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22 Feb, 2016

China-Iran Cargo Train Makes First Run

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 22 February 2016 (13 Jumaada al-Awwal 1437). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




THE Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Malaysia, in collaboration with the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) hosted the inaugural National Imam Roundtable 2016 – Mosque Tourism Edition from 22 to 24 February 2016. Imams and committee members of mosques around Malaysia met to discuss ways to create understanding, awareness and acceptance for mosque tourism and stress the importance and benefits of mosques as a tourism product. Mosques are not only visited as a place of worship, but can be further developed as tourists’ attraction site. Each mosque possesses its own historical, cultural and aesthetical values perfected with unique architecture. Visitors can also witness the lifestyle of local Muslim community. At least thirty tourism-potential mosques across Malaysia are recognised by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia. The arrival of visitors from various backgrounds and religions to mosques in Malaysia has inspired some mosque management committees and non-governmental organisation such as ABIM Islamic Outreach Centre to provide voluntary basis mosque tour guide services. Participants also visited the Federal Territory Mosque and the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, along with other attractions such as the Restu Foundation and the Islamic Arts Garden Complex in Shah Alam, as well as around Putrajaya.

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.





Malaysian Investment Development Authority Hosts Aerospace Suppliers Symposium

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 22 (Bernama) — “Malaysia is already at the forefront of several markets within the aerospace industry. We have developed a strong supply chain, consists of both global and local industry players. Presently, the country is home to 34 companies, which are involved in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) activities, 8 aircraft assembly companies, and 20 manufacturers of aircraft parts. Our local players like SME Aerospace, CTRM Aero Composite, Sepang Aircraft Engineering, Airod and Malaysian Aerospace Engineering have demonstrated their capabilities in meeting stringent demands of the OEMs and thus, successfully involved in the global supply chain,” said YB. Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI) at the MIDA – Spirit AeroSystems Aerospace Suppliers Symposium 2016, held at MIDA Headquarters today.

“I am pleased that this event has attracted an overwhelming response from both local and foreign participants. A total of 40 international participants have flown a long way to join us today, together with 65 potential suppliers from Malaysia. This symposium demonstrates Spirit AeroSystems’ strong level of confidence in Malaysia’s supporting industry capabilities in meeting the requirements of high value-added and advanced technology industries” added Dato’ Sri Mustapa.

According to YB Minister, “Since the beginning of its establishment, Spirit has provided quality employment opportunities to more than 600 Malaysians. Majority of Spirit’s employees have a minimum of technical certificate, while others with diploma and degree in engineering, aeronautical and related industries.”

“We are very excited that Spirit is serious in developing a pipeline of world-class technical talent to meet the increasing worldwide demand for highly skilled workers through its education initiatives and investments. The company has established smart partnerships with UniKL and Admal Aviation College to expose graduates to the industries’ environment. To address challenges in nurturing, attracting and retaining talent, Spirit continuously trains its employees in the areas of technical and non-technical courses, mostly conducted in-house.

Through its vendor programmes, Spirit’s operations have not only benefitted its direct suppliers that are located in Melaka, Penang, Kedah and Selangor, but the company has actually stimulated the development of local supporting industries by providing diverse business and job opportunities to more than 80 local suppliers and 2,700 jobs respectively in the areas of composites fabrication, metal fabrication, tooling and jigs, machining, logistics and consumables. With the rise of local vendors, we expect more foreign companies to be attracted to Malaysia and avail themselves to the supply chain and ecosystem that have been created over the years,” said Dato’ Sri Mustapa.

YB Minister is optimistic that the Symposium will lead to many future collaborations and effective partnerships. He hopes that more suppliers and subcontractors of Spirit AeroSystems will be further encouraged to having or expanding their presence in Malaysia to cater for the Asia Pacific and global markets. Local companies should take full advantage of the programme to better understand Spirit AeroSystems’ expectations and requirements in becoming their supply chain partner.

“Spirit AeroSystems is proud to work with the Malaysian Investment Development Authority to grow the industrial base in Malaysia,” said Scott McLarty, Vice President of Spirit Malaysia. “Having a solid supply chain to draw from helps Spirit be successful in a global environment.”

Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) is the government’s principal promotion agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to oversee and drive investments into the manufacturing and services sectors in Malaysia. Starting operations in 1967, MIDA is the first point of contact for investors that want to take advantage of Malaysia’s vibrant economy, world-class infrastructure and business-friendly environment to set up their profit centre in Asia.

For more information, please visit www.mida.gov.my.

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AirAsia Connects Kuala Lumpur Directly With Shantou, China

SEPANG, Feb 17 (Bernama) — AirAsia launches its brand new four times weekly direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shantou, China, which is available for booking from today onwards with a promotional all-infare from RM88* one way.

This will be the airline group’s 14th exclusive route into China from Malaysia, and flights will commence operations on 25 March 2016. The route is operated by AirAsia Berhad (airline code AK) on the Airbus A320 with 180 seat capacity.

The promotional all-in-fares from RM88* one way are available for booking online at airasia.com, as well as the AirAsia mobile app on iPhone and Android devices from now until 22 February 2016. The travel period for this promotional all-in-fare will be from 25 March 2016 until 5 February 2017.

Spencer Lee, Head of Commercial for AirAsia Berhad said, “We are very happy to add Shantou into our list of destinations in China. There has been a demand for this route, and we are pleased to announce this four times weekly direct flight. We are positive that this route will further add towards the number of Chinese tourist arrivals into Malaysia, especially with the recent announcement by the government to relax visa policies for China visitors into the country.”

Located on the eastern coast of Guangdong province, Shantou is one of the primary hometowns of Chinese who are living abroad. Long coastal lines and a pleasant subtropical marine climate provides the city with many charming tourist attractions. Nan Ao Island, Qing Ao Bay, Lotus Peak, Queshi Scenic Spot, Chen CiHong’s former residence, Symbolic Tower of the Tropic of Cancer, Zhongshan Park and Rainbow Shadows in the Harbour are collectively known as the Eights Sights of Shantou not to be missed.

Beautiful mountains, beaches, and exquisite islands, together with the calming scenery that surrounds the harbour, form a breathtaking environment that is especially attractive to those who want to escape city life.

*Promotional all-in-fares quoted are for one-way travel only inclusive of taxes and fees. Terms and conditions apply.

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Malaysia’s Capital Kuala Lumpur To Attract More Tourists

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 (NNN-Bernama) — Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is set to add new facilities and services to the city in an effort to attract 12 million international tourists this year, said its Mayor Mhd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz.

Mhd Amin Nordin said services such as public transport, education, food and medical would be improved to boost tourism in the city.

“KL can be developed as a unique international brand, especially in Asia, as we have our own plus points such as a vibrant city which is clean and safe,” he told reporters after attending a meeting of the Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau Board of Directors meeting.

The meeting was also attended by representatives of the Tourism and Culture Ministry, Air Asia X budget airline, Malaysia Airports Berhad and the KL Chapter of the Malaysian Association of Hotels.

“All the industry players such as hotel, restaurant and transport operators must be more creative and innovative in developing their own strategies to attract more foreign tourists here (KL),” he said.

A total of 11.63 million tourists arrived in KL last year, an increase of four per cent from the previous year.

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Kedah State’s Baling District To Cite Communist Era Products For Tourism

BALING, Kedah state, Malaysia Feb 18 (NNN-Bernama) — The Baling District Council (MDB) in the Malaysian state of Kedah is drawing up programmes to promote tourism products from the time of the communist insurgency in an effort to boost the local tourism industry and economy.

Baling district officer Dzohir Md Zain said the products included the area where the Baling Talks were held in 1955 in an attempt to resolve the Malayan Emergency situation, the Gua Jepun and Gua Komunis.

We are now in the process of designing the road or path leading to Gua Komunis, which was discovered some 17 years ago, as well as other infrastructure in the area,” he told Bernama.

He said Gua Komunis, located in Kampung Weng, about two kilometres from the Thai border, was used as an operations room by the communist.

“Gua Komunis will be promoted through Discover Kedah 2016 programme,” he added.

He said studies would be conducted on Gua Komunis, as well as remains of aircraft found in the area, to determine if they were used by the communist insurgents.

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Malaysia’s Halal Industry Attracts Rm10.6 Bln Investment In 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Feb 16 (NNN-Bernama) — The halal industry in Malaysia attracted investments worth RM10.6 billion in 2015, comprising RM5.6 billion in foreign investment and RM5 billion in domestic investment.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the foreign investors were from the US, Japan, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, the UK and Singapore.

He said local halal products would continue to command strong interest among consumers worldwide with exports worth RM42 billion last year from RM38 billion in 2014.

“Much of this revenue was derived from exports of halal ingredients, food and beverage products, and palm-oil derivatives.

“Our key export markets, include China, Singapore, United States, Indonesia and Japan,” he said when officiating the Halal Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Industry Forum here today.

Besides the food and beverage sector, Ahmad Zahid pointed out the need to explore the potential of a wider spectrum of the halal market, including services, banking and insurance.

Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia was well positioned to maximise its potential in the halal sector, including halal cosmetic and personal care products.

He said the diversity of the nation’s flora and fauna presented vast opportunities to be used in advanced sciences and biotechnology to develop more resource-based bio-generic products.

“We have made significant breakthroughs in developing palm-oil based technologies where a significant portion of animal-based oils can be substituted with palm oil-based products.

“Halal alternatives made from palm oil such as coenzyme (Q10) and halal emulsifiers are largely used in the industry.

“What is needed is more intensive research and development (R&D) and more innovation to find halal alternatives using palm-oil derivatives to replace non-halal sourced ingredients,” he said.

Ahmad Zahid, who is also Halal Malaysia Council chairman, said the Malaysian halal cosmetic and personal care industry performed reasonably well over the years as exports increased from RM1.3 billion in 2010 to RM2.3 billion in 2014, representing an average annual increase of 20 per cent.

To date, there are 128 halal certified companies in Malaysia, producing halal-compliant cosmetic and personal-care products.

Ahmad Zahid said while Asia remained Malaysia’s strongest traditional market for halal products, the US, with eight million Muslims, and Europe, with 40 million Muslims, presented vast opportunities for the market to grow.

“According to Euro monitor, this market was estimated to be worth more than US$454 billion in 2013.

“Even if, conservatively, we estimate the demand for halal cosmetic and personal care products at 10 per cent of this global market, that would mean a market of at least US$45 billion,” he said.

As the potential is enormous, he said it made business sense for industry players to seriously consider halal-compliant processes and products.

Ahmad Zahid urged the private sector to continue to intensify investments in new areas, upgrade existing facilities, step up research and development, acquire new technologies, and enhance marketing and promotion activities.

“It is my hope to see the private sector to drive the development of this industry to ensure Malaysia’s continuing leadership in shaping the global halal industry,” he said.

Former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and International Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Lee Chee Leong were present.

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Malaysian Islamic banks launch new Shariah fund-raising platform

Wednesday 17 Feb 2016 – Kuala Lumpur, (IINA) – A group of six Malaysian Islamic banks on Wednesday launched a Shariah-compliant investment platform that could shift the role of Islamic lenders to investment intermediaries from credit providers currently, The Rakyat Post Malaysian News reported.

The Investment Account Platform (IAP) will serve as a central marketplace to finance small and medium-sized businesses, with the Malaysian government backing the scheme with an initial RM150 million in funds.

“We’re looking at raising between RM200 million and RM300 million through the IAP over the next two to three years,” chief executive Mohammed Izam Mohammed Yusof said at the IAP’s launch ceremony.

Its maiden project could be listed as early as next month, with future plans including listings in other currencies, he added.

Under the scheme, Islamic banks vet businesses seeking funds, provide a secondary market for investors and in some cases underwrite the equity transactions.

Under the government’s Islamic Financial Services Act 2013, Islamic banks had to segregate Islamic deposits from investment accounts by July of last year, prompting them to diversify the financial products offered to customers.

The proportion of investment accounts to total funding for Islamic banks has risen to 10 percent as of December, from 7 percent in August, Central Bank Governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz said at the launch ceremony.

“For Islamic banks, the IAP creates a differentiated product that presents a new source of income and funding profile,” Zeti said.

The IAP is also open to international investors, with the government placing no restrictions on inflows of foreign capital into the IA, profits from which are exempt from income tax for the first three years.

The 6 shareholding banks are Affin Holdings, Bank Islam Malaysia, Bank Muamalat Malaysia, Maybank Islamic, Bank Kerjasama Rakyat Malaysia and Bank Simpanan Nasional.

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LEAD STORY: China-Iran Cargo Train Makes First Run

TEHRAN, Feb 16 (NNN-XINHUA) — The first cargo train from China to Iran arrived in Tehran on Monday, marking another milestone in reviving the Silk Road and opening a new chapter of win-win co-operation between China and Iran.

The train, also referred to as the Silk Road train, passed through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan before arriving in Iran, travelling a distance of 10,399 kilometres. It had left Yiwu city in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province on Jan 28.

This train was carrying dozens of cargo containers, according to the Iran’s Deputy Road and Urbanisation Minister, Mohsen Pour-Aqaei, who made a welcoming speech at the arrival of the train at the Tehran Railway Station Monday.

The ancient Silk Road trade route had served as an important bridge for East-West trade and brought about a close link between the Chinese and Persian civilizations.

The “Belt and Road” initiative was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and refers to the New Silk Road Economic Belt, linking China with Europe through Central and Western Asia, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, connecting China with South East Asian countries to Africa and Europe.

“To revive the Silk Road Economic Belt, the launch of the train is an important move, since about 700 kilometres of the trip has been done per day,” said Pour-Aqaei. “Compared with the sea voyage of the cargo ships from China’s Shanghai city to Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, the travel time of the train was 30 days shorter,” he said.

Pour-Aqaei, who is also Managing Director of Iran’s Railway Company, added that according to the plan, there would be one such a trip from China to Iran every month.

The shipment of cargo by train from China to Iran is part of a Chinese initiative to revive the ancient Silk Road used by the traders between Europe and East Asia. Tehran will not be the final destination of these trains from China, the Iranian deputy minister said, adding that in the future, the trains would reach Europe.

This would benefit Iran as the transit course for the cargo trains from East Asia to Europe, he said.

Chinese Ambassador to Iran Pang Sen told Xinhua that as one of the co-operation projects after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s State visit to Iran, the cargo train is playing a important role to promote construction of the “Belt and Road” initiative.

Meanwhile, the railway line from Yiwu to Tehran provides the two countries an express and efficient cargo trade transportation method, Pang said, adding that the countries along the railway line will further upgrade rail technology to upgrade their transportation facilities.

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Garuda Indonesia Swings To Profit In 2015

JAKARTA, Indonesia Feb. 18 (NNN-Xinhua) — Indonesia’s state carrier Garuda Indonesia swung to a profit last year as the airline reduced its operating expenses amid declining revenue.

Garuda posted a net income of 1.075 trillion rupiah (about 77.98 million U.S. dollars) in 2015, compared to the 368.91 million U.S. dollars loss it recorded in the preciois year, the airline said in a statement to Indonesia’s Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

The airline raised 3.814 billion U.S. dollars of revenues last year, or 3.01 percent lower than 3.933 billion U.S. dollars reaped a year earlier.

Meanwhile, its operational spending last year dropped to 3.731 billion U.S. dollars from 4.292 billion U.S. dollars in 2014.

The country’s biggest airline also reported to have increased its assets to 3.310 billion U.S. dollars last year, or 6.32 percent higher than 3.113 billion U.S. dollars from a year earlier.

Garuda Indonesia President Director Arif Wibowo said that the firm would improve its performance by enhancing the values of its subsidiary firms, either as individual firm or as a group of business.

“We have other powers besides Garuda which is the core of our airlines business. We also plan to expand our international services. We learned that our subsidiaries are in healthy conditions,” Arif said.

As of October 2015, Garuda group accounted for 44 percent of domestic flights, up from 38 percent a year ago. Its international flights also captured 27 percent of the market, increasing from 23 percent a year earlier.

According to Arif, all of its subsidiaries that comprised of Citilink budget airlines, Aero Wisata and Gapura Angkasa also posted profits in their operations throughout last year.

Garuda Indonesia operates 143 commercial turbo propeller and jet planes and is now expecting the deliveries of 75 planes it ordered from several plane makers in the world.

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Toyota to invest Rp5.4 trillion in Indonesia

19 February 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News)- The Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) group is ready to invest Rp5.4 trillion in Indonesia this year, according to Industry Minister Saleh Husin.

Husin received the pledge during a meeting with TMC Executive Vice President Seiichi Sudo in Nagoya, Japan, on Thursday.

“Toyota is serious about doing business in Indonesia. This year, it will invest Rp5.4 trillion, following the Rp5 trillion worth of investment that the company made in 2015,” he noted in a press statement received here, Friday.

This reflects that global investors still trust Indonesias investment climate and see prospects in the nations automotive industry, he noted.

The minister has lauded Toyota for its trust and continued investment in Indonesia, after selecting the nation as one of its investment destinations and a Toyota car production base so far.

He called on Toyota and its partners in Japan to increase investment in the automotive sector, particularly for the manufacturing of materials and spare parts.

The minister also invited the company to conduct research and development activities in Indonesia to strengthen the structure of Japans existing automotive industry in Indonesia.

Husin also urged Toyota to increase the production of cars in Indonesia, which has a population of over 250 million, including 74 million belonging to the middle class.

The Toyota brand dominates around 31-32 percent of Indonesias domestic market.

Within five years, from 2015 to 2019, Toyota has planned to invest a total of Rp20 trillion.

Until 2014, Toyota had invested Rp40 trillion in Indonesia.

Currently, the Japanese company is constructing an engine plant in Karawang, West Java.

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Indonesia’s Visa-free policy boosts tourist arrivals by 20%

15 February 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The governments visa-free policy has helped to increase the number of foreign tourist arrivals by 20 percent.

“Since the government implemented the visa-free policy, the number of tourist arrivals has increased by 20 percent,” Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan stated at a joint working meeting with the Commission I and Commission III of the Indonesian House of Representatives here on Monday.

The joint working meeting was attended by Pandjaitan, Attorney General Prasetyo, Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Yuddy Chrisnandi, and Director General of Immigration Ronnie F. Sompi, among others.

Despite the visa-free policy being imposed, security remains top priority.

The minister remarked that the government was concerned over the looming threats of terrorism and drugs.

The government has increased the number of immigration entry checkpoints from nine to 14 for tourists coming from countries granted visa-free facility for travel to Indonesia.

“Now, there are 14 exit checkpoints for foreign tourists. It is not easy to maintain security due to threats of terrorism and drugs,” the minister pointed out.

The minister noted that the tourism sector ranked fourth in terms of contributing to the states revenue. The tourism sector will be the number one source of the states financial income by 2019.

On the occasion, Sompie explained that 121 immigration offices had been established to monitor the movement of strangers.

“In 2016, we will strengthen the team up to the district, sub-district, and village level,” he revealed.

Earlier, the government had applied the visa-free policy for 84 countries as part of its efforts to boost the arrivals of foreign tourists in Indonesia, Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli stated.

Australia, Brazil, Ukraine, Kenya, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Palestine, Honduras, Pakistan, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, Uruguay, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Israel, Albania, Mozambique, Macedonia, El Salvador, Zambia, Moldova, Madagascar, Georgia, Namibia, Kiribati, Armenia, Bolivia, Bhutan, Guatemala, Mauritius, and Paraguay were among the countries mentioned by Rizal, whose nationals would no longer need a visa to visit Indonesia.

The minister hoped that the extension of the free-entry policy would be able to increase foreign tourist arrivals in the country, which was targeted to reach 20 million by 2019.

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S. Sumatra seeks railway investments

16 February 2016 Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) – The South Sumatra provincial administration invited foreign investors to build a double track railway from Muara Enim area to the Special Economic Zone, Tanjung Api-Api, worth US$2.97 billion.

There are seven countries exploring possibilities to invest in railway such as China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea, in addition to Malaysia, Singapore and France, Assistant II of Economic and Development of South Sumatra Provincial Administration Ruslan Bahri said here Monday.

“The administration has approached some investors to see the seriousness of countries that declared their interest in the project,” Bahri said.

The construction of the railway will support the logistic transportation ability following the plan of Special Economic Zone in 2018, the assistant said.

The railway will mainly function as logistic transportation to carry coal and the main commodities of South Sumatra including palm oil fruit and crude rubber from Muara Enim, Bahri added.

The provincial administration will develop processing industries in the Special Economic Zone sourced from local raw materials, he added.

Additionally, the administration is focusing on infrastructure sector construction as the main investment opportunity as the province will host the 18th Asian Games, Deputy Governor of South Sumatra Province Ishak Mekki said.

Several projects in South Sumatra Province that will be implemented in 2016, such as the Light Rapid Transit transportation worth at Rp7.2 trillion, and double track railway started from Lubuk Linggau to Tanjung Api-Api Port at Rp11.1 trillion.

The administration is still searching for the investor who interested to build the Rp11.1 trillion railway project plan, Mekki said.

The administration will also construct the 12 thousand-hectare Special Economic Zone project, worth Rp54.2 trillion, and build the Musi bridge IV and VI as well as a toll road for Sumatra region.

South Sumatra is on its way to developing the region to increase economic activity through infrastructure development, he said.

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Indonesia targets 2.1 million Chinese tourists in 2016

16 February 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) -The Indonesian tourism ministry said it hopes to lure 2.1 million Chinese tourists to visit the country in 2016.

For the first time Chinese including from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are expected to lead in number of foreign visitors to Indonesia, I Gde Pitana, deputy for marketing expansion at the tourism ministry said.

“What I mean with China is Greater China including Taiwan and Hong Kong,” Pitana said here on Monday.

The 2.1 million Chinese include 1.7 million from mainland China, 275,000 from Taiwan and 125,000 from Hong Kong, he said, adding the visitors from Hong Kong are smaller in number but they are bigger spender.

So far visitors from Malaysia and Singapore have been more dominant in number among foreign tourists to Indonesia every year.

This year visitors from Malaysia are expected to total around 2 million and from Singapore around 1.8 million, Pitana said.

Pitana, however, said there is negative image in seeking to lure in more Chinese to Indonesia.

“According to a study by marketing agency Ogilvy, negative perceptions of Indonesia are still more dominant over positive perceptions,” he said.

He said generally tourists from China and India look for information about tourist destinations from Internet, which tends to give bad more than positive news.

“In a bid to cope with the problem we have sought to provide more positive news. We are teaming up with Baidu , which controls 80 percent of travel business in China,” he said.

According to the tourism ministry, negative perception shown in Internet in China is discrimination against Chinese in Indonesia.

However, the number of Chinese visiting Indonesia has continued to increase. Earlier this month, thousands of Chinese flocked to Bali to cerebrate Chinese New Year using chartered flights.

Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said Chinese from tends of cities in China visited Bali using chartered flights.

“It seems Bali has become the favorite destination of Chinese tourists . More than 114 million Chinese travel abroad every year,” Arief said.

The Chinese chartered aircraft of Indonesian airlines including Garuda and Citilinks and foreign airlines such as Hong Kong Airlines, Shenzen airlines, Air Asia, China Southern, China Eastern, Dragon Air, Cathay Pacific, Eva Air, Singapore Airlines, Brunai Air, etc.

The minister attributed the success in luring Chinese to Bali to intensive advertising, and sales by a marketing team of the tourism ministry.

The tourism ministry has launched promotion campaigns to attract Chinese to cerebrate Chinese new year in Bali since early January.

“Winter in northern China including Beijing and the province of Heilongjiang is extreme 15 degree Celsius below zero prompting people from that region to leave for warm place and choose Bali to celebrate the new year,” he said.

He said China is a potential market with around 114 million Chinese traveling abroad every year.

He said currently only 1.14 million Chinese tourists visit Indonesia a year far smaller than 8 million to Thailand.

“We have been lagging too far behind . If they are so interested in visiting Thailand , they should be more so in Indonesia,” he said, adding Indonesia needs only to intensify promotion.

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Islamic-inspired fashion turns heads in Southeast Asia

Tuesday 16 Feb 2016 – Jakarta, (IINA) – With Islam being the largest religion in Southeast Asia, Islamic-inspired fashion runway shows in Dubai, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur now offer an elegant, quirky, fun or sophisticated way for today’s Muslim woman in the region to express herself through fashion, Forbes‎ reported.

Zalora, an online retailer in Southeast Asia, created the “Zalia” collection of modest yet trendy clothing last spring. It continues to introduce about 50 to 60 new products each month. “By producing more options for the community, we are helping the Muslim fashion industry grow, and fuel the interest in trendy Muslim wear in Southeast Asia,” says a representative for Zalora.

Uniqlo is another mainstream retailer among the first to market hijabs in their Southeast Asian marketplace. Following a successful run in July of 2015, they came out in January with a second collection of Islamic-inspired clothing retailing in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

The Indonesia Islamic Fashion Consortium has plans for Indonesia to become the world’s Islamic Fashion Capital by 2020. While Islam is the largest religion in Southeast Asia, the largest Muslim population in a country is in Indonesia.

Islamic-inspired fashion is potentially a brilliant move on behalf of retailers, too. According to a study co-commissioned by Reuters, Muslims spent $266 billion on clothing in 2013, which is more than the combined spending in Japan and Italy on fashion. This number should double by 2019 to $484.

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Outsourcing, a path for Bangladesh women to become self-reliant

DHAKA, Feb 19, 2016 (BSS) – Sumona Sharmin, who came from an underdeveloped district, completed her post-graduation from a university in the capital city, but failed to manage a “suitable job” after hectic efforts although she has expertise in “graphics design”.

Being a frustrated pupil, one day she came to know about “outsourcing” from a friend and was advised to grab the opportunities to be self-reliant. Later, she took internet connection at her home and opened an account in Odex. Immediately, she received few work orders on “illustration” for book.

Now Sumona is a full-fledged “outsourcing professional” and works on illustration, especially picturization of children stories. She now earns Taka 50,000 to Taka 60,000 in a month overcoming her past struggle.

She has planned to establish an “outsourcing institute” to expand the profession widely in the country. Sumona thinks that she has to learn more to prepare herself appropriately.

In 10 to 15 years ago, the country’s information technology sector, especially computer education, business and services, was dominated by the males. Now the scenario has been changed and women have stepped forward to participate in the sector.

Currently, only five percent of the total employment are involved with information technology sector where participation of women is not “satisfactory” despite of having their “enormous potentiality”.

M Saiful Islam, the web administrator of “Tottho Apa”, a “unique initiative” dedicated to women through application of information technology towards achieving the objective of a “Digital Bangladesh”, said the government is “very much sincere” in the women education especially their information technology education, to make them economically self-reliant.

Under the “Tottho Apa Project”, he said, women of all ages come to receive information technology education.

Saiful said after getting education, the women used to face “fund crunch” to launch their own business, but “Karmasangsthan Bank” is offering loan facilities to the IT experts or IT-trained people.

Apart from the “Karmasangsthan Bank”, all the banks are also providing different facilities to them, he added.

The government is implementing “several projects” at urban and rural levels to train up women and disseminate information about outsourcing, computer-related business, agriculture, health, law, gender and other business to build awareness among the women.

Alongside the government, the private organizations are also working to increase “women participation” in information and communication technology sector, considering the “employment opportunities” at home and abroad. There is a huge demand of skilled IT labourers in the Western countries.

DNET is one of the private organizations which “infolady project” has drawn huge “public attention”. Under the project, a young lady with laptop and internet connection visits house-to-house in rural areas riding on bicycle and provides different kinds of service. She also gives lesson to the children about the use of computer.

The “infolady” is bringing ICT-based services to the doorsteps of the grassroots people.

Besides, women working in different countries in IT sector have formed different “platforms” to “consolidate” their position in combine, and Bangladesh Women in Information Technology (BWIT) is such an organization.

Engaging in the IT sector, the BWIT members are working to bring altogether as well as encourage the young women in taking the IT as a profession or becoming an IT entrepreneur.

In Bangladesh, half of the population is women and if they are enlightened with “technical knowledge”, they would be a “resource” for Bangladesh, and outsourcing could be one of the “best ways” for their earning.

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Call to stress rich Bengali culture

RANGPUR, Feb 14, 2016 (BSS) – Reviving lost social values through flourishing of the rich Bengali culture and heritage has become a need of the time to build a peaceful, non-communal Bangladesh, speakers at separate discussions said here yesterday.

Different socio-cultural and literary organisations and educational institutions organised the discussions marking the traditional Basanta Utsab to welcome the first day of Falgun, the 11th month of Bengali Year, in the city.

The youths and students, wearing traditional dresses and red-bordered yellow saree gathered at the central Shaheed Minar to welcome the Pahela Falgun by singing Tagore’s ‘Ajee Ae Basante, Kato Ful Fote….’ or reciting “Ajee Basanto Jagrata Dware……”

District Shilpakala Academy, Family Association of Rangpur Divisional Administration, Rangpur Sahittya- Sangskritik Parishad (RSSP), Sound Touch, Sommilito Sangskritik Jote and other organisations chalked out programmes to welcome Basanta.

The programmes included colourful rallies, recitation of spring poems, musical soiree, drawing and dance competitions, cultural functions and discussion highlighting Nazrul’s famous romantic song “Ashe Basanta Fulabone, Shaje Banobhumi Sundari—.”

The central Shaheed Minar area at Public Library premises, Surovi Uddyan, Chikleer Beel and other parts of the city wore festive looks and featured mainly by recitation of Basanta poems, singing of songs and rendering dances.

Additional Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) Mostain Billah attended the main discussion organised by the District Shilpakala Academy on its premises as the chief guest with its General Secretary Tauhidur Rahman Tutul in the chair.

Additional District Magistrate Priyosindhu Talukder, General Secretary of Sommilito Sangskritik Jote Advocate Rothish Chandra Bhowmick Babu Sona, noted cultural personalities Monwar Hossain and Anwarul Islam Raju addressed, among others.

Like many other organisations, RSSP, a renowned cultural and literarily organisation, chalked out programmes at Town Hall premises in celebrations of the traditional Basanta Utsab through welcoming the first day of Falgun in the city.

The programmes included discussion, recitation of self-composed poems, poems of noted poets, rendering songs and cultural evening focusing on love and influence of Basanta on Bengali culture and life.

President of RSSP Professor Shah Alam presided over the discussion styled ‘”Ashe Basanta Fulbone, Shaje Banobhumi Sundari—–.”

Founding president of RSSP and former head of the Bangla Department of Rangpur Carmichael College Professor Mohammad Alim Uddin attended the occasion as the chief guest.

Acing Regional Director for Rangpur Betar Kendra Dr Harun-Ur-Rashid attended the function as the invited guest while General Secretary of RSSP Swattik Shah Al Maruf delivered welcome speech.

Noted cultural personalities Dr Mofizul Islam Mantu, Dr Wadud Mostafa, Dr Nasima Akhter, Dilip Kumar Ropy, SM Arif and Sanjib Chandra Barman recited self-composed poems, dedicated to the Basanta season.

Dr Mamtaz Begum, Chanchal and Smriti Akhter recited poems on love and Basanta while Tripti Dutta, Neel Ratan Sarker, Falguni Sarker and Hasna Begum rendered songs on love and Basanta on the occasion moderated by Sunil Sarker.

The chief guest welcomed the Basanta, the advent of Falgun and said that proper nurturing of the rich Bengali culture and heritage could build a peaceful, developed, happy and prosperous Bangladesh.

He laid emphasis on further flourishing the prideful Bengali culture to revive its past glories for building a non-communal Sonar Bangla as dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

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Modern road communication networks being developed in Rangpur

RANGPUR, Feb 15, 2016 (BSS) – Mayor of Rangpur City Corporation (RCC) Alhaj Sarfuddin Ahmed Jhantu has said steps have been taken for developing modern road communication networks to turn Rangpur into a traffic-jam free city.

Jhantu, also a valiant freedom fighter, said this while launching carpeting works of two roads by unveiling plaque at separate ceremonies in Khotkhotia and Sarderpara areas under Ward No-3 and Ward No-4 respectively on Sunday afternoon as the chief guest.

The city corporation has been implementing the road carpeting works under phase-wise construction packages of 142 roads, drains, culverts, drainage systems and many other infrastructures in the city at Taka 33 crore from its own resources.

City Councilors Anwarul Islam, Ashek Ali, Haradhan Chandra Roy and Golam Sarwar Mirja Abdur Razzaque, Haradhan Chandra Roy, Executive Engineer of RCC Azam Ali attended the ceremonies, among others.

While addressing the occasions, the City Mayor said the infrastructural development works are being implemented for building an eco-friendly, well-planned, modern, traffic-jam free and beautiful Rangpur city.

He said the common people would be benefited and traffic-jam situation improved significantly after completion of the massive infrastructural development works in al wards of the city.

He directed the concerned engineers, officials and contractors and sought cooperation of the citizens for timely completing the construction works of all infrastructures ensuring the best quality, transparency and accountability.

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Suborno Express to speed up travelling time

CHITTAGONG, Feb 16, 2016 (BSS) – The non-stop inter-city train ‘Suborno Express’ on Dhaka-Chittagong route from now-on will reach the destinations 30 to 50 minutes earlier as the Bangladesh Railway (BR) authority decided to reduce its running time.

BR sources said the ‘Suborno Express’ train from Chittagong station will reach the Dhaka railway station 30 minutes earlier while the same train will reach Chittagong station 50 minutes earlier than its previous plying time.

“The train will leave Chittagong for Dhaka as per existing schedule (7am) but reach the destination Kamalapur railway station at 12.40pm instead of 1.10pm”, the sources said adding the Chittagong-bound Suborno Express will leave Dhaka according to existing timetable (3pm) and reach Chittagong 8.30pm instead of 9.20pm.

General Manger, BR, Eastern Zone, Makbul Ahammad said the BR authority, considering smooth journey of the passenger, decided to reduce the running time of the train service, which will be effective from February 22 next.

He also said the authority will soon reduce the running time of the other inter-city train services on Dhaka-Chittagong route.

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Four-lanes Dhaka-Chittagong highway to be ready by May

DHAKA, Feb 17, 2016 (BSS)- Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader today said the much awaited Dhaka-Chittagong four-lane highway project will be completed by May this year.

“The work of the project is going on in full swing and expecting its completion by May,” he told the journalists emerging from a coordination meeting on the ministry’s development projects at secretariat, said a press release.

The minister said the government has taken an initiative to build 225 kilometer long Dhaka-Chittagong expressway at a cost of about Taka 70,000 crore for ensuring the journey in a short time between the two vital cities in the country.

He said the construction work of 16 big and small bridges have been completed in Sylhet region.

He also said Shahid Sheikh Kamal Bridge and Shahid Sheikh Jamal Bridge will be opened to traffic on February 25. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to inaugurate the bridges, he added.

Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary MAN Siddique and Chief Engineer of Roads and Highways Department Ebne Alam Hasan, among others, were present on the occasion.

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Mega infrastructure projects being initiated: Khurram Dastgir

KARACHI, Feb 19 (APP): The British consulting firms have deep interest in Pakistan as mega infrastructure projects are being initiated in the country. This was stated by the Minister for Commerce, Khurram Dastgir Khan, while talking to media after inaugurating the British Business Centre at the UK Deputy High Commission here Thursday evening. He said this centre is open to the companies from both the countries and that it is on the demand basis.

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Lahore university hosts lecture on ‘Islam, Peace and Pakistan’

Thursday 18 Feb 2016 – Lahore, (IINA) – Dr Khalid Zaheer, an eminent Islamic scholar who holds a PhD in Islamic Banking from the University of Wales in UK, stressed the need for a strong global narrative of peace and love for humanity, Pakistan Observer reported.

He was tracing the causes of extremism and terrorism all across the world while addressing an interactive lecture on “Islam, Peace and Pakistan” at the Government College University in Lahore.

Dr Zaheer said that Muslims should celebrate the diversity of opinion and interpretation and spend their energies in looking for common grounds.

“We must acknowledge the possibility of error in the human judgments and be prepared to readjust our perspective in the light of logical application of the true essence of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah in our day-to-day problems,” said the guest speaker.

“Healthy debate on the issues confronting our lives shall take us away from a violent approach towards them,” he added.

Dr. Khalid believed that in the contemporary world, the message of Islam could only be spread on the basis of love, tolerance and sagacity. Speaking on the occasion, Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Hassan Amir Shah endorsed the urgency of evolving a new narrative of peace and harmony and expressed satisfaction on the arrangements of intellectual discourse among religious scholars, academics and students.

A large number of students and professors attended the lecture including Prof Dr Sultan Shah, Prof Dr Iqbal Shahid, Prof Dr Ahmed Adnan and Dr Khalid Manzoor Butt.

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Around half of start-ups in Turkey established by Syrians

ANKARA – Hurriyet Daily News – Syrians topped the list of foreign start-ups in Turkey in January 2016, with the number of Syrian company-partnered firms established in January totaling 227, according to data from the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB).

Data shows that 6,894 companies started operating in Turkey in January, 466 of which are foreign-partnered.

Some 227 of these, almost half, were founded directly by Syrians or with their partnership. Germans followed their Syrian counterparts, investing in 36 newly-established firms in Turkey, while Iraqis ranked third with 31 start-up investments, according to TOBB data released on Feb. 19.

More than a quarter of the foreign-partnered start-ups are operating in the wholesale and retail trade business and motor vehicle maintenance, while the construction and manufacturing sectors come next with 72 and 49 companies, respectively.

Overall, the total number of companies established in Turkey in January marked an 11.7 percent rise from the same month last year.

The TOBB figures also revealed that 1,915 companies were shut-down in Turkey, 21.5 percent lower than the same month last year.

The northern province of Bartın stood out as the only province that saw the establishment of no new companies in January.

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Mosaic Road project opens exhibit in Switzerland

GSTAAD – Anadolu Agency – The first international step of the Mosaic Road project, initiated by the ONE Association, which has been formed to develop national and international projects promoting Anatolian heritage, was taken in Swiss village of Gstaad. An exhibition, featuring mosaic works by jewelry artist Sevan Bıçakçı, opened in the village as part of the project.

The founder and president of the ONE Association, Demet Sabancı Çetindoğan, along with Professor İlber Ortaylı, Prince Vittorio Emanuele e Marina di Savoia, Prince Michel de Yougoslavie, Hatay Mayor Lütfü Savaş and officials from Kahramanmaraş, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep attended the event.

“We promote Turkish towns of Hatay, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş and Şanlıurfa, which have thousands of years of history. With the ONE Associaton and the Mosaic Road project, we want to increase interest on Turkey’s cultural, historical and natural beauties and make it an international brand. We take the first step of our project in Switzerland today,” said Çetindoğan in her opening speech.

The project aims to show the word the countless mosaic pieces that have been unearthed during excavations in the eastern region in the last century. Since it is the meeting spot of high-level people from all around the world, Gstaad hosted the event.

The Mosaic Road project will be promoted at the Venice Architecture Biennial on May 28.

The ONE Association said talks continued with world renowned museums in Italy, England and the U.S. as well as Switzerland for the promotion of the project.

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More details emerge of excavated underground city in Turkey

NEVŞEHİR – The details of an underground city unearthed in late 2014 in Turkey’s touristic town of Cappadocia in the Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir have come to the surface, as excavations at the site continue.

The underground city was discovered by a Turkish Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) urban transformation project. Some 1,500 buildings located in and around the Nevşehir fortress were demolished, and the underground city was discovered when the earthmoving to construct new buildings began.

An associate professor at the geophysics engineering department at 18 March University who was involved in the excavations of the underground city, Özcan Çakır said, “We think that people who were involved with agriculture in the ancient age carried their products to the city through these tunnels.”

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Ottomans and Europeans in Istanbul exhibition

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – The exhibition “Ottomans and Europeans: Pasts and Perspectives” will be held between March 4 and 27 at Istanbul’s Tophane-i Amire Culture and Art Center Single Dome Hall.

Organized with the collaboration of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and the Cittadellarte-Pistoletto Foundation with the support of the Culture Program of the European Union, the exhibition is curated by Beral Madra and presents the works of Leone Contini, Erol Eskici, Eda Gecikmez, Naci Güneş Güven, Driant Zeneli and Mary Zygouri.

Last year in June and July, the exhibition’s artists came together for an artist residency program titled “Blind Date Sessions” at the Cittadellarte-Pistoletto Foundation’s center in Biella, Italy, where they had the opportunity to build theoretical collaborations and dialogue with senior participants Gülçin Aksoy, Ergin Çavuşoğlu, Güven İncirlioğlu, Adrian Paci, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Igiaba Scego. The works to be featured are the artistic outcomes of these encounters.

Since 2012, the “Ottomans and Europeans: Reflecting on Five Centuries of Cultural Relations” project has proposed a journey through five centuries of shared cultural history between Europe and Turkey to change perceptions of citizens and artists from both sides.

The partners of the project are Center for Fine Arts (BOZAR) Brussels from Belgium, İKSV from Turkey, the National Museum in Krakow from Poland, the Cittadellarte-Pistoletto Foundation from Italy, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna from Austria, and Witte de With for Contemporary Art from the Netherlands. The project partners organize exhibitions, conferences and artist residencies in various locations.

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Ottoman-era artist’s work seeks record bids at auction

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – A masterpiece by the late-Ottoman artist Osman Hamdi Bey looks set to go for a record price at an upcoming spring sale, according to a local auction house.

Antik A.Ş., one of the leading auction houses in Turkey, announced that the oil canvas piece “Cami Önü” (the front of the mosque) has a starting price of 10 million Turkish Liras.

Having played a pioneering role in the maturation of Western art in the Ottoman Empire, Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910) was not only known for his paintings but also his contribution to the fields of archaeology and museology.

Edhem Eldem, a history professor at New York’s Columbia University, said Osman Hamdi was a significant figure in Turkish culture.

“As one of the best documented and arguably ‘local’ artists for the period, Osman Hamdi naturally stands at the very top of this artistic hierarchy,” he said.

“The extraordinary prices fetched by Osman Hamdi’s paintings have to do with the specificities of the Turkish market for art,” Eldem added.

Eldem, who is also the grandson of Osman Hamdi’s niece Azize Hanım and writer of many books on the artist, said the Turkish art market was “recent and still underdeveloped and lags behind the international market but is trying to set up its own standards.”

“With very little artwork available for the 19th century, practically anything painted in or about the Ottoman Empire will acquire an inflated value,” the professor said.

He also pointed out the socio-economic side of the issue, where a burgeoning Turkish middle class fuels the desire for expensive fine art, “in the shape of a moneyed bourgeoisie that has developed since the liberal turn of the 1980s and wants to acquire art as a form of investment and conspicuous consumption.”

The Istanbul-based auction house’s board chairman, Turgay Artam, said “Cami Önü” was one of the most important pieces in Turkish painting. “With its fine details, Ottoman figures all carefully calculated and placed, its moving composition; (the painting) takes viewers to 1800s Ottoman experience,” Artam said.

The 134-year-old painting depicts 16 Ottoman characters including men, veiled women and merchants as well as beggars in front of Turkey’s famous Green Mosque in the northwestern city of Bursa, the empire’s first capital.

According to Eldem, the importance of the painting lies in its theme: “It is one of the first examples of a theme that he will exploit and develop for another 10 or 15 years.”

One of the largest known oil-canvas works by Osman Hamdi, the painting is likely to fetch a very high price “for the simple reason that there are practically no Osman Hamdi paintings left on the market,” he said.

“There are constantly new fortunes being made in Turkey, which increases the likelihood of aggressive bids. To this we should add the growing number of private collections turned into private museums, (which) are even more likely to fight over this chance to have an Osman Hamdi,” he adds.

Although Eldem does not agree, some scholars view Osman Hamdi as a person torn between East and West and a victim of his period’s Westernization dilemma.

“His cultural and civilizational choices were clearly in the direction of the West, with a vision of the East that could range from curiosity to criticism and from aesthetic appreciation to rejection. That is what made him an Orientalist, even if he had a good dose of the 19th-century patriotism that set him apart from his Western contemporaries,” he said.

“Yet all of this was done with a great deal of self-assurance and, eventually, success, rather than victimization,” he said.

“As to the critical assessment of his work as tainted by Orientalist clichés and hesitations, it rests on too much retro-projection and hindsight based on our contemporary concerns,” he said.

One of the famed paintings of Osman Hamdi, “The Tortoise Trainer,” which dates back to 1906, was sold for a record 5.5 million Turkish liras in 2004 by Antik A.Ş. and it is now part of Istanbul’s Pera Museum’s collection.

Another painting “Istanbul Hanımefendisi” (The Lady of Constantinople) was sold for $6.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London, another record for the artist, in 2008.

His “Vazo Yerleştiren Kız” (A Girl Arranging a Vase for Flowers) was sold by Antik A.Ş. for 3.2 million Turkish liras in 2012 while another London auction saw the sale of the artist’s “Kuran Okuyan Adam” (Man Reading the Quran) for 3 million pounds in the same year. More recently the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum bought his “A Young Emir Studying.”

For Eldem, Osman Hamdi, the very unique actor of modernity in Ottoman history, is remembered as an artist for the “sensational aspect of the prices his works have fetched recently.”

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Thirty-nine artifacts returned to Turkey in 2015

Umut Erdem – ANKARA – Some 39 artifacts were repatriated to Turkey in 2015, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry has announced.

Twenty-seven smuggled artifacts were returned from the United States while 10 came back from Switzerland last year, according to the ministry. Also among them were one piece from Austria and one from Germany.

The artifacts returned to Turkey in 2015 include the head of a bull from Austria, a piece of a tomb from Germany, various ceramics and architectural pieces from Switzerland, two stelas and 23 artifacts from the U.S. Brauer Museum of Art.

Among the pieces that were returned from the U.S. are two manuscripts that were returned from the Schoenberg collection as a result of doctoral student Hüseyin Şen’s efforts. Şen, who is doing his doctorate in the Netherlands on the history of Islamic sciences, received a letter of appreciation from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during a recent visit to the Netherlands.

Since 2002, a total of 4,268 artifacts have been returned to their homeland, Turkey.

Thanks to its works on the return of cultural artifacts, Turkey was chosen for the second time as a four-year member of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Counties of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) in 2015.

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Turkey’s first submarine trips aim to revive tourism in Antalya

ANTALYA/ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – As Turkey seeks to support its tourism industry amid continued regional problems, one Antalya-based firm has hit upon a novel idea to keep people coming to the coast: A 48-seat submarine.

Guests from around the world could soon be speeding through the Mediterranean Sea at 130 feet below the waves in “Nemo,” a craft built in Finland and renovated in Spain.

The chairman of IHS Travel and Touristfly, the company behind the ambitious $4-million scheme, told Anadolu Agency that they “wanted to bring a new and different alternative to the sector and this project came to our minds.”

“I believe it will revive the tourism industry. We are very hopeful about the project,” said Yunus Emre Yavuzyiğit.

The guided underwater tours could start in April from the coastal city of Alanya.

The underwater adventures will continue throughout 11 months of the year and the company plans to enlarge the underwater tours over the coming years.

“We plan to buy more submarines to start tours in the Aegean and the Marmara Sea as well in 2017,” added Yavuzyiğit.

The project comes as Turkey witnesses a decline in the number of foreign visitors from Russia and Europe in 2015. According to data released by the Tourism Ministry last month, foreign tourist arrivals dropped by around 1.61 percent compared to the same period of 2014.

Antalya was one of Russian visitors’ most popular destinations until Turkey downed a Russian warplane on the Syria border on Nov. 24 last year.

After the subsequent diplomatic row, Russian tourist arrivals have dropped significantly. According to the ministry’s figures, the number of Russian tourists coming to Turkey fell by 47 percent in December 2015 compared to the same period of the last year.

Last month’s terror attack that killed 11 German tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district has also prompted jitters in the industry.

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Historic railway project to link Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan

20 February 2016 – TODAY.AZ – The Foreign Ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey visited the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway main line, as part of the trilateral meeting in Tbilisi on Feb.19, Georgian Foreign Ministry’s press service reported.

According to the Foreign Ministers of the three countries, it is a project of historic importance which will connect Asia with Europe.

According to the Georgian Foreign Minister, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will considerably increase the competitiveness of the transport corridor, will attract greater volumes of cargoes and will contribute to the realization of the Silk Road project.

“The three countries continue to contribute huge amount of resources towards this project. Over 700 million has already been spent on the Georgian section alone. This project will create additional job places. Once completed, over 1400 people will be employed here. This is going to be a watershed project. We will soon have the first shipment of cargo freighted via this road”- Mikheil Janelidze said.

Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is being constructed on the basis of a Georgian-Azerbaijani-Turkish intergovernmental agreement. Azerbaijan allocated a loan of $775 million for the construction of the railway’s Georgian section.

The State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) finances the project in accordance with the Azerbaijani president’s decree ‘On the implementation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project activities’, dated February 21, 2007.

The peak capacity of the corridor will be 17 million tons of cargo per year. At the initial stage, this figure will be one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of cargo.

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Azerbaijan reduces visa issuing term for tourists

20 February 2016 – TODAY.AZ – Now visiting Azerbaijan is not a problem for those desiring to receive permission for entry into the country in a short term.

The amendments to be applied to the migration law beginning from February 1 at President Ilham Aliyev’s order, reduce the issuing term of electronic visas for foreigners desiring to travel to the country dropped from 10 to 5 days.

As many as 45,000 foreigners received visas for visiting the country upon switching to electronic application in March 2013.

The electronic visa system is designed to provide a simplified and rapid issuing a an entry permission for foreign tourists wishing to visit the country, as well as to reduce travel packages at prices of individual and group tourist visits, and to increase the flow of tourists to Azerbaijan.

Foreigners and stateless persons may obtain an electronic tourist visa through travel agencies accredited at the Azerbaijan Culture and Tourism Ministry. List of companies are published on the websites of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the embassies of Azerbaijan in foreign countries.

Foreign nationals wishing to visit Azerbaijan as a tourist can apply for visa through email by contacting the travel agency by phone, e-mail or by using the opportunities created on the web page of the company, providing the required documents and paying a state fee in the amount of $20.

The documents required for getting an electronic visa include a filled and signed e-Visa application form, Passport style colored photo (dimensions 3×4), a colored copy of Passport’s main page, and a copy of round-trip flight ticket or reservation.

Today the capital Baku, located at the meeting-point of Europe and Asia, remains the focus of many tourists visiting the country.

Currently, the government conducts several measures to attract tourists to its regions, rich with history and unique nature.

President of Azerbaijan Airlines Company Jahangir Asgarov told The Business Year magazine that Azerbaijan is interested in attracting foreign carriers to fly into the country’s regions, adding that negotiations with a number of airlines, including low-cost are underway.

“Increase of flights from abroad in the regions of Azerbaijan will contribute to the development of tourism in the country. Azerbaijan has many beautiful places that I’m sure the guests will like. In addition, technical support of regional airports is cheaper, and ticket prices in the regions may be lower than for similar flights in Baku,” he said.

Currently, Azerbaijan has five airports in the regions including Nakhchivan, Ganja, Gabala, Lankaran and Zagatala, which have the international status and meet all modern requirements in the field of civil aviation work.

Turkish and Russian air companies carry out flights to the country’s regions.

Asgarov noted that the main problem the air companies face now is financial crisis.

“The difficult economic situation in many countries has led to a decrease in the purchasing power of the population, as people began to save money on trips abroad. Many private companies are also trying to minimize their costs,” he noted.

From February 1, AZAL, one of the leaders of the aviation community of the CIS countries, announced new airfare for budget round-trip flights on departure from the national airports to the most popular destinations in Turkey, Georgia, Russia, UAE and Iran.

“The launch of low-cost flights to popular destinations was an important step for AZAL. We plan to continue working in this direction in order to provide the most favorable and flexible terms in our pricing policy. In parallel, we will continue negotiations with our foreign counterparts for the implementation of flights to new destinations and the signing of code-share agreements,” AZAL’s president said.

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Azerbaijan developing new model of Islamic banking

20 February 2016 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijan is developing a new model of Islamic banking, chief executive officer of B.EST Solutions Islamic finance consultancy, Islamic Financing consultant and member of the CIS Islamic Banking Advisory Council, Behnam Gurbanzada said.

He made the remarks within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States Global Business Forum (CIS GBF 2016) in Dubai, according to the forum’s website.

He said plans are afoot to introduce Islamic banking regulations in the country. He went on to add that while the workflow was “not too fast” in the past, in the current economic environment, there is a greater focus to bring real banking solutions with a focus on customers.

Gurbanzada said Azerbaijan is developing a new model of Islamic banking, even as one commercial bank is all set to becoming fully Islamic.

Last year, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) allocated to Azerbaijan a grant of $200,000 to improve the legislative framework, which will form the basis for Islamic banking.

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Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan to establish railway consortium

By Aynur Karimova

18 February 2016 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan have agreed to establish a railway consortium to ensure smooth movement of Chinese goods to Europe via the Trans-Caspian International Transport route.

This was announced by Bakytzhan Sagintayev, the First Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, who led a governmental delegation visiting Tbilisi, Georgia, on February 17. The Trans-Caspian route was one of the main topics of discussions held between representatives of the Georgian and Kazakh governments.

Sagintayev said the railway departments of the three countries agreed that this railway consortium will provide the movement of goods from Chinese ports to the Georgian port of Batumi and then – to Turkey and further to Europe.

“This is a very profitable transit route for all parts, and we all are very interested in establishing such a consortium,” he noted.

The Trans-Caspian route connects China with Europe via the territory of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. This is a multimodal corridor which uses railway, maritime and road transport for transportation of goods.

The official further added that given the route’s profitability, Kazakhstan is eyeing to be an active part in it, and his country is not going to abandon its assets in the Batumi port and the Batumi oil terminal, since it is connected with the Trans-Caspian route.

Dmitry Kumsishvili, the Georgian Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, said Georgia is interested in increase of volume of Kazakh goods which will pass through this route.

Today Azerbaijan is also determined to use its transportation potential, by turning into the transport hub between East and West. Many countries including Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan and China are interested in the opportunities to reach markets of interest by means of Azerbaijan, which makes the transportation more convenient, fast and cost-efficient.

The Trans-Caspian route enjoys an opportunity to become attractive and profitable for consignors from European countries. This route will transport approximately 300,000-400,000 containers by 2020, bringing hundreds of millions of manats in profit to Azerbaijan.

Three test container trains have already been sent from China to Europe via this corridor. This project, being very profitable, has involved even Ukraine, the territory of which will make the delivery of goods to customers even faster.

Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Ukraine have signed a protocol on setting preferential tariffs for cargo transportation via this route, and the final document on resolving the technical problems is expected to be signed this February. Signing of this document will likely lead to full commercial operation of the Trans-Caspian route in March.

Experts believe that there will not be an alternative to the Trans-Caspian route in the coming decade.

It also the cheapest and most profitable corridor for freight traffic, Ruchan Kaya, a strategic and political coordinator of the Istanbul-based Caspian Strategy Institute (HASEN), believes.

The transport corridor is not yet running at its full capacity, he told Trend, adding that the full operation of this corridor will have a positive impact both on Azerbaijan’s economic growth and its members – countries of the region.

“The effective operation of the Trans-Caspian transport route will positively affect the growth of trade turnover between Europe and China,” he said.

The expert also expressed confidence that the commissioning of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will accelerate cargo delivering from Turkey to the Central Asian markets via the Trans-Caspian transport corridor.

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Cuban Envoy At Ile Ife, Drums Support for Ooni’s Cultural Tourism

19 February 2016 – This Day (Lagos) – Ile Ife has continued to attract interest across the globe with high profile personalities visiting and holding court with the newly installed Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeleye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja 11, whose towering influence and impressed performance since claiming the throne especially his passionate drive for the unity of the Yoruba race and promotion of cultural tourism with Ife as the new destination.

This time around, the Ooni played host to one of his own, the Cuban Ambassador to Nigeria, Carlos E.Troja Sosa, ‘Omowale,’ who himself has a history of long association with the palace dating back to the era of the late Oba Sijwuade. He was accompanied on the visit by his wife, Trejo Sosa (Oshunyinka) the deputy envoy, Ms Miriam Morales Palmero (Yemoja) following a royal summon by the Ooni.

The visit spanned two days with the first day witnessing a grand reception for the visiting envoy and his team at the Enu Owa palace where he was treated to musical and cultural entertainment with Osirgi dance group, Abubu Ola and the Elewo Agogo Group and the duo of Olo Midan Bata and Anu, the lady Ekwe from the stable of Atunda Entertainment as well as Sango Oba Koso, which is known in the Caribbean as Shango.

This was later followed in the evening by a private dinner hosted for the visitors by the Ooni, who is also the grand patron of Motherland Beckons, an organsiation founded by Otunba Wanle Akinboboye, who is the president of La Campagne and also the consultant and adviser on tourism to the Ooni, who has on assumption of the throne declared his intention of turning Ife into a tourism destination.

The night ended with tour of Omi Yeye Moolu, a mysterious river within the inner recesses of the palace while on the second day of the visitor, the team was at the Ile – Ife Grand Resort and Leisure site, a 156 hectare of land, which on completion is to house a N7.6 billion resort. A baby of the Ooni, which is envisaged to provide employment for hundreds of the people and opened up the tourism economy of Ile – Ife.

Thereafter, the team visited Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) where the Cuban envoy held court with the students at the amphitheatre. He also visited the Natural History of Museum and the Institute of Cultural Studies.

The two days visit was most instructive as it afforded the Ooni and his guests the opportunity to exchange ideas and pledge cooperation in the area of the promotion of cultural tourism given that Cuba and Nigeria has a long history and that majority of its population, as disclosed by the envoy as of Yoruba descend with many as devotees of Ifa.

Ambassador Sosa was impressed by the tourism dream of the Ooni especially the Ile – Ife Grand Resort and also the planned declaration of Ife as a tourism zone. According to the envoy, these are laudable projects, which he is happy to be associated with and run his weight behind even as he promised the Ooni and the people of the unalloyed support of his office and that of his country.

Oba Ojaja 11 also took time to educate and expose his visitors to the rich history and tradition of his people and the supremacy of Ile – Ife. He debunked the migratory theory about Ile – Ife and declared that Ile – Ife is indeed the cradle of mankind and not only that of the Yorubas alone.

He further delved into mystic and esoteric belief that Olodumare, the creator of the universe, controls the world from Ile – Ife, as evidenced by the mysterious Igi Nla, White Forest, Ark of Noah and Tower of Babel, all domiciled in Ile-Ife. He elaborated on the significance of the 201 deities created by Olodumare and their relationship with mankind, right from the Adam and Eve days of old.

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Sierra Leone President Reopens Refurbished Bintumani Hotel

By State House Communication Unit

16 February 2016 – Government of Sierra Leone (Freetown) – His Excellency President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma Tuesday 16 February 2016 officially reopened the newly refurbished Bintumani Hotel at Aberdeen in Freetown.

President Koroma described the reopening of Bintumani Hotel as an important milestone not only for the hospitality industry but also for the country as a whole. He went on to note that the reopening of the hotel was an abiding testimony to the country’s collective efforts in meeting its recovery objectives.

“It is a testimony to the resilience of our people and the determination of my government and private sector partners to put the Ebola calamity behind us and move on with our development agenda,” he stressed.

He applauded the Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) and their local co-workers for being part of the milestone in transforming the Bintumani Hotel to a top of the range facility and commended their contribution in defeating the Ebola outbreak.

The head of state pointed out that the Bintumani Hotel has always witnessed the friendship between the Republic of Sierra Leone and the People’s Republic of China, adding that the friendship has generated great dividends to both countries. President Koroma also registered firm commitment in strengthening the friendship in pursuit of more economic cooperation.

Whilst stating government’s open door policy and partnership with other private sector investors in the implementation of government development agenda, President Koroma said that government will continue with the ongoing development of the Aberdeen-Lumley Beach and other tourism infrastructures across the country.

In his statement, the General Manager of the hotel Mr David Wenguo Zhang said the Bintumani Hotel has a special space in the hearts of Sierra Leoneans being the first Five Star hotel in the country. He registered his commitment to the people of Sierra Leone and in meeting international standards in the hotel and tourism industry. He informed that in 2014 they decided to make another investment of Five Million United States Dollars to upgrade the hotel and to develop the land surrounding the hotel.

Delivering her statement, the Acting Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs Madam Kadija Sesay said the reopening ceremony was another milestone in the development of Sierra Leone as enshrined in Pillar one of the Agenda for Prosperity. She urged the BUCG to expedite the remaining facilities in meeting international standards.

President Koroma unveiled the hotel plaque and consequently embarked on a conducted tour of the hotel facilities, climaxed with a cocktail.

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Algerian-Chinese J-V Set Up To Implement Rail Project

ALGIERS, Feb 16 (NNN-APS) — The National Company of Railway Construction (Infrafer) of Algeria and China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) have signed an agreement to establish a joint venture company specializing in the laying of railway tracks.

The agreement for the joint-venture was signed here Monday on the margins of the ongoing “Algeria Infrastructure 2016” international exhibition of transport, logistics and mobility by the CEO of Infrafer, Slimane Bouchama, and CRCC International Vice-General Director Wei Waizheng, in the presence of Algerian Transport Minister Boudjemaa Talai.

The joint venture, which is expected to be established within six months, will mainly specialize in the laying of high-speed rail tracks, a niche area in which Infrafer lacks experience, Bouchama told APS following the agreement signing ceremony.

“After the construction of traditional rail tracks, Infrafer will, through this partnership, embark on the new niche of laying rail tracks for high-speed railways,” he explained.

The agreement also provides for the creation of a plant for the manufacturing of parts for the electrification of railway tracks and of signalling and telecommunication systems for railway projects. The joint venture will also carry out studies on laying railway tracks in desert areas and the major projects and tunnels associated with railway projects, said Bouchama.

“Following the signing of this agreement, we need the approval of the State Stakeholding Council (EPC) to finalize the pact of shareholders and secure the capital of the company, whose effective creation is expected in six months,” he said.

Chinese Ambassador to Algeria Yang Guangyu said the agreement would further materialize the two countries’ efforts to move forward towards a genuine industrial partnership.

“Chinese companies have the experience and technology in the construction of railway infrastructure and are ready to share them with their Algerian partners,” said Yang.

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Algeria: Mostaganem-Alicante Sea Route to Open in June

16 February 2016 – Algerie Presse Service – Oran — A new sea route is to be opened next June between Mostaganem (Algeria’s west) and Alicante, Spain, Latrache Benamara, the western regional manager at the National Company of Sea Passenger Transport, has announced.

As part of the new line, there will be two voyages per week between Mostaganem and Alicante, Benamara told APS.

The route has been open to deal with passengers coming from and going to Alicante following launch of development works at Konakry Quay, in the port of Oran.

The port of Oran, which has two quays, has launched a few months ago development works at Conakry Quay, Oran Port’s main quay, and which are expected to last three years.

The port company’s managing executive said that the opening of another line, between Mostaganem and Valence, is under negotiation with Spanish authorities.

The ministry of Transports, in addition, has given authorization to Spanish company Baleria to run the Mostaganem-Valence line.

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Uganda: Ruparelia Group Scoops Best Tourism Investor Award

17 February 2016 – The Monitor (Kampala) – For its investing in the tourism sector, the Ruparelia Group was named the best tourism investor 2015 at the Ekkula Pearl of Africa Tourism Awards recently at Hotel Africana. The Ekkula Tourism Awards recognized and awarded people that selflessly put Uganda’s tourism to better heights.

The director Ruparelia group, Mr Rajiv Ruparelia welcomed the award as a great encouragement in their bid to market Uganda.

“Getting such recognition from Ekkula Tourism Awards organizers is a great incentive and encourages us to even work harder to market Uganda. We shall continue to invest in the tourism industry because it has the potential and we want to see that potential grow. We are going to do more great things for tourism in Uganda,” Mr Rajiv said.

“We have a commitment to make Uganda a global brand. Our contribution is by putting in place amenities that make stand out. Our hotels are world class because we believe that Uganda has a lot to offer to the world. We want people who come to visit Uganda to go back and tell a good story so that other people can come to see Uganda,” he added.

The Ruparelia Group, started by The Group’s Chairman, Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia, has business interests in banking, insurance, hospitality, conventions and hospitality, entertainment, education, real estate and floriculture. These establishments have made Sudhir one of the most adored entrepreneurs in Uganda.

However the Ekkula tourism award comes as recognition for investments that directly went into supporting the country’s flourishing tourism industry. The Ruparelia Group owns a number of hotels, resorts and entertainment centers.

These include Kabira Country Club, Speke Hotel, Speke Apartments, Speke Resort and Conference Centre, Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, Dolphin Suites, Tourist Hotel, Forest Cottages and Speke Resort Bujagali Fall.

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Nigeria: Medview Acquires 463-Capacity Aircraft

17 February 2016 – Daily Trust (Abuja) – Medview Airline, on Tuesday, entered into an agreement with Air Atlanta of Iceland for the acquisition of a Boeing 747-400 aircraft.

Under the agreement, Air Atlanta will deliver the 463-capacity aircraft to Medview to increase its fleet ahead of the airline’s plan to open new route.

Specifically, the aircraft will be deployed for Hajj operations and also to support London and Jeddah routes.

Also, the airline has taken delivery of another B737-400, bringing the fleet size to six aircraft. The aircraft is expected to be dedicated to Lagos-Abuja-Maiduguri route.

Already, the airline has been destined for 17 international destinations, among which are Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE); Freetown, Sierra Leone; Singapore.

The new agreement was signed at the Med-View headquarters, with the managing director/chief executive officer of Medview Airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole and the head of Engineering, Lookman Animashaun representing the airline. The director of sales, Air Altanta, Magnus Asgeirsson was also in attendance.

Bankole explained that the agreement was a turning point in the 10-year-old partnership with Air Atlanta as both parties have kept faith with the existing relationship, saying they have moved a step further.

In another development, the airline has joined humanitarian efforts for victims of insurgency by donating a trailer-load of rice and noodles monthly to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno. The gesture commenced in January this year.

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Etihad Airways Registers Record Passengers In India

DUBAI, Feb 17 (NNN-PTI) — Gulf carrier Etihad Airways along with partner Jet Airways has carried a record 3.3 million people between Abu Dhabi and India in 2015, registering a 63 per cent growth in passenger traffic.

Together, the airlines carried a record 3.3 million passengers between Etihad Airways’ Abu Dhabi hub and India in 2015, representing a sharp rise on the 2 million flown during the previous 12 months, the airline said.

“Bilateral relations between the UAE and India continue to grow based on years of friendship and deep commitment to strengthen economic, cultural and trade ties.

“With Etihad Airways and Jet Airways together offering over 44,000 seats each week between Abu Dhabi and India, we are clearly are a key contributor to India’s dynamic economy.

There is further room to grow and we are looking at the many opportunities that exist to develop our operations,” said James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer.

“Our investment in Jet Airways was aimed at being part of the Indian success story. Before the Jet deal, Etihad Airways carried only two per cent of the international traffic to and from India. We have helped bring Jet Airways back to profitability.

“Today, Jet Airways is our number one equity partner for revenue and passenger contribution on Etihad Airways, and

India is Abu Dhabi’s number one source market for international visitors,” he added. The UAE is the 10th biggest foreign – and largest Arab – investor in India.

Etihad operates 175 flights each week to and from 11 Indian gateway cities. The combined networks of Etihad Airways and Jet Airways offer over 250 weekly flights between Abu Dhabi and 15 cities across India.

From May 1, the airline will launch its award-winning Airbus A380 operations to Mumbai.

By 2020, domestic and international passenger traffic through Indian airports is expected to double to 450 million.

The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts more than 50 million Indians travelling overseas annually by 2020.

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Abu Dhabi to open bio-fuel research facility in March

Khaleej Times – 20 February, 2016 – The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium, or SBRC, has announced that its bio-energy research facility at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology will be inaugurated on March 6.

“In an interconnected world – where rapidly growing populations stress our finite resources – the UAE is addressing food security challenges,” said Dr Behjat Al Yousuf, interim provost, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

“In fact, the UAE imports roughly 90 per cent of its food – at a cost, that if left unchecked, is predicted to increase by 300 per cent over the next decade. But the challenge of food security is also an unprecedented opportunity to advance ideas and innovations that are both sustainable and economically viable. The Masdar Institute, along with its partners, is doing just that.

“Next month, we will begin operating the world’s first bio-energy research facility using desert land – irrigated by seawater – to produce both food and aviation fuels,” said Dr Al Yousuf.

“Abu Dhabi’s commitment to advance cutting-edge research that addresses both water and food security underpins the country’s transformation into an economy driven by knowledge capital.”

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Jordan Cabinet Approves Amended Tourism Draft Law

AMMAN, Feb. 18 (NNN-Petra) — The Cabinet, during a session Wednesday, chaired by Prime Minister, Abdullah Ensour, approved the rationale of amended draft bill of the 2016 Tourism Law, in order to send it to the Legislation and Opinion Bureau.

The draft law carries importance because it would help support the national economy, keep pace with the rapid developments in the tourism industry and encourage investment in this sector.

Also, the draft bill came to address the issue of representation in the National Council for Tourism, and increase the number of members representing the private sector to consolidate the participatory principle between council members.

It also binds tourism offices to provide an assurance policy to cover the harm caused to customers in case of a breach of obligations.

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Abu Dhabi sees $ 571m highway project on track

TradeArabia – 17 February, 2016 – The work on the Dh2.1 billion ($ 571 million) Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway project is progressing well with more than 60 per cent of the job completed, said a report, citing senior officials of Abu Dhabi General Services (Musanada).

The 62-km highway project, which is being developed in collaboration with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Transport (DoT), is set for completion in the fourth quarter of 2017, reported the Gulf News.

The eight-lane expressway is an extension of Mohammad Bin Zayed Road, which currently ends at Seih Shuaib Area at the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border. The other major highway that links Dubai with the northern emirates also ends at Seih Shuaib.

Set to be ready by the end of next year, the road will help motorists heading to Sharjah and the northern emirates avoid traffic on Shaikh Zayed Road and other roads in Dubai. It also provides direct access to the eastern cities of Fujairah, Kalba and Khor Fakkan.

It will help divert the bulk of the traffic from Shaikh Zayed Road, which is currently the only major road link between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and northern emirates, said the report.

Passing through Al Maha Forest, Kizad, Al Ajban Road, Zayed Military City to Sweihan Road, the new highway includes six bridges and six underground passes.

The project, which has a capacity of up to 7,000 vehicles per hour, aims to reduce congestion and accidents on the current E11 Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road, it added.

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UAE aids Bahrain airport expansion

Khaleej Times – 18 February, 2016 – Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, or ADFD, has taken part in the ground-breaking ceremony which kick started work on the cutting-edge Bahrain International Airport expansion project which will see Bahrain become a major aviation hub in the coming years and act as a catalyst for wider socio-economic development in the Kingdom.

Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of Bahrain, laid the foundation stone for the massive expansion project in the presence of Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain, Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, Abdul Redha Abdullah Khouri, the UAE Ambassador to Bahrain, as well as a number of senior officials in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The project is being funded from the Dh9.19 billion ($ 2.5 billion) grant provided by the UAE to Bahrain in 2013 as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) development programme for Bahrain. Administered by ADFD, the grant aims to support development projects in the Kingdom over the 10 years. Of this grant, Dh3.373 billion ($ 919 million) was allocated towards expanding Bahrain International Airport.

The $ 1.1 billion expansion of Bahrain International Airport aims to increase its capacity to 14 million passengers per year to meet the anticipated growth in the number of passengers transiting through the airport and to ensure the airport’s infrastructure can handle the next generation of modem fleets which are coming on stream. In addition to the development and modernisation of the airport’s infrastructure, the project seeks to upgrade the services and facilities provided by the airport and ensure they are in line with leading international standards, while enhancing the competitiveness of the airport as a regional aviation hub.

Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, or ADFD, said: “ADFD enjoys outstanding relations with the Bahraini Government. These relations are built on solid foundations and close links, deeply rooted in the shared history of our countries. Through our continued collaboration and engagement, under the directives of our wise leaderships, we aim to support the Bahraini Government in its efforts to promote sustainable socio-economic development across the country, while at the same time promoting stronger synergies between the people of both countries.

Investing in an exciting project such as this airport expansion is an important driver of these ambitions and we look forward to seeing the project progress and take shape.”

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Jordan, Tunisia To Organize Joint Economic Activities

TUNISIA, Feb.18 (NNN-Petra)– Jordan and Tunisia’s commerce and industry chambers agreed to organize and hold joint economic activities.

The agreement was reached during the Jordanian Tunisian Business Forum, which was held on Tuesday in Tunis.

Jordan will organize the event yearly in May while it will be held in Tunis in September.

Participants during the forum, which was opened by Tunisian Commerce Minister Mohsen Hassan, recommended that new mechanisms for the electronic information exchange be adopted, and that direct marine shipping and air lines between the two countries be established .

The gathering, which was organized on the sidelines of the Jordanian economic delegation visit to Tunisian capital, also called for activating the Aghadir Agreement, and holding regular meetings.

The Aghadir agreement was signed by Egypt, Morocco along with Jordan and Tunisia in 2004 to increase commercial exchange among the four countries from one side, and with the European Union (EU) from the other.

The Aghadir agreement went into effect in 2006 following the completion of the certification procedures in the four countries, and it was first implemented in March 2007 after customs departments received notices of its implementation.

The agreement entered into force in 2006 after ratification procedures in the four countries were completed, while the actual implementation of the agreement started at the end of March 2007.

The forum also called for drawing up an action plan to boost Arab economic ties. The Jordanian- Tunisian trade, economic and investment cooperation will offer an ideal example for this.

The Kingdom’s exports to Tunisia stood at around JD12 million during the past 11 months of 2015 whereas imports stood at JD5.4 million.

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Bahrain To Host Arab Cultural Meeting

MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb 15 (NNN-BNA) – Bahrain will host the second consultative meeting of Arab cultural attaches, on Feb 17.

Kuwaiti Ambassador to Bahrain and Dean of Diplomatic Corps, Shaikh Azzam Mubarak Al-Sabah, will patronise the event, which will be held at the Shaikh Isa Cultural Centre in Manama.

Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) President, Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa, will attend as guest of honour, in the presence of keynote speakers from Arab countries, Arab ambassadors, guests, university presidents, intellectual and cultural figures and media personalities.

The state of Kuwait will chair the session, which will be held on Wednesday, under the theme: “Our Culture..Our Unity.”

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Iran to offer new tax-exemption incentive to tourism

Tehran Times – 17 February, 2016 – Iran will grant a new tax-exemption incentive to the newly-constructed hotels and tourism centers in the country since the beginning of the next Iranian calendar year (March 20, 2016), said Seyed Kamel Taqavinejad, the head of Iranian Tax Administration.

According to Taqavinejad the new hotels and tourism centers will receive income tax exemption for a course of five years, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) reported.

The incentive will be granted for a duration of ten years to those hotels and tourism centers which will be built in the less developed regions, the official noted.

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Rail transportation in Iran to double

Tehran Times – 17 February, 2016 – Transportation of goods via railways will be doubled in Iran by the end of the current Iranian calendar year (March 19, 2016), said Mohsen Pourseyyed Aqai, the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways.

The official said 800,000 tons of commodities were transported via railways in Iran in the past calendar year; the figure is planned to reach 1.5 million tons by the end of current year, the IRNA news agency reported.

Transportation of goods via railways could rise to 4 million tons in the next Iranian calendar year, Pourseyyed Aqai further highlighted.

He made the remarks in a ceremony on Monday to welcome the first train connecting China to Iran through the ancient Silk Road which arrived in Tehran after traveling over 10,000 kilometers.

Iran is strategically-located in the Middle East, sharing land borders with seven nations, and sea channels on its northern and southwestern parts.

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Oman to showcase $ 35bn tourism vision at ATM

TradeArabia – 17 February, 2016 – Oman is looking to invest $ 35 billion in the next 25 years as part of its tourism vision to increase the sultanate’s global appeal with exciting initiatives which will be showcased at this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, UAE, in April.

The annual Arabian Travel Market roadshow series returned to Oman last week, as the sultanate continues to work on leveraging its international profile, which saw inbound tourism numbers rise by an average of 7.4 per cent per annum in the decade 2005-14 and 1.4 million international tourism arrivals targeted by 2019, up from 1.1 million in 2015.

The Reed Travel Exhibitions team were in Muscat, to meet with key industry players from across the country and discuss exhibitor opportunities for this year’s annual travel industry showcase as well as look at where the country stands with regards to its $ 3.3 billion worth of tourism related projects.

Exhibitors from the sultanate attending ATM 2016, which takes place at Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre from April 25 to 28, include the Oman Ministry of Tourism, which has forecasted hotel room capacity to expand at an annual growth rate of 5.3 per cent over the next three to four years, and contribute 10 per cent of GDP by 2020.

“It has been a destination on several travel hotlists, and was ranked in 20th spot on the New York Times list of one of the 52 places to visit in 2015 as well as gaining kudos from popular travel site, Skift, which last year named it as the number one spot in the region, saying that it ‘packs a lot (into) a small package’,” said Nadege Noblet-Segers, Exhibition Manager, Arabian Travel Market.

It is also seventh out of the 100 places most favoured by Muslim tourists, according to the Global Muslim Travel Index.

Recent figures from the Oman Airports Management Company for both Muscat and Salalah airports recorded an 18 per cent rise in passenger numbers through the capital’s gateway in 2015, surpassing the 10 million passenger mark for the first time in its operational history, while Salalah Airport also saw a rise in traffic by 22% to reach more than one million passengers.

Accessibility is a key focus with Oman Air, for example, launching a new route to Dhaka and enhanced capacity to Frankfurt, Colombo, Tehran and Dammam.

“These figures are indicative of the growing appeal of Oman to a diverse international audience and the country is expanding its tourism offering to cater to all segments including mid-market, which is something that we are focusing on this year as our spotlight theme,” said Noblet-Segers.

“This is responding not only to the needs of the more budget-conscious traveller, but also for those whom quality and experience-led travel doesn’t necessarily have to mean a five-star price tag,” she added.

According to the Reed Travel Exhibitions commissioned Q3 2015 YouGov Travel Oracle insight report, one-third (36 per cent) of surveyed leisure travellers from the region now choose budget hotels when travelling for pleasure, with Asian expats the most likely to opt for low cost accommodation (52 per cent) and 35 per cent of all respondents stating that reasonable cost is one of the most important elements when considering a leisure destination.

Overall, 41 per cent of travellers interviewed had a per person trip budget of $ 1,000 or less, thus putting cost high on the priority list.

The YouGov report also looked at business travel, with 15 per cent of total respondents reporting a decrease in corporate travel budget over the last 12 months, which is accordingly highlighting an opportunity for mid-level brands to target the newly budget-conscious corporate traveller.

The visibility of special deals/promotions when selecting a hotel for business travel was also raised in the research, with 18 per cent of those surveyed naming special offers as the top decision influencer followed by the influence of the company travel organiser (15 per cent).

ATM 2016 will build on the success of this year’s edition with the announcement of an additional hall as Reed Travel Exhibitions looks to add to its record-breaking achievements earlier this year. ATM 2015 witnessed a year-on-year visitor attendance increase of 15 per cent to over 26,000, with exhibiting companies increasing by 5 per cent to 2,873. Business deals worth more than $ 2.5 billion were signed over the four days.

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Rise in passenger traffic at Muscat, Salalah airports

Times of Oman – 20 February, 2016 – Total passenger traffic (including transit & transfer passengers) through Muscat International Airport increased by 20 per cent to 1,021,929 passengers during January 2016 compared to 851,588 passengers for the same period of 2015.

Statistics show an increase in the arrival of passengers by 22 per cent to 517,473 during January this year compared to 425,045 passengers for the same period for 2015.

The number of departing passengers also rose by 19 per cent to 501,946 during January this year comparing to 420,629 passengers for the same period of 2015.

The increase in arrival and departure traffic into Muscat International Airport is attributed to the increase in the number of flights operated by existing airlines, such as Bangladesh Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and SpiceJet Ltd.

In terms of Air cargo traffic at Muscat International airport, Aviation Statistics indicate an increase in the total unloaded and loaded freight by 19 per cent, with total shipment (10,663 tonnes) compared to (8,996 tonnes) in the same period in 2015.

Salalah Airport also witnessed an increase by 16 per cent in the total number of arrival and departure of passengers to 95,152 in January 2016 compared to 81,877 passengers during the same period in 2015.

As for the movement of Air Cargo at Salalah Airport, Freight traffic recorded 17 per cent increase in total unloaded and loaded freight, bringing the shipment to ( 137 tonnes) during January 2016 compared to (117 tonnes) in the same period in 2015.

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Qatar tourism receipts to reach $ 7.2bn by 2025

The Peninsula – 18 February, 2016 – Qatar’s tourism and hospitality industry is building momentum as it enters the second half of the decade, with an ambitious target of four million visitors by 2020, supported by $ 40-45bn worth of sector investment under the country’s National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030 plan.

The Gulf state returns to Arabian Travel Market (ATM) this year to showcase its expanding hotel and tourism infrastructure pipeline following a successful 2015 with visitor numbers in the first nine months of 2014 growing to reach 2.2 million in Q3, representing a year-on-year increase of 7.7 percent, and booming air connectivity which saw Hamad International Airport exceed forecast capacity of 30 million passengers last year.

According to a Q3, 2015 HVS report entitled ‘In Focus: Doha, Tracking Progress’, travel and tourism contributed $ 4.2bn, or 2 percent, to the GDP in 2014, with a figure of $ 4.6bn forecast for 2015 (a rise of 7.3 percent).

“Looking further ahead, this is expected to grow annually by 4.7 percent, to reach $ 7.2bn in 2025 as Qatar works towards its strategic goal of positioning itself as a ‘world-class hub with deep cultural roots’, by creating a high profile product that will appeal to all market segments from cultural tourists and families to sports fans and business travellers,” said Nadege Noblet-Segers, Exhibition Manager, Arabian Travel Market.

The HVS report notes the addition of 11 new hotel properties with a total of 1,400 rooms to the market in 2015 as part of its commitment to reach 50,000 additional rooms by the 2022, when it will host the FIFA World Cup. Kempinski Marsa Malaz Hotel, Banana Island Resort by Anantara and Melia Doha Hotel were a few of the brands to enter the market last year.

“As we are seeing in other GCC countries, an increasingly diversified tourism portfolio requires an equally broad hospitality offering, looking at both the luxury and mid-range categories, which is something that we are focusing on this year at ATM with midmarket travel our spotlight theme,” said Noblet-Segers.

“This is responding not only to the needs of the more budget-conscious traveller, but those for whom quality and experience-led travel doesn’t necessarily have to mean a five-star price tag,” she added.

The list of Qatari exhibitors at ATM 2016 include Katara Hospitality, Qatar Airways, Al Rayyan Hospitality, Qatar Tourism Authority and the Labbaik Group.

ATM 2016 will build on the success of this year’s edition with the announcement of an additional hall as Reed Travel Exhibitions looks to add to its record-breaking achievements earlier this year.

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First Scandinavian women-led mosque opens in Denmark

Monday 15 Feb 2016 – Copenhagen (IINA) – Scandinavia’s first female-led mosque has opened on Friday in Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, in a bid to furthern strengthen debate and dialogue among women, its founder says, UAE’s The National newspaper reported.

Sherin Khankan, born in Denmark to a Syrian father and a Finnish mother, said that while all activities at the Mariam mosque except Friday prayers would be open to both men and women, and the imam would be female.

“We have normalized patriarchal structures in our religious institutions. Not just in Islam, but also within Judaism, Christianity, and other religions. And we would like to challenge that,” she said.

Khankan, who is a well-known commentator and author in Denmark, said there was “an Islamic tradition allowing women to be imams” and that most of the criticism was based on ignorance.

Similar projects by Muslim women exist in several other countries, including the United States, Canada and Germany.

Imam Waseem Hussein, chairman of one of Copenhagen’s biggest mosques, questioned whether there was a need for the project.

“Should we also make a mosque only for men? Then there would certainly be an outcry among the Danish population,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper.

A Danish newspaper report wrongly claimed that the location of the mosque has been kept secret due to security concerns.

“We haven’t received any threats whatsoever,” Khankan said, adding that she wanted to collaborate “with everyone” within the Muslim community, and that the project was not about judging or excluding anybody.

The first Friday prayer has yet to be held as another 8 female imams, in addition to the two currently involved, have to be found.

“It’s a big responsibility and we all work as volunteers,” she said.

The long-standing political influence of the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party (DPP), as well as the row over Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) cartoons that led to deadly protests in Muslim countries, have strained relations between Denmark’s largest religious minority and the majority population.

Denmark’s largest purpose-built mosque, including the country’s first minaret, opened in 2014 in a gritty district of northwestern Copenhagen after receiving a 150 million kroner (Dh64.2m) endowment from Qatar.

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