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15 Feb, 2016

Malaysia to host first Imam Roundtable to open mosques to visitors

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 15 February 2016 (06 Jumada al-Awwal 1437). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




Five Malaysia’s homestays (Homestay Banghuris; Homestay Kampung Lonek; Homestay Kampung Taman Sedia; Homestay Kampung Santubong; and Homestay Miso Walai) received the ASEAN Homestay Award at the first ASEAN Homestay Award Ceremony held during the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Manila in January 2016. Malaysian Homestay Programmes give tourists the opportunity to stay with a chosen family, interact and experience the daily life of their homestay family and learn the culture and lifestyle of the rural community in Malaysia. Each homestay programme offers different types of activities, depending on the culture, food, economic activity as well as location. Every state in Malaysia has its own uniqueness in terms of culture, ranging from the nasi dagang in Kelantan to the sumazau dance in Sabah, as well as the long houses in Sarawak. Visitors can undertake activities such as rubber tapping, Fish breeding, Jungle trekking, White water rafting and Tree Planting. A 2-day 1-night homestay package starts at between RM150 and RM250 inclusive of accommodation, food and activities (the actual cost depends on the activities offered by the homestay operator and activities requested by tourists). For further details, pls check out the official Homestay Malaysia website at www.go2homestay.com.

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

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

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

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


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



Malaysia to host first Imam Roundtable to open mosques to visitors

Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Malaysia, in collaboration with the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) will be hosting the inaugural National Imam Roundtable 2016 – Mosque Tourism Edition from 22 to 24 February 2016 at the Pullman Hotel Putrajaya. This event sees the participation of Imams and committee members of mosques around Malaysia.

The objective of the Roundtable Discussion is to create understanding, awareness and acceptance for mosque tourism among the management of mosques other than to stress on the importance and benefits of mosques as a tourism product. It is also the continuation of the Konvensyen Masjid-Masjid Pelancong Malaysia 2014 held on 2 October 2014 at the Ibnu Sina Auditorium, Putra Mosque, Putrajaya, which was jointly organised by JAKIM, The Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP), ITC and Putra Mosque.

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. Apart from that, visitors are also able to witness the lifestyle of local Muslim community.

To date, there are at least thirty (30) tourism-potential mosques across Malaysia 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.

The National Imam Roundtable 2016 – Mosque Tourism Edition will provide opportunities for tourism potential mosque management committees around Malaysia to discuss and to share knowledge and information regarding Islamic tourism, mosque tourism and to further deliberate on the Seven Resolutions conceived at the Konvensyen Masjid-Masjid Pelancong Malaysia 2014.

Members of the Roundtable Discussion will also be taken for a tour to 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.

The National Imam Roundtable 2016 – Mosque Tourism Edition will be officiated by YB Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Tourism and Culture, Malaysia at the Alam Warisan Ballroom, Pullman Putrajaya on 23 February 2016 at 11.15 a.m.

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MATRADE To Expand Malaysian Products In West Africa

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 7 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) aims to use Nigeria and Ghana as a platform to promote Malaysian products in the West African region.

MATRADE Trade Commissioner to West Africa Saifuddin Khalid said the West African region had started opening up their economies, resulting in increasing demand for foreign products.

“We will mount several programmes in Nigeria and Ghana and use these two countries to explore the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region,” he added.

ECOWAS is a 15-member regional group with a mandate to promote economic integration in all fields of activity of the constituting countries.

Member countries making up ECOWAS are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo.

“ECOWAS has a unique agreement where products move freely between the 15 countries. This is an opportunity for Malaysian companies to expand there, also due to language advantage.

“Ghana and Nigeria use English as their intermediate language. With the right strategy and partner, Malaysian companies can succeed in this market,” said Saifuddin.

He added that Ghana would be an appropriate route to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger due to its proximity to the countries.

“Ghana is the passage to the three countries because they are landlocked with no ports. So the products would need to enter through Ghana, Congo or Benin to reach there.

Saifuddin noted that Malaysia enjoyed good relationship with West Africa before the region was hit by political uncertainties in the 1990s, which led to Malaysian companies divesting their investments there.

“We have seen the recovery in the political environment from early 2000 when they started conducting elections. They have free political will. Foreign investments have started flowing into the region again.

“We believe it is going to be better now and it is high time Malaysian companies re-explore the region,” he pointed out.

However, Saifuddin noted distance as among the challenges to trade in the West African region.

“The cost will be high due to the long distance between countries. So we have to restrategise in terms of pricing,” he added.

Currently, Saifuddin said Malaysian oil and gas companies have been scouting the region for oil and gas exploration.

Besides, Saifuddin said MATRADE would continue to organise specialised trade missions and business matching programmes in West Africa to boost trade between Malaysia and the region.

“This is an incentive that we provide for free. We will also do the due diligence with our partners and process the follow-ups as the distance with West Africa was our main challenges”, he said.

As Africa diversified its economy and increased its source of supply, Malaysia’s exports to Africa rose 5.9 per cent in 2015 to RM20.61 billion, accounting for 2.6 per cent share of Malaysia’s total exports.

Major exports to the region comprised both industrial and consumer products, namely palm oil and palm-based products, petroleum products, chemical and chemical products, processed food as well as machinery, appliances and parts.

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Malaysia Halal Council To Spearhead Halal Management, Development

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia Feb 11 (NNN-Bernama) — The Special Cabinet Committee on Halal Industry Management and Development was dissolved today and replaced with the Malaysia Halal Council (MHM).

Announcing this today, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the committee’s functions would be divided between the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) and the Halal Industry Development Corp (HDC).

“Jakim will concentrate on the certification process, governance and matters related to Syariah, while HDC will focus on expanding and internationalising the halal industry,” he told a press conference after chairing the last meeting of the cabinet committee here today.

Ahmad Zahid said other bodies and agencies from various ministries would be consolidated under the MHM to assail the industry to greater heights.

“Our country has embarked on halal certification for a long time and we should take proactive measures to bring Malaysia to the frontline of halal product production,” he said.

He said halal products should not be confined only to foods but also other fields such as pharmaceuticals, tourism, services, and banking and insurance.

Hence, a special Act on the MHM would be formulated by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and Jakim, he said, adding that the bill would be fined tune by the Attorney-General Chambers upon Cabinet’s approval for tabling in the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House).

On the meeting of the main committee of the Islamic Consultative Council (MPI) today, Ahmad Zahid said it agreed to set up seven clusters chaired by imminent figures in the quest for consensus on issues, especially those related to Islam.

“The seven clusters will brainstorm and discuss their differences and will meet again in six months’ time to find common ground and understanding among them,” he said.

The MPI, which is made up of ulama, academics, corporate leaders and non-governmental organisation leaders, acts as thinkers in assisting the government by providing ideas and proposals on national development agenda according to Islamic tenets.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom, Jakim director-general Othman Mustapha and PAS spiritual leader k Dr Haron Din were present.

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Malaysia-Iran Trade Likely To Rise This Year: MATRADE

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Feb 13 (NNN-Bernama) — The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran could boost bilateral trade between Malaysia and the country as well as open doors for local entrepreneurs to expand in sectors other than palm oil products, says the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade).

Chief Executive Officer Dzulkifli Mahmud told Bernama recently that bilateral trade between the two countries dipped slightly last year due to lower imports of petroleum products by Iran and issues surrounding payments for Malaysia’s exports.

Malaysia’s imports from Iran comprise mostly crude oil and bitumen.

Dzulkifli said Matrade will continue to organise trade missions to the Persian Gulf nation of some 70 million consumers.

“We should look beyond palm oil, because for the commodity segment, there are ups and downs, whereas other sectors or products such as machinery parts and components are not exposed to volatility,” he said.

According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia’s total exports to Iran dropped 10.6 per cent to RM1.95 billion in 2015 versus RM2.18 billion in 2014.

Total imports last year reduced by 25.6 per cent to RM139.5 million from RM187.4 million in the previous year.

Malaysia’s palm oil exports to Iran dropped 42.1 per cent to 447,058 tonnes in 2014 from 635,258 tonnes in 2013.

Malaysia’s exports of palm products, meanwhile, fell 36 per cent to 515,231 tonnes in 2014, due to the sanctions on Iran and its discriminatory policy on palm oil imports.

Iran’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Marzieh Afkham, said that both countries are expected to go for another round of talks on the palm oil issue.

“It is up to the Malaysian side to start. Some delegations (of both countries) have exchanged views on the matter, and there might be another new round of talks,” she told reporters at the 37th anniversary celebrations here of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Afkham noted that economic ties between Malaysia and Iran are expected to be stronger this year with the recent lifting of economic sanctions on the latter, adding that the bilateral trade volume could increase.

“Both countries can focus on improving their relationships, particularly the economic, political and cultural aspects, fortunately both sides are eager, and we are very optimistic about it (increase in trade),” she said.

Earlier in her welcoming speech, Iran’s first woman ambassador since the revolution said her government seeks to boost economic cooperation and attract foreign investments, predicting annual investments worth US$200 billion in the energy sector.

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Tourism Sector Saviour Of Nation’s Economy – Malaysian Minister

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia Feb 12 (NNN-Bernama) — The tourism sector is a key contributor to the country’s economy amid global uncertainties, said Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

He said Malaysia’s eco-tourism was a major draw for tourists from Europe, Japan, South Korea and China and that the visa-free facility for Chinese nationals to Malaysia was expected to attract eight million visitors and an estimated RM22 billion revenue every year with an average spending of RM3,500 per person.

“Tourism is a saviour of Malaysia’s economy…visa-free facility is offered to various third world countries as means to rebuild the economy,” he said at the launching ceremony of an engagement session with Sabah’s tourism industry players organised by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture here Thursday. Also present was Sabah state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun.

He urged tourism industry players in Sabah state to take advantage of the visa-free entry for foreigners particularly Chinese citizens to boost the state’s economy as well as Kota Kinabalu’s strategic location as a hub or ‘flying route’ of Borneo due to its proximity from China, Hong Kong and Japan.

According to Mohamed Nazri, despite challenges faced in its tourist segment, Sabah had managed to remain at the forefront of the industry.

“Sabah has marketed itself well overseas as evidenced by enquiries made regarding Borneo during my visits to events like the World Travel Mart, Asian Travel Market and ITB Berlin. When I was in Amsterdam and Madrid, people at travel fairs were asking about proboscis monkeys and pigmy elephants in Borneo which Sabah is widely known for,” he said.

Mohamed Nazri also emphasised the importance of experiential tourism through homestay programmes to the local community in Sabah and its development, and said one of the sector’s challenges was poor maintenance of old structures with historical value.

Speaking to reporters later, Mohamed Nazri disclosed that in 2011, China topped the list of visitor arrivals to Sabah at 228,910 followed by Indonesia (over 183,000), South Korea (121,170), Brunei (79,140) and the Philippines (more than 40,000) with the majority of travellers coming for eco-tourism.

He said his ministry planned to hold a joint promotion in Berlin in March with Singapore Airlines (SIA) on launching flights to Malaysian cities including Kota Kinabalu to boost tourist numbers from European countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy with a memorandum of understanding being planned with the airline.

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London-Tehran flights to resume as of March 5

Tehran Times – 14 February, 2016 – British Airways (BA) would relaunch direct London to Tehran flights a as of March 5, said Reza Jafarzadeh, the director of public relations department of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization (CAO).

Based on recent negotiations between the directors of British Airways and CAO managers, he said, BA has scheduled four weekly flights from London to Tehran to initiate as of March 5, the IRIB news agency reported on Saturday.

Based on the previous agreement between Iran and Britain, the two sides could launch three or four weekly flights between Tehran-London. British airways suspended its flights to Iran in 2010.

European carriers stopped their flights to Iran after the West imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Apart from three weekly flights to London, Iran’s national carrier, Iran Air, has currently two weekly flights each to Paris and Amsterdam.

Following Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, several European airlines aim to resume their flights to the country, said Mohammad Khodakarami, deputy head of CAO, on January 29.

Both Air France and Dutch flagship KLM have already expressed their readiness to resume flights to Tehran.

Recently, Iran said it is also considering direct flights to the United States. Direct flights stopped between the two countries more than three decades ago.

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Jakarta to host 5th Water Loss Asia Conference

The 5th Water Loss Asia 2016 Conference and Exhibition will be held between 6 – 7 September in Jakarta, Indonesia

Water Loss Asia 2016, now on its 5th edition, returns as the authoritative platform for water professionals to discuss the issue of water loss management, a pertinent global challenge that demands solutions for today, and planning for tomorrow.

Non-revenue water, or “NRW” – defined as the difference between the amount of water put into the distribution system and the amount of water billed to consumers — remains a challenge for many communities today, especially in developing countries, where about 45 million cubic meters are lost daily through water leakage in the distribution networks—enough to serve nearly 200 million people (World Bank).

In Asia, it is estimated that the annual volume of NRW in urban water utilities is around 29 billion cubic meters (m3), causing water utilities to lose nearly $9 billion per year (Asian Development Bank). In Indonesia, rapid urbanization has outpaced investment in the water services sector, emphasizing the need for efficient NRW management in this populous nation.

The water industry in Asia and in many parts of the world today face the challenge of integrating systems end-to-end to provide real-time leak management that is the only way to get reliable, measurable data in order to improve performance, reduce wastage and increase revenue effectively. This issue will be the addressed at the WLA 2016 Conference bringing top speakers comprising NRW experts, policy makers and key water industry players to discuss issues and solutions to this problem.

The conference provides an ideal platform for professionals to:

(+) gain valuable insights on how NRW is being successfully managed in Asia;

(+) network and exchange knowledge with leading industry layers and experts from public and private sector both locally and abroad;

(+) establish productive strategic partnerships, and;

(+) make the right connections with potential clients from Asia.

Key themes

Themed “Managing NRW the Asian Way and Enabling Indonesian Water Utilities” this 3-day international industry event will host a workshop, conference and exhibition estimated to draw over 3,000 visitors from the water sector seeking new solutions for NRW Management and opportunities to network, share and collaborate. For the first time ever, Water Loss Asia 2016 will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia, the cosmopolitan capital of one of the region’s most populous nations.

The event is jointly organized by Indonesia Water Supply Association (PERPAMSI) and PROTEMP Group and supported by the Water Loss Asia Industry Group. PERPAMSI is the official body for water utilities in Indonesia, and to date has 425 members, of which 383 are Regional Water Companies (PDAM) offices.

Consultants, contractors, policy makers, senior government officials, national and state water authorities, property developers, researchers, water engineers, and water management companies, among others, are expected to attend the conference.

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Indonesia Opens Up More Investment Opportunities For Foreigners

JAKARTA, Indonesia Feb. 12 (NNN-Xinhua)– The Indonesian government has allowed bigger foreign ownership in industries from toll roads to cinemas in a bid to attract more investment from abroad into the Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, top officials said on Thursday.

Indonesian Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution said that foreign investors are allowed to have 100 percent investment in toll roads, cinemas, pharmacy, restaurants and cool storages.

“These policies aim to encourage our nation to move forward, to create new entrepreneurs, new innovators and to compete in global markets,” Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo aims to attract more foreign investment in an effort to help finance huge infrastructure projects to prop up the country’s economy, which he expects to reach 7 percent at the end of his five year term in 2019.

Nasution said that the government allowed participation of foreign investors in construction of extra high-voltage power plants with ownership of no more than 49 percent.

For the cinema industry, the government requires foreign investors to have 60 percent local films of the total movies screened daily, Head of Coordinating Investment Board Franky Sibarani said.

However, the government still bans sales of sea products from coral reefs in a bid to protect the sustainability of the nature, said Nasution.

President Widodo has issued a series of economic package stimulus since September, including deregulations and tax incentives, to lure foreign investment and accelerate the country’s economy.

The country’s economy picked up in the final quarter last year to 5.04 percent from 4.74 percent in the previous quarter as government spending for development countered weak export and consumption, according to the national statistic bureau.

The Indonesian government spent most of the development budget in the fourth quarter after sluggish spending of the budget in the first two quarters last year, according to the finance ministry.

Indonesia’s exports have been hit by weakening global demand amid slowing down of the world’s economy.

The government’s policy to raise oil prices at the end of 2014 had discouraged people’s purchasing power which eased annual inflation to 3.35 percent in 2015.

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Indonesia hopes to attract two million Chinese tourists in 2019

8 February 2016 Denpasar, Bali (ANTARA News) – The tourism ministry hopes to receive two million Chinese tourists in 2019, an official said.

“For 2016, we set a target of attracting 1.7 million Chinese tourists, and two million in 2019,” Hari Untoro Dradjat, expert staff of the tourism ministry, said here, Sunday evening.

Some 12 million Chinese travel to Asia and the Pacific region a year, and Indonesia hopes to lure two million of them, he stated when greeting some 400 Chinese visitors during an “Imlek” (Lunar New Year) Festival in Bali.

“They want to celebrate Imlek in a warm region because its now winter in their country. Bali and Indonesia in general are among their choices,” he added.

The tourism ministry’s official presented six thousand special gifts as souvenirs to the Chinese celebrating the Lunar New Year in Bali.

This year, more than one thousand Chinese, mostly from Beijing and Heilonggijang Province, celebrate their new year, that falls on February 8, in Bali.

During February alone, Indonesia hopes to receive at least 200 thousand Chinese visitors. A Chinese tourist spends an average of US$1,200 per visit.

Thailand manages to attract eight million Chinese tourists a year.

“If they like Thailand, they must like Indonesia, too, particularly Bali. We have to be able to defeat our neighboring country,” he said.

Indonesia hopes to lure 12 million foreign tourists, particularly from Malaysia, Singapore, China, Australia and Japan, this year.

The number of Chinese tourists who visited Indonesia in 2014 was 959,231. It increased by 18.77 percent to 1,139,281 in 2015.

Bali recorded a total of 4.001 million foreign tourist arrivals during 2015, up 6.24 percent from 3.76 million recorded in the previous year.

For 2016, the Bali Tourism Office has set the target for tourist arrivals at the world-renowned tourist island at 4.2 million, at least.

The Bali tourism office has also set the target of domestic tourists visiting the resort island for 2016 at 7.8 million.

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Indonesian entrepreneurs to discuss investment with Japan

12 February 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association (Hipmi) representatives will be going to Japan on February 12 to 16 to discuss investment, trade and development of small and medium enterprises.

“We will explore many issues and opportunities in Japan. These include domestic investment, as well as trade between the two countries through the development of small and medium enterprises,” chairman of Hipmi, Bahlil Lahadalia, said here on Friday.

He said Hipmi will meet Japanese businessmen and global corporations who are members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Japan and Toyota Company.

We will convince them that Japan remains a strategic partner for Indonesian entrepreneurs. Major Japanese companies should not go out of Indonesia, they can even improve investment in Indonesia,” Lahadalia said.

According to him, the investment climate in Indonesia is improving with the launch of economic packages and the construction of a massive infrastructure in a number of areas.

In Japan, Hipmi will also conduct a comparative study on the development of small and medium enterprises in some places to learn about the industry ecosystem in Japan.

Earlier, President Joko Widodo had asserted that micro, small and medium enterprises need to get a facility for capital, including low interest loans.

The Financial Services Authority (OJK) said that all the micro, small, and medium enterprises in Indonesia must have financial knowledge in order to grow their business.

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East Java to build two new airports

12 February 2016 Surabaya, E Java (ANTARA News) – The East Java provincial government is planning to build two new airports in the districts of Malang and Sumenep.

“We have received the green light from the transportation minister and have started discussing the construction of the airports,” East Java Governor Soekarwo said here on Friday.

The airports need to be constructed urgently to boost the provinces economy, he said.

Soekarwo said the National Defense Forces (TNI) chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, had also permitted the provincial government to use the land belonging to the Indonesian Navy to develop the Abdul Rahman Saleh airport in Malang.

“The land covers an area of 447 thousand hectares and 237 families will be removed from there. We have discussed it with the maritime corps command and will coordinate with the commander of eastern fleet command and the naval chief of staff,” he said.

If the construction of the new airport, located about 60 kilometers from the old airport and close to the provinces southern road, is realized, it will be able to allow large-bodied planes to land and take off, he said.

As such, the operation of Abdul Rahman Saleh airport will be handed over to the Indonesian Navy for military purposes, he said.

Meanwhile, the construction of a new airport in Sumenep district will be the responsibility of the city government and the district administration, he said.

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Pondok Cabe, Halim airports to operate under one management

13 February 2016 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The operation management of Pondok Cabe Airport in South Tengerang and Halim Perdanakusuma Aiport in East Jakarta will be merged, a senior official said.

Director General of Air Transportation Suprasetyo said here on Friday that Pondok Cabe airport will face difficulties if it kept operating separately.

“There is a solution. The management of the two airports operations is being merged, and it will work as if Pondok Cabes runway is located at Halim,” he said.

The operator of Pondok Cabe airport will be the same as that of Halim airport, namely PT Angkasa Pura II (AP II).

“AP II will be in charge of operations at the two airports,” he said.

Suprasetyo said his office will discuss the issue with the Management of the Indonesian Flight Navigation Service (LPPNPI/Airnav Indonesia) to smoothen navigation arrangement.

PT Air Service (a subsidiary of state-owned oil and gas firm Pertamina) and PT Garuda Indonesia must carry out the instruction regarding unification of the two airports before they can operate it (Pondok Cabe) on a commercial basis.

The Transportation Ministry issued the instruction on Wednesday night (Feb.10). The aim behind uniting the two airports operations is to avoid the air corridors of the Halim Perdanakusuma airport from intersecting each other.

The Pondok Cabe airport is expected to begin operations in March to serve various routes, such as Lubuk Linggau, Samarinda, Pangkalan Bun, Semarang, Palembang, Tanjung Karang, Ketapang, Yoyakarta, Cilacap and Cepu.

Pondok Cabe airport has a runway length of 1,984 meters and a width of 45 meters.

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Palembang to promote Al-Munawar Kampong for tourism

13 February 2016 Palembang (ANTARA News) – Palembang will promote the Al-Munawar kampong, an Arab quarter located in 13 Ulu, as a religious tourism site, during the 18th Asian Games to be held in the city in 2018.

The local authorities were renovating a Musi river pier located next to Al-Munawar Mosque, Head of the Arab quarter neighborhood Muhammad Ak, said here, recently.

The South Sumatra authorities have informed the kampongs inhabitants of the plan to develop a religious tourist site in the area, which has a vibrant Islamic environment and distinctive culture, Muhammad said.

The kampong, which accommodates 75 families comprising 250 inhabitants, has been cleaned up recently.

Its roads will be renovated, houses will be painted, and public toilets will be set up in the kampong, which has been named as a cultural reserve.

Initially, the local residents objected to the plan as they were worried that the presence of tourists would have an adverse impact on them.

However, they later agreed after the authorities convinced them that they would control the appearance of tourists that are not in accordance with local customs.

The authorities would set up a room at the Kampongs gate, where tourists would be asked to cover their heads and other certain parts of their bodies with headscarves and long skirts made available there, before traveling around the kampong.

Head of the South Sumatra historical and ancient heritage office Candra Amprayadi said the renovation of the Arab town is expected to be completed this year, and be ready for receiving tourists beginning 2017.

“In fact, it is planned that some houses will be developed into homestays that will accommodate tourists interested in staying overnight here, and researchers,” he added.

The Arab Kampong had been built some 400 years ago by Syed Abdurrahman bin Muhammad Al-Munawar, a Yemeni migrant who had married Princess Masayu Bariyah, a Sultans daughter.

The kampong has eight Palembang traditional wooden houses, and European style houses located along the Muri River.

One of the traditional wooden houses is 373 years old, measuring 30×16 meters and inhabited by nine to 10 families.

The fifth generation of Syed Abdurrahman bin Muhammad Al-Munawar currently lives in the kampong.

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Bangladesh strives to be happy nation by 2021: Mosharraf

FARIDPUR, Feb 14, 2016 (BSS) – LGRD & Cooperatives Minister Engineer Khondoker Mosharraf Hossain said here yesterday that Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina is carrying on her development activities with the definite goal for making Bangladesh a middle income country by 2021.

Mosharraf said that the pace of progress they had achieved during the last seven years would make Bangladesh a happy and prosperous nation in the celebration of Golden Jubilee in 2021.

The minister was inaugurating the picturesque central Shaheed Minar that had been built at an estimated cost of Taka 20 lakhs situated at Ambica Memorial ground of the town.

Criticizing the BNP-Jamaat government at that time the Mosharraf said they not only acted against the spirit of liberation but also failed to show any respect for the language martyrs.

The meeting was chaired by DC Sardar Sharafat Ali while it was addressed by Sadar upazilla Chairman Khondoker Mohtesham Hossain Babor and Executive Engineer of PWD Manik Lal Das.

The inaugural function of the Shaheed Minar was attended by the elites, cultural activists, students and intellectuals of Faridpur.

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‘International Nature Summit’ held at Notre Dame College, Dhaka

DHAKA, Feb 12, 2016 (BSS) – Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid today called for coordinated global initiatives to prevent environmental disaster.

“Environmental disaster does not remain confined to any single country. It is a global problem. Coordinated international initiatives are needed to face it,” he said inaugurating a two-day “International Nature Summit” at Notre Dame College in the city.

The minister hoped that the nature summit organized by Notre Dame College will play a vital role to stop environmental pollution.

He said the government has included environment related topics in textbooks to aware the young generation. “We have already started getting its good results,” he added.

Presided over by Notre Dame College Principal Hemanta Piyus Rosario, the inaugural function was also addressed by nature expert Dwijen Sharma, Nature and Life Foundation Chairman Mukit Majumder Babu and Nature Summit Coordinator Biplob Kumar Dev, said an official release.

A total of 66 representatives from 41 countries, including Bangladesh, Germany, Ukraine, India, Nepal, China, Japan and South Korea are taking part in the conference.

Two scientific seminars will be held at the two-day conference.

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Bangladesh to introduce National e-Service Bus

DHAKA, Feb 12, 2016 (BSS) – The government is going to introduce National e-Service Bus to ensure sharing of digital information, improve e-services accessibility and facilitate interoperability of inter-government agencies.

The National e-Service Bus will be software driven middleware platform which is being developed keeping a provision to enable online services, sharing of information and data of ministries, departments and directorates to ensure interoperability and end user’s easy access to it.

“The software driven online services, information and data to be developed by the ministries, divisions and directorates following the standards and frameworks under BNEA will connect NEA Bus which will ensure interoperability and reusability,” State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak told BSS.

The UK based Ernst and Young (EY), appointed by the World Bank financed Leveraging ICT for Growth, Employment and Government (LICT) of Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) under ICT Division, has been providing technical support to establish National e-Service Bus under the BNEA.

Palak said in line with the plan to build “Digital Government by 2021”, the ministries, divisions and directorates have been developing software based applications to digitize its various services, information and data to ensure easy access to it.

“But the fact is that these are not interoperable and reusable as the software developed lacks common standards and formats,” the state minister said, adding that the National e-Service Bus will not only remove hassle to access e-services but also help reduce cost of an organization or individual to develop software, data and statistics.

Executive Director of BCC S M Ashraful Islam said some government organizations spent huge amount of money to gather information and develop database separately for their own use.

But, if these organizations established connection with National e-Service Bus with their information and database, there is no further necessity of re-developing same database by any other organizations at the cost huge money, he said.

Ashraf said the National e-Service Bus will ensure the interoperability of government e-service, information and data, reduce cost for developing services and database and aid in developing standardized, consolidated Government National Databases in a structured and planned approach.

LICT project sources said as part of introducing National e-Service Bus, NEA portal has been launched to make it knowledge repository of the government ministries, divisions and agencies, academia and industry.

“This portal will serve as a knowledge and research-driven platform for government to assist government officers, academia and industry to learn about BNEA and National e-Service Bus, promote research on BNEA, TOGAF (r), Bangladesh standards and guidelines,” said LICT Deputy Project Director Tarique M Barkatullah.

He said the portal is intended to include components like principles, standards, specifications, reference models, architecture design guidelines, e-Services, tools and roadmaps for organizations in-line with Digital Bangladesh vision.

LICT project has initiated a twelve-day knowledge sharing and training program on National e-Service Bus (based onWSO2 open source based middleware platform) from 03 February 2016 to build capacity of government officials, industry and academia, Tarique said and added WSO2 has been selected as one of the open source backbones to support the National Enterprise Architecture implementation for Government of Bangladesh along with Oracle SOA suite solution.

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Bangladesh spring festival attracts thousands

DHAKA, Feb 13, 2016 (BSS) – People from all walks of life, irrespective of their ages, thronged into jubilation across the capital city in welcoming the festival of colours, Spring, on the first day of Bangla month of Falgun that began today.

Draped in various colourful attires particularly maroon, red and yellow, people from all strata with members of their families thronged Bakultala of the Institute of Fine Arts of Dhaka University (DU), TSC, the book fair on the premises of Bangla Academy, the Rabindra Sarobor Amphitheatre, Bahadur Shah Park in the Old city and Sector-7 Park at Uttara early in the morning to welcome the Spring.

Young girls dressed in Basanti-coloured sarees putting flower sticks on their hair-buns and their male counterparts wearing tastefully coloured paijama-punjabi converged at these spots from different city localities to welcome the season Basanta (Spring) and participated in merriment and fanfares of the traditional festival of the Bangalees.

The Jatiya Basanta Utsab Utjapan Parishad (Spring Festival Observance Council) organised a daylong musical soirees and cultural functions at various spots in the city and the festivities began with the ‘Sarengi’ recital of artiste Motiar Rahman at Bakultala of the Institute of Fine Arts of DU at 7 in the morning.

The other programmes of the day included introductory words on the season of Spring, exchange of wrist bands and Abir (perfumed colours), group dance and poetry recitation sessions, solo poetry recitation and rendition of songs, performance by child-juvenile and aborigine artistes and bringing out of a colourful march.

Artistes of different cultural bodies performed the traditional chorus songs of the season Spring while celebrated artistes like Rizwana Chowdhury Banya, Laisa Ahmed Lisa, Ferdous Ara, Mita Haque, Salma Akbar and Biman Chandra Biswas rendered solo songs.

Group dances were performed by Nrityam, Nataraj, Nrityanandan, Bulbul Lalitakala (Fine Arts) Academy and other troupes. Eminent recitation personalities including Bhaswar Banerjee, Ahkamullah and Golam Sarwar recited poems on the season Spring.

At about 11 in the morning, the Spring Festival Observance Council brought out a colourful march from the premises of the Institute of Fine Arts of Dhaka University.

Besides, the season Spring was welcomed with festivities and musical functions at the Rabindra Sarobor Amphitheatre at Dhanmondi, Bahadur Shah Park and Uttara Sector-7 park in the city. Channel-I, Dipta TV and NTV aired the programmes of the day live.

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‘Brand-Pakistan’ to highlight positive image of country abroad

ISLAMABAD, Feb 11 (APP): Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Ahsan Iqbal on Thursday said that improved image of the country would help for attracting foreign investment. Chairing a meeting of top advertising agencies, he said the biggest beneficiary would be private sector to thrive on increased foreign investment. Now time is ripe to brand Pakistan internationally because positivity about country abroad is much more than the past and need to capitalize this positivity, he added.

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Visit Maldives Year target will be reached with flights to Fuzhou

Sun.mv – February 10, 2016 – Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has said that Visit Maldives Year 2016 target would be reached now that Maldivian had started flights to Fuzhou, China.

Speaking to reporters at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on Wednesday, Acting Managing Director of MMPRC Haris Mohamed said that marketing campaigns to promote Maldives tourism industry were ongoing at full-swing at different parts of the world.

Haris said that China played the biggest part in income generated through Maldivian tourism industry, and that direct flights to an additional Chinese city would boost tourist arrival rates.

“I believe that the new flights Maldivian started today will help a lot in reaching the target. From what I hear, 1,100 tourists come to Maldives each week in Maldivian’s flights from China alone,” said Haris.

Chinese ambassador to Maldives Wang Fukang said that 500,000 Chinese tourists would be visiting Maldives this year.

Therefore, a boost in number of European tourists to the country would help in reaching the target of 1.5 million tourists.

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China to start feasibility study for Free Trade Agreement with Maldives

Sun.mv – February 8, 2016 – Chinese government has said that it would begin feasibility study for Free Trade Agreement with Maldives within 2016.

Chinese newspapers reported that the country’s government would start feasibility study to establish Free Trade Agreements with Maldives, Colombia, India, Nepal, Fiji and Papua New Guinea within 2016.

The country will also be holding discussions with Israeli government to set up a similar agreement, and will also be restarting discussions with Arab countries from Gulf Council.

Business and economic ties between China and Maldives have strengthened recently, with China funding many development projects in Maldives.

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Blind woman writes Hindi translation of Holy Qur’an in Braille

Thursday 11 Feb 2016 – Jharkhand, Indian (IINA) – A blind school teacher from India’s Jharkhand state surprised everyone by writing the Holy Qur’an in Braille language, Dunya News reported citing BBC Hindi news service.

While pursuing her B.A, Nafees Tareen desired to read Holy Qur’an but none of the masters showed interest to educate her as she was blind.

Later, a person identified as Hafiz Mohammad Taslim agreed to teach her the Qur’an. While reading the Qur’an she developed the intention of writing the Qur’an in Braille language to assist other blind people.

It took Nafees three years, from 2005 to 2008, to complete the Hindi translation in Braille. After completion of writing the Qur’an, it took a lot of time to rectify the errors.

She narrated that those who are even not interested in teaching her Qur’an had misguided her father saying how a blind woman can learn or write the Qur’an.

She is now hoping some Muslim Trusts and Organizations may come forward to help her publishing the Qur’an in Braille language.

Muftis from Bokaro appreciated her work and confirmed the Qur’an without errors. Imam of Ghous Nagar Masjid, Bokaro had said that we have confirmed every chapter starting from Surah Al-Fatiha till the ending chapter of Sura Al-Naas hearing verbally from Nafees in a complete one year.

Braille is a writing system which enables the blind and partially-sighted people to read and write through touch. Louis Braille (1809-1852), who was blind and became a teacher of the blind, invented it.

In recent years, the Holy Qur’an and religious books have been printed in Braille to help the visually impaired Muslims read the texts with ease.

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Antalya eyes Madonna and Justin Bieber to revive tourism

ANTALYA – Doğan News Agency – International celebrities like Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber could be invited to perform in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya as part of EXPO 2016 in a bid to revive the region’s daunting tourism sector, as well as lure interest from target markets, Antalya’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ATSO) head Davut Çetin suggested in a report to the Tourism Ministry.

The report, titled “The Impact of the Russian Sanctions on Antalya’s Economy and Measures Needed,” was developed at a time when the city, Turkey’s top holiday spot for both national and international tourists, faces serious financial problems following the Russian sanctions that came after the Nov. 24, 2015, jet crisis between the two countries.

“EXPO 2016, which will start in the city on April 23, should be turned into a big tourism push, for instance by organizing big concerts by international celebrities, such as Madonna, Jennifer Lopez or Justin Bieber, to attract the interest of target markets,” said the report, which includes a total of 10 policy recommendations to revive the sector.

Some measures like massive PR work, active marketing methods and campaigns during the foreign holiday seasons as well as triggered searches for new markets like China and India were also offered in the report.

Russia has been the second largest source of foreign tourists for Turkey. Culture and Tourism Minister Mahir Ünal earlier said the sector has unavoidably been affected negatively with the Russian crisis as well as regional uncertainties. He expects a loss of around 4.5 million Russian tourists this year.

“The upcoming days are quite crucial for us, but we have big leverage, which is the planned EXPO meeting in Antalya. We can recover our losses in the Russian market, around 4.5 million tourists, through this organization,” Ünal said in January.

Regarding the impact of the crisis on the tourism sector, the ATSO report also included four scenarios, saying that as Antalya has a huge share in Turkey’s tourism sector, the crisis can also affect the Turkish economy. In the worst scenario, Turkey’s revenue loss has been estimated to be around $8-9 billion.

Russia has also been the largest importer of the Antalya region’s vegetables and fruits, making the province vulnerable to the sanctions.

The report, which included the impacts of the crisis in the agriculture sector and the housing sector, asked for further preventive and supportive measures to be taken quickly so that the Russia crisis does not turn into an Antalya crisis.

“Russians also buy one-fourth of the 60,000 properties sold to foreigners in Antalya, so the sanctions can affect the housing sector too. It is not only one or two sectors that are under risk, all types of economy including industry, trade and service sectors can be affected,” the report read, highlighting that the effects of the sanctions could be more significant than what was currently foreseen.

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Bedri Baykam’s new exhibit at Piramid Sanat

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – Turkish painter Bedri Baykam’s 136th solo exhibition, “Backyard” opened at Istanbul’s Piramid Sanat on Feb. 10.

The exhibition, which shows Baykam’s works from between 2013 and 2015, mostly consists of canvas paintings, displaying fresh traces that wink at several of the artist’s older series: “The California Period,” “the Stripe Paintings,” “Girly Plots,” “Real Fakes,” “Lolitart(e),” “Voyeur of History” and “Be My Guest.”

The artworks form a kind of synthesis of the veteran artist Baykam’s own recent past in intellectual and technical terms.

Piramid Sanat will also publish a 156-page catalogue to accompany the exhibition in English and Turkish, including an interview with the painter.

The exhibition in Istanbul will be open until March 27.

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Golden Age of Midas exhibit in US

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – An exhibition titled “The Golden Age of King Midas,” featuring ancient artifacts from the era of King Midas, will be displayed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum between Feb. 13 and Nov. 27.

The exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Culture and Tourism Ministry, New York Consulate General to Turkey and the University of Pennsylvania, is made up of pieces unearthed in excavations in the Phrygian capital Gordion, 94 kilometers from Ankara.

The historical King Midas lived in the prosperous city of Gordion, the political and cultural capital of the Phrygians nearly 3,000 years ago.

In 1957, Penn Museum archaeologists excavated a spectacular royal tomb believed to be the final resting place of King Midas’ father, Gordios. Dating to 740 B.C., the tomb contained a treasure trove of magnificent objects from the time of Midas.

The world-exclusive exhibition is a chance to view more than 120 objects, including those from the royal tomb, on special loan from Turkish museums in Ankara, Istanbul, Antalya and Gordion.

The Penn Museum’s discovery of the royal tomb created an international sensation in the late 1950s. The height of the burial mound, which is one of the largest in Turkey, is equivalent to a 17-story building.

The tomb chamber within still ranks as the oldest standing wooden building in the world. The exhibition includes many of the bronze vessels from the tomb, most of which will be shown in the U.S. for the first time, that had been used by the mourners at his funerary feast.

Also featured are jewelry, statuary, exquisitely painted pottery, and architectural decoration including the oldest colored stone mosaic ever made. Ivory furniture panels from northern Iraq (8th century B.C.) and elaborate gold jewelry that once decorated a shroud from the Caucasus Mountains (5th century B.C.) are among the outstanding artifacts from neighboring realms, all of which demonstrate a legendary king’s extraordinary power and golden touch.

For the opening of the exhibition, Penn Museum’s Pepper Hall has been transformed into a caravanserai-inspired oasis reminiscent of the Turkish roadside inns that offered travelers a place to recover from a day’s journey.

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Mosaic Road project exhibit opens 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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Iran cites Turkey as priority, proposes new economic plan

Serkan Demirtaş – ANKARA – A senior Iranian official has cited Turkey as a “priority” in boosting trade relations in the aftermath of the removal of sanctions, proposing to establish a new economic plan for the development of overall economic ties.

“The Turkish state and government, which had stood with us during the implementation of sanctions, are of course among our priorities in this new process as the sanctions have been removed. We are aware of the capacity of Turkish companies and also of the capacity of Iranian companies. But in this new era we should introduce a new economic plan because the mechanisms that we had been utilizing during the sanctions will not respond to the necessities of this new era,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour told Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Feb. 10.

Iran has emerged as a new center of attraction for the world’s largest economies, after the removal of sanctions allowed the oil-rich country to access more than $100 billion in assets abroad as well as increase oil and natural gas exports to consumers. In an interview Iranian ambassador to Turkey Ali Reza Bikdeli said the Iranian energy portfolio was up to $300 billion.

Rahimpur described the removal of sanctions as a “miracle and renaissance” that would have very significant impacts on the region and the world. In this new era, Turkey and Iran will engage in intensified dialogue with high-level visits and meetings, he stressed, recalling that the Turkey-Iran High-Level Cooperation Council will hold its third meeting in 2016.

Why should Turkey stay behind?

With the removal of sanctions Iran is in the process of strengthening its economy while Turkey has lost some of its big markets, the Iranian diplomat said, adding, “We can therefore work together. Countries that had not stood with us during sanctions are now stepping forward. Why should Turkey, which stood with us during the sanctions, not be in front and stay behind?”

The Iranian diplomat said a slowdown in bilateral economic relations was observed in 2015 but it was time to look ahead. “2015 has passed; we are now looking at 2016. Energy, trade, investments and industry are areas where we think we can go ahead,” he said.

Although Turkey and Iran differ on a number of international issues, particularly on Syria, they never cut communication channels and dialogue, Rahimpour said, “We should give hand-in-hand to defeat terrorism (in the region) and allow those who left their houses in Syria to return home. And then we should work together to develop the Syrian economy. We believe we can narrow our differences with Turkey, which enjoys a good democracy,” he said.

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Antalya Summit aims at Gulf tourists, investments

Saudi Gazette – 10 February, 2016 – The first International Mena Region Antalya Summit on Feb 4-9 took place in Rixos Premium Belek Hotel with the aim to increase number of tourists from Arab and Gulf countries.

Deputy Minister of Tourism and Culture Hussein Yayman, during the summit opening speech, stressed that Turkey has huge tourism investment elements and said: “Turkey, which mediates the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa, will remain an island of stability and security through its democracy, people, and history.”

Bandar bin Fahad Al-Fahaid, president of the Arab Tourism Organization (ATO), said: “The organization is doing great efforts to promote Arab investments in Turkey and to increase tourism between Arab countries and Turkey, especially health or medical tourism in Turkey, which is one of the leading countries in this field.” Al Fahid also noted that “over 2.5 million Arab tourists visited Turkey last year and spent more than $ 4 billion.”

“The cooperation between private and public sector is required to develop programs to destinations in turkey for Arabs,” said Al-Fahid. Hussain Yayman, deputy minister of Tourism and Culture, expressed his pleasure and said: “Turkey is ranked 6th country worldwide in attracting tourists and Antalya is its capital of tourism as it enjoys the beauty of nature and landscapes. It is a coastal city and has golf courts that make Antalya a leading golf center in the world. Turkey which has been developing rapidly in the past 15 years is not only a tourism hub but has investment potentials as well.”

Mustafa Goksu, senior adviser at Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency, said: “The current crisis with Russia, will open investment opportunities and new markets for Turkey. Antalya has all what Arab tourists need, from the beach, sea, landscape and recreation. More and new projects are in the pipeline to attract more tourists.”

Gosku added: “There are strong bonds between Turkey and Arabs. Turkey possesses high capabilities in tourism and investment and no doubt more and more investments and tourists are expected from Arab countries in Turkey once they visit more destinations in Turkey.”

Adam Ceylan, Vice-President of the Middle East and Cyprus Sales in the Turkish Airlines, the official carrier of the Summit, thanked everyone and said: “We are proud to be the best carrier in Europe for the past 5 years flying to more than 266 destinations and over 300 offices. 11 million tourists visited Antalya that has the 3rd largest airport in Turkey. We are hopeful that the tourism potentials will increase from Africa and ME will and more facilities will be also constructed.”

Russian tourism to Turkey was dropped following the crisis that arose between Russia and Turkey after the Turkish fighter aircraft “F-16”, shot down a Russian warplane Sukhoi 24 last November, when the latter violated Turkish airspace at the border with Syria.

The first International Mena Region Antalya Summit was organized by Development Agency in the western Mediterranean under the auspices of Antalya and Serik municipality and sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency and Turkish Airlines was the official carrier.

Ambassadors and diplomats from 20 countries, officials of travel industry from 250 travel agencies and over 70 press and media representatives attend the summit.

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International airport to be built in Ashgabat

13 February 2016 – TODAY.AZ – A report on the progress of a new international airport’s construction in Ashgabat was heard during a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, Altyn Asyr TV channel reported Feb. 13.

The new airport includes 95 different facilities, 60 of which are large and 35 – small, according to the project.

Currently, 31 objects are already commissioned and 31 objects are at the final stage of construction.

“The Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov instructed to keep a strict control on all the work carried out in the important infrastructure facility of the strategic transport sector,” said the report. “The country pays special attention to the development of this infrastructure in the context to extend international cooperation and integration of Turkmenistan into the global system of world economic relations.”

It was earlier reported that Turkmenistan’s national air carrier (Turkmenistan Airlines) signed a contract with the Turkish Polimeks company on this project. The cost of this project is estimated at more than $2.2 billion.

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Azerbaijan developing agriculture to minimize import dependence

13 February 2016 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijan is underlying agricultural products exports with ever increasing importance, and agriculture development is one of top priority sections in the State Program on 2014 2018 Socio-Economic Development.

Recent changes in the political relations between many countries in the region, especially those neighboring Azerbaijan, greatly affected the economic ties as well.

In contemporary situation the country can benefit new opportunities. For instance, sanctions on Russia enable to increase trade with the European Union and lifting sanctions on Iran allow increasing the exports to Iran. Kazakhstan, with an economy by low crude prices, is also interested in more trade with Azerbaijan. Lately the country constructed a large refrigerator on Russian border to store the export products which otherwise were spoiled due to long period of delays in border crossing.

Government support to agriculture is expected to push forward production in this very important field of economy. MP Eldar Ibrahimov, the chairman of the Agricultural Policy Committee, said $1.2 billion tax revenue concessions were made to the farmers over the past 10 years. Government also allocated more than $629.8 million paid to farmers in subsidy from 2007 to 2015 to cover the fuel costs, wheat and rice cultivation, pesticide and seed purchase expenses.

More than 5,100 entrepreneurs received loans on favorable terms in amount of $8.1 million in 2015. Currently wheat is being grown by 29 large farms in 19 regions and 40,000 hectares of land with 58-60 centners of productivity obtained from each hectare.

A total of $31.9 billion was spent on 2 socio-economic development programs, with $10.07 billion for the first and $21.8 billion for the second program. Further $464.4 million was allocated to the development of agriculture at the presidential decree.

Azerbaijan, which enjoys better climatic conditions and productive soil, is able to meet its needs for the most of the agricultural products independently, including 64 percent of its demand for wheat, largely reducing the imported amount of the agricultural products from abroad.

Ibrahimov said the government is keen to eliminate the dependence on imports absolutely and increase the exports of agricultural products. Last year non-oil exports of Azerbaijan amounted to $944.7 million, of which $380.4 million, or 41.3 percent, fell on agriculture products — $10.7 million worth of tea, $13.1 million worth of potato, and $121.3 million worth of fruits.

He eagerly gave an example of a 4,800 hectares big enterprise in Agjabadi, specializing not only in growing wheat but also breeding cattle with annual 6,000- 7,000 litres of milk supply.

Among all agricultural products, cotton has peculiar place. Azerbaijan used to produce 1 million tons of cotton before. Last year $17 million worth of exports of cotton were made. MP also noted that 50 large enterprises are to be created to increase cotton production.

Ibrahimov especially stressed the need for cooperatives to increase the efficiency. Small farms with only a few hectares of land are not productive and there is a need for integrating large farms and various players in production chain to form scales of production. Such cooperatives will allow marketing the final product rather than just unprocessed raw materials. It will increase the revenue stream as well. Finally Ibrahimov told about the draft Law on Cooperatives to be discussed in the session of the National Assembly.

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Gambia: New Entertainment Complex to Start Operations

12 February 2016 – The Daily Observer (Banjul) – One of the tourism facilities that guarantees genuine friendship, full enjoyment and cool relaxation was Old School Discotheque that is now renamed “Just For You”.

Just For You is another unique and magnificent place that will start operation tomorrow, 13th February 2016.

It is expected to be officially opened by the Minister of Tourism and Culture, Benjamin A Roberts.

The new discotheque is a comfortable place that offers complete hospitality and full entertainment to its vast clientele with a club bar, lounge, restaurant and patisserie.

Facilities at the site comprise 6 self-catering apartments, standard rooms, restaurant, bar lounge, beautiful nightclub, ice cream corner and patisserie.

It is the only place to be to have worthy and enjoyable activities that promote the oldies and goodies. It has verities of music ranging from jazz, funky, soul, RnB; Afro-Cuban and Salsa. With their excellent chef, clients can also enjoy both African and international cuisines with assorted drinks.

As its official opening coincides with the eve of the popular Valentine’s Day celebration, different activities are outlined for the night. These activities will flow down from the opening to the Valentine’s Day and through the celebration.

Peter Senghore, Proprietor of Just for You, said the place is completely set up for everyone, young and old to enjoy and relax especially in the evening hours after hectic hours at work.

As a social place, he went on, the new facility offers a unique opportunity for people and a right place for relaxation and enjoyment especially for tourists and others that need good and comfortable place to chat and cool down with friends.

Aziz Willan, of Afric-Afriq, an event promoter, described the facility as the right place to be when it comes to enjoyment and entertainment. Willan acknowledged that the management and staff are well prepared and ready to serve their clientele the best service ever.

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Nigerian Tour Operators AGM to Focus On Tourism in Diversified Economy

7 February 2016 – This Day (Lagos) – The Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) has revealed plans to hold its Annual General Meeting in Calabar this week. The event slated for February 11 is themed Nigeria Tourism: The Missing Link in a Diversified Economy.

President of NATOP and chairman of Remlords Tours and Car ‎Hire Services, Mr Nkereuweng Onung, disclosed that NATOP is inviting the owners of tourism products to meet with tour operators and help devise ways to move the tourism industry in Nigeria forward.

According to him, “Nigerian tour operators are the biggest suppliers of tourists on the continent. In 2015, Africa suffered a 3 per cent loss on arrivals down from a 4 per cent annual growth in the past years. Yet despite the shrinking spending power due to falling oil prices, a lot of Nigerians still travelled abroad. The interim figure from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA showed that more than $1.5billion was spent on international flight tickets last year.”

Speakers lined up for the AGM include Prof. Pat Utomi who will be dissecting the theme of the AGM, the Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, and Carnival Commission chairman, Gabe Onah.

Other participants include the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Folurunsho Folarin Coker, South Africa Tourism Regional Director (West Africa), Hloni Pisto Hloni among others.

Onung further stated: “We have invited other culture and tourism parastatals and all state tourism commissioners to come and present their tourism products to their tour operators.”

The event is supported by the South African Tourism, Rwandair, NCAA, Cross River State Government and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

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Uganda: Expand Scope of Our Tourist Attractions

8 February 2016 – The Monitor (Kampala) – Uganda’s tourism sector has over the years registered great strides. A study carried out by the Ministry of Tourism, the World Bank and the Department for International Development shows a progressive growth in which Uganda registered 946,000 tourists in 2010, and 1.1 million in 2011.

According to the Ministry of Tourism sector statistical abstract for 2014, the total arrivals and departures in the country have steadily increased from 2011 to 2013. However, the report notes that while tourist arrivals for 2013 increased to 1,206,334 from 1,196,765 in 2012, translating to an increment of 0.8 per cent, this is a slow growth compared to 4 per cent growth between 2011 and 2012.

Given Uganda’s vast tourism potential, this trend reveals a need for improvement, especially in terms of strategic planning and investment. It is equally crucial to widen the scope of tourist attractions from the conventional sites to include more cultural and religious locations.

That is why we applaud Ssese Islands Tourism Development Association (SITDA) for teaming up with Uganda Tourism Board to market Mapeera Church located at Bugoma Landing Site in Kalangala District as a tourist site. This place is significant in Uganda’s history because it is where two pioneer Catholic missionaries, Lourdel Mapeera and Brother Amans Delmas, first docked.

While SITDA is promoting Mapeera Church as a crucial contributor to the development of Uganda’s tourism sector, the church is also an important spot for the remembrance of the two pioneer missionaries to enter Uganda. This development should compel other regional/district tourism development associations to work with the Uganda Tourism Board to identify, develop and promote similar sites.

There are several religious sites that have tremendous tourism potential if developed and promoted. One such site is Indriani, the second Catholic parish in West Nile where the Comboni Missionaries arrived in 1912 and set up a mission station near the River Nile in present-day Adjumani District. Custodians of the Uganda Martyrs Shrine, a major tourist destination in Uganda, can play a key role in working with parishes countrywide to promote other religious sites.

Uganda has earned several accolades as an ideal tourist destination in the last few years. In 2012, Lonely Planet listed Uganda as the best country to visit, and the National Geographic named it one of the best travel destinations in the world. We should use such accolades to promote more local attractions such as religious sites.

This, of course, requires robust investment in infrastructure development, especially efficient transport system to ease travel for local and international tourists. With more commitment and planning, the tourism sector will play an instrumental role in Uganda’s development.

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Tourism Development in Algeria Implies Changing Mindset: PM

9 February 2016 – Algerie Presse Service (Algiers) – Success in any investment in tourism implies a change in mentalities, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said Monday in Dubai.

“Tourism doesn’t only require means, but it also entails changing mentalities,” underlined Sellal during his meeting with Algerian businessmen living in the United Arab Emirates on the sidelines of his participation in the World Government Summit.

In this regard, he insisted on the role of Algerian businessmen in the UAE or elsewhere in the promotion of tourism and further sectors.”

Sellal outlined the efforts made in past years in the fields of personnel training, recalling that Algeria counts “1.5 million students in 92 universities.”

“It is imperative that Algeria manages to achieve economic growth, notably following the 47% fall in oil and gas prices.”

Indeed, Sellal mentioned some economic projects, namely “the 6 million container capacity Giant Port in west Cherchell, in partnership with China.”

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Nigeria: Taking Dubai From the Sky

7 February 2016 – This Day (Lagos) – The beauty of Dubai is best appreciated from the sky, as DemolaOjo discovered on a seaplane flying at heights dwarfed by the world’s tallest building…

From ground level, Dubai is awe-inspiring enough. Everything is done big, from expansive malls to towering skyscrapers. Hotels are designed fit enough for sheikhs and the waterways are as clear as day. But the beauty of this rapidly growing Gulf city – at some point, a quarter of the world’s cranes were resident in Dubai – is better appreciated from the air.

There are different ways to go about this; by helicopter, hot-air balloon or seaplane. The latter is certainly one of the best ways see Dubai; it is low-flying enough to take in views and fast enough to cover ground. This means enough sights to gawk at for 45 minutes if you travel withSeawings.

Seawings is a luxury seaplane tour operator based in the United Arab Emirates that provides aerial tours and charters to destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Fujairah. Its services include scenic flights, customized excursions, and exclusive aircraft charters to 25 destinations across the UAE.

The planes take off from a couple of locations including the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. There’s a Seawings desk at the Golf Academy of the club. The academy is accessible by golf carts driven by smartly dressed female chauffeurs complete with mean sunglasses.

One of the islands of The World Islands

Passengers need to report to the academy 30 minutes before take-off with their passports for check in and a briefing on the intending flight. These include safety rules and flight route. After this is a short cart ride to the jetty where the Cessna 208 Caravan seaplanestake-off.

The Cessna, which seats nine passengers and a pilot come air conditioned with luxury leather seating and large windows for each seat. The windows are ideal for taking pictures which surely, has to be half the fun.

The thrill of flying in the relatively tiny propeller plane starts from the moment it taxis on water, bobbing gently as it gradually gathers speed for lift off. The scenery is engaging; luxury yachts and palm trees flashing by just before the plane takes to the sky, rising to an altitude of about 1,500 feet.

The altitude s what makes this an experience to savour. The seaplane flies at heights topped by the peak of the BurjKhalifa, affording passengers fantastic views of the city and offering a different perspective to how daring and imaginative the moulders of this Gulf emirate are.

The Seawings Cessna seaplane

The Seawings tour is deliberately structured to include all of Dubai’s iconic attractions as it cruises along the Arabian Gulf coastline. It really does not matter which side of the plane you sit on as the pilot ensures that everyone sees the sights. The seaplane banks and weaves past famous monuments like the earlier mentioned BurjKhalifa, the Burj Al Arab the Palm Jumeirah, and the World Islands which is under construction.

If anyone is still under the illusion that Dubai characterized by brown sand and a desert landsape, the seawings tour is sure to correct that notion. Two attributes of the city are very striking from the air: the sheer number of skyscrapers, and the beautiful blue sea with its long stretch of beautiful beaches. Like Miami, Rio or Nice, this is an ideal beach destination. It is important to target the winter months in Dubai though as this is when the weather is clement enough for outdoor activities.

Evident from the sky is the propensity for the drivers behind Dubai to not just leave things to chance or nature but rather, consciously build a city that’s not just functional but stylish.

The Burj al Arab for example is constructed to mimic the sail of a ship. Lying offshore on an artificial island connected to Jumeirah beach by a bridge, the really looks like a ship about to berth from the plane.

The Palm Jumeirah and the World Islands are both artificial archipelagos (a group of islands) constructed with aesthetic value in mind. The former is built in the shape of a palm tree, the latter constructed to roughly depict the way the world looks on a map. The 45 minute flight over Dubai goes by in a flash as the plane returns to base at the Dubai Golf and Yacht Club. Landing is a little more bumpy than taking off but the exhilaration of the flight certainly compensates.

To allay the concerns of the uninitiated, seaplanes are more environment-friendly than most other aircraft and emit no oil discharge into the water. As the propeller, engine and exhaust are above the water, no disturbances are caused to marine life. Seaplanes also have low external noise and an excellent safety record.

This means no excuse not to put this tor on the ‘mustdo’ list when next you visit Dubai.

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UAE appoints first minister of state for happiness

Thursday 11 Feb 2016 – Dubai, (IINA) – Ohood Al-Roumi, director general of UAE prime minister’s office, will lead the country’s’ attempt to secure happiness for its citizens after being named the country’s first minister of state for happiness, Al-Jazeera reported.

Al-Roumi’s appointment to the position was announced late Wednesday via Twitter by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE’s vice president, prime minister, and ruler of Dubai.

“National happiness isn’t a wish. Plans, projects, programs, indices will inform the work of our ministries to achieve happiness,” he wrote on his official Twitter page.

Al-Roumi will also continue serving as the director general of the prime minister’s office, a position she currently occupies.

Along with her roles in the UAE, the UN Foundation selected Al-Roumi last year to be a member of its Global Entrepreneurship Council. She is the first Arab member of the body.

The creation of the new ministerial post was also announced on Twitter on Monday by Sheikh Mohammed, who said the minister would “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction”.

“It is a beginning of a new journey of achievement and giving to the people, and we ask Allah to help us to serve and take care of them”, one of his messages read.

The UAE is currently ranked the 20th on the World Happiness Report in 2015, above the UK and below Belgium.

Switzerland was named the world’s happiest country in 2015, in front of Iceland, Denmark and Norway – with Canada.

The report’s creators singled the UAE out in 2015 for its stated commitment to happiness.

“The National Agenda aims for the UAE to be among the best in the world in the Human Development Index and to be the happiest of all nations so that its citizens feel proud to belong to the UAE”, the UAE’s Vision 2021 plan said.

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Flydubai’s 2015 revenues surge 11% amid challenges

Khaleej Times – 11 February, 2016 – Flydubai on Wednesday declared Dh4.9 billion revenues for 2015, showing an 11 per cent year-on-year growth, despite challenging environment.

Last year, the Dubai-carrier carried 9.04 million passengers, recording a 25 per cent growth over previous year.

Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of flydubai, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Emirates airline and Chief Executive of the Emirates Group, said: “2015 was an important year for flydubai. It was a year in which through determination and commitment we continued to realise our vision to increase connectivity in support of the UAE’s economic development. The year culminated in two achievements: the delivery of our 50th aircraft; and our fourth full-year of profitability.”

Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive officer of flydubai, said: “The overall trading environment has remained challenging but we have maintained our growth story and ended the year positively. Our robust passenger growth of 30 per cent, in terms of RPKM, underlines the demand for travel within our geographic focus; the continued appeal of Dubai as a destination; and the popularity of our service.”

A senior aviation analyst said that while flydubai had struggled and fell into a loss for the first half of 2015, the airline managed to stage a stunning reversal of fortunes, bouyed by a far stronger second half of the year on increased travel demand that led to a sharp rise in traffic of over 25 per cent to over nine million passengers.

“Flydubai has demonstrated that its unique hybrid low cost model with premium fares has won it many plaudits and accolades while cementing its position as the world’s fastest growing airline. The challenge now is how to continue this growth trajectory as smoothly as possible whilst ensuring that Al Maktoum International can handle its size,” Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research, told Khaleej Times.

The airline said fuel costs reduced to 30.3 per cent of operating costs benefitting from lower fuel prices with 59 per cent of fuel costs unhedged. In line with flydubai’s active fuel hedging policy, 16 per cent of the fuel requirements for the next 24 months are currently hedged. This will provide a level of certainty and control to its fuel costs due to the ongoing fluctuation in fuel prices. The closing cash and cash equivalents position, including pre-delivery payments for future aircraft deliveries, was robust at Dh2.4 billion.

Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO of flydubai, commenting on flydubai’s cost performance, said: “The solid foundation we laid when the airline launched has ensured that we are best placed to respond quickly to manage the challenging socio-economic environment, in a controlled manner, both in the short term and for the long term.”

Business Class was introduced on 17 new routes in 2015 representing 87 per cent of all departures from Dubai. Flydubai saw the number of passengers from across its network who travelled in Business Class increase by 72 per cent compared to 2014. Increased accessibility to previously underserved markets has benefited cargo revenues which remain strong, posting an increase of 28.4 per cent with 40,441 tonnes carried during the year.


Starting in May, flydubai will take delivery of 16 new aircraft over the next 24 months. This includes five new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft due to arrive in the second half of 2017.

The airline’s route network will continue to strengthen as it sees all the 41 new routes launched in the last two years mature. Flydubai has a network of 89 destinations in 43 countries.

Al Ghaith said: “Our network is maturing and so we continue to monitor capacity and review the opportunities for existing routes as well as for new routes. In response to the changing environment, considered, balanced adjustment and management will be required. Our prudent outlook will help flydubai remain well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities within our flying radius and continue our sustained growth trajectory.”

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Dubai theme park on track for Oct opening

Khaleej Times – 12 February, 2016 – Adventure lovers, brace for some thrill rides this October. The Dubai Parks and Resorts has announced that the facility in Jebel Ali is on track to open this year.

Construction is progressing well, say the promoters. All the design work is now complete, 88 per cent of overall facilities structure works and 70 per cent of overall infrastructure are also complete.

Lease proposals have been signed for over 50 per cent of the space in the theme parks while close to two-thirds of available units have been leased at Riverland Dubai. Some of the names are The Irish Village, Starbucks and Taste of Italy and new concepts such as the European dining concept Parle and UK originated family dining venue Giraffe.

“During 2015, we continued our drive towards opening Dubai Parks and Resorts to the public in October this year. The pace of construction, combined with the partnerships with globally recognised brands and the growth of the team represent our ambition to deliver the region’s first integrated theme park destination to UAE residents and visitors,” says Raed Kajoor Al Nuaimi, CEO, Dubai Parks and Resorts.

Dubai Parks and Resorts will include three theme parks, one water park, a hotel and a retail dining district, spanning 25 million square feet of land.

Dubai is counting on its entertainment and theme parks sector to help it maintain its growth in tourist arrivals, which it plans to nearly double to 20 million by 2020.

The park hit a key milestone in October when the first ride was installed – Legoland Dubai’s Dragon Coaster. “We have completed 89 per cent of the ride system production, with 16 complete rides delivered,” the CEO informs.

There are 13,500 workers on site and 41 contractors working to meet the deadline. Work is onoing to build access roads and multi-lane bridges over Sheikh Zayed Road that will lead into the resort. Transportation within Dubai Parks and Resorts will be delivered by tram systems.

In 2015, the park announced partnerships with Lionsgate to bring The Hunger Games and Step Up attractions to motiongate Dubai; Wizcraft International to bring Dubai’s first Broadway style Bollywood show to Bollywood Parks Dubai; Picsolve International to develop and deliver park-based photo integrations; and etisalat to provide ‘Smart Park’ technology. It also signed an MoU with dnata and partnered with Emirates airline.

Dubai Parks and Resorts has also partnered with specialised theme park service vendors, including HB Leisure, to provide over 45 skill games across the theme parks.

“As we enter 2016, we are now firmly focused on achieving monthly milestones to ensure we open the destination in nine months’ time,” says Al Nuaimi.

The size of the Dubai Parks and Resorts’ team has increased to over 260. They are doing a global audition tour across Mena, the UK and Australia in search of 400 performers.

Projected revenue in the first full year of operation is estimated at Dh2.4 billion with over 5,000 jobs forecast to be generated. Total assets stood at Dh8.6 billion at the end of 2015.

The cumulative project expenditure, including acquired land, amounted to Dh5.8 billion, an increase from Dh2.6 billion at the end of 2014.

Milestones hit

100% design work complete

50% of retail units leased out in Riverland Dubai

16 complete rides have been delivered

13,500 workers on site

5,000 jobs forecast to be generated

Project expenditure so far is Dh5.8 billion

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Promoting Private Sector Iran’s Priority In Post-Sanctions Era

BUSHEHR, Feb 7, (NNN-IRNA) – Head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce Mohsen Jalalpour said on Saturday that Iran’s main priority in the post-sanctions era should be promoting the private sector.

Speaking to reporters, Jalalpour said that developing a people-based and resistive economy is vital to protecting national economy the against global threats.

He also said that boosting real competitiveness in the private sector will remove a large part of the problems facing the country, particularly unemployment.

In the present time, attracting foreign investment and boosting economic firms are vital to improving business atmosphere and promoting economic growth, Jalalpour said.

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Qatar Rail To Build Start-Of-Art Transport Network for ’22 World Cup

DOHA, Feb 9 (NNN-KUNA) — Qatar Rail said Monday it would develop public transport infrastructure to establish an excellent network before the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar Rail seeks to achieve Qatar’s 2030 strategic vision that aims at diversifying economy for the sake of improving public service, Executive Director Abdullah Al-Sabeeh said before the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) congress, explaining the company’s operations.

He talked about Doha Metro, Qatar’s largest infrastructure project, that stretched over a 215-kilometer rail with up to 100 stations. The first phase will be completed in 2019.

Doha Metro will include three lines. The Red Line will start from Al-Wakrah, stopping at the Airport passing through the corniche and ends in Lusail.

The Green Line begins from Ras Abu Abboud, passing through Bin Mahmoud area, Hamad Hospital and Gharrafah all the way to Al-Rifa’.

The Orange Line begins from downtown through Al-Sadd and then Villaggio Mall.

Al-Sabeeh said Qatar Rail aspired to transport 1.5 million people by the year 2030 thus reducing the number of private vehicles on roads.

The AIPS was opened by the Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani.

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Qatar Airways Named Among World’s 500 Most Powerful Brands

DOHA, Qatar, Feb 11 (NNN-QNA) – Qatar Airways has been ranked as one of the world’s most valuable brands for the first time, becoming the only Qatari company to be represented in the 2016 top 500 global brand ranking.

Brand Finance, a world-leading independent brand valuation consultancy, listed Qatar Airways as one of the most powerful global brands, in the annual ranking.

The UK-based company is widely recognised as conducting highly extensive analysis of the world’s most successful businesses, to produce a definitive list of valuable brands.

“Qatar Airways is one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, operating the youngest fleet in the skies, awarded Airline of the Year on three occasions, as well as Best Middle East Airline, nine times by Skytrax,” Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker, said.

“Our position as one of the world’s most valuable airline brands is testament to our renowned hospitality and dedication to providing our passengers with outstanding service.”

Qatar Airways is the fourth Middle Eastern company and the ninth airline to earn a spot in the 2016 Global 500 list.

Since its re-launch in 1997, Qatar’s national airline has created a strong global brand identity resonating with award-winning service, offering the best experience in the air with the world’s best business and economy class and the most innovative on-board entertainment system with Oryx One.

The airline’s propensity to deliver signature service, from celebrity culinary menus to designer on-board comforts, reflects its ambition to pioneer excellence in passenger services.

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Kuwait’s 16th Camel Race Held

KUWAIT, Feb 13 (NNN-KUNA) — The 16th Kuwait camel race will begin on Sunday with the participation of camel owners from Kuwait, the GCC, and the Arab region.

Some 125 rounds will be held during the five-day race which will be held at Fahad Al-Ahmad racetrack in Juwaihel area.

The opening event tomorrow will feature a 21-round race with a sideline opening of a cultural village depicting the heritage of Bedouin people and the desert tradition.

Speaking to KUNA, the race’s general coordinator Hussein Al-Dawas affirmed that the race was an integral part of preserving the tradition and culture of the Kuwaiti people.

He thanked the Kuwaiti leadership for the continued sponsorship of the race which is celebrating its 16th anniversary this year.

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Jordan: Activating Trade Agreement With Algeria Is Key

AMMAN, Feb. 9 (NNN-Petra) — Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply, Maha Ali, on Monday, said it was important to activate a signed free trade agreement between Jordan and Algeria to scale up the two-way trade volume and encourage investments in both countries.

Addressing an Algerian economic delegation on a visit to the Kingdom, the minister said, “Both countries are enthusiastic to promote economic engagement to serve common interests.”

Ali also spoke about the attractive and competitive investment environment that Jordan enjoys, which she said was further boosted by the approval of a new investment law that provides investors with a plethora of incentives and privileges.

The Kingdom has signed a number of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, of those are two agreements with the U.S and Canada that would facilitate Jordanian products access to international markets, the minister told the visiting economists.

The delegation, led by chairman of the Algerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abdul-Majeed Khabzi, said they were interested in the Kingdom’s achievements in various domains, particularly the industry field.

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Saudi woman uses ‘girl power’ to fight poverty

Saturday 13 Feb 2016 – Washington (IINA) – The word “girlpower” has become a new part of everyday dialogue. Whether it is used by people sitting around chatting over coffee, or people who are posting interesting things on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, “Girlpower” has taken center stage to represent positive and progressive change by women. The word totally exemplifies the success of Lujain Al-Ubaid of Riyadh, Saudi Gazette reported.

Lujain knew from an early age that she wanted to make a difference, and find the right way to do it. Now in her early 20s she is certainly achieving many of her goals, and has already been honored by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman for her various volunteering activities. She has got some of the most famous educational institutions in the United States on her CV too, having attended programs at two Ivy League Schools – Harvard and Columbia. Now Lujain has had to make room for another well-known name for her CV – Acumen. Headquartered in New York, Acumen is widely looked at being one of the leading nonprofit organizations in the world dedicated to poverty alleviation.

Founded in 2001 by individual philanthropists in the United States, and two other famous foundations – Rockefeller Foundation and Cisco Systems Foundation, Acumen’s website says, “Our desire was to transform the world of philanthropy by looking at all human beings not as distant strangers, but as members of a single, global community where everyone had the opportunity to build a life of dignity.” Acumen’s philosophy was music to the ears of Lujain Al-Ubaid, who first learned about the organization through their chapter in Riyadh. Speaking to Saudi Gazette she said, “I learned about its values and more about the social entrepreneurial sector and impact investing. It led me to discover more about social innovation and impact measurement and understanding what does it really take to build a social entrepreneurial sector in Saudi Arabia.”

With her background in finance, Lujain diversified her knowledge by participating in the Harvard Business School Women Executive Leadership Program, as well as Columbia Business School’s Executive Education Program for Non-profit Organizations. Along the way she also found time to co-found and become CEO of “Tasamy for Social Entrepreneurship,” who aims to pioneer in the social entrepreneurial sector in the region. With all this experience, Lujain quickly realized that to become the person she wanted to be on a professional and personal level, she wanted to apply to Acumen’s Global Fellow Program, a 12-month fellowship for individuals dedicated to changing the way the world tackles poverty.

Founded in 2006, the Global Fellow Program has received more than 5,000 applications from 110 countries and trained 97 Fellows from over 25 countries. With the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Foundation as one of the key sponsors of the program, Lujain found the application process itself, “an interesting learning curve for me personally. The answers to the questions were based on high self-awareness, being interconnected to what is happening in the world and having what it takes to do what is right not what is easy.”

Acumen who states on their website, “The humility to see the world as it is, with the audacity to imagine the world as it could be,” has created a venture capital fund for the poor, supported by a global community of philanthropists willing to take a bet on a new approach.

It was those objectives that really inspired Lujain to expand her horizons. During her interview with Saudi Gazette she recalled, “I discovered that what I need personally was more than skills training. I realized the importance of self-awareness, understanding my purpose in life as a leader and realizing how I can maximize my capability to empower others to create positive change and impact. Also being interconnected with what is happening in the world, and where I stand from all it is truly important to know as a leader.”

Once accepted to the Global Fellows Program class of 2016, Lujain flew to the U.S. to begin an eight-week fellowship-training program at Acumen. Once there she was taught to understand the problems of poverty, explore solutions and understand the role to play to effect change. Recalling the two months of training Lujain said: “I was amazed by the culture in Acumen. It is built upon great values and a beautiful manifesto which I often use as a compass through ambiguity, which I recommend highly to read on their website. “Once she finished her Fellowship training, Lujain was sent to India – where poverty is rife and more than 50 percent of the population are under the age of 25.

She is currently working as Chief Strategy Officer in Ignis Careers in Hyderabad, India. It is a social enterprise dedicated to empowering students from underprivileged backgrounds, by helping them with life skills through teaching English. Speaking to the Saudi Gazette she said, “They often say ‘Lead by example,’ but what I hope for is not making an example. I am a big believer in the power of choices. I truly hope that I have the power to do what needs to be done and the wisdom to say what needs to be said in order to invest everything I know and all my energy to empower those who want to create positive change and impact.”

One of Lujain’s favorite memories of the Acumen fellowship were three days spent with Jacqueline Novorgatz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, discussing what was called “Good Society Readings.” They were reflecting on the lives, values and thoughts of great international leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Ibn Khaldoun. Lujain told the Saudi Gazette, “I often end up my days with a heavier heart than when I start them because I carry the words as a responsibility not as a privilege.” It would seem with Lujain Al-Ubaid, Saudi Arabia has another great leader in the making, and one who exemplifies the word “girlpower,” and the power of making a difference.\

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Saudi tourism market valued at $ 45.3b banking on GCC visitors

Saudi Gazette – 11 February, 2016 – Saudi Arabia remains a popular destination for GCC tourists, with around 7.4 million visitors entering the Kingdom in the first six months of 2015, which represented an increase of 25% against the same period in 2014, according to official data from the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage (SCTNH) — a fact that will underpin the Kingdom’s presence at this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

A total of 2.1 million visitors were ‘day visitors’ with the remaining 5.2 million spending nearly SR11.8 billion and accounting for 30.5 million room nights. In 2014, 6.6 million Gulf tourists visited Saudi Arabia, spending SR22 billion.

Bahraini and Kuwaiti visitors accounted for a large percentage of total inbound GCC visitor numbers, with 33% each, followed by Qatar and the UAE.

Saudi exhibitors at ATM 2106 will also highlight the future of tourism in the country, which has some $ 11.6 billion worth of tourism projects currently underway.

“A recent report by the Saudi Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated that tourism contributed 2.7% of the country’s GDP, with 2014 tourism receipts totaling around $ 45.3 billion. While the bulk of this comes from Haj and Umrah travel, which accounted for almost $ 27 billion, this clearly demonstrates the strong domestic travel market within the Kingdom, as well as the growing business travel segment,” said Nadege Noblet-Segers, Exhibition Manager, Arabian Travel Market.

“Hajj and Umrah travel is also an opportunity for additional revenue generation, with the authorities reportedly keen to encourage visitors to extend their stay and discover all that Saudi Arabia has to offer from a leisure perspective. And with forecasted visitor numbers to the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah set to rise from 12 million to 17 million visitors per annum by 2025, there is plenty of opportunity for the country’s tourism sector to benefit,” she added.

Major tourism-related projects include a number of transportation initiatives including the new 450- kilometer-long high-speed rail link between Makkah and Madinah.

Leisure pursuits are also on the development list, with Saudi Aramco funding 11 new sports stadia, drawing board plans for the Kingdom’s first large-scale mixed-use coastal tourist development just south of Dammam, and plans to develop Taif’s historic Souk Okaz.

“Saudi Arabia is also a destination of outstanding natural beauty. Madain Saleh, for example, with its Petra-like Nabatean ruins is a designated UN World Heritage site, and the coral based Farasan Islands are a protected marine sanctuary,” said Noblet-Segers.

Participating companies at ATM 2016 from Saudi Arabia include Mamlakat Al-Asfar Travel & Tourism, Al Khozama Management Co., E Travel Gate, Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities, Saudia Airline, Yrbooking.com, Makarem Hotels and Itrip.

ATM 2016 will build on the success of the previous edition with the announcement of an additional hall as RTE looks to add to its record-breaking achievements. ATM 2015 witnessed a year-on-year visitor attendance increase of 15% to over 26,000, with the number of exhibiting companies rising by 5% to 2,873. Business deals worth more than $ 2.5 billion were signed over the four days.

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New mosque in Iqaluit, Canada opens doors as place to learn about Islam

Sunday 14 Feb 2016 – Iqaluit City, Canada (IINA) – After years in the making, a new mosque in Iqaluit, Canada was opened on Friday, CBC News reported.

It will serve as a prayer space and a community centre for Iqaluit’s 100 or so Muslims, as well as a place to learn about Islam.

“By establishing this mosque, we are saying one thing: we are now an integral part of Iqaluit, we are now a part of the Iqaluit community,” said Hussain Guisti, the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation’s general manager.

Members of the foundation, along with the Islamic Association of Nunavut, built the mosque themselves at a cost of $800,000. The foundation has also helped construct mosques in Inuvik, N.W.T., and Thompson, Manitoba.

“We just finished the mosque now. The guys were working outside underneath the mosque in –56 below,” Guisti said. “I mean, that’s treacherous. If you can build a mosque in Iqaluit, you can build it anywhere else on the planet.”

Guisti said the mosque’s presence will encourage more Muslim families to move to the Nunavut capital. There are also plans to operate a food bank at the site, he said.

The makeup of Iqaluit’s Muslim population is already diverse. They’re engineers, doctors, teachers, government workers, taxi drivers.

Now, they have a place of their own.

“This mosque is not only for prayer, but for educating our kids, our families,” said Mohammed Wani, vice-president of the Islamic Association of Nunavut.

“This was a dream which came true.”

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UK mosques’ bid to alter wrong perceptions about Islam

Sunday 14 Feb 2016 – London, (IINA) – British Muslims enjoyed a ‘breath of fresh air’ as they sought to portray the positive role they play in British society when mosques throughout the UK opened their doors to the public at the weekend, Gulf News reported.

More than 80 mosques from London to Aberdeen and Belfast welcomed thousands of curious guests at the Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) second annual Visit My Mosque day on Sunday.

Organizers were delighted to see all kinds of people of all religions take up the chance to visit their local mosque, ask questions and learn more about Islam, which has attracted little but negative headlines in the wake of the European refugee crisis and terrorist attacks by extremists.

More than 500 visited Finsbury Park Mosque in London alone, while those in Woking and Lincoln also proved popular. Britain’s oldest mosque Abdullah Quilliam in Liverpool, which was originally founded in 1889, was also open to the public despite ongoing restoration work.

“We think days like these are really important,” an MCB spokesperson told Gulf News. “Muslims in the UK are really contributing a lot to British society and often it seems like we are not being spoken about because of forces beyond our control things like what is happening in the Middle East and in Asia.

“So Muslims generally in the UK have received this event with what I would call a breath of fresh air. For once we are putting our own story out there and are redefining ourselves and our community to the wider British public.” And the MCB, which represents the interests of the approximate three million British Muslims, hopes the Visit My Mosque event will raise awareness of the accessibility of mosques to the general public throughout the year.

“It was a fantastic day. A full variety of people came, from full families to local residents who were curious — people who have lived near a mosque for many years but had never been inside,” the representative added.

“I think one thing we would like to emphasize is that, even though we held an open day on Sunday, most mosques are actually open every day and there should be nothing stopping any members of the public who want to find out more, who are curious or who just want to meet and greet, they should just walk in and ask to speak to somebody.

“This has helped mosques around the country attract more people and raise awareness. Mosques across the UK have been doing open days for years if not decades it’s a regular part of their business as usual activities. But Sunday was different because we asked mosques across the country to coordinate their open days on a single day for the purposes of amplifying and concerting our efforts on a national level, while also amplifying the good work that they already do.”

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American Islamic Foundation hosts event to combat stereotypes about Islam

Sunday 14 Feb 2016 – Charlotte city, North Carolina (IINA) – The American Islamic Outreach Foundation hosted a “Meet your Muslim neighbor” event, inviting thousands of people in the surrounding community to do just that , WBTV news (CBS-affiliated television station) reported.

On Saturday afternoon, a Muslim call to prayer echoed through the Islamic Community Center of South Charlotte, a foreign sound to some inside.

“There are people around this mosque who are not Muslims, we want people to feel secure and safe from us and we want to feel safe and secure from them,” Mohammed Haron Sait said.

Sait told WBTV that the event was aimed to help stop stereotypes that are sweeping through our nation.

“Islamophobia is on the rise, unfortunately. We don’t want that to be the case. We love this country and we wish good for this country,” Sait said.

Terror attacks carried out in the name of Islam have fueled recent ideas and efforts to ban Muslims coming into the US, that alone has sent shock waves this community.

“We left our home countries to call this as home and to hear or to think of such a thing happening here, that’s really disheartening,” Sait said.

Theology major Justin Frantz attended the event. He hopes to be a pastor one day and came to learn more about the Islamic faith.

“You can’t play on people’s fears and ignorance which is what politicians are good at these days,” Frantz said.

Frantz hopes others step out of their comfort zones in the name of understanding.

“If you don’t get out and try and learn, then you’re going to stay in fear your entire life and that’s not a way to live,” Frantz said.

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First Muslim woman leads prayer on floor of Wisconsin Assembly

Sunday 14 Feb 2016 – Wisconsin, US (IINA) – A Muslim woman in Wisconsin in US offered prayers on the floor of the state assembly on Thursday in what is thought to be a first for the US state, The Express Tribune reported.

Janan Najeeb, a prominent member of Wisconsin’s Muslim community and a longtime participant in local interfaith efforts, was invited by Milwaukee Democratic Representative Mandela Barnes to offer the opening prayer.

“I’m honoured and excited. I’m also a little bit surprised because, based on what the clerk has sent, it’s safe to say I’m the first Muslim to do so,” Najeeb, who is the president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and founder of the Islamic Resource Center, said.

Najeeb offered a general prayer as well as two citations from the Holy Qur’an that speak about the value of diversity.

She added that she hoped lawmakers “will realize that Muslims are part of the fabric of our society…and we are adding our story to the stories of the many communities that came before us and created this country.”

Barnes, who considers Najeeb a friend, said he invited her in an effort to promote diversity in what is a predominantly white, Christian body and to present a more balanced picture of Muslims than that presented in much of the current political rhetoric.

“There is just so much for us to get over in terms of our fears. Muslims want the same things everyone else wants to live peacefully, enjoy themselves and just live and breathe,” Barnes said.

Islamophobic attacks against Muslims have increased considerably after last year’s Paris attacks and San Bernardino shootings. Republic Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Governor Scott Walker also drew outrage from Muslims and interfaith leaders when he declared during his 2015 presidential campaign that there are only a “handful of reasonable and moderate followers of Islam.”

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