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25 Jan, 2016

Memorial planned for forgotten Muslim World War 1 soldiers

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 25 January 2016 (14 Rabee’ al-Thaani 1437). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




Herbal Asia, Asia’s Premier Herbal, Green & Natural Exhibition & Conference, will be held from 5 – 8 October 2016 at MATRADE Exhibition Convention Centre (MECC), Kuala Lumpur. This is 10th consecutive year the Herbal Asia show is organized in Malaysia. Herbal Asia this year features more excitement in business opportunities and trade networking. Natural, Green & Herbal Product & Services received great interest by consumers, trade buyers & professionals. Herbal Asia is organized by and GITEX Global Exhibition Services (M) Sdn Bhd. This timely event will showcase the industries finest, from Herbal, Natural and Green products and services, technology to the latest in traditional and alternative medicine now seen as potential markets in health tourism industry. It will be a global platform for producers, manufacturers, investors, health and industry-related professionals to meet, exchange ideas and promote this rapidly growing industry. Click here for more information. Or contact: Safinah Yaakob, Project Director, +6017.326.3715 asiaherbal11@gmail.com, Ms. Nur Athirah Hamdan, Event Secretariat, +6019.205.1003 asiaherbal3@gmail.com

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.




ADB to Loan US$200 million to boost SMEs, Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Bangladesh

21 January 2016 DHAKA, BANGLADESH – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide $200 million in loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in rural Bangladesh to help them gain access to medium- to long-term credit.

The credit facility will target in particular firms run by women, who are mostly engaged in subsistence trade and retail activities, and are typically less educated and have less access to SME finance than men.

“Rural firms and firms run by women struggle to get loans from banks. That means both they and the Bangladesh economy lose out,” said Peter Marro, Principal Financial Sector Specialist, in ADB’s South Asia Regional Department. “We want to help cottage industries and SMEs to expand and flourish, including those operated by women.”

Loans will be targeted at small firms outside of the metropolitan areas of Dhaka and Chittagong, with at least 15% allocated for women entrepreneurs.

There are about 7.2 million SMEs in Bangladesh. They account for 90% of all companies and employ 70-80% of the nonagricultural workforce in Bangladesh. In 2014, SMEs contributed 25% of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product and 40% of the manufacturing output.

However, SME growth is constrained by the inadequate access to finance and electricity, poor transportation, increasing labor costs, and lack of skilled manufacturing labor – especially in rural areas.

The project also includes $2 million in technical assistance from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction to help establish incubation facilities at educational institutions to promote entrepreneurship, and support entrepreneurs’ development units at Bangladesh Bank. It will also set up dedicated women’s desks in financial institutions, and strengthen the capacities of women entrepreneurs in accessing available credit facility through financial and legal literacy as well as in managing their enterprises. This assistance will help in the development of SME clusters to boost their capacity to access bank financing and strengthen the backward and forward links of SMEs to the formal sector, particularly the larger export-driven industries.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region.

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115 companies to attend Kish Exhibit of Investment Opportunities

Kish, Hormuzgan Prov., Jan 24, IRNA – A total of 115 Iranian and foreign companies will take part in the Second Kish Exhibition of the Opportunities of Investment in Mining, Cement, Metallurgy and Related Industries. The official in charge of the exhibition Mahmoud Bandarchi told IRNA on Sunday that the exhibition will be held from January 26-29.

Bandarchi said that organizing international specialized exhibitions is one of the appropriate means to introduce advanced and modern technologies in different scientific, industrial and commercial fields and investment to achieve optimum economic development.

KISH MCMEX is sponsored by Rastak Pad Vision Company in cooperation with Kish Development and Investment Company and support of Kish Free Zone Organization and Iran Mining House.

Broad participation of national and international companies in permanent center of Kish International Exhibition is expected.

Regarding Iran’s potential in mine, cement and metallurgy for investment and easy trading in Kish Island and the most economic active free zone in Iran, this exhibition is the desirable opportunity to participate and invest in industrial and mines sections of Iran

The exhibition is developed to achieve infrastructural objectives of industries.

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Oman Air Looks Forward To A Productive And Successful Year In 2016

A positive future and continued expansion will be the focus for Oman Air, as the airline starts the year with their major global conference in Muscat, under the theme “To Become the Best”. The conference was officially opened by Maitha Bint Saif Bin Majid Al Mahruqi, Under Secretary Ministry of Tourism and Deputy Chairman of Oman Air and hosted by Paul Gregorowitsch, Chief Executive Officer of Oman Air.

Up to 400 staff drawn from throughout Oman Air’s growing international network will gather in the Omani capital on Thursday 21st January. Following a briefing on the airline’s established vision, objectives and values, and an update on the results for 2015, they will hear about Oman Air’s outlook for the coming year. Delegates will then be invited to contribute their own views and ideas about how Oman Air’s products and services can be best delivered in 2016.

Oman Air’s vision, objectives and values were put in place following Paul Gregorowitsch’s appointment in 2014. They have been integrated into all areas of Oman Air’s organisation since then and have underpinned the very positive results achieved last year.

The airline’s theme set in 2014, ‘To Become the Best’, has set the tone for all Oman Air’s activities. Its implicit emphasis on the highest quality standards provides a clear focus for the delivery of Oman Air’s objectives.

First among those objectives is the continuation of Oman Air’s over-riding commitment to safety. This enables delivery of the carrier’s second objective: to remain the airline of first choice. Further to the positive financial developments of 2015, the third objective is to make money and to achieve an operational break-even point in Oman Air’s finances by 31st December 2017.

Achieving the third objective will, in part, be facilitated by the fourth, to cater for growth – a crucial part of Oman Air’s work, as it continues its expansion programme. Improved financial performance will, in turn, enable Oman Air to achieve its fifth objective and to make a positive financial and economic contribution to the Sultanate of Oman.

And in delivering Oman Air’s vision and objectives, staff at all levels of the company will retain their commitment to the airline’s values of trust and respect, transparency and Integrity, taking responsibility, teamwork and fun.

Significantly, Oman Air’s financial results for 2015 saw a major reduction of 42 per cent in the airline’s loss per passenger. This was thanks largely to changes in fuel prices. In addition, the Government of Oman’s financial support for Oman Air was reduced from OMR 130 million in 2014 to OMR 54 million in 2015.

Over the coming year, Oman Air will build on these positive outcomes. A further 45 per cent reduction in the loss per passenger will be achieved, and government support will be further reduced to OMR 40 million in 2016.

Additionally, Oman Air’s ambitious fleet and network expansion programme, which was launched in the fourth quarter of 2014, will continue apace in 2016.

A second frequency will be added to the carrier’s current daily non-stop service between Muscat and London Heathrow. Oman Air’s Muscat to Paris service will also be increased to offer daily flights throughout the week.

Furthermore, a new service from Muscat to China will be launched in July 2016 and services to India will be increased following a recent extension of Oman Air’s entitlements to fly to the country. Services between Muscat and Iran will also be developed further in 2016.

The national carrier’s role in bringing increased numbers of visitors to Oman will be enhanced in 2016 through its increased capacity, its expanded network and even closer co-operation with the Omani Ministry of Tourism.

Oman Air’s joint venture with Luxembourg-based freight specialists Cargolux will see further growth over the next 12 months, increasing both airlines’ contribution to the development of Oman as a global cargo hub.

The launch of new destinations, increased frequencies and expanded cargo operations will be supported by the arrival in 2016 of more new aircraft. Two new Boeing 787-800s will bring Oman Air’s Dreamliner strength to four aircraft and the addition of four new Boeing 737-800s will further enhance the airline’s short and medium haul capacity and support flexible network planning.

Beyond Oman Air’s expansion programme, the carrier’s pledge to achieving sustainable profitability and contributing to the economic, social and cultural life of the nation has been reaffirmed.

It’s Shape and Size programme will remain in full effect throughout 2016, supporting increased efficiency and ongoing cost reductions throughout the company. In addition, Oman Air will increase the percentage of Omani citizens it employs from 62 per cent in 2015 to 63 per cent in 2016, in line with its commitment to the Sultanate’s policy of Omanisation.

Supporting enhanced employment opportunities in Oman will also be achieved through Oman Air’s continuing investment in the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises and support for national sustainability programmes. Meanwhile pilot training and career development will be enhanced following the opening of Oman Air’s own simulator building later this year.

Paul Gregorowitsch added: “As 2016 unfolds, we will offer even more choice and convenience for our customers. We will work more efficiently and make greater savings. We will make an even greater contribution to the Sultanate of Oman. And we will retain our focus on delivering the highest standards of quality in every aspect of our work. So, 2016 promises to be exciting, productive and successful year, as Oman Air continues its journey to ‘become the best’.”

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Laksa Delicacy Now Available At Malaysia Airlines Lounge In KL Airport

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Jan 19 (NNN-Bernama) — Savour the rich flavours of Malaysia via Malaysia Airlines’s new Laksa Bar at its Golden, Regional and Domestic Lounges at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The airline is offering four varieties of the traditional laksa dishes – a local noodle delicacy; the Curry Laksa, Laksa Johor, Penang Assam Laksa and Sarawak Laksa, as part of its move to introduce more local flavours to its passengers.

Malaysia Airlines Head of Products, Jascelena Ahmad said the laksa is one of Malaysia’s iconic dishes which is loved by many.

“With the help of MAS Awana, we are able to prepare about 1200 bowls daily for our passengers,whilst maintaining the authentic taste of our laksa”, she said.

“We highly recommend our passengers to try out the different laksa with each one offering its own unique flavour. To date, the Curry Laksa in particular has been a huge hit with our passengers” she added.

The Curry Laksa is a fragrant curry broth with chicken, prawn, tofu puffs, bean sprouts and mint leaves, while the Laksa Johor, which comes from the southern state of Johor, features spaghetti in thick fish broth garnished with bean sprouts, long beans, and cucumber julienne served with spicy sambal.

The Penang Asam Laksa features thick rice noodles in a spicy and sour fish broth perfumed with Bunga Kantan (Ginger Flower) topped with pineapple, cucumber, onion, chilli and mint in a tasty prawn paste.

Laksa Sarawak is a rice vermicelli dish served in spicy coconut gravy with julienne of omelette, shredded chicken, prawns and coriander.

These four laksa dishes allow Malaysia Airlines to showcase Malaysia’s diverse flavours with Laksa from the different regions within Malaysia.

Following its introduction on Dec 7, 2015 the laksa bar is set to be one of the signature features at the lounge. The laksa menu will be changed on a weekly basis, with a different types of laksa featured each week.

Access to Malaysia Airlines’ Lounges at KLIA is for Malaysia Airlines’ First and Business Class customers, Enrich Gold and Platinum Members as well as oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members travelling on oneworld operated fights.

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Malaysia Airlines Offers Up To 50% Discount For Enrich Members

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Jan 22 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia Airlines’ loyalty programme, Enrich, is offering its members worldwide eight days of flight redemptions of 30-50 per cent off on selected Malaysia Airlines destinations including Seoul, Osaka and Tokyo.

The redemption period is between Jan 25 and Feb 1, 2016 and valid for travel between Feb 18 and May 31, 2016, the airline said in a statement today.

“Enrich members need only pay for the airport taxes and any applicable surcharges for these promotional redemptions (subject to terms and conditions),” it said.

Its Head of Loyalty Khairul Nisa Ismail said the airline is offering redemption discounts of 50 per cent for its top eight destinations, including Bangalore, Beijing, Darwin, Dhaka, Hyderabad, Kathmandu and Shanghai.

“We also highly encourage Enrich members with miles that are about to expire to grab this amazing offer. A return flight to Beijing will require only 22,500 Enrich redemption miles,” she said.

For redemptions, log on to www.enrich.malaysiaairlines.com, contact Malaysia Airlines’ 24-hour call centre at 1300883000 or visit any of the nearest Malaysia Airlines ticket offices.

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Malaysia Needs Both Mass, High End Tourism – PM Najib

LANGKAWI (KEDAH,MALAYSIA), Jan 24 (NNN-BERNAMA) — Malaysia needs both mass tourism and high-end tourism to further develop the economy, and the government is ready to work on it, said Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

He said the government had to plan to cater for both groups and Langkawi, as a main tourist destination in this country, could offer the potentials for both mass and high-end tourism.

“I see Langkawi as a gem that is priceless to the nation,” he said in his speech during a welcoming ceremony for the inaugural AirAsia flight from Guangzhou, China to Langkawi at the Langkawi International Airport, here Sunday.

Najib said the government was ready to attract more tourists including high-end tourists, and as a pro-business government, it wanted to see more private sectors playing their part and supporting more goals.

“The people also need a government like this to be around so that the private sector, Langkawi, Kedah and the nation will continue to develop and sustain. This will signify the next level of growth and development in Langkawi,” he said.

However, Najib said efforts to attract more tourists would not succeed without the connectivity to tourist destinations, in this case Langkawi.

“Despite all the attractions that we have, we cannot make it happen without connectivity. Connectivity is a fundamental factor in boosting tourism,” he said.

As Langkawi managed to attract many visitors, Najib said the government believed that the demand for direct flights from Langkawi was there.

The Prime Minister said when the government planned the blueprint for Langkawi ini 2011, they had thought about how to achive this very ambitious target and the first stage was very successful.

“From 28 chartered flights when we started the blueprint in 2011, today we achieved 53 chartered flights into Langkawi. But today (the inaugural flight from Guangzhou to Langkawi) is the beginning of the next level…having direct flight.

“We need connectivity to the major sectors. China is a major source of tourism for Malaysia and also for the world,” he said.

Najib also said there were huge potentials for Langkawi that had yet to be fully tapped and besides having more international passengers, Langkawi also needed more hotel rooms and better facilities including at the airport.

“We want the growth, we have to plan for that. We don’t want tourists to come here and be dissappointed. We want tourists to come here with nice feelings so that they will want to come again,” he said.

The inaugural AirAsia flight from Guangzhou into Langkawi landed with a healthy 92 per cent flight load. Among the guests on board were representatives from the Guangdong Tourism Authority and members of the media.

Guangzhou is the capital and largest city of Guangdong Province in South China. The media group will proceed to experience the lure of Langkawi through a familiarisation trip jointly organised by AirAsia, the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA), The Datai Langkawi and the Starwood Hotels Group.

AirAsia currently holds a 60 per cent of the market share in Langkawi air traffic with direct flights to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore.

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Malaysia Airlines-Emirates Alliance Seen As Smart Move

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 (NNN-BERNAMA) — The inking of the Malaysia Airlines -Emirates codeshare agreement augurs well for the national airline as it gives room for expansion of its route network in the western hemisphere, while focusing on flights to emerging economies in Asia, an academician said.

Dr Ahmad Rizal Mazlan, the Kuala Lumpur Director of Universiti Utara Malaysia said for Malaysia Airlines, the alliance which takes off on Feb 15, heralds a new business strategy of shying away from its previous move to connect European cities to Australia, in a heavily competed route.

As part of its route rationalisation programme, it has already reduced capacity by 27 per cent in axing some routes, including to Frankfurt, Istanbul and Brisbane.

The latest destination to be withdrawn are the daily services to Paris and Amsterdam, expected to end Feb 1.

Malaysia Airlines, will however, retain its double-daily flights to London, the only European destination it now serves directly.

In addition, Malaysia Airlines will be suspending its Kuala Lumpur-Dubai route by Feb 15 and re-accommodate passengers on the codeshare flights with Emirates.

“The alliance is a modern aviation tool used by a number of airlines around the globe, be it Qantas, Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways. What it does is, provide a wider network coverage for passengers, without an airline flying its own aircraft or utilising manpower.

“This allows seamless travel to major cities around the world.

“The Malaysia Airlines and Emirates strategic alliance is a good synergy as both sides are synergizing each other’s strengths. Malaysia Airlines Bhd can benefit from the strength of Emirates and vice versa, in that sense.

“It is a clever, strategic move that also sees both parties leveraging on each other’s strength to expand their network and in doing so, increase the two-way traffic on their respective routes,” Ahmad Rizal said.

He added that via the partnership, Malaysia Airlines is strategically forging an alliance with a stronger airline like Emirates, thus capturing market without using its own planes or workforce.

“This is a win-win deal to me, not a lopsided one, and this is a good move,” Ahmad Rizal said.

The deal with Emirates will give Malaysia Airlines access to 38 European destinations, and even twice daily to cities, including Rome, Frankfurt, Munich and Barcelona.

It will also expand its reach in the Americas and the Middle East, Africa and Indian Ocean.

According to Ahmad Rizal, the partnership also made good business sense considering Emirates, one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, had been bringing in the largest number of passengers to Malaysia.

“In fact, Malaysia Airlines’ customers will now have more travel options via the 38 destinations offered with Emirates to Europe.

“The alliance is set to offer travelers an unprecedented connectivity to Europe and through this, to virtually every point globally and not available previously on the Malaysia Airlines’ routes.

“Despite cutting back on the international routes, specifically to Europe, Malaysia Airlines can still sell its tickets to European destinations and many more via Emirates. This is the benefit of having this synergistic partnership,” he said.

As part of its business transformation to return to profitability in 2018, Malaysia Airlines will now refocus its network more heavily on Asia and use airline partnerships to serve many of its long-haul markets outside the region.

“This alliance also bodes well for Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd as it can offer Kuala Lumpur as a hub to connect to South East Asia, and Dubai for connections to Europe, the Middle East, North and South Africa.

“This strategic arrangement will offer travelers a wider network of destinations at greater convenience,” Ahmad Rizal said.

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Memorial planned for forgotten Muslim World War 1 soldiers

Tuesday 19 Jan 2016 – Nottingham, England (IINA) – A British General Practitioner (GP) of Pakistani origin has drawn a plan to build a memorial in honour of nearly half a million “forgotten” Muslim soldiers who fought for Great Britain in the First World War (WWI), Pakistan Today reported.

“From our village, 460 of the 860 men helped out. You don’t read it in the textbooks or see it in the films,” Dr Irfan Malik, a resident of Sherwood in Nottingham, told The Independent.

Dr Malik got his inspiration to build a memorial after he began researching his ancestral village of Dulmial in Punjab and found both his great-grandfathers fought for Britain. “It was generally voluntarily a lot of them felt pride in going out. For many years there were no men in the village,” he said.

The 47-year-old researcher has formed the World Wars Muslim Memorial (WWMM) Trust, which aims to raise £25,000 ($35,630) to build a Muslim-themed tribute to the men whose “loyalty and sacrifice” helped the Allied forces win the war.

The memorial, which has been named as the Great War Muslim Memorial, is said to be in its early planning stages but it has already won the backing of Tazi Husain, a retired surgeon who was the driving force behind a memorial in Tempsford, Bedfordshire, to honour 75 Second World War women agents who helped resistance movements in occupied Europe, unveiled by Prince Charles in 2013.

“We want it to look Islamic in theme… Muslims were loyal to Britain in the First and Second World Wars. We were there and we were part of it,” Dr Malik said, hoping the tribute will show young, disaffected Muslims their ancestors contributed to the war effort and will encourage “community cohesion”.

Further, the plans have been welcomed by Jahan Mahmood, a military historian and former UK Home Office terrorism adviser. “The Muslim community by and large don’t know about this story. It’s a failing on behalf of the government of the UK,” he said.

Mahmood believes the Great War Muslim Memorial has the potential to “garner a sense of belonging” among Muslims and “make them feel more British”.

“I hope the memorial will help Muslims feel like stakeholders in modern-day Britain,” he added.

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Italian Muslims invite Pope to visit Rome’s Grand Mosque

Thursday 21 Jan 2016 – Rome, (IINA) – A delegation of Italian Muslims on Wednesday personally invited Pope Francis to visit the Grand Mosque of Rome, thought to be the largest mosque in the Western world, National Catholic Register news reported.

The Pope thanked the delegation for the invitation, presented to him in the Paul VI hall after this morning’s general audience, but has yet to agree to visit. If he does so, Francis will be the first pope to visit the Rome mosque, which was inaugurated in 1995 with the funding from Saudi Arabia.

The Muslim delegation included Imam Yahya Pallavicini of the Islamic Community of Italy (ICI), Abdallah Redouane, director of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy (ICCI), and Saudi Arabian Ambassador Rayed Khaled Krimly. They were accompanied by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Speaking to the Italian news agency SIR, Pallavicini said the meeting was “very positive and friendly”. He said the Pope “referred to rights that must be reciprocated between Christians and Muslims” and which must be the “foundation of brotherhood, of friendship and of serious cooperation.”

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Tourism Back 100% After Jakarta Bombing

JAKARTA, Indonesia Jan 18 (NNN-Bernama) — Indonesian Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said tourism has returned to normal and recovered 100 per cent after the terror acts and bomb explosions in Thamrin Boulevard in Central Jakarta on Thursday, Antara news agency reported.

He said that Jakarta, particularly the area around Thamrin Boulevard, has returned to normal after it was rocked by the Jan 14 suicide bombing and shootouts between police and terrorists.

Many people even thronged the bomb explosion site of the police station to take their profile pictures, he said.

During the car-free day on Sundays in the Thamrin Boulevard, residents usually gathered at the HI Traffic Circle, National Monument Square and Senayan.

But on Sunday, they changed their points of gathering and the police station at the intersection where the suicide bombing occurred became their favorite point of assembling.

According to the minister, Jakarta residents were clearly not afraid, so the security condition has returned to normal.

“Residents can act personally to report the facts and real condition in the Internet through their twitter accounts, facebook, instagram, path, pinterest and others,” he said.

On Thursday, two terrorists launched suicide attacks on a police station in Thamrin Boulevard near the Sarinah Department Store, which was followed by a shoot-out between three other terrorists and the police at the Starbucks Coffee shop adjacent to the department store, Antara said.

Within hours, the police were able to thwart the attackers, shot dead three of them while two others died in the suicidal bombing. The incident also left three civilians dead (one died at a hospital three days later) and 32 injured, including police personnel.

Jakarta Metropolitan Police Command Chief Inspector General Tito Karnavian has confirmed that the terrorists who orchestrated the attack were linked to the Daesh terror group.

“Our team is now on the lookout for members of this terror network who are linked to the ISIS (Daesh)group in Raqqa,” he stated during a press conference held at the presidential office following a meeting led by the president on the incident on Thursday evening.

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Indonesia prioritizes sanitation in 10 tourist destinations

24 January 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The government is giving priority to improve sanitation and drinking water facilities in 10 tourist destinations, currently being considered on priority for development.

According to the plan, the sanitation and drinking water facilities will be developed in those tourist destinations there good infrastructure facilities are required.

These destinations include Labuan Bajo, Lake Toba, Borobudur Temple and Mount Bromo, Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono said here on Saturday.

“The president has instructed us to develop sanitation facilities in Laboan Bajo of a standard as good as that of similar facilities at four star hotels, to enhance tourism and improve visitors experience,” he said.

Basuki said the project will take off this year. He refused to divulge the amount of funds needed to finance the project, saying it will not be too large.

“These facilities will be developed this year at 10 locations. The budget will not be huge. The program to develop sanitation and drinking water facilities has been put in place,” he said.

The development of the sanitation and drinking water facilities will be taken care of by the Public Works and Housing Ministry and will not involve any private or foreign parties, he said.

“The government will procure whatever is required for the sanitation and drinking water facilities entirely on its own, without involving private and foreign parties. To develop the drinking water facilities, we will involve local government-owned drinking water companies,” he said.

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New Indonesian tourism businesses open to investment

21 January 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) plans to open new business areas in the tourism sector for foreign investment. The plan is to allow foreign investors to wholly own shares in seven business areas in the tourism sector, BKPM Chief Franky Sibarani said here on Wednesday.

The seven business areas are restaurants, bars, cafes, swimming pool, football clubs, tennis courts and sport centers, Franky said.

He said it has also been decided that foreign investors are allowed to have up to 70 percent of the shares of companies in four other related business areas , and up to 67 percent in 14 other areas in the tourism sector.

He said the decision to allow foreign investors to wholly own shares in the seven business areas is part of the regulation relaxation scheme of the government.

The policy is expected to increase the inflow of foreign investment into the country, he said. “This is quite positive in boosting investment in the tourisim sector which is a priority for BKPM,” he added.

The four business areas in which foreign investors are allowed to own up to 70 percent of the shares is offered to be in line with the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS).

The four business areas are catering, golf field, exhibition convention service and travel service (MICE) and spa. Foreign investors in these business still need to have local partner to hold the remaining 30 percent of the shares.

The 14 business areas in which foreign investors are allowed to have only up to 67 percent of the shares include private museums, privately run business in historical remains, private travel agencies , and one-star, two star and non-star hotels , other accommodation facilities, etc.

“Under the present regulations those business areas are still closed to foreign investment,” Franky said. There are still two business areas in the tourism sectors closed to foreign investment. They are business in travel agent and tourist guide.

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High-speed rail will accelerate economic growth: Governor Ahok

21 January 2016 Bandung (ANTARA News) – Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama (Ahok) believes that the construction of the Jakarta-Bandung fast train track would accelerate economic growth in both regions.

“We welcome the construction of the fast train track as it will affect economic growth,” the governor stated on the sidelines of the groundbreaking ceremony of the Indonesia-China high-speed train project, here, Thursday.

Ahok noted that the Jakarta-Surabaya train track would later also be built following the successful development of the Jakarta-Bandung train route.

“We definitely laud the project, but we are actually a little late, though we must welcome the construction of the fast train track. This will launch a new era of transportation in our country,” Ahok emphasized.

“The high-speed train project connecting the two cities would help to accelerate the shipment of goods,” he pointed out.

“Besides improving public transport, it will also speed up the transportation of goods,” Ahok noted.

The development of the Jakarta-Bandung fast train is expected to encourage other areas to build such an effective and efficient mode of transportation.

The train project was inaugurated by Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) at the Mandalawangi Maswati (Walini) tea plantation, Bandung, West Java.

The tea plantation will be the point of departure for the fast train from the Bandung area, and a transit hub would also be built in the area.

Later, the transit hub, also known as the Transit Oriented Development (TOD), would conjoin with the development of a new city of Walini.

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Indonesia wins three UNWTO awards

21 January 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia has won three awards from the United Nation World Tourism Organization, tourism minister Arief Yahya said in a written statement received here on Thursday.

He said Indonesia officially proposed three prime destinations for being judged by juries in the UN body. “Two months ago, around October, we presented them one by one in detail,” he said.

On January 20, 2016 the assistant deputy for overseas marketing communication development, Noviendi Makalam, presented them through live streaming before the team of judges.

The judges did not visit the locations in person but monitored the debate through video streaming which was fair and professional, he said.

The results are Banyuwangi, which is a district in East Java, wins the UN-WTO Award in Innovation in Public Policy and Governance with a theme of “Re-inventing the Local Government in Tourism, Culture and Tourism.”

“Banyuwangi beats Responsible Tourism and Free of Crime, Alcaldia Medellin, Columbia, and East Africa Tourism Platform, Kenya,” he said.

The second award won by Indonesia is from the category of Innovation in Enterprises.

Garuda Indonesia and Coca Cola Amatil Indonesia was the first runner-up with a theme of “Bali Clean Up” while the second runner-up position was taken by First Professional Experience Project Melia Hotels of Spain.

“The winner in this category is Treetop Walking Path, Anyksciai Technional Park Direction, Lithuania,” he said.

Indonesia wins the third award through Karang Lestari Foundation presenting a theme of Coral Reef Reborn in Pemuteran, Bali.

This location was also declared as the first runner-up in the category of Innovation in Non-Governmental Organizations.

The second runner-up position was taken by Children in the Wilderness, South Africa. The winner in the category was Sisterhood of Survivor Program, Sanane, Nepal.

The awarding ceremony was attended by around 500 invitees from across the world. Malaysia’s minister of culture and tourism, Datuk Moh. Nasri and entourage also attended the event in Madrid.

The Indonesian delegation was led the country’s permanent representative in UNWTO and ambassador to Spain, Yuli Mumpuni Widarson, Banyuwangi district head Abdullah Aswar Anas, Buleleng district head Putu Agus, assistant deputy for Europe and America, assistant deputy for market development in Europe, the Middle East, America and Africa, Nia Niscaya, assistant deputy for overseas marketing communication development, Noviendi Makalam, and other tourism ministry officials.

Minister Yahya who is attending the ASEAN Tourism Fair in Manila, the Philippines, said the global awards were very significant for Indonesia as it would improve the country’s image as Wonderful Indonesia.

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Indonesian museum being built in Vatican

22 January 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – A museum showcasing the pluralism and cultural diversity of Indonesia is being built in the Vatican as part of cultural diplomacy.

It is a matter of honor for the country to display before the world its cultural identity in a such a way, Indonesian Ambassador to the Holysee, Antonius Sriyono, said in a statement received by Antara here on Friday.

“The Vatican is a small state, spread over just 34 hectares, but no one denies that the Vatican has a great influence on the countries around the world,” the Ambassador said.

He added that the construction of an Indonesian museum in the Vatican is a right step. It will help Indonesia pursue cultural diplomacy in the international arena.

According to him, the construction of this museum is expected to be completed by early October 2016.

The museum will display a collection of Indonesian icons, among others, a miniature replica of the Borobudur temple.

The ambassador is also designing a religious tourism package to Larantuka, in Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara province to be offered to the pilgrims visiting the Vatican. Around five million people visit the Vatican every year.

“With an integrated effort, it is expected that some of those pilgrims will travel to Larantuka. It is certainly add to the local economy,” he said.

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Over 150 attend musical ‘Jong Sarat’ in Brunei

Borneo Bulletin – January 23, 2016 – OVER 150 people attended Seeds Brunei’s second original production ‘Jong Sarat’ on January 22 at the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah (YSHHB) Primary School Hall.

Present at the event was Dr Haji Junaidi bin Haji Abdul Rahman, the Permanent Secretary (Core Education) at the Ministry of Education. Also in attendance was Haji Abdul Rahim bin Derus, Acting Director General of Education.

The production saw an all student cast perform an original local screenplay by Mohammad Syafiq bin Haji Abu Bakar. The production also presented original music inspired by the 80’s composed by himself with support from local music producer Adi Rani of ProjecTunes Records and local recording artist Hill Zaini.

Jong Sarat follows the lives of four friends on the cusp of adulthood. Each struggling between duty and desire – pragmatic Razak who wants to support his family, dreamy Nur who is torn between her father’s wishes and her own yearnings, frustrated Asmali who always feels like second best, and loyal Salmah, who wants only to nurture the friendships around her as carefully as she nurtures her parents’ Jong Sarat business.

Dr Haji Junaidi bin Haji Abdul Rahman (centre), the Permanent Secretary (Core Education) at the Minis-try of Education, and Haji Abdul Rahim bin Derus (left), the Acting Director General of Education, during the event

Dr Haji Junaidi bin Haji Abdul Rahman (centre), the Permanent Secretary (Core Education) at the Minis-try of Education, and Haji Abdul Rahim bin Derus (left), the Acting Director General of Education, during the event

Over 100 students ranging between the ages of 16 to 21 years old were involved in the production from stage managing, costume, prop design, lighting, music and sound. Teachers from various schools, local talent and volunteers were also involved with the production.

Seeds Brunei recognises art enthusiast teachers and volunteers with the support of the department of schools, Ministry of Education and seeks to promote the arts to students in secondary school and higher education.

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Kota Kinabalu gets AirAsia flight from Wuhan

Borneo Bulletin – January 24, 2016 – THE city of Kota Kinabalu is set to receive more tourist arrivals from China with the commencement of AirAsia’s flights from Wuhan into Kota Kinabalu yesterday.

The airline celebrated the inaugural flight of this new route, which is operated exclusively by AirAsia, with a send-off ceremony for the Kota Kinabalu to Wuhan flight which took off yesterday at 6.55pm with over 70 per cent flight load; while the Wuhan – Kota Kinabalu flights is expected to arrive this morning at 4.05am with a full flight load.

Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment for Sabah; Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, Chairman of Sabah Tourism Board; Datuk Irene Charuruks, General Manager of Sabah Tourism Board were present to send-off the guests of AirAsia’s inaugural flight to Wuhan, China from Kota Kinabalu International Airport; accompanied by Spencer Lee, Head of Commercial for AirAsia Berhad.

Promotional all-in-fares from as low as RM249 one way from Kota Kinabalu – Wuhan are up for grabs on AirAsia website as part of the celebration of this flight commencement. Bookings can be made from now until January 31 and travel from today until June 30. This promo fare is also available via AirAsia’s mobile app on iPhone and Android devices, including its mobile site.

Kota Kinabalu, which is AirAsia’s second largest international hub in Malaysia now serves a total of 18 direct routes with 504 weekly flights after the addition of Wuhan into its network, with over 3.8 million guests flown to and from Kota Kinabalu in 2015 alone.

Guests travelling from Kota Kinabalu can also connect to 12 countries via the Fly-Thru service such as Australia, Thailand, China, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and India.

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Brunei establishes diplomatic ties with Gambia

Borneo Bulletin – January 22, 2016 – THE government has decided to establish diplomatic relations with Gambia, with effect from yesterday. The signing of the Joint Communique took place at the High Commission of Brunei Darussalam in Kuala Lumpur.

The Government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam was represented by Dato Paduka Haji Alaihuddin bin Pehin Orang Kaya Digadong Seri Lela Dato Seri Utama Haji Awang Mohd Taha, High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam to Malaysia.

The Government of Gambia was represented by Abubucarr Jah, Ambassador of Gambia to Malaysia.

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Young Filipino Muslims use social media to fight bias

Manila, Philippine (IINA) – A group of young Muslims in the Philippines is urging other young people in the country to use social media to help eradicate bias against Muslims, UCA News reported.

“If you have 3,000 or 4,000 friends in social media, let’s contradict those negative messages or barriers between religion and culture,” said Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman of the youth group Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement.

Usman, who is also a member of the National Peace Council, said young people can help break barriers set up by differences in religion and help correct individual prejudices.

The National Peace Council is a group of community leaders assembled by President Benigno Aquino last year to lead discussions on the establishment of new Muslim region in Mindanao.

Usman’s group issued a statement on Wednesday calling for the passage of a proposed law that will create the Muslim region, which is part of a 2014 peace deal between the Philippine government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Usman expressed hope that through education, Filipinos will be able to “create a space to understand each other.”

“The need for peace and social justice in Mindanao should be cleared or else the next generation will inherit the conflict,” said Usman, adding that biases against Muslims in Mindanao are a cause of the armed rebellion in the region.

Jabar Sabdullah, vice president of the Federation of Muslim Students Association, said the creation of an autonomous Muslim region can end the inequality in Mindanao.

“It is high time to realize the grievances of the Bangsamoro and to translate our visions of peace into reality in the form of the creation of a Muslim region,” said Sabdullah.

Last year, young Muslims launched the Handshake Project in an attempt to eliminate negative feelings toward Muslims following the deaths of 44 police commandos at the hands of Moro rebels.

The group urged people in the capital Manila to shake hands with Muslims or write messages of support on “peace cards.”

The Handshake Project was inspired by a Canadian social experiment called the Blind Trust Project that also aimed at countering Islamophobia.

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Cox’s Bazar airport to be modernised for

DHAKA, Jan 23, 2016 (BSS)- Aiming to boost tourism through enhancing regional connectivity, the government has launched a project for up-gradation and modernisation of Cox’s Bazar Airport.

Under the project, take-off and landing facilities at the airport would be expanded for large aircrafts.

“We’ve taken the project considering future to exploit the tourism prospects of Cox’s Bazar and other areas in the region,” said planning Minister A H M Mustafa Kamal.

Mentioning that Cox’s Bazar, the longest sea beach in the world, has been able to draw tourist’s attention following its selection as one of the wondering tourist spots, he said “Now the existing facilities of the airport are needed to be upgraded to international standards to facilitate movement of the tourists.”

Meanwhile, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) has cleared the project: “Development of Cox’s Bazar Airport (1st phase)”, with a cost of Taka 1193 crore.

The government will bear Taka 801.66 crore from the national exchequer while the organisation concerned will contribute the remaining Taka 391.66 crore from its own fund.

Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAA,B) is to implement the project by June 2018.

Replying to a query on the revision of the project, the planning minister said they would need to relocate nearly four thousand people who are living adjacent to the airport for its expansion.

“Prime Minister has given direction to relocate the entire people into a small island on the opposite site of the river which would require additional cost,” revealed Mustafa Kamal.

CAA,B took the project in 2009 involving Taka 302.65 crore to complete it by June 2012. But, the government extended the timeframe up to December 2013 with the revised expenditure of Taka 549.64 crore.

However, CAA,B failed to implement the project in the stipulated time and extended the implementation period up to June 2015.

Again, failing to implement in time, CAA,B went for another revision of the project and sought additional Taka 890.67 crore, from the original outlay of Taka 302 crore, while implementation period was extended up to December 2018.

The Cox’s Bazar aerodrome was built during the World War-II. Now, the airport is being used for carrying cargoes and passengers. It is one of the attractive routes for domestic airlines as thousands of tourists take flights to Cox’s Bazar.

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First ever battery charging solar station opens in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Jan 22, 2016 (BSS) – The country’s first-ever battery charging solar station started its journey today in Keraniganj on the outskirts of the capital.

Food Minister Advocate Quamrul Islam and State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid Bipu opened the solar station set up on the roof of Sunny Filling Station at Ruhitpur in Keraniganj upazila.

The 21-KWP capacity solar station was installed at a cost of Taka 51.70 lakh under a government pilot project. Dhaka Palli Bidyut Samity-2 constructed the station through its own funding.

According to officials concerned, the solar station could charge 20 to 25 “easybikes” (battery-run three-wheeler) at a time and Taka 50 has been fixed for charging a battery of “easybike” and Taka 40 for a battery-run rickshaw.

From the same function, the two ministers also inaugurated 10,000 new electricity connections in Keraniganj.

Opening the solar station, Nasrul Hamid said setting up the country’s first solar station is an “experimental” project. If the project sees success, he said, five more solar stations would be established across the country in phases.

The state minister assured the Keraniganj BSCIC Estate businesspeople of solving gas crisis in the area.

Terming the present government as “industry-friendly”, Nasrul Hamid said a master plan has been undertaken at the directive of the Prime Minister to give electricity connection across the country.

Speaking on the occasion, Advocate Quamrul said the country is moving forward fast under the charismatic stewardship of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. “None could be able to halt this advancement,” he said.

The food minister said an evil force is out to destabilize the country through carrying out subversive acts. “They won’t be able to do anything … the people of the country would certainly foil their evil design,” he said.

General Manager of Dhaka Palli Bidyut Samity-2 Rabiul Hossain chaired the function, while Chairman of Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board Major General Mainuddin and Keraniganj Upazila Chairman Shaheen Ahmed spoke as the special guests.

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Construction of Khulna-Mongla railway begins soon

DHAKA, Jan 23, 2016 (BSS) – Construction of 64.75 kilometers long Khulna-Mongla broad-gauge railway will begin soon amid a hope to raise financial growth and the export-import of the country, said Bangladesh Railway (BR) sources here today.

The total cost for construction of the railway would be around Taka 3801.6180 crore-which Taka 1430.2630 crore would come from Bangladesh government and the rest Taka 2371.3490 crore come from the credit assistance by the Indian government.

“If Khulna-Mongla railway construction would complete, the direct railway communication of the country will be established with Mongla port”, said M Amjad Hossen, Director-General of Bangladesh Railway. The construction of the railway would increase the import -export of the country and would raise financial growth of the country, he said.

All the commodities would easily to be transferred to different parts of the country including the capital from the port, said the top BR official.

Regarding the construction of the project, M Majibur Rahman, General Manager (Project) of Bangladesh Railway said “the infrastructure construction of the project will start soon, adding that necessary documents have been sent for seeking concerned bank approval in India”.

The BR official is hopeful for getting the approval from India as soon as possible.

In this connection, an agreement has been signed between Bangladesh Railway and Indian construction company,-Ircon International Limited, Abdul Hai, Project Director of Khulna-Mongla Railway Construction Project.

“The construction will end within next 42 months since inception of the construction works”, said the official.

A total eight stations will be constructed on the railway which includes Phultala, Aranggata, Mohammadnagar, Katakhali, Chulkati Bazar, Bhagha, Digraj and Mongla.

Besides, three big bridges including Rupsha, 28 small bridges and 111 culverts also will be constructed on the railway.

The railway authority has acquisitioned around 678.53 acres of land and 73.357 acres of land also will be available from the Mongla Port authority for construction of the railway.

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NHA to build Muzaffarabad-Mirpur-Mangla expressway

ISLAMABAD, Jan 17 (APP): National Highway Authority has been considering to build 196 kilometre Muzaffarabad- Mirpur- Mangla (MMM) expressway. An official of the NHA said Sunday that the present government was committed to provide modern road facilities to all parts of the country including Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

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Pakistan women’s participation in development can ensure progress

ISLAMABAD, Jan 20 (APP): First Lady Mehmooda Mamnoon Hussain on Wednesday said participation of women in national development can ensure progress of the country. Addressing a gathering of Pakistan Girls Guide Association here at the Presidency, the First Lady said by adopting the principles of discipline and honesty in their lives, women can effectively contribute for the betterment of society and the country.

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An Exhibition of Woodcuts “The Masterpieces”

UZA – An Exhibition of Woodcuts “The Masterpieces” An exhibition of woodcuts titled “The Masterpieces” opened in the Ikuo Hirayama International Caravan-serai of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, where were presented works of Medat Kagarov and Damir Urazaev.

Xylography or wood engraving requires a lot of skill and talent, enabling to create a very fine, delicate works. People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Medat Kagarov was the acknowledged master of this genre. He created illustrations for the poetry collection of the classics of the East filled with a special philosophical vision, very lyrical. His works are preserved in many museums and private collections in Uzbekistan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Russia, USA, India and Japan.

Damir Urazaev also studied engraving. He is the author of miniatures to the collection of poems Zulfiya “Drop”. Works of Damir Urazaev acquired by museums and galleries of Uzbekistan, Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland.

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Azerbaijan’s economy increases by 1.1% in 2015

21 January 2016 – TODAY.AZ – A volume of Azerbaijan’s GDP amounted to 54.4 billion manat in 2015 or by 1.1 percent more than in 2014, the Azerbaijani State Statistics Committee’s report as of 2015 said.

The non-oil sector of the Azerbaijani economy increased by 1.1 percent compared to 2014. Its share in the country’s GDP hit 69.3 percent.

The volume of value added production in the oil and gas extraction and processing hit 30.7 percent of GDP or by 1.2 percent more compared to 2014.

Some 52.3 percent was formed in the field of production during this period. The value added share generated in industry makes up 33.93 percent (18.44 billion manat), construction was 12.4 percent (6.6 billion manat), agriculture, forestry and fishery was 6.23 percent (3.39 billion manat).

Net taxes on products and imports amounted to 8.3 percent of Azerbaijan’s GDP.

Some 39.4 percent of the gross output was created in the sector of services.

Around 10 percent (5.44 billion manat) of GDP in the sector of services accounted for the trade and repair of vehicles, 5.4 percent (2.93 billion manat) – transport and warehousing, 2.71 percent (1.48 billion manat) – tourist accommodation and catering sphere, 1.99 percent (1.08 billion manat) – the information and communication services, 19.3 percent (10.49 billion manat) – social and other services.

The volume of value added production in Azerbaijan`s industry increased by 1.6 percent, tourist accommodation and catering – 14 percent, information and communication services – 6.8 percent, trade and repair of vehicles – 10.9 percent, agriculture, forestry and fishery – 6.6 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.

The official exchange rate is 1.6028 AZN/USD Jan. 21.

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Baku-Kars railway to revive region’s economy

21 January 2016 – TODAY.AZ – The project for construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will help revive the economies of the countries taking part in it, Salih Dogan, research fellow at the Turkey-based Turgut Ozal University, told Trend Jan. 21.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, shortly known as the BTK, will have a peak capacity of 17 million tons of cargo per year once it comes on stream. At an initial stage, its capacity will be one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of cargo.

Dogan also said the BTK railroad will pass along the historic route of “Great Silk Road”.

“Connection of the BTK railroad with the Marmara tunnel in Istanbul will actually link Asia to Europe,” he added.

It will also be possible to transport goods from Central Asia to Europe through the BTK, said Dogan.

“In addition, the BTK project will contribute to creation of new jobs,” he added.

Dogan also noted that investments are expected to grow and there will be a revival of the regional economy once the BTK railway comes on stream.

“Once the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway starts to operate, it will be possible to talk about increasing trade turnover among the three participating countries (Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia),” said Dogan.

“Strategic partnership among the parties will be strengthened, along with economic cooperation,” he added.

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Mehriban Efendi’s paintings to tour world

22 January 2016 – TODAY.AZ – The paintings of Azerbaijan’s most popular artist-surrealist Mehriban Efendi will tour the world as part of a major Portuguese project “Surrealism Now”, aimed at finding surrealists and promoting their works.

The world tour has started with the exhibition at the Cullis Wade Depot gallery in the U.S. state of Mississippi.

The project brings together 50 well-known surrealist painters from more than 30 countries including Azerbaijan, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Spain, the U.S., Italy and others.

Mehriban officially joined the project in 2010 and since that time, the talented artist achieved great successes conquering international art arena.

Creating her paintings from the age of 5 to 6 years old, Mehriban did not imagine that the masterpieces she draw would be considered surrealism, which allowed Mehriban to express her “space dreams” on canvas.

Mehriban’s paintings has been included in the famous Italian “Byblos” studio’s latest catalogue, which will release in June and be presented in the top ten museums in the world.

Efendi took part in an international exhibition organized by Australian artist Paris Saint-Martin, becoming one of the top ten computer artists of 2003. The artist’s piece was presented at an international exhibition in the Netherlands in 2009.

She is the winner of the prestigious Sandro Botticelli (named after the Italian painter of the Early Renaissance) award called “For art and talent” in 2014.

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Preserving historical Sheki for future generations

22 January 2016 – TODAY.AZ – The historic part of Sheki, one of the most ancient and picturesque regions of Azerbaijan will be protected, in accordance with the order issued by President Ilham Aliyev on January 21.

Yukhari Bash Historical-Architectural Reserve will receive the National reserve status under the order. The reserve includes Sheki fortress which accommodates Palace of Sheki Khans, and the main shopping street, along which caravanserais and artisan shops located here.

To preserve the historic appearance and architectural style of Sheki, which is of great importance for Azerbaijani culture, as well as to promote the cultural achievements of the Azerbaijani people, the relevant agencies should submit proposals about the restoration of buildings and roads, preservation of historical and cultural monuments, conservation of natural landscape in the city to the Cabinet of Ministers during two months.

Sheki, located on the descriptive hillsides of the Caucasus Mountains in the background of snowy peaks is among Azerbaijan’s main tourist destinations, hosting hundred thousands of tourists every year.

The city is a real natural wonder with its beautiful landscapes, mineral water springs, forests and rivers.

Since ancient times, Sheki has been famous as a city of artists, artisans and merchants. The city hosted the traders from all over the Great Silk Road, due to which the construction of caravanserai was very important. Between the 18th and 19th centuries some five large caravanserais were operating in the city, and today only two of them namely Upper and Lower survived.

The must-see place in Sheki is the local Old Fortress. There are 11 historical bathhouses here, and one of them built in 19th century, is still in operation. Most of the historical monuments from different periods are located in this part of the town, including the 5th century Albanian temple and barracks built in the time of Tsar.

Juma Mosque, built in the18th century is another tourist attraction in Sheki, which is protected by the state as an important historical monuments.

The majestic Palace of Sheki Khans, located in the city fortress, takes a special place with its magnificent wall paintings and colorful windows’ mosaic.

The palace is a two-story brick masonry structure elongated on the north-south axis and covered with a wooden hipped roof with long eaves. The layout of both floors is identical; three rectangular rooms are placed in a row, separated by narrow, south-facing balconies that provide access to the rooms.

The summer residence is renowned for the lavish decoration of its exterior and interior. The facades are covered in tiles with floral and geometrical motives. The interior walls of the residence are covered with frescoes painted during the eighteenth century. Many of the frescoes feature flowers in vases, while a series of paintings on the first floor halls depict hunting and battle scenes. Signatures on frescoes list the names of artists Ali Kuli, Kurban Kuli and Mizra Jafar from Shemaha, Usta Gambar from Shusha, and Abbas Kuli, who may also have been the architect of the summer residence.

The palace was the residence of Sheki khans back in 1762. The interior design of the palace reflects the best traditions of Azerbaijani architecture. The palace is considered as one of the most beautiful architectural monuments of medieval Azerbaijan.

Famous local dish is Piti. No one could resist the flavor of this Piti, which is cooked in special earthenware pots in eight-nine hours.

Piti is traditionally a workers’ dish, local people say. There is even a belief that one portion of piti is enough to see a worker through the whole day; it is a very satisfying and, at the same time, inexpensive lunch. The main ingredient is lamb, rich in proteins and fat. The use of only fresh meat and the fat from the distinctive tails of Azerbaijani sheep give the dish its special flavour.

Sheki is also famous for its own sweet pakhlava made of rice flour, nuts, and sugar-honey syrup. Anyone visiting Sheki will not be able to resist the temptation of its famous Pakhlava.

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Turkey to offer new fuel subsidies for flights

FRANKFURT – Reuters – Turkey will offer jet fuel subsidies for flights to five of its tourist hot spots as part of its efforts to safeguard tourism revenue after a suicide bombing in Istanbul last week killed 10 German tourists.

Airlines will receive $6,000 per flight to Antalya, Alanya, Dalaman, Bodrum and İzmir during the start of the tourism season in April and May, Turkey’s tourism minister, Mahir Ünal, told Reuters on Jan. 20.

Turkey’s vital tourism industry accounts for about 4.5 percent of the $800 billion economy. “The only problem is with the Syrian border area,” Ünal said.

“Istanbul is one of the safest places in the world… The tourist areas are safe… We have taken all the measures necessary,” he added.

Turkey offered similar fuel subsidies for flights from Russia last year, after a slump in the value of the ruble prompted consumers to hold off spending money on travel abroad.

Russians accounted for about 10 percent of foreigners arriving in Turkey in January through November last year making Russia the country’s second-biggest source country after Germany with 5.4 million travelers or 15.5 percent of arrivals.

In addition to the new fuel subsidy unveiled on Jan. 20, which could be extended beyond May, Turkey has tripled its security measures in tourist areas, according to Ünal.

He was speaking in Frankfurt, where he was meeting with German tour operators to discuss joint measures to prop up tourist demand, such as promotional campaigns that would be half paid for by Turkey and half by the tourism companies.

He said he was also meeting with tour operators in Spain and Switzerland.

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Turkish art of marbling opens to the world

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – The Turkish art of paper marbling, known as “ebru,” was added to the United Nations’ world cultural heritage list in 2014 as the first Turkish art recognized by UNESCO.

The name behind this success is ebru artist Atilla Can, who is also known for his successful organization of “World Marbling Day,” which has been celebrated in various Turkish towns for the last four years.

Last year, the special day was celebrated in the northwestern province of Yalova and the “world’s biggest Turkish flag made by ebru” entered the Guinness Book of Records thanks to Can.

Speaking about his efforts to carry this art to the international field, Can said his works were in many collections in Turkey and around the world.

“I always felt that the art of marbling is a universal one. Then I thought that this art was not very known in the world and something should be done to promote it,” he said, adding, “Then the idea of the World Marbling Day came up. But it should have an official language and I sent a petition to the United Nations and UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. I asked the art of marbling to be celebrated on the second Saturday of September every year.”

Can continued sending artwork-like petitions to the UNESCO until he was successful. “People thought it was a crazy project and did not believe it. I continued dreaming of the recognition of ebru by UNESCO. I sent some 15 petitions but it was like sending mail into the infinity.”

Can said he finally initiated World Marbling Day in 2012, coming one step closer to his dreams.

Speaking of this process, the artist said, “I came up with the idea of the Guinness (Book of World Records) and we set up the world’s largest marbling set in Istanbul in 2012 with the participation of many artists. Then our adventure started. It turned out to be a project that continued in various towns.”

Can said that sometime later, marbling petitions from many countries including the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Brazil, Algeria and South Africa were sent to UNESCO.

Finally, the Culture and Tourism Ministry was informed about the project. Can said, “The ministry delivered a marbling file to UNESCO and it was added to the UNESCO list on Nov. 27, 2014. For the first time, a Turkish art was put under UNESCO protection.”

He said he has received invitations from 33 countries this year. “We will organize the fifth World Marbling Day this year and many countries have already supported the project. The U.S., Czech Republic and the Netherlands want to host Marbling Day this year. But we have not decided yet where to organize it; it will be announced in the coming days after talks,” Can said.

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Hagia Sophia still Istanbul’s top tourist attraction

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum remained Turkey’s most visited tourist attraction last year, according to data released by the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

In 2015, 3.47 million people visited the Hagia Sophia, originally built as a 6th century Christian basilica that was converted to an imperial mosque in the 15th century before becoming a museum. It was also the most visited site in Turkey in 2014.

The Hagia Sophia was followed by the Topkapı Museum with 3.25 visitors and Konya’s Mevlana Museum with 2.34 million visitors.

The Pamukkale Hierapolis ancient site, the Göreme Openair Museum (Cappadocia), Topkapı Palace’s Seraglio, the ancient city of Troy, and the Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı underground cities, were also among the top 10 tourist attractions in Turkey last year.

Istanbul was the most visited city by tourists last year, followed by the Central Anatolian provinces of Konya and Nevşehir.

The total number of visitors to 325 museum and ancient sites in 2015 was 28.45 million.

Meanwhile, 6.63 million cards have so far been sold as part of the Museum Card system, initiated by the Culture and Tourism Ministry in 2008.

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Local tourism firms aim to reach 20 million Turkish travellers

Burak Coşan – ISTANBUL – Turkey’s tourism industry, facing a sharp drop in foreign visitors this year, aims to boost the number of domestic tourists traveling both within the country and abroad to 20 million from the current 16.5 million, a leading industry representative said at a Jan. 20 event organized by daily Hürriyet.

“Some eight million people traveled abroad while another 8.5 million traveled within the county (for vacations),” said Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) President Başaran Ulusoy, discussing last year’s figures.

“We plan to increase these figures sharply. Our goal for 2016 is to increase the number of travelling Turkish citizens to 20 million,” he said at the event, which brought together leading figures from the industry.

Ulusoy said the number of Turkish people travelling inside Turkey stood at a mere 568,000 in 2000.

Turkey’s annual $35 billion tourism industry is at risk of shrinking mainly due to the ongoing diplomatic crisis with Russia, a leading source of foreign visitors, as well as ongoing unrest in the southeast and recent terrorist attacks hitting Ankara and Istanbul.

After a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey on Nov. 24 last year for violating Turkish air space, a number of travel agencies in Russia canceled their Turkey packages in line with government pressure.

Meanwhile, an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suicide bomber killed 10 German tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet, the heart of city tours, on Jan. 12, further raising security concerns for foreign visitors.

Ulusoy said he contacted the German Travel Association (DRV) in solidarity following the Sultanahmet terrorist attack.

“We know there is a huge problem in Turkey’s southeast,” he said, referring to fresh clashes between the military and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in several urban areas.

“We cannot offer jobs to young people there want to earn their living,” he added.

A number of historic artifacts and museums have been destroyed in the region and across the border in Syria and Iraq, Ulusoy also said, describing this as “the collapse of civilization.”

“We condemn terror and show we are not afraid of it. What they want to do is intimidate us,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hürriyet editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin said at the same even that the gates of Hürriyet are “wide open to the tourism sector.”

The Right to travel is a basic aspect of freedom, Ergin added. “Terrorism targets this basic freedom of ours. But we will stick to our freedom,” he said.

Ergin also stated that the travel supplement of Hürriyet’s Sunday edition rivaled its counterparts in the West, pledging full support to the sector.

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British MPs Recommend Resumption of Flights to Sharm El-Sheikh

17 January 2016 – Aswat Masriya – Cairo — During their visit to Cairo on Sunday, a delegation of members of the British House of Commons and the House of Lords affirmed they would recommend the resumption of British air flights to Sharm el-Sheikh upon their return to the U.K., the Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received the joint delegation, comprised of representatives of the UK Conservative Party, during their visit to Cairo, which comes after the inauguration of the Egyptian parliament.

The Egyptian parliament convened for the first time on Jan. 10 for its procedural session. This marks the third and final pillar of the political transition roadmap.

The British delegation further asserted its determination to strengthen relations with the people and government of Egypt, according to the foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abo Zeid.

Abo Zeid added that the delegation acknowledges the significance of the tourist sector to the Egyptian economy, and seeks to overcome the difficulties that may have affected Egyptian-British relations recently.

The downing of a Russian plane in the Sinai Peninsula late October had caused wide scale ramifications on an international scale, leading to several countries cutting off air flights to Sharm el-Shiekh.

ISIS affiliates in Egypt, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis before renaming themselves “Sinai Province”, claimed responsibility for downing the Russian plane.

The Russian Parliament, Kremlin, previously announced that the results of the Russian investigation into the passenger plane crash found that it was an act of terrorism, and suspected that a homemade bomb had been leaked into the plane.

However, an Egypt-led committee tasked with investigating the cause of the Russian airliner crash has announced late December that it has yet to prove the existence of “unlawful interference or a terrorist act”.

Egyptian tourism was slowly inching towards recovery when the Russian plane crashed and Egypt fears that the ramifications of this incident will cause damage to its tourism sector, a vital source of much-needed hard currency.

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Nigeria: ‘250 Railway Coaches Refurbished in Two Years’

17 January 2016 – Daily Trust – Lagos — At least 250 coaches and 130 wagons have been rehabilitated and refurbished by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) under its facilities refurbishment programme. Besides, the corporation is expected to take delivery of unspecified number of new coaches for the standard gauge line from Abuja to Kaduna which is billed to commence operations between February and March.

Managing Director of the corporation, Engr. Adeseyi Sijuwade, disclosed this at the weekend during a tour of security formations at the flagship Ido railway terminus in Lagos.

Sijuwade was accompanied on the tour by management team of the corporation as well as the Railway police command led by Commissioner of Police Pius Uebari Imue where the team inspected various security measures put in place for smooth operations at the terminus. The managing director who described the security apparatus in place as impressive, disclosed that the continuous refurbishment programme was aimed at boosting passengers comfort especially on the Lagos – Kano passenger’ train.

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Egypt to Develop Giza Pyramids Area

19 January 2016 – Egypt State Information Service (Cairo) – President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi held a meeting on Monday 18/1/2016 with Assistant President for national and strategic projects Engineer Ibrahim Mahlab to discuss plans to develop the area of Giza pyramids.

The meeting tackled measures proposed to develop this archaeological area from all aspects. President Sisi underlined the importance of paying attention to developing the area and improving services provided to tourists.

Present at the meeting were Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces and the ministries of housing, utilities and urban communities, tourism and antiquities.

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Madrid – Algeria Tourism Forum On Investment, Business in Africa

20 January 2016 – Algerie Presse Service (Algiers) — Algeria will partake from 20 to 23 January in Madrid (Spain) in the 7th Tourism Forum on investment and business opportunities in Africa, the ministry said Wednesday in a statement.

Algeria will be represented at the event by a delegation led by the Minister of National Planning, Tourism and Craft Industry Amar Ghoul.

Several international investors will take part in the forum that will discuss the challenges of tourism investment in Africa, in terms of technological developments in terms of hospitality, environmental tourism in national parks and nature reserves, and the promotion of tourist destinations and cultural tourism, as tourism is considered as an engine of sustainable development, he added.

During his stay in Madrid, the Minister will also attend an information meeting that will bring together African ministers to review the progress made with the African Union (AU) in terms of tourism in Africa, and to the works of a Roundtable on policy, tourism development strategies in the Middle East and North Africa, under the theme “Pursuing growth despite the crisis.”

Organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), these meetings will “discuss the current trends, future prospects of tourism, acceleration and consolidation of growth and encouraging investment.”

Ghoul will participate in “a high-level meeting on tourism and security, which will be attended by the majority of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, to implement the strategies and measures meant to strengthen tourism security.”

In addition to these meetings, the Minister will meet with the Secretary General of UNWTO to examine opportunities for cooperation between Algeria and the organization.

These activities are organized in parallel with “the International Tourism Fair, scheduled from 20 to 24 January 2016 under the auspices of the WTO,” said the source.

Algeria will be represented at this meeting by the National Tourism Office (ONT). A stand will devoted to Algerian tourism operators to market Algerian products and establish contacts with leaders of the major tourist agencies and media participating in this faire to promote the destination of Algeria.

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Lagos Safe for Tourists, Investors – LASG

20 January 2016 – The Guardian (Lagos) – The Lagos State Government (LASG) on Wednesday assured investors that the state was a safe destination for tourism, entertainment and other genuine investments .

The state Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mr Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, gave the assurance the while speaking with newsmen in Lagos.

Folarin -Coker said that the government had put in place favourable and investor-friendly policies that would protect both local and foreign investments in the state.

He said that the state was not “a den of criminals, rather a safe environment for legitimate ventures.”

The commissioner said that the crime rate in some of the developed countries of the world on daily basis was a far cry to what was recorded in Lagos.

He advised the people to stop projecting the state and the country at large in a way that both the citizens and foreigners would feel that they were entering into a ‘one-chance environment’.

Folarin-Coker said that every city in Nigeria was safe noting that whatever was happening in any of the cities in the country was not different from the happenings elsewhere around the world.

“Every city has its good and bad sides; that is why we must stop portraying Lagos as if it were a den of criminals.

“Lagos a safe city where legitimate businesses thrive,” he said.

The commissioner said that more people were being killed, involved in car-jacked in other cities than in Lagos on a daily basis.

He said that people still go on holidays in some East African countries despite the statistics of bomb blasts that had been occurring there in recent years?

“But, when last did you hear of violence or serious crime in Lagos nowadays compared to what we used to record some years ago.

The commissioner called on the citizens to have a positive attitudinal change for the state and the country and begin to project the state and country in positive light particularly when it comes to security.

He recalled that in December, the Lagos State government staged “One Lagos Fiesta ” in its five old divisions which he said were hitch-free.

“Twenty Seven concerts were held in five days that the ‘One Lagos Fiesta”‘ lasted; yet no report of serious crime was recorded.

“They didn’t rape, kill or fight. So , Lagos is safe when compared with the rest of the world. We must begin to appreciate what we have, because if we fail to do so and blow our trumpets ourselves, no one will do so for us.

“If you don’t love yourself, you don’t expect someone else to love you, that where we are at present.”

Folarin-Coker said that the state was ready to project all its cultural and tourism potential to the world. “That is was why we choose a new brand tagged, “LoveLagos,” he said.

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Nigeria: Benue, NIHOTOUR Unite to Grow Tourism

20 January 2016 – The Guardian – Abuja — WITH ceaseless drop in the price of crude oil in the international market, some states have begun to explore other revenue generation sources. And for Benue State, tourism has a lot to offer considering numerous products and destinations the state is blessed with. Yet, the step towards developing the potentials must begin with manpower development.

But the process of building the capacity took a definite dimension last week with the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) – the establishment saddled with the responsibility of training hospitality and tourism operators.

The MoU was to guide and facilitate the establishment of the branch of NIHOTOUR in the state.

The event, which held in Benue State House, Abuja, had the Director General, NIHOTOUR, Mrs. Chika Balogun, Benue State Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism, Sekav Dzua Iyortyom, and Benue state Governor, Samuel Ortom in attendance.

For the governor, hospitality and tourism formed part of the areas the state has comparative advantage and citing of NIHOTOUR in the state was only apt in helping to actualize the dream of Benue as a tourism destination of choice.

He added that with the continuous fall in the price of crude oil coupled with projections of future decline, it was expected that states should take quick actions towards economic stability by exploring areas where they have comparative advantages.

His words: “This is a right step in the right direction and we must thank NIHOTOUR for the passion and initiatives. As at yesterday, the price of crude oil was $28 per barrel, the possibility of coming down more is there and going by the projections made by both OPEC and IMF, it is likely to fall below $20 per barrel.

“So, that calls for quick action and quick means of adding value to our economy. There is need for the country to diversify its economy; this is a right step in the right direction.

“And for us in Benue State, we have several areas where we have comparative advantage. They include agricultural, solid minerals, tourism and culture.

“No doubt, hospitality and tourism is one area where we have very big advantage and we are happy that you are coming in at this time”.

The governor stressed the need for capacity building in tourism and hospitality. With well-equipped manpower, Ortom said tourism should be one of the ways out of Nigeria’s economic challenges.

He therefore, assured NIHOTOUR of every necessary assistance to ensure that the project takes off as soon as possible. “On our part, we shall do everything possible to ensure this programme takes off as soon as possible. We assure you of our commitment”, he added.

Mrs. Balogun, said the decision to cite the Institute in the state was motivated by the enthusiasm the government of the state has shown towards tourism development.

Noting that hospitality thrives in quality service delivery, there was need for trained and experienced tourism personnel or operators to help drive the vision of the state.

“Hospitality is all about service delivery. So, we need trained and experienced personnel to drive the industry. Benue State is adjudged one of the most hospitable states in Nigeria – I can say one of the first three in the country.

“These are evidence in their rich and variety cuisine, excellent dance culture as well hospitable people. I witnessed all these in my recent visit to the state and I still look forward to going for those wonderful experiences again”.

The DG added,”it is to be commended that in your wisdom, you have decided to take tourism very seriously and have decided to do it in a scientific way so as to get desire result.

“Also, you have realized that the bedrock of hospitality and tourism is trained and efficient manpower that will run the sector.

With Benue State adjudged one of the most hospitable states in Nigeria, it has the capacity to develop like some notable tourism destinations across the world,” she said.

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Hilton Announces First Hotel in Chad

21 January 2016 – African Media Agency (Dubai) – Hilton Hotels & Resorts today officially announced its first hotel in Chad, Hilton N’Djamena which takes Hilton Worldwide’s overall presence to 100 countries and territories. The 194-room property, offering breathtaking panoramic views of Chari River, is located in the new and upmarket district of Sabangali in N’Djamena. The latest addition joins Hilton Worldwide’s growing portfolio of 37 hotels in Africa.

Hilton Worldwide is the largest and fastest-growing global hospitality company with an industry-leading pipeline of rooms. Led by 12 clearly-defined, market-leading brands, Hilton is committed to being the first choice for owners and guests by providing a brand for any travel need, anywhere in the world.

Rob Palleschi, global head, full service brands, Hilton Worldwide, said: “Hilton Hotels & Resorts has had a presence in Africa for more than 50 years and Hilton N’Djamena is a magnificent achievement that showcases how far the brand has come in its commitment to this market.

Located in the heart of the country, Hilton N’Djamena, with its striking river views and relaxing environment, marks an exciting addition to the Hilton portfolio.” Located near tourist attractions such as the National Museum, which houses N’Djamena’s oldest artifacts, Grand Marche (Central Market) for a local shopping experience like no other and Avenue Charles de Gaulle with its European-style colonial houses, Hilton N’Djamena truly is a destination that caters for all.

The contemporary property, which includes 11 suites, provides guests with resort-style facilities situated perfectly for those travelling for business. N’Djamena is home to the National Assembly of Chad, along with many other political organisations across the city. The property boasts a wide range of dining options from the poolside Acqua Bar and Grill, to the stylish yet comfortable Axis Bar and Lounge. L’atelier, located in the lobby, offers a fine dining experience perfect for special events. La Distillerie is an elegant space with an impressive selection of whiskey and cocktails, while Merkato offers all-day dining facing the stunning Chari River.

Hilton N’Djamena is an impressive venue for corporate events or banquets with eight flexible meeting and event spaces, including a ballroom that caters for up to 500 people. The hotel offers a fully equipped business centre and is a great spot for hosting conferences.

For leisure travellers looking to unwind, the hotel’s 24-hour health club features the latest cardio and strength-training equipment as well as an impressive outdoor pool for a relaxing space to revitalise and energise.

Rudi Jagersbacher, president, Middle East & Africa, Hilton Worldwide, said: “We’re excited to be opening our first property in Chad. Africa is a key focus for us in terms of growth.

Hilton N’Djamena is not only a great base for business travellers, but also for those wanting to explore Northern Chad for the sand dunes and Saharan fauna – a jewel amongst the world’s desert landscapes.” Hilton N’Djamena participates in the Hilton HHonors® loyalty program, which is open to all guests and free to join – visit here for enrollment information. HHonors members always get Hilton’s lowest price with its Best Price Guarantee, along with HHonors Points, free Wi-Fi, access to digital check-in and no booking fees only when they book directly through Hilton.

Hilton N’Djamena is located at Sabangali Resort, Corniche Road, P.O Box 6073, N’Djamena, Chad. For more information or to make reservations, please visit thehotel’s website or call +235 22 513 500. View more news about Hilton Hotels & Resorts openings and a development map at http://news.hilton.com/openings.

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Gambia’s Janjanbureh Museum Nearly Complete

22 January 2016 – The Point (Banjul) – The director of cultural heritage at the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) has said that the Kankurang Museum that is constructed in Janjanbureh village is at the “mounting stage of exhibition”.

Mr Hassoum Ceesay said already the writings and exhibition texts have been completed, the required photographs are at hand and all the necessary research has been done.

In an interview with The Point newspaper recently at his office in Banjul, Mr Ceesay said the museum is centred on kankurang as a traditional masquerade but it also has stuff on all the masquerade traditions in The Gambia like the zimba, hunting, and kumpo.

The museum is centred on kankurang because the initial funding agreement with UNESCO was that the museum will centre on showcasing the history and significant role of the kankurang.

“This is because we realised that kankurang is a major masquerade in many parts of Africa though it is not the only one. But we have now decided to broaden and increase the scope so that there will be a lot in the museum,” he said.

Mr Ceesay explained that one of the things most people will find interesting about the museum is women masquerades because people take masquerades to be a male activity.

“We have researched up to six different types of women masquerades which most people never knew about,” he explained.

The museum will also have stuff on masquerade traditions in Africa to give it a continental dimension.

The official opening of Kankurang Museum is now planned to coincide with the festivities for the 51st independence anniversary of The Gambia.

However, the director of cultural heritage lamented that they were faced with some of the constraints in having the museum completed.

“The issue of photos like the women masquerades was a problem. We ended up collaborating with the researchers in the 60s and 70s to avail us some photos. The other thing is the timing; our intention was to get the museum running in January but still the mounting is on,” Mr Ceesay said.

Demba Y Baldeh also of NCAC said the mounting will set a light to a lot of mysticism attached to masquerades and masks because a great research has been made in the issues.

He said the Kankurang Museum is a multi-purpose centre: it is an exhibition centre and an educational centre.

The educational centre will help educate students from various schools ranging from lower basic to tertiary to know about the masquerades in The Gambia.

The exhibition centre is designed in a modern fashion and in such a way at that the writings can be read even 25 metres away from the materials exhibited because that could attract different visitors to the centre, Mr Baldeh said.

He said it is expected that many people will endeavor to visit the centre in order to access valuable information there pertaining to the masquerade.

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Gambia Minister Extols Jammeh for Promoting Traditional Medicine

22 January 2016 – The Daily Observer (Banjul) – The Minister of Health and Social Welfare has commended the President of the Islamic Republic of The Gambia, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhagi Dr. Yahya A.J.J Jammeh, Babili Mansa for his immense contribution to the promotion of health, traditional medicine and cultural revivalism in The Gambia, the African continent and the Diaspora, describing it as a phenomenon that is indisputable, unique and worthy of emulation and admiration.

This was contained in a statement he delivered to the nation on the commemoration of the National Traditional Medicine Day in The Gambia observed on 17th January every year.

Minister Omar Sey stated that the day is geared towards cultural revivalism and promotion of invariably quality health. The theme for this year was, “Going back to the roots for long and healthier life” Quoting from WHO, Minister Sey said; “traditional medicine is the first-choice of health care treatment for at least 80% of Africans who suffer from high fever and other common ailments.”

Traditional medicine, he added is inherent in every culture and is intertwined with our values, which has marked us among civilised nations of the world.

“Therefore, to commemorate our this health identity with a theme as such:- ‘Going back to the roots for long and healthier life’ is quite a sober reflection of our past, that was devoid of epidemics and pandemics besieging the human race and undermining the very fabric of our societies.”

Considering the areas of social acceptability, cost affordability, self-reliance, cultural compatibility, relevance and community participation, Minister Sey believes that the orthodox or modern/western based medicine has not been adequate for the majority of the African population.

“Therefore, if we must make progress, there is an inevitable need for the official integration of traditional medicine and the utilisation of traditional medicine practitioners in the PHC system in our country The Gambia. Needless to say that the only health care providers closest to our communities are our traditional healers, who live within our people, readily providing healthcare services for them.”

According to him, it is incumbent on Governments in the region to reverse the erosion of the centuries-old traditional medical knowledge and practice. This way, he said they would be restoring the glory of traditional medicine to its pride and glory and perpetuating the culture of its utilisation.

“Africa’s future is its children and must be empowered through awareness creation and the development of the right attitudes as extolled by our dear President, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji, Dr. Yahya A.J.J Jammeh, Babili Mansa.”

He thus lauded the initiative of promoting traditional medicine in The Gambia, which is the brainchild of President Jammeh.

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Uganda set to embrace Islamic banking

Monday 18 Jan 2016 – Kampala, Uganda (IINA) – Financial inclusion in Uganda is expected to deepen following a move by parliament to enact a new financial law so as to pave way for Islamic banking in the country, The Independent news reported.

Islamic banking refers to a system of banking or banking activity that is consistent with Islamic Sharia law. It prohibits the charging of interest on loans, fixed deposits or mortgages, which it refers to as ‘usury.’ Instead, the clients share in the profits and jointly take risks with the commercial banks.

The legislators passed the Financial Institutions (amendment) Bill 2015 on Thursday, a decision that will see individuals who had been locked out of mainstream banking by virtue of their faith or religious affiliation able to access financial services with less hindrance, once signed into law.

The law will also allow financial institutions to roll out agency banking (a banking model that allows commercial banks to use agents to take deposits on their behalf or also provide a mechanism for withdrawals – a model similar to that of mobile money) as well as offer ‘bancassurance’ products.

Executives in the banking industry say they are excited with the new developments because it will revolutionaries the country’s financial sector, further deepening financial inclusion.

“We are excited that the law now allows us and consumers to have choice; it is more inclusive, it’s complementary,” said Herman Kasekende, the chief executive officer of the Standard Chartered Bank Uganda.

“There are businesses that we would like to do, but up to this time, we have not been able to do as some people have argued that the conventional banking currently available is not aligned to their faith.”

Standard Chartered Bank Uganda is one of the country’s commercial banks interested in unveiling Islamic banking products having introduced similar products mainly in the Middle East.

Fabian Kasi, the managing director at Centenary Bank, said the new law brings a new dimension in the financial sector enabling enhanced latitude for financial institutions to offer more , better and convenient services to clients, and so, is enhancing financial inclusion.

According to Bank of Uganda data, the country’s bank account holders stand at just four million mainly from the urban areas out of the bankable population of about 12 million people.

Now, any of the 23 commercial banks that want to undertake Islamic banking will have to make an official request to BoU followed up with an assessment for preparedness to unveil the new products, according to Christine Alupo, the director of communications at BoU.

Islamic banking has emerged as an effective tool for financing development worldwide, including in non-Muslim countries.

According to the World Bank report 2015, the Islamic finance industry has expanded rapidly over the past decade, growing at 10-12 percent annually.

It is estimated that the Sharia-compliant financial assets are roughly $2 trillion, covering bank and non-bank financial institutions, capital markets, money markets and insurance. In the East African Community, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania have already incorporated Islamic banking and finance into their systems, enabling their financial institutions to roll out the Sharia-compliant products.

The private sector has welcomed the amended law saying it has the potential to help address the challenges of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

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Togo to implement projects worth $194 million with IDB financing

Friday 22 Jan 2016 – Jeddah, (IINA) – Togo and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) have signed on Wednesday three agreements under which the IDB will finance projects worth $194 million in Togo, Xinhua News Agency reported citing an official.

Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe signed the agreements with IDB President Dr. Ahmed Muhammad Ali in Jeddah during his visit to Saudi Arabia

The first agreement worth around $131 million is dedicated to the construction of Adoua-Kara road, which links five regions in Togo. Its completion will enable Burkina Faso to have direct access to Lome port.

“The project will enable the Togolese government to improve the state of this strategic road, increase security and road safety, and also promote integration between Togo and its landlocked neighboring countries”, IDB president said.

The second funding agreement will go towards improving and expanding access to primary education as well as supporting concerned institutions. It will provide education opportunities for 16,800 students at primary and lower secondary levels.

The third agreement is dedicated to the energy sector. It will see $46 million spent on the electrification of 43 villages in northern Togo.

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Visitors to Middle East, North Africa expected to triple by 2030

Saturday 23 Jan 2016 – New York (IINA) – The number of international tourists to the Middle East and North Africa will triple to 195 million in 2030 despite concerns over security, the head of the United Nations tourism body said Thursday.

The region’s tourism sector – a key source of jobs and foreign currency – has repeatedly bounced back after attacks by extremists that frightened off visitors, said Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organization, AFP reported.

“The story of tourism in the Middle East is a story of mixed description. It is a success story without doubt. Today we have over 60 million international visitors coming to the Middle East. This is a growth that has tripled in less than ten years,” he added at the Madrid international tourism fair Fitur. “Our long term forecast for 2030 is that the Middle East and North Africa will receive 195 million international tourists. That is triple the amount that we receive now,” he said.

International tourism arrivals in the Middle East grew for the third consecutive year in 2015, expanding by 3.0 percent, but were down by eight percent in North Africa in large part due to deadly attacks in Tunisia. The number of international visitors to Tunisia – which was shaken by an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis followed by one in the resort of Sousse that killed 59 tourists – fell to 5.2 million last year from 7.2 million in 2014.

But Rifai, a former Jordanian tourism minister, pointed to the example of Egypt which has repeatedly managed to rebuild confidence and revive tourist numbers after attacks, most vividly after the massacre of tourists by extremists in Luxor in 1997 in which over 60 people were killed.

Egypt suffered a slump in visitors last year following the crash of a Russian airliner on October 31 over the Sinai Peninsula that killed all those on board. The Islamic State group said it downed the plane a bomb smuggled on board at the airport of Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh airport. Some major tourist operators have suspended packages to the region.

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Al-Qurain Festival, Kuwait Capital Of Islamic Culture Set for Launch

KUWAIT, Jan 18 (NNN-KUNA) — Celebrations of Al-Qurain Cultural Festival, and “Kuwait Capital of Islamic Culture 2016” will start on Monday, sponsored by the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah.

Al-Qurain ceremony includes distribution of the State Encouragement and Appreciation Awards, honoring veteran actor Abdulhussain Abdulredha, Assistant Secretary General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL) Mohammad Al-Asousi said in a statement.

He added that the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb is the dignitary of this year’s ceremony.

The event will be used to emphasize how Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, amid the current events in the region, as well as highlighting Kuwait as a “Humanitarian Center,” Al-Asousi said.

The NCCAL official pointed to the UN honoring of the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah as a “Humanitarian Leader” and Kuwait as a Humanitarian Center.” The celebrations will also focus on the role of culture to get people closer to each other, shedding light on Kuwait’s efforts in cultural work.

Al-Asousi offered a video on the activities to celebrate “Kuwait Capital of Islamic Culture 2016” that will run through the whole year, with participation of government bodies and public benefit societies, such as the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, the Kuwait University and the Kuwait Writers Association.

Meanwhile, Minister of Information Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Humoud Al-Sabah said that choosing Kuwait Capital of Islamic Culture 2016 establishes its key status and role in the cultural field on both Islamic and global levels.

Sheikh Salman, also Minister of State for Youth Affairs, told KUNA that this choice affirms keenness of the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on promoting culture due to its key role in promoting national affiliation, human values, traditions and customs.

A plan was prepared for activities and events of celebrations of Kuwait Capital of Islamic Culture 2016 throughout the year upon the directives of the Amir based on spreading Islamic culture, showing its value and immortalizing it, the minister said.

Cultural diversity of Kuwait reflects the State’s interest in cultural field and enhancing its status in international scenes, Sheikh Salman, also President of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL), added.

Kuwait was named Capital of Islamic Culture 2016 during the 7th conference of ministers of culture of the Islamic Education, Sciences and Culture Organization (ISESCO).

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Second Renaissance Of Arabic Language Forum Held In Qatar

DOHA, Qatar, Jan 21 (NNN-QNA) – The Second Renaissance of Arabic Language Forum, kicked off in the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), here.

The event was held under the auspices and in the presence of Sheikha Moza Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF).

The Forum, entitled: ‘Linguistic Upbringing of The Arab Child – The Reality and Prospects for the Future,’ is being hosted by the World Organisation for Renaissance of Arabic Language (WORAL), a member of QF, and aims to foster a progressive society that is appreciative of its culture, while promoting the Arabic language.

In his opening speech, WORAL Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr Abdulaziz Abdullah Turki Al Subaie, stressed the importance of linguistic upbringing of the child and its great role in establishing identity and culture, as well as, contributing to the construction and progress of civilisation.

He also emphasised that the Arabic language remains a part of the world civilisation, through its balanced, interactive and refurbished speech, pointing out to the important role being played by WORAL, despite the presence of numerous language organisations and centres, in all the Arab countries.

In this context, Dr Al Subaie praised the ability and multiple achievements made by WORAL, despite the great responsibilities and current challenges and crises surrounding the Arabic language.

The two-day event brings together more than 300 professors, researchers and teachers from around the region.

The conference consists of lectures, panel discussions, and seminars, run by experts and prominent researchers in the Arabic language and educational field.

The forum seeks to raise awareness and promote children’s acquisition of the Arabic language, as well as, explore the factors affecting their linguistic learning abilities.

Discussions will focus on the need to promote Arabic media content, on the proper use of the language and engage parents as active agents, in their children’s education and development.

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Kuwait Chairs UNESCO’s Arab Group For 2016

PARIS, France, Jan 22 (NNN-KUNA) – The State of Kuwait was chosen to chair the Arab Group, in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), for the year 2016, Kuwait’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, Dr. Meshal Hayat, announced on Friday.

Within the UNESCO, “the Arab Group carries more weight on matters that are beneficial to Arab nations such as: culture, education, science and sociology,” Hayat pointed out; hence, Kuwait will strive, during its chairmanship, to promote and enhance Arab coordination to achieve Arabs aspirations.

The Arab Group’s monthly meetings usually discusses preparations for various executive matters within the group and strive to see eye-to-eye on many issues that concerns Arab nation, he added.

In a Group’s meeting, Hayat pointed out that committees on culture, human science, social science, education and communication were formed. It also tackled hosting a few events with elite figures in the UNESCO, most importantly with UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, to confer about Arab issues within this international organisation.

The Arab Group in the UNESCO aims at developing education methodologies, preserving cultural heritage, especially in countries that see conflict like: Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Hayat hoped that all Arab aspirations would be met in 2016.

“We are striving to intensify hosting seminars in the Arabic language, as an attempt to highlight it, as it has been recognised as one of the six official languages in the United Nations,” he said.

UNESCO has chosen Dec 18, to celebrate “World Arab Language Day.”

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Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Umrah Plus’ to boost tourism

Tuesday 19 Jan 2016 – Riyadh, (IINA) – The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) has recently announced that the ‘Umrah Plus’ program, which allows foreign pilgrims to visit some of the Kingdom’s most attractive cultural and religious landmarks, will be launched soon, Arab News reported.

SCTNH Director General Abdulaziz Al-Hussain pointed out that preparations are almost complete. Umrah companies are currently tying up partnerships with tour businesses in the Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Travel and Tourism Pioneers Forum was launched recently in Riyadh with 35 companies from around the world participating.

In a related context, Egypt’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia Nasser Al-Hamdi said that the country is prepared to receive Saudi tourists. He noted that about 430,000 tourists visited Egypt in 2013 and 2014.

Prince Saif Al-Islam bin Abdul Aziz said that the travel and tourism sector in the Kingdom has grown significantly and now made around 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The plan is to ensure an annual growth of 10 percent over the next five years, compared to 6 percent last year and 4 percent in 2014.

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Saudi Arabia to allow more access for women to Prophet’s grave

Thursday 21 Jan 2016 – Madinah, (IINA) – Following appeals by members of the Saudi Shoura Council for easier access for women to the grave of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah, a study has been completed by a team of engineers and architects on how to expand the area, Arab News reported.

Several women Shoura members said that there was not enough time and space allocated for women compared to the almost open access for men, according to a report in a local publication.

Wafa Tebah, a Shoura member, said: “One cannot deny that efforts have been made to regulate access for women to the Rawdah Al-Jannah, but we need to deal with the problem in a new way. It is very obvious the current organization is not sufficient nor effective”.

Fatima Al-Qur’ani, another Shoura member, said that despite several efforts to allow women to pray in the area in peace, the space and time allocated were not enough.

Abdulhaq Al-Oqbi, head of engineering at the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques Endowment project, said that a team of experts has visited the Prophet’s Mosque to see what could be done.

“There are plans to create more space around the Rawdah Al-Jannah to allow women to visit the place all year … taking into consideration of their safety and security as a priority”, he said.

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Muslims start nationwide campaign to educate Canadians about Islam

Monday 18 Jan 2016 – Saskatoon, Canada (IINA) – The Muslim community in Canada has started a nationwide campaign to educate Canadians about Islam, Global News reported. The year-long initiative has come to Saskatoon and surrounding areas in an effort to decrease barriers and create understanding.

Many believe the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Jakarta, San Bernardino and Paris have left a wake of “Islamophobia” in Canada. In response to these attacks, the Muslim community has started a national campaign called ‘Demystify Islam’.

“What they see on TV and other outlets they are miscarried and they are misinformed about Islam,” Imam Khalid Minhas said.

During the campaign, the community will hold over 130 open houses and make almost 300 visits to 35 towns across Canada. By engaging the public in peaceful discussions and education, the Muslim community is hoping to prevent future hate crimes.

“Give them the opportunity to meet a Muslim person, have a conversation over coffee and get to know each other and realize Islam is all about peace,” media spokesperson Noman Hassan said.

John Butcher, a Martinsville resident, came to the open house Saturday and said it was the perfect opportunity to get the facts for himself.

“I think some people are pretty nervous, we’ve heard a lot of bad news. There have been politicians who have said bad things. It’s better to come to this and actually get the facts. Find out what people really believe,” Butcher said.

The Demystify Islam campaign will continue throughout 2016. The community says their next stop is Warman, Sask.

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Austria gets first Islamic bank account

Tuesday 19 Jan 2016 – Vienna, (INA) – An Austrian bank has announced it will be piloting an Islamic current account in February, the first of its kind in the country, The Independent reported.

Vienna-based BAWAG P.S.K. said it will offer current accounts that adhere to Shariah law, which prohibits the charging of interest or making money on savings.

The Islamic law also prevents adherent banks from dealing with businesses that are considered sinful, or un-Islamic. These include any that deal with alcohol, weapons, or gambling. Banks get around laws on “usury” by lending money without interest fees, but encourage patrons to pay back money borrowed in installments instead.

The bank’s decision has not come without criticism. A barrage of complaints followed BAWAG’s statement on its Facebook page, by people who felt Islamic customers would get preferential treatment.

However, the Austrian bank noted that anyone, regardless of creed, can open up a Shariah bank account if they believe it will give them a financial advantage.

The UK has long been an important finance centre for Islamic banking. Lloyds offer an Islamic current account, and at the al-Rayan bank – formerly know as the Islamic Bank of Great Britain – profits have been rising for the last 18 months.

Speaking to The Independent, Mohammad Khan, head of Islamic finance at the PwC, explained how a Shariah account is established: “There has to be no interest involved and it has to be extremely transparent. It has to be really clear where all the fees are.”

He said: “To qualify, a Shariah board has to sign it off; that’s where at least three Islamic scholars look at the product, its marketing, its terms and conditions, and its fees.”

Islam is Austria’s second largest religion and BAWAG PSK has said its target audience are the 600,000 Muslims living in the country.

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