

“Today, Qatar Airways enjoys a robust operation in the UAE with 98 flights a week to Dubai, 28 flights a week to Dubai World Central, 42 flights a week to Abu Dhabi and 21 flights a week to Sharjah. Now with the addition of seven weekly flights to Ras Al Khaimah, Qatar Airways will have a total of 196 weekly flights from Doha to the UAE.”

Having launched Sharjah and Dubai World Central in March 2014 and with the announcement to launch Ras Al Khaimah in October this year, Qatar Airways is significantly increasing its operations to the UAE as a result of growing demand for more capacity in and out of the country.

Eng Sheikh Salem bin Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Chairman of Ras Al Khaimah International Airport said: “Ras Al Khaimah is a global destination for both tourism and commerce and the new daily Qatar Airways QR1120 flight will service up to 400,000 passengers travelling in and out of the Emirate on an annual basis from October.”

Ras Al Khaimah which is the northern-most Emirate of the UAE is located approximately 45 minutes from Dubai International Airport and offers travellers an even wider variety of options when they are looking to reach Dubai.

With a wide range of activities covering water sports, sailing cruises, desert camps, golf courses and mountain adventures, the destination enables fun-filled stopovers as well as extended holidays.

Operating an Airbus A320 on the Ras Al Khaimah route, passengers from key markets in Europe, the Americas and the GCC region will have increased availability of flights to the UAE when transiting via Doha.

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QTA joins regional Cruise Arabia Alliance

The Peninsula – 07 May, 2015 – Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), along with the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, has joined a regional alliance this year at the Arabian Travel Market to strengthen the Gulf’s position as a cruise destination.

Working with the existing members of the Cruise Arabia Alliance, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), The Oman Ministry of Tourism (Oman Tourism), and Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), the new members will encourage further smart collaboration between destinations to create ‘power itineraries’ that draw cruise customers from across the globe.

“The Cruise Arabia Alliance is a successful example of advancing regional cooperation for the shared benefits of our respective tourism industries. We are delighted to be working with Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Oman to further grow regional cruise services, showcasing our marine life, harbors and cities,” said QTA Chairman Issa bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi.

QTA displayed its plans at the ATM Cruise Pavilion to transform the Old Doha Port into a cruise harbor, following the transfer of all cargo shipping operations by mid-2016 to the $ 8bn ‘New Doha Port.’

“The Old Doha Port renewal project will form a major transformation and tourist attraction as we boost our cruise and marine tourism through initiatives such as the Cruise Arabia Alliance,” said Hassan Al Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development Officer at QTA.

“We recognise that the number of visitors will peak during the World Cup 2022, and our strategy is not to over-develop the hotel sector to ensure sustainability beyond 2022,” he added. “As such we have a plan to use cruise ships as temporary accommodation that will supplement the existing inventory of hotel rooms.”

Cruise Arabia Alliance targets cruise markets in Europe and North America, as well as emerging markets such as China, India, and the GCC. It highlights the rich destination offerings and many benefits of cruise holidays such as their family-friendly nature, the affordability of cruise travel, and the variety of on-board entertainment available as travelers explore multiple destinations at a leisurely and relaxed pace.

The Arabian Gulf is among the world’s top-three winter cruise destinations, where sunshine, majestic desert landscapes and futuristic cityscapes meet. The five destinations bring together the best of what the Gulf has to offer from attractions, hotels, retail, and authentic Arabian experiences.

Hamad bin Mejren, Senior Vice President of Dubai Tourism said: “The recent joining of two new regional partners, Qatar and Sharjah Tourism authorities, will surely take this alliance to new levels of strength. With this growing collaboration, our vision for the alliance — to unify efforts for positioning the region as the leading winter cruise destination in the world — is not too far.”

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Workshop to advance sustainable tourism in Sultanate

Oman Daily Observer – 08 May, 2015 – The Ministry of Tourism in cooperation with the World Tourism Organization will host a workshop regarding “Sustainable Tourism” at InterContinental Muscat hotel from May 11-13, under the auspices of Mohammed bin Salim al Toobi, Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs, in the presence of Ahmed bin Nasser bin Hamad al Mehrzi, Minister of Tourism, Dr Fuad bin Jaafar al Sajwani, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Maitha al Mahrouqi, Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, besides a number of experts and specialists from around the globe.

The objective of this workshop is to evolve and promote the tourism product which consists of objects and attractions, transportation, accommodation and entertainment, where each element of the tourism product is prepared by individual companies and are offered separately to tourists.

The sustainable tourism industry has become one of the main objectives for the Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with the World Tourism Organization through various development programmes and projects. The main points that will be discussed in the workshop contain issues related to the sustainable tourism indicators after a preliminary study ahead of the workshop that included Bandar Khayran as a clear example of sustainable tourism.

The workshop will be attended by representatives and specialists from the public and private sectors, and students of tourism. The concept of sustainable development has become widely accepted as the way to a better, more humane and socially responsible future. There is a growing belief that tourism can play a significant role in sustainable development.

The workshop will include a field visit to Bandar Khayran in the presence of all the participants to learn the different effects that occur on the environment. The objectives of this seminar is to generate awareness among national and local authorities, other relevant agencies and tourism businesses, of the important of developing tourism in a sustainable manner and to consider the special circumstances and opportunities.

Helal Ghalib al Hinai, adviser of green tourism in the Ministry of Tourism stated that, “there is no doubt that tourism development requires the evaluation of the available resources in a particular area which provides various services for tourists”

Making tourism more sustainable is not just about controlling and managing the negative impacts of the industry. Tourism is in a very special position to benefit local communities, economically and socially, and to raise awareness and support for conservation of the environment.

Within the tourism sector, economic development and environmental protection should not be seen as opposing forces they should be pursued hand in hand as aspirations that can and should be mutually reinforcing. Policies and actions must aim to strengthen the benefits and reduce the costs of tourism.

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Dubai hotel rooms set to hit 160,000 by 2020

Khaleej Times – 08 May, 2015 – Driven by a vibrant mid-market hotel sector, Dubai’s hospitality industry is poised to enter a new growth trajectory with rooms predicted to surge to 140,000-160,000 keys by 2020 from 93,030 as of January 2015.

According to the latest figures issued by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), in 2014 alone, of the 44 new hotels and hotel apartments (comprising 27 hotels and 17 hotel apartments), 13 hotels came from the four-star sector and nine of the new apartments fell into the standard classification. The boom is mid-market hotels was spurred by Dubai government’s incentives including 10 per cent fee waiver.

In 2014, Dubai’s hotel portfolio grew from 611 hotels and hotel apartments to 659 — a 7.8 per cent growth over the course of the year. “With a number of additions to the mid-market segment opening during the year, further additions to the portfolio of three and four star hotels are expected to open in the coming years as a result of incentives launched by the Government of Dubai,” DTCM said in a statement.

“As the Dubai Government looks to meet its Tourism Vision of welcoming 20 million visitors a year by the year 2020 and be able to declare itself the ‘number one family destination in the world’, it is widely recognised that the city needs to further broaden its appeal beyond the luxury traveller for which it has gained its primary foothold and upon which its luxury reputation is based,” it said.

Issam Kazim Chief Executive Officer of DTCM, said while Dubai is well known for its impressive array of luxury properties, the city also caters to those on a more restrictive budget by offering high-quality mid-market accommodation.

“As we work towards meeting our Tourism Vision for 2020 of attracting 20 million people a year to the city by 2020, we want to ensure that our accommodation caters to all categories of visitor.”

Directives issued by the Dubai Government in September 2013 included an incentive to encourage speed of delivery and increase competitiveness in the mid-market sector. Investors and developers of three and four-star hotels were offered an incentive to waive the 10 per cent municipality fee, that is levied on the room rate for each night of occupancy for a specific timeframe.

Additional incentives announced in January 2014, focused on reducing the construction approval process to two months; setting up a one-stop shop for all sector approvals; standardising all approvals through Dubai Municipality; and allocating government land to develop three and four stars.

Developers have not only recognised that they can fill a gap in the Dubai market, but are also responding to the global trend (as reiterated in the 2014 WTM Global Trends Report) of cost-conscious travel. Tourists, even those who can afford luxury accommodation, want to stay in affordably priced hotels that offer style.

“Affordable does not equate to low quality,” said Kazim. “Dubai’s reputation is based on high standards and this goes for our mid-market hotel sector too. Dubai always aims to beat expectations and what we call mid-market could easily be considered luxury in many other cities around the world.”

This year’s ATM shows evidence of this burgeoning mid-market hotel sector in the emirate, with a range of mid-market brands on show including the recently announced partnership between Hilton Worldwide and the UAE-based Wasl Hospitality and Leisure to introduce the mid-market Hampton by Hilton to Dubai and the Middle East. The agreement will see the opening of Hampton by Hilton Dubai Al Qusais and Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Al Garhoud in 2017, adding more than 550 guest rooms to the inventory.

“Going forward, the likes of Premier Inn, Hilton’s Garden Inn, Ibis and Holiday Inn are just some of the prime examples of mid-market brands that have earmarked Dubai for development,” DTCM said.

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First art-themed luxury resort in Sharjah

Khaleej Times – 08 May, 2015 – Sharjah will soon be home to the Majlis Grand Mercure Resort & Spa, it was announced at the 2015 Arabain Travel Market.

Operated by Accor, the Majlis Grand Mercure Sharjah, will be spread over an area of around12,000sqm at the Sharjah Corniche, between the Coral Beach Resort and Sharjah Ladies Club. The $ 100 million five-star-deluxe resort project was launched by Shaikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of Basma Group Sharjah, and Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at a Press conference.

“The Majlis Grand Mercure Sharjah — Resort & Spa will be a great opportunity for Sharjah to increase the tourism ratio for the upcoming years by embracing the luxury segment. Sharjah will start to cater for tourists who seek to explore its history and that special artistic and cultural flair of Sharjah at a vibrant location that will combine art and culture with contemporary traditional elements,” said Shaikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi.

The resort will offer 234 rooms divided in three categories: deluxe sea view, deluxe private garden, and suites. Two restaurants and a sea-facing coffee shop will serve guests within a unique atmosphere embroidered, with traditional architectural elements and presented in a contemporary flair scented with oud-based fragrances.

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said: “I am confident Sharjah has taken one more step to become a recognised international destination for tourism and leisure as envisioned by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah. International travellers will find in Sharjah a new capital of rich Arab culture with contemporary luxuries.”

Christophe Landais, Accor Hotel Services’ Middle East chief operating officer, noted that the Majlis Grand Mercure is an Accor regional brand that is specifically designed for the Middle East. “The deluxe resort is a unique and different brand that reflects authenticity inspired by the local culture of the region whilst being represented in a modern style. All of this whilst being supported by the entire distribution platform of Accor.”

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Etihad Airways named ‘Airline of the year’ in China

Emirates 24/7 – 08 May, 2015 – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has been named ‘Airline of the Year’ at the 14th Annual China Travel & Meeting Industry Awards 2015.

This prestigious award was announced during a gala ceremony in Shanghai this week, attended by over 200 senior executives from the Chinese travel and meeting industry, in recognition of the Etihad Airways’ market-leading product and service offering.

The airline currently operates 21 services between Abu Dhabi and three major cities in mainland China – Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai. In addition, its presence in Greater China will be strengthened from 15 June 2015, with the start of a daily service to Hong Kong.

Peter Baumgartner, Chief Commercial Officer of Etihad Airways, said, “We have experienced the rapid growth of China’s travel market firsthand since commencing our services to the country seven years ago. Despite strong competition from other airlines, Etihad Airways is today established as a carrier of choice for Chinese travellers, due to our extensive network connections, convenient flight timings and superior products and services.

“We are delighted to be named Airline of the Year at the China Travel & Meeting Industry Awards and look forward to expanding our Greater China network next month, with the launch of a daily service from the financial and tourism hub of Hong Kong to Abu Dhabi and beyond.”

The China Travel & Meeting Industry Awards are jointly organised by ‘Travel Weekly’ magazine and Events China. The ‘Airline of the Year’ award follows a string of accolades for Etihad Airways in China this year, including ‘Best First Class Cabin’ from Top Travel in March, and ‘Best Business Class Cabin’ at the Annual Travel Awards in February.

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Sharjah National Hotels integral part of Sharjah tourism

Khaleej Times – 09 May, 2015 – Over the years, Sharjah National Hotels (SNH) has become an integral part of Sharjah’s tourism offering, each property is uniquely positioned to offer a resort that meets the needs of all guests traveling to the region, from City Breaks with guests staying in Hotel Holiday International or an urban retreat in Marbella Resort and to relaxed tranquil beach vacations at the newly refurbished Oceanic Khorfakkan Resort and Spa.

Oceanic Khorfakkan Resort and Spa is an iconic property steeped in Emirati tradition embraced by white warm sand and gleaming waters from the Indian Ocean and lush greenery in a setting of the spectacular panoramic view of the Hajjar Mountains. This Arabian resort offers an idyllic escape set on acres of UAE’s picturesque East Coast, tucked away in the coastal town of Khorfakkan. April 2015 marks its second year to the day that the resort hosted the first guests in its refurbished capacity.

With 177 spacious guestrooms and lavish suites, three luxurious villas, exceptional dining restaurants including the recently opened Bab Al Bahr Seafood Restaurant and The Ocean Wok, Asian Restaurant that will be launched this month, both offering inspired menus prepared by our award winning chefs, most recently awarded at the prestigious Gulf Food Exhibition held in February 2015 with two highly acclaimed bronze medals.

The resort has outstanding recreational and leisure facilities, one of a kind dive sites and so much more, this resort exemplifies a true escape.

Hotel Holiday International situated on the edge of Khaled Lagoon overlooking the beautiful corniche and recently received the Certificate of Approval for Quality Management System Standard ISO 9001:2008 from Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance, offers the convenience of a central location in addition to a tranquil environment with its 253 rooms and Suites. A 20 minutes’ drive from Dubai and Sharjah airports with easy access to great shopping malls, Sharjah Expo Exhibition Centre, entertainment centers and a short walk from the famous Sharjah Souk with full of excitement and tradition.

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Bahrain Airport hopes to handle 13.5m travellers yearly

Gulf Daily News – 09 May, 2015 – Bahrain International Airport (BIA) aims to accommodate 13.5 million passengers per annum, said a senior airport official, emphasising the importance of stepping up police readiness and improving human resources to meet the expansion plans.

In an interview with Bahrain News Agency, BIA Police director Colonel Abdulaziz Abdulrahman Al Dosary said his department is keen on providing all services and facilities for passengers using BIA while easing up impediments which may confront them in line with the regulations incorporated in the Interior Ministry’s security strategy.

The number of passengers who travelled through Bahrain International Airport topped 8,102, 106 last year, the official said while releasing the updated figures.

Citing compiled figures for last year, Col Al Dosary said police checked a total of 5,643,595 carry-on bags, in addition to 4,910,134 luggage items.

He stressed full compliance with the rules and regulations set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation while dealing with passengers.

The directorate works in tandem with the Civil Aviation Affairs, Bahrain Airport Company and other concerned authorities to provide the necessary services and ensure the passengers’ safety, he said, while underlining the directives of Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa to ensure top security standards.

‘The directorate is monitoring the airport’s security situation through surveillance cameras as part of efforts to ensure passengers’ safety, smoothen the flow of traffic and foil smuggling,’ he added.

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Investors view Qatar as an exciting destination

The Peninsula – 10 May, 2015 – Portfolio investors continue to view Qatar as an exciting investment opportunity due to its higher economic growth in coming year, according to a senior Qatar Stock Exchange (QSE) official.

Delivering introductory speech in a two-day roadshow in London, Rashid Al Mansoori, CEO of QSE said,” despite the well-documented fall in oil prices the all-round strength of the Qatar ‘story’ means portfolio investors continue to view Qatar as an exciting investment opportunity, a fact that has been reflected in the enthusiastic response to the forum.”

The QSE, in collaboration with QNB Financial Services and HSBC, yesterday completed a two-day roadshow that aimed to support the further development and practice of QSE’s listed companies’ investor relations.

Al Mansoori also touched on the future plans of Qatar Stock Exchange. “In the immediate future, the strategy will centre on our two core objectives of (i) capital formation represented by new listings on the main market and developing the SME sector through a dedicated market (the ‘QE Venture Market’); investigating an ‘on-exchange’ market for private companies (similar in concept to the recently announced Nasdaq model) and corporate bonds to complement the existing government and T-bill market, and (ii) capital allocation characterised by work on securities lending and borrowing; diversifying from long-only model (represented by covered short selling and eventually derivatives) and product development where QSE is working on three live ETF projects,” he said.

“One of these will be an ETF based on government fixed income risk from an Asian borrower, the second product is likely to be an ETF based on a representative Qatar-country index and the third a sharia-compliant product” said Al Mansoori.

Abdul Aziz Al Emadi, Listing Director of Qatar Stock Exchange, stated that “over the two days through a combination of one-to-one and group meetings the listed companies met with over 50 fund managers representing 30 major institutions. Those institutions represented the most important funds allocating money to Qatar, the GCC and the broader emerging markets. In aggregate the event hosted 150 meetings.”

Fifteen listed corporates, representing blue-chip investment opportunities in the Qatari market used the opportunity to meet with the world’s leading fund managers.

The Qatari companies participating included Qatar National Bank, Doha Bank, Commercial Bank, Masraf Al Rayan, Ooredoo, Industries Qatar, Mesaieed Petrochemical Company, Gulf International Services, Vodafone, United Development Company, Al Khaliji Commercial Bank, Qatar Islamic Bank, Qatar Insurance, Nakilat and Milaha.The Peninsula

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