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16 Jan, 2017

First Palestinian Embassy Opened in Vatican City

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 16 January 2017 (17 Rabee’ al-Thaani 1438). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.



Win FREE trips in Malaysia by entering this Photography And Short Video Competition

The Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia is organising a photography and short video competition on social media with the sub-theme #MyCuisine from 1 January 2017 to 28 February 2017. To enter, participants need to submit a creative photo or short video related to the uniqueness and diversity of the food and beverage of Malaysia’s multicultural society via Instagram or Facebook. For the short video competition, participants need to upload a 30- to 60-second short video on Instagram with the hashtags #SayangMalaysia and #MyCuisine. The competition offers various attractive prizes for the top three winners and five consolation prizes, which include domestic flight tickets, accommodation at popular domestic destinations, theme park tickets, shopping vouchers, and many more. In the #Sayang Malaysia Campaign, the public will get the chance to participate in six photography and short video competitions throughout 2017 under six sub-themes, which are as follows: i. #MyCuisine – January to February; iv.#MySports- July to August; vi.#MyFamilyFun – November to December.

The competition is to make Malaysia a premier tourist destination and to encourage both domestic and international tourists to use social media to share all their beautiful and unique holiday experiences in Malaysia. The #SayangMalaysia Campaign is an initiative under Malaysia’s National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) between Government Departments/Agencies and the private sector, including the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia, National Service Training Department, iM4U, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), and tourism industry players.

Further details: http://www.motac.gov.my/en/sayangmalaysia

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.





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First Palestinian Embassy Opened in Vatican City

BETHLEHEM, Palestine, 14 Jan 2017, (NNN-MA’AN) – The inauguration of the first Palestinian Embassy in the Vatican, will take place today and will be attended by Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Pope Francis, according to a statement from a spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

According to the statement, Abbas’ tour began on Wednesday and will conclude on either Sunday or Monday. In addition to meeting with the Pope, for the embassy’s inauguration, Abbas will also meet with Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and travel to Paris to meet with French President, Francois Hollande.

According to the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Maliki, Abbas will discuss in his meetings, the risks of the US government’s intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, “hoping that the Pope will participate in sending a strong message” to President-elect Trump.

Abbas’ meeting with Hollande is set to take place on either Sunday or Monday, while the Paris peace conference will be held on Sunday, without the participation of Israeli and Palestinian representatives.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, demanded, in a meeting with Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Borge Brende, that the international community take a firm stand against US plans, to move the embassy to Jerusalem, warning of an “explosion in the security situation” in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

Hamdallah also demanded that Norway insert pressure on Israel, to commit to the recent UNSC resolution, demanding an end to illegal Israeli settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territory.

Hamdallah also discussed with Brenda, ways to make the Paris peace conference successful and to produce positive outcome “that would return the political process on its right track again into saving the two-state solution.”

While the goal of the upcoming summit would be to revive the peace process, on the basis of achieving a two-state solution, Palestinians say the prospect of such a reality has become dimmer, amid a surge in illegal Israeli settlement construction that has now obtained the stamp of approval by US President-elect Donald Trump.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticised the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a bi-national state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

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Tourism Malaysia to Make Strong Pitch at New York Travel Show

NEW YORK, 10 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – Tourism Malaysia is to make a strong pitch for the country to be a destination of North American travellers at the New York Times Travel Show from Jan 27 to 29.

Its vice president in New York, Ahmad Johanif Mohd Ali said Tourism Malaysia would present Malaysia as an attractive destination, highlighting three major attractions – culture, adventure and nature (CAN).

The NYTTS is the most important trade show for the travel and tourism industry in North America.

Unlike other travel shows in the region, which are highly specialised in certain segments of the tourism industry, the NYTTS attracts a large turnout of the trade and consumers.

“We will encourage visitors to our pavilion to participate in various activities we are organising, including in our Facebook and will bring Malaysian costumes at the show and encourage visitors to try them out and pose for our Facebook,” he said in an interview with Bernama in his office.

Tourism Malaysia will use the colourful costumes worn in Sabah and Sarawak, among others, to catch the attention of tourists.

Johanif himself is also going to be a participant at a panel on travel and tourism, and will speak on Malaysia as a CAN destination.

“We have been sending our mails to invite customers to visit our stand and also our website www.malaysia.travel http://www.malaysia.travel which provides extensive tourism-related information,” he said.

In the first eight months of 2016 tourist arrivals in Malaysia from the United States declined to 149,696, down 7.9 per cent from 162,544 in the corresponding period of 2015.

Tourism Malaysia in New York believes that the depreciation of the Ringgit against the US dollar (currently US$ 1 = RM 4.5) has created a favourable climate for tourism from the US because it is making visits “cheap as never before”.

Johanif said Malaysian food was also very popular. Indeed, McCormick & Company, the US spice company, listed Malaysian food in its 2016 Flavour Forecast as one of the popular cuisines in the US.

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Seminar of Malaysia trade opportunities with Iran held in KL

Kuala Lumpur, 12 Jan 2017, (IRNA) – A one-day seminar dubbed ‘Malaysia Trade with Iran; Opportunity for Malaysian Commercial Companies’ was held in Kuala Lumpur to introduce Iran’s capacities for investment and trade.

The seminar organized by the Malaysian Federation of Producers was attended by Iran’s ambassador to the country Marzieh Afkham and a number of Malaysian banking and financial officials.

Head of the International Trade Committee of Malaysian Federation of Producers John Lee told the seminar that Iran with a population of 80 million as well as an organized economy is the second biggest economy in the Middle East and North Africa.

Referring to Iran’s capacities for exports and imports, he said that Iran’ economic growth is accelerating following removal of sanctions.

Lee described post sanctions era as a golden period for trade with Iran and said that he would visit Iran to find a commercial partner in the country.

Petrochemicals, oil and gas, healthcare and pharmaceuticals are among the areas with numerous opportunities for investment and cooperation with Iran, he said.

Iran-Malaysia trade in 2015 amounted to 532 million dollars, but they both intend to raise the figure to one billion dollars.

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Institute of Islamic Understanding to mark 25th Anniversary

KUALA LUMPUR, 12 Jan 2017, (Bernama) – The Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its establishment on the 18 February 2017 or 21 Jamadilawal 1438H. IKIM was established on this date and was registered as a company limited by guarantee under the Companies Act 1965.

IKIM was established with the primary aim of making Islam better understood. Its objectives include: to conduct research and consultancy from the point of view of spirituality, to provide a forum for Muslim and non-Muslim scholars to discuss and analyse various issues, to create awareness and in-depth understanding of current issues as well as to be a source of information to Muslims and non-Muslims at the local and global levels.

To strengthen further its aim to fulfill its mandate, and on the occacion of commemorating its 25 years of establishment, IKIM has planned a number of programmes and activities throughout the year, starting with the International Seminar on “Religion and Civilizational Sustainability” which will be held from 20 – 21 February 2017 at the IKIM Grand Hall.

The two-day seminar will highlight the ideas of international experts in various fields related to respective areas of sustainability. Civilisational sustainability has also been chosen to be the theme of IKIM’s 25th year commemorating. Among the outstanding personalities who will be present are Dr. Eric Winkel of Mexico, Prof. Dr. Odeh Rashed Al-Jayyousi of Bahrain, Prof. Robert W. Hefner from Boston University, Prof. Robert W. Hefner of the University of Luxembourg and several other experts.

To highlight the critical value of a dedicated workforce, and in conjunction with IKIM’s silver jubilee, one staff member will be awarded an outstanding employee in service award. The award is called the Anugerah Jubli Perak.

The announcement for the outstanding employee and the presentation of the award will be held at the opening ceremony of the international seminar on 20 February. The outstanding employee is evaluated from various dimensions and will be an example to other staff members in terms of their personality, positive thinking, and self-esteem, etc.

To appreciate their one million over listeners and viewers, IKIMfm and tvIKIM will organise a carnival and a concert from between the 31 March to 2 April 2017.

As well as launching its publications in 2017, IKIM will also begin such new programs as an on-line tv course, talk shows documentaries throughout the year.

To complete the celebratory package a special logo to commemorate IKIM’s 25th anniversary has been created and it will be used throughout 2017 in all communication media, either through letters, brochures, e-mails, websites and others for the purpose of informing the public about the presence of IKIM which has been a quarter of a century.

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Malaysia Records Drastic Increase in Tourists from China

BEIJING, China, 11 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – Malaysia registered a drastic increase in tourist arrivals from China last year after the introduction of easier visa facilities, said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

He said the number of tourist arrivals between March and December last year touched 2.2 million, up from the 1.2 million for the corresponding period in 2015.

Malaysia had introduced the Electronic Travel Registration & Information or eNTRI and e-visa facilities in March last year for tourists from China.

Ahmad Zahid, who is on a visit to China, also said that for the whole of 2015, Chinese tourist arrivals numbered 1.7 million and they spent about RM5.7 billion the country, averaging RM3,500 per tourist.

These tourists included the Chinese nationals who reside outside China, he added.

“Concerted efforts will continue to draw tourists during the three major holiday seasons, namely Chinese New Year, summer vacation and year-end holidays,” Ahmad Zahid said at a press conference here today.

He said there was plenty of room for the Tourism and Culture Ministry to work on to bring more Chinese tourists to Malaysia.

Ahmad Zahid said Immigration Department statistics showed that many Chinese tourists to Malaysia were in the family travel group and the number of tourists who overstayed their visa was very small.

He said the Tourism and Culture Ministry would have to step up the promotion of charter flights because many major cities in China did not enjoy direct flights to Malaysia.

Focus would be given to Malaysia’s Labuan as a new tourist destination and route for the arrival of more tourists from China and the duty-free island would also facilitate the access of tourists to Sabah and Sarawak states, he said.

Ahmad Zahid said he conveyed his appreciation to China’s Minister of Public Security Gua Shengkun at their meeting on Tuesday on China’s quick response to every application made by Malaysia.

Asked about the impact of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on China’s tourism sector vis-a-vis Malaysia, he said the situation returned to normal after about four months.

Chinese made up the majority of passengers on board MH370 which disappeared while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.

Ahmad Zahid said that as the chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Tourism, he would seek an increase in the allocation for advertising and promotion by the Tourism and Culture Ministry.

The details would be announced when the time come, he added.

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Malaysia to Study Roles of TPA in Helping Bangsamoro Govt

KUALA LUMPUR, 14 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – The Malaysian Government is studying whether there is a need for the International Monitoring Team (TPA) to take a broader roles like helping the Bangsamoro Government in coordinating the development projects in the territory.

Deputy Defence Minister Mohd Johari Baharum said it was aimed at helping the Bangsamoro Government to administer the territory in the most effective way.

“The Malaysian Government will continue its commitment to assist the Bangsamoro Government, which will be formed later,” he said in a statement here.

Mohd Johari visited the headquarters of the 11th TPA-Malaysia (TPA-M 11) contingent in Mindanao Thursday.

He said the presence of contingent was very significant in determining the success of the ceasefire between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine Government.

Mohd Johari said the TPA-M was established to monitor and supervise the truce between the Philippine government and the MILF.

In addition, he said it was also aimed at creating a more conducive and safe atmosphere for the peace agreement.

“At the moment, the truce is in the final stage where all the main framework of the agreement has been signed,” he said.

During the visit, Mohd Johari also met with MILF deputy chairman Sir Ghadzali Jaafar and its top leaders.

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Malaysia: FIFA Award Winner Mohd Faiz to Receive US$33,602

SEPANG (Selangor, Malaysia), 12 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – FIFA Puskas Award winner Mohd Faiz Subri is set to rake in US$33,602 (RM150,000) in the form of incentives from the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

Mohd Faiz, 29, who returned from Zurich, Switzerland Wednesday after winning the Puskas Award for his physics-defying freekick that drew global attention, will receive US$22,401 (RM100,000) from the Ministry of Youth and Sports while the remainder will come from FAM.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the RM100,000 incentive was in appreciation of Mohd Faiz’s achievement at the 2016 FIFA Awards that was watched by a global audience.

Meanwhile, FAM deputy president Afandi Hamzah who had accompanied Mohd Faiz to Zurich, said the FAM would contribute US$11,200 (RM50,000) to the player.

Apart from the announcement of incentives, Mohd Faiz also made it into the Malaysia Book of Records for becoming the first Malaysian to win an award from FIFA.

He received a certificate of endorsement from Malaysia Book of Records chief executive officer Christopher Hw Wong.

Since the inception of the FIFA Puskas Award in 2009, only two other Asian players, Kumi Yokoyama and Hisato Sato, both from Japan, have been listed among the top 10 nominees but did not make the cut into the top three finalists in 2010 and 2014 respectively.

The award is named after Hungarian football legend Ferenc Puskas who enjoyed huge success with Real Madrid in the 1950s and 60s as well as the highly successful Hungarian side of the same era.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was the first Puskas Award recipient in 2009, followed by Turkey’s Hamit Altintop (2010), Neymar from Brazil (2011), Slovakian Miroslav Stoch (2012), Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2013) and James Rodriguez from Colombia (2014).

In 2015, an unknown player from Brazil, Wendell Lira, from Club Goianesia took home the award.

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Malaysia: Impact of Measures to Stabilise Ringgit Seen by Mid-2017

KUALA LUMPUR, 13 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – New measurements to stablise the ringgit taken by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and the Financial Market Committee (FMC) in December last year are expected to show their full impact by mid-2017.

BNM’s Governor or Central Bank Muhammad Ibrahim, said the initial result from the measurements, which were implemented on Dec 2 last year, showed that the local currency has stabilised very much.

“We must not be fixated on any particular levels (of the ringgit), it is very important for the ringgit. Once we have realigned the demand and supply, for it be dictated by actual demand for the currency, that is where the ringgit will stabilise.

“The key point is that ringgit must stabilize because it will let the businesses makes the right decision,” he told reporters after the launch of the Karnival Kewangan (financial carnival) Malaysia 2017 here.

If necessary, Muhammad said that central bank will introduce new measures in the future to further strengthen the recently implemented policy.

“Our financial market is a very open market and those who want to come in can always go out. We will always welcome those long term investors into our bond market.

“We must ensure all these long term investors are protected by stabilising our currency so that they can make profit,” he added.

However, Muhammad stressed that these new measures would not be either capital control or fixing of the ringgit, but to stabilise the ringgit in making sure that everyone will have access to the local currency and liquidity is always there in the market.

Earlier he said several measures introduced by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) in December last year has helped stabilise the ringgit and the Central Bank is ready to step in with more if needed.

The full impact of the measures taken so far is expected by mid-2017 and if necessary, BNM would introduce new measures in the future to further strengthen the recently implemented policy, he said.

Muhammad said the results from initial measures which were implemented on Dec 5 last year, showed that the local currency has stabilised very much.

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Malaysian Airports Registers 5.7% Rise in Passengers in 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, 10 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) registered 118.5 million passenger movement in 2016, up 5.7 per cent, from 2015.

In a statement today, the airports operator said international traffic dipped 6.5 per cent to 52.8 million passengers while domestic traffic recorded 65.7 million passenger movements with a 5.4 per cent growth compared with the same period in 2015.

“Overall aircraft movements grew 0.9 per cent with international and domestic movement registering a growth of 1.5 per cent and 0.6 per cent, respectively,” it said.

On the home front, airports in Malaysia registered 88.8 million in passenger movements, a growth of 6.0 per cent over 2015.

The international sector recorded a 8.0 per cent improvement in passenger movement to 43.2 million over 2015.

Domestic traffic, on the other hand, recorded 45.6 million passenger

movements, an improvement of 4.1 per cent, over the same period in 2015.

Kota Kinabalu, Penang, Langkawi, Alor Setar, Ipoh, Tawau and Mulu were among the airports that registered strong increase in traffic last year.

MAHB said the traffic growth of 6.0 per cent last year was an indication of continuing latent demand for air travel.

“It is encouraging to note that international passenger growth momentum, year-on-year, had picked up in the second half of 2016, improving from 5.0 per cent in the first half to 11.0 per cent in the second half,” it added.

MAHB said passenger traffic in 2017 was expected to continue to perform well in view of the upward trend in the second half of 2016.

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Malaysian Footballer Wins FIFA Puskas Award 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Jan 2017, (NNN-BERNAMA) – Malaysia’s Mohamed Faiz Subri netted the FIFA Puskas Award for the most beautiful goal of 2016, putting his name on the same list as past winners such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.

The 29-year-old player was handed the award for his spellbinding free kick at a glittering ceremony in Zurich on Monday (early Tuesday in Malaysia) as he brought joy to millions of Malaysians thousands of kilometres away from the wintry conditions of the lakeside Swiss city.

Mohd Faiz also created history as the first Asian to be bestowed the gong named after Ferenc Puskas, the Hungarian football legend who enjoyed huge success with Real Madrid during the 1950s and 60s as well as his national team.

“Honestly, it has never crossed my mind that I would arrive at this level and be able to stand tall among world-class footballers in this amazing place,” the Penang striker said after receiving the award.

Kedah-born Mohd Faiz received his gong during The Best FIFA Football Awards 2016 that was broadcast around the globe and live-streamed on the Internet from the Technology and Production Centre Switzerland.

Mohd Faiz, who garnered 59.46 per cent of the votes, thanked a host of people including his team, family and fans for their support.

“To the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) and FMLLP (Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership), I owe so much to you for submitting my goal (to FIFA) for evaluation,” he said.

The Malaysian footballer pipped Brazil’s Johnath Marlone Azevedo da Silva (22.86 per cent of votes) and Venezuela’s woman player Daniuska Rodriguez (10.01 per cent) to the award, first won by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

The award was presented to Mohd Faiz by former Brazilian football great Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo also clinched The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2016 award in Zurich.

Mohd Faiz was the architect of what has been described as a physics-defying swerving goal against Pahang in the Malaysian Super League match on Feb 16, so spectacular that it catapulted him to international recognition.

The ball was heading towards one corner but ended up deceptively in the other, leaving the Pahang goalkeeper – and football fans – dumbfounded.

Mohd Faiz described his win as a dream becoming a reality besides being fortunate to be able to be with football greats in Zurich.

Even though yet to don the national jersey, his is very proud that he was able to bring glory for Malaysia.

“I am grateful to have won, I wish thank all who voted for me in Malaysia and throughout the world. Not forgetting my family, coaches and the Penang team.

“Without their support, this win would not be possible because the other candidates in the running also scored great goals,” he told Bernama.

He said being the first Asian to win the Puskas Award was a career defining moment for him.

The goal, he stressed, was not pure luck but due to hours of practice each day.

Mohd Faiz added the success was a source of inspiration for him in conjunction with the new year to further hone his footballing skills in the years to come.

After Portugal’s Ronaldo, the Puskas Award was won by Turkey’s Hamit Altintop (2010), Brazil’s Neymar (2011), Miroslav Stoch of Slovakia (2012), Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2013) and James Rodriguez from Colombia (2014).

A virtually unknown player from Brazil, Wendell Lira, took home the 2015 award.

The shortlist comprising Mohd Faiz, Marlone and Rodriguez was whittled down from an original 10 goals.

Meanwhile Malaysian prime minister Najib Tun Razak said said Mohd Faiz Subri’s FIFA Puskas Award 2016 would serve as an inspiration to football players in the country.

He said the Penang attacking midfielder’s achievement through his unique free kick, in Zurich on Monday (Tuesday in Malaysia), also made Malaysia proud.

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Grapes Grown in Tropical Malaysia

SITIAWAN, 13 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – It is a rather surreal experience to be walking under the dangling clusters of grapes at the Saloma Vineyard and Nursery in Lekir, Perak.

Vineyards are a hugely rare sight in a tropical country like Malaysia. In fact, many are not even aware that grapes, which is native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia, could be grown here.

Visitors are given the chance to choose and pluck the grapes of their choice before paying for it. This is a concept similar to that practiced by strawberry growers in Cameron Highlands.

Thanks to hybrid seeds, the plant can acclimatise itself to our tropical weather, with two other known vineyards in Perlis and Sik, Kedah.


Despite the success of the Saloma Vineyard and Nursery, owner Siti Saloma Saad said that it has not an easy path to tread.

The 52-year-old former draftsman and her husband Shuhaimi Ishak, 53, went into grape cultivation over 10 years ago, starting with just five grapevine seedlings.

Today, they own two vineyards nearly one hectare in size and are running it with the help of their children Muhammad Danial, 23, and Farah Dalila, 20, proving that hard work and strong determination would almost certainly bear good results.

There are currently nearly 2,000 grapevines at the two vineyards that are being cared for by her family, several workers and five practical students from local universities.

“Our grapes are grown in greenhouses. They are thriving (despite the climate) due to several factors such as being of varieties that are moisture and heat-resistant,” explained Saloma.

The writer noted that Saloma was like a walking encyclopedia of agriculture, especially when it came to her knowledge on grape cultivation.

The woman from Seberang Prai, Penang, admitted that in the early days, she obtained most of the information off the internet. However, it was evident from the results that the knowledge gained was sound.

She said that not only was it possible to grow grapes in the country, but hot weather also improved the sweetness of the fruit.

“The exposure to 80 to 100 percent of sunlight and good ventilation encourages the growths of grapevines.

“Grapevines are sensitive to humidity. When exposed to constant rain, the leaves will be susceptible to fungal disease and rot. Black spots will also form on the fruits,” she explained.


Saloma said that the idea of cultivating grapes came from her husband in 2005, while he was on the way back from Senegal via Air France.

The former quantity surveyor was watching an in-flight documentary on the grape cultivation industry in France and felt inspired to try growing the plant at home.

She said that her husband relayed to her of his intention upon his return.

The couple, who was living in Alor Setar then, promptly launched a search for grapevine seedlings in Perlis as well as Kuala Lumpur.

They eventually managed to buy five grapevine seedlings at RM25 per plant. Saloma, who had left her job in 2002, said that they were able to harvest grapes every four months. They managed to increase the number of plants to 40 via cuttings.

“At the time, we were just learning off the internet. But my husband would also make it a point to bring back books of grapes cultivation whenever he went overseas for work,” she recalled.

What started off as a hobby became a serious venture when their harvest garnered the attention of neighbours.

In 2006, her husband was assigned to work in Lumut and so the family relocated to Perak. They rented a 0.4ha land in Batu 6, Lekir, near Sitiawan to cultivate grapes.

“We had great success and that motivated me to buy a one-acre (0.4ha) plot in Batu 7, Lekir for another vineyard. Today, hundreds of grapevines of multiple varieties are growing in both vineyards,” she said.


Saloma has planted over 10 varieties of grapes in her vineyards. However, only eight of it were commercialised, namely the Long White Malaga, Isabella Madu, IAC, Alphonso Lavelle, Black Queen, Black Opal (seedless) Flame Seedless and Loose Perlette (seedless).

“All of the grapes differ in appearance and taste. The Long White Malaga is from South Africa. It is thumb-sized, yellowish-green in hue and crunchy and sweet.

“Alphonso Lavelle, native to the Bali islands, has a firm texture and is purplish-black in colour. The medium-sized Black Opal is of similar colour, very sweet and seedless,” she explained.

She said the El Nino heatwave in the middle of last year had caused many of the grapes at her vineyard to become seedless and much sweeter than the harvest in December 2015.

Saloma said most of the grapevines at her vineyards are between five and 10 years old, capable of an average of 15kg in yield per grapevines. In the bid to increase the variety of grapes at her vineyards, she has now started planting the Red Globe variety from China.

Saloma said that the Red Globe were table grapes (intended for consumption while fresh) and there were over 200 types of such variety worldwide. With its generous yield, large size and sweet taste, the variety is popular globally.


Saloma is currently working on making a 1.2ha plot of land in Ulu Dedap, Teluk Intan, her family’s third vineyard.

At the moment, the land is still undergoing site clearance but will be ready by the middle of the year.

“In addition to that, the Manjung District Agriculture Department recently provided us with 0.6ha of land and the site is being prepped for use.

“It would most likely be ready by February. I am planning to use the site to conduct courses on grape cultivation under the department,” she said.

Saloma and Shuhaimi’s passion for grape cultivation were picked up by their children from a young age.

Their eldest, Muhammad Danial, is a graduate in agriculture management from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Bintulu. He has been entrusted to maintain the family’s first vineyard in Batu 6, Lekir.

Farah Dalila, meanwhile, is pursuing a diploma in business management at Universiti Tekologi Mara (UiTM) Seri Iskandar and often helps out at her family’s vineyards in her free time.

Those interested in cultivating grapes at home can buy grapevine seedlings from Saloma Vineyard and Nursery. They can also find suitable soil and fertiliser for sale at the vineyard.

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CNN TV Recognises Penang As Among 17 Must Visit Destinations

GEORGE TOWN, Penang, 10 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) — Once again Penang is recognised internationally when named as one of 17 must visit destinations in 2017 by CNN, the international TV station.

The state, which is known as Pearl of the Orient, was second behind Prince Edward Island, Canada and was among three destinations in Asia listed in the chart other than Thailand and China.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the recognition would spur the tourism sector of the state which was now renowned abroad.

Every destination in the list was picked by CNN tourism experts worldwide on places they liked.

This is not the first time Penang, which is renowned as a food haven, received the recognition. In 2016, George Town was named by Forbes, an American business magazine, as the 10th best budget tourism destination for 2016 while Los Angeles Times picked George Town as among 16 destinations which must be visited last year.

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President urges financial industry to increase loans for SMEs

Jakarta, 13 January 2017, (ANTARA News) – President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has called on the financial industry to increase loan disbursement, especially people-based business loans (KURs), for small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs).

“I call on them to focus on small and micro businesses and fishermen for offering productive loans not consumptive, especially the BPDs (regional development banks),” Jokowi stated at the opening of an annual meeting of financial industry operators at the State Palace here on Friday.

The president has also called on governors to provide interest rate subsidy for KURs, which could be sourced from the regional budget to help boost the local economy.

The financial industry should intensify the promotion of KURs directly to the public, he added.

“We should not provide social assistance in the form of something, which is not productive. Give help to those who are productive and could inspire the public,” Jokowi noted.

The president reiterated that loans for farmers and fishermen in regions should be increased to boost local economic development.

“Give it more to the productive sector, something which is related to production. For farmers (the aid) could be used to buy fertilizers and seeds. Prevent them from debt bondage. Protect them from loan sharks who lend money at exorbitant interest rates, while the banks interest rate is set at only 9 percent,” Jokowi emphasized.

However, the president has called on banks to uphold its prudential nature to avoid non-performing loans.

The government has continued to lower the KUR interest rate in a bid to boost the productivity of SMEs.

In 2015, the government had cut the KUR interest rate from 22 percent to 12 percent, while in 2016, the rate was reduced further to nine percent.

President Widodo has targeted to cut the KUR interest rate to 7 percent in 2017 in a bid to encourage people-based economic activities, especially in regions.

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Indonesia Sets Programmes to Further Boost Tourism Sector

JAKARTA, Indonesia, 10 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) – Indonesia will take a series of measures to further boost the tourism sector, which has been picked as the nation’s core business, so as to achieve the 15 million foreign visitors target this year, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

The measures included enhancing the digital marketing system, expanding the homestay programme, as well as improving flight connectivity from market countries to tour destinations across the country.

Indonesia’s Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said his ministry, related ministries and agencies have initiated coordinated efforts in facilitating the related programmes.

The minister said that digital marketing was considered the most essential one as it underlies the remaining programmes in attracting foreign visitors.

“The visitors’ lifestyle has changed. They seek information on destinations, comparing tour packages and book the packages digitally through their smartphones,” the minister said while addressing the 46th anniversary of Indonesian travel and tour agencies association (ASITA) on Monday.

The ministry has collaborated with state-run telecommunication firm Telkom to provide ITX (Indonesia Tour Exchange), a digital platform for businessmen in the tourism sector to directly interact with potential consumers.

“The ITX is expected to fully operate by the second quarter this year,” the minister said, advising ASITA members to extensively use ITX in attracting more consumers in their businesses.

The homestay programme was originally intended to involve the public in tourism sector so as to directly benefit from tourism, the minister said, adding that the arch project of homestay programme, the tour village, was scheduled to be developed this year.

The tour village project was originally designed to support the operation of Indonesia’s now-developing 10 new tour destinations, which are highly expected to be comparable to the resort island of Bali.

“We expect to see the opening of 20,000 homestay this year, followed by 30,000 ones in 2018 and 50,000 ones in 2019. In the first quarter this year 1,000 new homestay must be opened and ready to accommodate foreign visitors,” the minister said.

In expanding flight connectivity, the minister said that the government encourages domestic airlines to team up with their foreign counterparts in opening new routes, providing direct flights, extra flights and chartered flights to Indonesia.

He added that increasing the flight connectivity is also important to boost the number of foreign visitors as 75 per cent of their visit to Indonesia uses air transport.

It needs to see four million flight seats more to comply with the 15 million foreign visitors target this year, compared with the 19.5 million seats to cope with 12 million foreign visitors targeted last year, he added.

“And in the coming years the flight seats should increase by 3.5 million and three million from the developing figures to cope with 18 million and 20 million targets set for 2018 and 2019 respectively,” the minister said.

Indonesia attaches great importance in developing the nation’s leading sector by pledging to allocate up to five times-fold from the existing figure in the state budget to finance tourism this year and in the coming years.

The sector is expected to earn more than US$24 billion by 2019 for the nation’s economy, giving the nation a dash of hope amid possible global economic downturns.

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Garuda to Open New Tourist Route in China

XI’AN, China, 11 Jan 2017, (NNN-Xinhua) – Indonesia’s flagship carrier PT Garuda will soon operate direct flights between the Indonesian tourist island of Bali and the northwestern Chinese city of Xi’an, company sources said.

The services every Thursday will start on Jan. 26. The flight will take six and a half hours. It will be served by an Airbus wide-body A330-300, with 358 seats.

Garuda currently flies to Bali from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Foreign airlines are expanding their reach to west China as more Chinese can afford overseas trips. In January, Indonesia’s Lion Air will also begin a four-time weekly service between southwestern city of Chengdu and Bali.

China has become the second largest source of foreign visitors for Indonesia after Singapore, partly thanks to Jakarta’s visa exemption policy for Chinese tourists.

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Indonesian islands pay price for global smartphone rush

SUNGAI LIAT, Indonesia, 11 Jan 2017, (BSS/AFP) – Deep beneath the murky ocean, Paci breathes through a thin plastic tube as he dredges the seabed for tin, a vital component inside smartphones and tablets that’s brought riches and ruin to his island home.

One-third of the world’s tin comes from the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, where thousands risk serious injury and death in the mines.

Demand for the metal ore has soared in recent years, driven by a voracious consumer appetite for the latest electronics gadgets.

In Bangka, the result has been a free-for-all — both inland and now offshore. Many miners are unlicensed, sailing out in repurposed fishing boats in the hope of finding new deposits with little experience, and no protection.

Paci, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, earns USD$15 for a day’s work beneath the seas. Clad in goggles and a swimming cap he rakes a powerful hose across the sea floor, sending violent torrents of mineral-rich sand shooting to the surface.

“It is very dangerous work, and the risks are huge,” he told AFP after surfacing, as the mining crew panned the dark sediment to separate fragments of tin.

“But what are you going to do? It’s my life, and this is my job,” he added.

He’s not alone. Dozens of dredging crews trawl off north-east Bangka, the same stretch of coastline where a 23-year-old miner drowned in October.

At least one miner dies every week in Bangka and Belitung according to estimates from the Indonesian Tin Working Group, an organisation comprised of electronics companies, tin firms, industry bodies, and activists.

  • Death metal –

A four-man operation can fetch 30 kilograms of tin ore on a good day, another sea miner told AFP.

It passes through many hands before arriving at smelters, which export the refined product used in the solder binding the components of tech gadgets.

Half of all mined tin is transformed into solder for the electronics industry, data from industry group ITRI shows, making the brands behind best-selling laptops and flat-screen televisions a powerful force in the global market.

While there is obvious damage to the environment, and miners have lost their lives, tin from Indonesia is considered “conflict free” and so there are no trade restrictions on its use.

But as the negative impacts on the land, and to local communities are revealed, electronics firms have come under pressure to properly account for the provenance of the minerals they use.

Evert Hassink from Friends of the Earth Netherlands says companies have done little to ensure the tin they used in their gadgets was not harming Bangka.

“Companies don’t even know what they are sourcing,” he said.

“They refuse to really stick out their necks and dive into the supply chain.”

Ten major tech manufacturers — including Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Sony — are members of the tin working group, which has pledged to support less harmful mining practises on Bangka.

Apple said in a statement it had spent “thousands of hours” in Indonesia in a bid to improve the situation for workers and the environment.

It added: “Suppliers who are unwilling or unable to comply with our standards will be removed from our supply chain.”

A spokesman for Samsung said the firm was “committed to continuously evolving our efforts on responsible mineral sourcing”.

  • ‘It’s all about tin’ –

A representative for the tin working group said it had two pilot projects aimed at improving worker safety and restoring land degraded by mining in development.

Jabin Sufianto, president of the Association of Indonesian Tin Exporters, acknowledged some tin firms were apprehensive about committing further but believes things will change over time.

“What’s important now is doing the pilots, so we can show there is progress and it’s not just all talk,” he told AFP.

But Retno Budi from Walhi, a conservation group that has mobilised huge rallies against tin mining, is sceptical.

Inland from Sungai Liat, a giant pit mine stretches as far as the eye can see, one of the treeless, pockmarked scars visible from a flight over the island.

“They say they’re restoring the land — I’m yet to see it,” he told AFP, surveying the ruined landscape.

“To this day there’s been almost no effort to fix anything whatsoever.”

Just weeks earlier two miners died in a landslide at the mine, he said.

Nazaruddin earns less panning for tin, a backbreaking job under the blistering sun, but avoids the dangers of pit mining.

“Over there, they don’t think about safety,” he told AFP, gesturing to a crew blasting sand and rock below a steep cliff.

“It’s all about the tin, tin, tin.”

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Gemstone industry needs attention to exploit potential

ISLAMABAD, 14 Jan 2017, (APP) – The nature has bestowed Pakistan with a vast potential of mineral ores including a good range of precious and glittering gemstones and the government can open new vistas in this industry by giving proper incentives to investors.

Different varieties of minerals like Peridot, Aquamarine, Topaz in different colours of violet, pink, golden and champagne, Ruby, Emerald, rare-earth minerals Bastnaesite and Xenotime, Sphene, Tourmaline, besides many types of Quartz make the country prominent in the mineral world.

The northern and northwestern parts of the country are shrouded by the three world-famous mountain ranges called Hindukush, Himalaya, and Karakorum, from where nearly all the minerals, which Pakistan is currently offering to the world market, have been found so far.

Official sources told APP that out of 25 precious and semi precious stones and mineral specimens, seven were intermittently exploited and marketed all over the world.

“These are Emerald of Swat, Rubies of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Hunza-Ishkoman, Gilgit, Pink-Topaz of Katlang-Mardan, Aquamarine and Tourmaline of Gilgit and Chitral, Peridot of Kohistan and Pargasite of Hunza,” they said adding that all these gems have beautiful attractive colours, excellent crystal clarity and a range of size as well as weight, meeting any international standard.

Inviting investors, they said tremendous potential existed for investment in the subject of scientific mining, cutting and polishing for value addition of gemstone from the known localities and exploration for further findings.

Highlighting specifications of the Ruby of Kashmir, Hunza and Gilgit, the sources informed that it was transparent to translucent and brownish pink to pinkish-red and deep red in colour.

“The deposit is being mined and the potential resources are estimated at about 24.9 million grams,” they added.

The Ruby of Hunza and Gilgit have a slight touch of pinkish hue. The main ruby deposits occur in a dolomitic marble belt spanning over 100 kilometers from Hunza valley to Ishkoman, close to the main Karakorum thrust.

While Topaz of Mardan and Dassu-Skardu, pink to red and colourless, have their own attraction for the jewel-lovers.

The best known deposits of Emerald are located at Mingora, Malakand Division, 160 kilometers northeast of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“The Swat deposits are producing excellent quality gems, which are considered some of the finest emeralds in the world. The stones have become famous for their brilliance, medium to deep green colour and unique transparency,” the source informed and added that in the belt emeralds had been discovered at Gujar Kili and Shamozai areas.

They said gem quality tourmaline was found in the Kohistan magmatic arc Zone-6 at Haraosh near Gilgit, Stak Nala between Gilgit and Skardu, Bulecli and Shingus in Gilgit division and Garm Chashma in Chitral.

Tourmaline at Haraosh is discovered in pink, blue, and green varieties, whereas the Stak Nala is now famous for bicolour and tricolour tourmaline.

Gem grade tourmaline also occurs at Buleclhi and Shingus, Gilgit, they said adding that ndicolite (blue tourmaline) was found in pegmatite of Garm Chashma (Chitral). Green tourmaline has also been found in pegmatites of Donga Nar in Azad Kashmir.

“Peridot of Indus Kohistan is one of the most beautiful gemstones of Pakistan and is sporadically being mined at different localities. It has already captured market both locally and abroad,” the sources remarked.

Pakistan, based on its potential in mineral wealth, can become a great hub of the gemstone industry, on a scale comparable to that of Brazil, provided it takes a few essential steps to enhance the exploration of resources and growth of gemstone business.

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Three more railway projects being added in CPEC: Saad

ISLAMABAD, 5 Jan 2017, (APP) – Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique Thursday said three more railway projects were being included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Addressing a news conference here, he said Karachi Circular Railway

(KCR), Quetta Mass Transit and Peshawar Mass Transit schemes were being made part of the CEPC, which was considered a game-changer project not only for Pakistan but for the entire region.

Recently, he said, a high level delegation of Pakistan, including chief ministers of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had visited China and participated in the sixth Pak-China Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) conference deliberated on CPEC related projects.

Terming the visit a ‘useful trip,’ the minister said the Chinese partners had given a positive signal for the projects and the three CMs exhibited a collective wisdom during the conference and further improved the country’s image abroad.

He said the federal government would provide all possible assistance in carrying out the provincial projects for benefit of the common man, offering expertise of Pakistan Railways’ serving and retired employees for successful execution of the schemes.

Saad said China had referred the three projects to its transport working group that would evaluate them and submit recommendations before the JCC in next meeting scheduled to be held after six months.

He said there was a significant development on upgradation of the ML-I track as accordingly an agreement with China would be signed soon, besides the Gwadar deep seaport would be connected with the national railway network.

After upgradation of the Karachi-Peshawar track (ML-I), the minister said trains would ply at a speed of 160 kilometers per hour instead of 65-120 kph, adding that it would also increase Pakistan Railways capacity to run trains from 32 trains to 171 per day.

He said a feasibility study of the ML-I had already been completed in December last, while its second phase would complete in May this year.

The minister said both Pakistan and China had formed working groups, which would start holding meetings from mid of the current month, and declared the ML-I upgradation a ‘strategic project.’

Saad said the setting up of Havelian Dry Port was also part of the project.

The minister said Pakistan Railway service under the Sahiwal Coal project would start by end of the current month, adding that most probably the first train would leave on January 26 from Karachi to collect coal.

He said 55 latest locomotives were being procured from China, out of which seven would arrive by end of this month, while the remaining would reach in a period of three months.

Answering a question, Saad said the suspended Railcar service between Kohat and Rawalpindi would be restored as per commitment of the Prime Minister by this year.

He said all railway stations, falling between the 132 kilometer track between Kohat and Rawalpindi, would be upgraded besides a quota for Kohat passengers, wishing to catch Karachi-bound trains from Rawalpindi, would be allocated.

Replying to another question, the minister said feasibility study for the train service between Islamabad-Murree-Muzaffarabad had already been completed, for which as per initial estimate Rs 175 billion were required.

In reply to another question, Saad categorically said that railway land would not be utilized for setting up housing colonies for its employees, saying that the land would only be used for railway operations and commercial activities to generate revenue.

During the last three and a half years, he said, the Ministry of Railways got no bailout package contrary to the past practices rather it improved its efficiency and increased the revenue generation from Rs 18 billion to Rs 36 billion.

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Ground breaking of Pakistan national museum likely this year

ISLAMABAD, 14 January 2017, (APP) – Advisor to Prime Minister on National History and Literary Heritage (NHLH), Irfan Siddiqui Wednesday said the ground breaking of the first ever state-of-the-art national level museum will be held by the end of this year.

“The redesigning work of the museum is in progress after land acquisition of 3.24 acres and its construction work would hopefully be started next year”, Irfan Siddiqui said while talking to APP.

The national museum would house the rare artifacts which were ruining due to absence of proper museum facility and also add colour and beauty to the federal capital.

He said National History and Literary Heritage Division is diligently working for the welfare of writers, poets and literary personalities for which the division meant for.

He said Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has recently announced an Endowment Fund of Rs. 500 million (50 Crore) at the International Conference of Writers and Scholars held recently, for the welfare of writers community.

Listing other decisions announced during the conference, he said, the amount of monthly stipend given to deserving writers and poets will be increased from Rs. 5000 up to Rs. 13,000

The number of deserving beneficiaries (literary personalities) would be increased from 500 upto 1000 while the number of beneficiaries of life insurance scheme will be raised from 354 upto 700.

The amount given to family of writer or poet in case of natural death will be increased from Rs. 1, 00,000 up to 2, 00,000 and accidental death from Rs. 2,00,000 up to Rs.4,00,000, he said.

The other decisions include increasing the number of annual awards for literary persons from 11 up to 20 and establishing ‘Intezar Hussain Award’ worth Rs. 10,00,000 for literary persons.

Irfan Siddiqui said a special committee would also be formed to devise recommendations for welfare of artists of different genres in line with the PM’s directives which will present its recommendations within a month.

He said Prime Minister has urged the writers and poets to initiate ‘Zarb-i-Qalm’ to discourage extremism and intolerance in the society and the year 2017 will now be marked as the ‘Year of Zarb-i-Qalm’.

Mentioning another unique scheme, Irfan Siddiqui said the division is planning to form a committee for assisting the writers, poets and other literary persons for publication of their books.

This initiative would help publish the books of those writers and poets who cannot afford to get their creative work published, he said.

Irfan Siddiqui said Literature can help counter the extremist behaviours and intolerance among the people and bring positive reforms in the society.

“People belonging to different fields of life behave in sophisticated way of they are in habit of reading any form of literature”, he said.

The society which losses its interaction with literature ultimately lack patience and tolerance, he observed.

He said National History and Literary Heritage Division would soon launch to ensure accessibility of books to the people at affordable rates.This initiative would help promote book reading culture among the people, he added.

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Pakistani poet: Reading Persian poetry great pleasure

Islamabad, 14 Jan 2017, (IRNA) – Renowned Pakistani poet and director general of Language Promotion Department says reading poetry in the Persian language is a pleasure and treat for him.

Pakistani poet: Reading Persian poetry great pleasure

In an interview with Dawn, Iftikhar Arif revealed that he will be traveling to Iran to attend a conference on Persian poet Bidal Dehlavi and will be presenting a research paper over there.

Bidal Dehlavi (1642–1720) was a famous representative of Persian poetry and Sufism in Indian sub-continent.

He added that Persian was the language of elites, officials and commoners in South Asia for many years but when the British came to the area, English replaced Persian and people forgot past.

He added that about 60 percent of the works of Pakistan’s national poet and philosopher Iqbal Lahori is in the Persian language and they are masterpieces.

He said that in coming days he will be reading Persian books that he recently brought from Iran. “There are more that 26 boxes full of books which I bought from Iran,” he said.

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CPEC to revolutionize economy, development of Hazara

ABBOTTABAD, 13 Jan 2017, (APP)- China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a game changer and it would revolutionize economy and development of Hazara division.

This was stated by PML N Parliamentary Leader in KPK Assembly Sardar Orangzeb Nalotha while talking to APP here Friday.

Nalotha said that PML N Khyber Phaktoonkhawa is united under leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The federal government has mitigated the grievances of KPK government whereas KPK got maximum share of CPEC particularly for Hazra division, he added.

Nalotha said the federal government would establish 27 industrial zones across the country out of which eight zones would be set up only in KPK.

He said three industrial zones would be established in Manshera, one each in Ghazi, Hattar, Nowshara, Charsadds, Kohat, Bannu and DI Khan.

Nalotha said the CM Khyber Phaktoonkhawa has reservations over industrial zones to be established in Hazara under CPEC framework because he knows if these zones are established then nobody would cast vote in favour of PTI in Hazara Division.

He opined that if CM KPK would try to create hurdles in CPEC, the people of Hazara Division would ban his entry into Hazara.

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Artificial jewellery trend rises, as wedding season on its peak

ISLAMABAD, 12 Jan 2017, (APP) – The peak wedding season has raised the demand of imitation jewellery to fulfill the obligatory requirements of the occasion.

A report aired by a private news channel said, the artificial jewellery markets in Pakistan are witnessing a boom. It is becoming more attractive for women with low cost and variety of designs and colours.

The sale of traditional jewellery is lacking much interest even at the peak of wedding seasons.

The incidents of snatching ornaments, purse, and mobile phone have pushed the sales of artificial jewellery to upward, said a Women customer Ayesha Ali.

As the gold prices in national and international market have increased, people have shifted their choice towards buying artificial jewellery, she added.

Ali Ikram a shopkeeper said that artificial jewellery has become more attractive for women since the increasing gold prices have reduced the purchasing power of the customers.

Gold has gone beyond the purchasing power of the middle and upper middle classes and women have left with no option but to buy artificial jewellery, which is readily available in diversified

range of designs throughout the country, he added.

A few years back when gold prices were much lower, people used to buy gold for long-term investment; however the trend has now changed since artificial jewellery is not only cheaper but is also available in beautiful designs.

Parents of both brides and the grooms are more interested in marriage solemnised with benefit manner rather than in making the occasion colorful and memorable.

Even many well-off families are also seen purchasing artificial jewellery, local gold jeweller said.

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Pakistan approves export incentive package, other projects

ISLAMABAD, 11 Jan 2017, (APP) – Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet Wednesday approved three projects including the Prime Minister’s Package of Incentives for Exporters.

The summary of the Prime Minister’s Package was moved by Finance Division and formulated with a view to mitigate exporters’ difficulties and enhance the country’s exports.

The committee meeting was chaired by Finance Minister Senator Mohammad Ishaq Dar.

The incentives package will have an estimated financial impact of Rs 180 billion, and is applicable for the period from January 16, 2017, till June 30, 2018.

The incentives for next FY 2017 18 would only be available to those exporters who would achieve an increase of 10% in their exports as compared to their exports for FY 2016 17.

The ECC approved the proposal of Ministry of Water and Power to extend the closing date of collection of Neelum Jhelum Surcharge at Rs 0.10/kWh up to June 30, 2018, for the Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project. The previous closing date for the surcharge was December 31, 2016.

The extension in the closing date for a period of 18 months up till June 30, 2018, is expected to result in collection of Rs 9 billion which will assist in ensuring successful completion of the project.

In pursuance of the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), the ECC approved the proposal of Ministry of Water and Power for issuance of Letter of Comfort / GoP guarantee by Finance Division to WAPDA for settlement of Net Hydel Profit claims of Government of Punjab.

On the occasion, the Finance Division informed the ECC about the latest key economic indicators, including reviews of product’s prices, inflation, commodity stock position, energy figures, foreign exchange reserves, foreign investment, trade performance and tax revenues.

The ECC was informed that headline inflation measured by the CPI increased by 3.7% in December 2016 as compared to 3.8% in November 2016.

On average, during July December FY 2016 17, the CPI is recorded at 3.88%. te ECC was apprised that the reported stock of wheat as on January 3, 2017, is 7.5 million tons showing that sufficient quantity of local wheat is available for daily releases to mills by Provincial Food Departments and PASSCO.

The Finance Division informed the ECC that the stock of various POL products averaged 34 days on January 10, 2017.

It was also informed that production in the Large Scale Manufacturing sector stood at 2% in July October FY 2016 17.

The ECC was apprised that worker remittances received during July December FY 2016 17 amounted to US$ 9,459 million. It was also informed that gross foreign exchange reserves stood at US$ 23.183 billion as on January 9, 2017.

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Year 2017 is a sports year, Punjab Minister for Sports

LAHORE, 13 Jan 2017, (APP) – Punjab Minister for Sports, Jahangir Khanzada has said that under the vision of the Punjab Chief Minister, Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif the year 2017 is a year of sports and mega sports event will be organised to the engage youth in healthy activities.

He said after presiding over the core committee of Sports Board Punjab on its fourth day here at the national hockey stadium. Also present were Secretary Sports Punjab, Nayyar Iqbal, Director General Sports Punjab, Zulfiqar Ahmad Ghumman, MNA, Shazia Fatima and other officials of the SBP.

“We will be holding elite sports events including Kabaddi World Cup and the South Asia swimming championship to mark the year 2017 as the year of sports,”he told APP after the meeting.

The Sports Minister said the government has attached great importance to sports and it is determined to develop a sports culture by organizing sports events.

The other events to be organised in year 2017 include, inter provincial senior and junior games, Chief Minister Talent hunt programme, coaches training programmes and Chief Minister sports events and dozen of other sports, he added.

DG,SBP informed the meeting that coaches and sports consultants are being inducted in each district and division of the province to expand the span of sports activities and to raise the standard of sports.

“As per the vision of Punjab Chief Minister participation in sports is the right of the masses and that is why we have chalked out a comprehensive programme so that the year 2017 be remembered as a memorable year of sports activities,” he added.

“Grounds and playing fields are being equipped with floodlights so that people can take part in sports activities in their leisure time in summer ,”said Ghumman.

MNA Shazia Fatima speaking on the occasion acknowledged the efforts of the Punjab Government for the cause of sports and said SBP was serving as an ideal platform to take drastic measures to fulfill the vision of the Punjab Chief Minister for the development of sports ,holding of sports events and creation of sports infrastructure.

“We are noticing a lot of sports activities under the banner of SBP and that day is not far when Punjab will emerge as force to reckon with at the international sports scene,”she added.

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People thronging digital innovation fair in Rangpur

RANGPUR, 14 Jan 2017, (BSS) – Tens of hundreds of people, mostly youths and students, have been thronging with huge enthusiasm the three-day Digital Innovation Fair -2017 being held in the city from yesterday.

They are showing interests in show casing of digital innovations, ‘Solve-A-Thon’, innovation culture of the administration, internet browsing, getting information and e-services using laptops, digital devices and ICT in all 52 stalls set up in the fair.

Talking to BSS on the fair venue this afternoon, young visitors said the fair was bridging them with ICT, rights to information and reaching government services to common people in realising Vision 2021 as envisioned by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Earlier, Divisional Commissioner Kazi Hassan Ahmed inaugurated the fair by cutting ribbon and releasing balloons at a ceremony held on the Public Library ground here on Friday afternoon as the chief guest.

The Access to Information (a2i) Programme of the Prime Minister’s Office being funded by the GoB, USAID and United Nations Development Programme have been extending assistance in organising the fair that will conclude tomorrow.

The fair is being organised to further accelerate the digitisation programme through sensitising and bridging the common people with ICT and reaching government services easily to their doorsteps in building a digital Bangladesh.

On the second day of the fair, Deputy Commissioner Rahat Anwar attended the discussion cum seminar styled ‘Use and Prospect of ICT in Implantation of the Vision 2021’ as the chief guest this afternoon.

With Additional Deputy Commissioner (Education and ICT) Ruhul Amin Mian in the chair, Police Super Mizanur Rahman attended the discussion as the special guest.

In his welcome speech, Ruhul Amin Mian said that the government in line with the directions of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had been working relentlessly to realise the Vision 2021 in building a middle income digital Bangladesh.

“Digitisation has been progressing from the bottom to top layers to achieve the esteemed successes of building a corruption- free digital Bangladesh where the people would easily get all information and services at their doorsteps,” he said.

The chief guest said that rooting out of corruption was not easy and full automation of the service providing systems would definitely eliminate scopes for proximity and corruption to ensure accountability at all levels in the future digital Bangladesh.

“Bangladesh would turn into a middle income nation by 2021 on its way to become a developed country by 2041 in the process of building a Sonar Bangla as dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,” he added.

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Islamic Development Bank loan for Bangladesh rural housing

DHAKA, 14 Jan 2017, (BSS) – Islamic Development Bank (IDB) will give Bangladesh House Building Finance Corporation (BHBFC) Tk 800 crore in loan on soft conditions to extend its housing loan programme to rural areas across the country.

“We expect IDB would disburse Tk 800 core loan before June this year. Housing loan will be given to people of lower and middle income group in rural areas for the construction of multistoried residential buildings,” BHBFC chairman Sheikh Aminuddin Ahmed said.

Talking to BSS, he said the government has taken decision in principle to give IDB sovereign guarantee against the loan.

He said BHBFC sought loan support from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and IDA for implementation of a planned housing programme in rural areas as construction of unplanned houses is severely affecting rural arable land across the country.

IDA responded positive and agreed to give BHBFC the Tk 800 fund for its programme. “We are waiting for a similar response from ADB also,” the BHBFC chairman added.

“Construction of unplanned structures for housing purposes is destroying a significant amount of arable land in rural areas every year. We hope that our loan programme will help stop such unplanned housing and save arable land in rural areas,” he added.

According to BHBFC, it disbursed Tk 118.06 crore housing loan in the first six months of fiscal year 2016-17 (FY17).

Aminuddin said BHBFC is giving its field-level officers-employees special training to increase the standard of its loan services. As a result, realization of loans from borrowers has significantly increased, he added.

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Rangpur region eyes bumper winter vegetable production

RANGPUR, 11 Jan 2017, (BSS) – A bumper production of winter vegetables is likely in all five districts under Rangpur agriculture region during the current 2016-2017 Rabi season, official sources said.

The farmers have still been cultivating winter vegetables after bringing 35,351 hectares of land under its farming against the fixed target of cultivating the crop in 36,799 hectares of land to produce over 7.48 lakh tonnes vegetables this time in the region.

Meanwhile, continuous harvest of the early variety winter vegetables with excellent yield rates and better price have brought smiles to the farmers now everywhere in the region at this stage of cultivation of the crops this season.

Under the programme, the farmer have so far cultivated winter vegetables in 10,300 hectares of land in Rangpur, 7,390 hectares in Gaibandha, 5,300 hectares in Kurigram, 5,450 hectares in Lalmonirhat and 5,516 hectares of land in Nilphamari districts in the region.

Horticulture Specialist of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) Khondker Md Mesbahul Islam said cultivation of vegetables, both during winter and summer seasons, had already become popular in recent times bringing huge profits to the farmers.

“Following expanded cultivation of early variety winter vegetables adopting newer cropping patterns, all varieties of the winter vegetables have flooded the local markets with excellent yield rates in the region,” Islam added.

The DAE, Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI), Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC) and NGOs have supplied quality seed, other agro-inputs and provided necessary technical assistance to the farmers.

In addition, different commercial banks, including Rajshahi Krishi Unnayan Bank (RAKUB) and NGOs have disbursed agriculture and other easy-term loans among the farmers to make the massive winter vegetables farming programme successful.

According to the DAE sources, the farmers have still been continuing cultivation of winter vegetables side by side with continuing harvest of the early variety vegetables to earn better profits.

According to market sources, vegetables traders have been exporting huge quantities of early variety vegetables to Dhaka and other parts of the country by trucks from different points in all five districts under Rangpur agriculture region daily.

Rangpur Regional Additional Director of DAE Md Shah Alam said that the farmers had been cultivating winter vegetables at larger scales everywhere in the region after getting repeated bumper production with lucrative price in recent years.

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Bangladesh GDP to reach 8pc in 2 years: Muhith

KUAKATA, 14 Jan 2017, (BSS) – Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith today said that Bangladesh would attain 8.0 percent GDP growth in two years.

“The economy already attained over 7.0 percent growth, marking a golden era for the country,” the finance minister said, noting that Bangladesh had already established its image as a country where people are busy doing their jobs amid political stability.

The minister was addressing the opening ceremony of the three-day “Kuakata Mega Beach Carnival 2017” here this afternoon. Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), for the first time, organised such an event at the South-eastern region’s sandy beach to promote it among tourists at home and abroad.

Explaining that 8.0 percent growth would ensure horizontal development across the country, Muhith said, “We want to move ahead with all the people of the country.”

He said disparity between the poor and the rich is also diminishing rapidly, placing Bangladesh among the fast moving countries in fighting poverty.

The minister while addressing the gala event also cited the significant progress that the country made in the recent years in major areas, including the foodgrain production, manufacturing and foreign trade.

About the prospect of tourism in the country, especially in Kuakata, the finance minister said the government had developed a master plan for promoting Kuakata as a beautiful and unexplored tourist attraction.

“The government is committed to developing Kuakata as Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has discovered the potential of the beach as a major tourist destination,” he said.

The minister said the people in Kuakata as well as the tourists here would soon have the country’s largest sea port alongside a beautiful beach.

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Bangladesh gives tax holiday, security in energy sector: Nasrul

DHAKA, Jan 14, 2017 (BSS) – State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid today said Bangladesh government is giving tax holiday, necessary security and incentives for encouraging foreign investment in the energy sector.

“The government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the highest priority to the energy sector. We have given tax holiday and security to encourage foreign investment in the sector,” he told Secretary General of the International Energy Charter (IEC) Dr Urban Rusnak in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Dr Urban Rusnak paid a courtesy call on Nasrul in Abu Dhabi, according to a message received here today.

During the meeting Hamid highlighted the present status of the power and energy sector and sought cooperation of the International Energy Charter for encouraging foreign investment in power and energy sector.

They also elaborately discussed about mutual cooperation of the power and energy sector.

Dr Urban Rusnak said Bangladesh is an observer of the International Energy Charter and the country will get more investment in this sector, if Bangladesh becomes a member.

A four-member delegation led by the state minister is staying Abu Dhabi for taking part in the 7th International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) conference and the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) from January 14-17.

Among others, the meeting was attended by the Power Development Board chairman engineer Khaled Mahmood.

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BB gets 66 proposals involving $403.63m for long term financing

DHAKA, 14 Jan 2017, (BSS) – Bangladesh Bank (BB) has already got 66 project proposals involving US$ 403.63 million through different private banks to facilitate long term financing under the World Bank funded Financial Sector Support Project (FSSP).

“We have already approved 19 proposals with $90.26 million, of which $12.02 million has been disbursed, rest of the approved amount is under the process of disbursement,” a senior BB official told BSS here today.

Out of the total approved, some companies have disbursed a portion and others are under process as the amount will be disbursed through opening Letter of Credit (LC) for importing machineries, he said.

“We have submitted proposals of eight companies involving $40 million and of which one proposal has already been approved and rest of the proposals await approval,” said Additional Managing Director and COO of Mutual Trust Bank M Hashem Chowdhury.

The initiative will accelerate further the country’s export as the finance is providing among export oriented industries on a low interest rate (within 6.50 percent) for incorporating modern technology in production system and increasing the efficiency, he added.

Managing Director of Best Wool Sweater Limited Alamgir Kabir said, “We have imported machineries with the support of FSSP fund at a low interest rate.” It has created a great opportunity to set up modern technology based machineries in the industry and the production of the company has increased which will increase export, he added.

Best Wool Sweater Limited submitted a proposal for $2.82 million loan and of which BB approved $2.27 million through the Trust Bank Limited.

BB under the auspices of International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank would provide a total of $350 million under FSSP, which would play a pivotal role in meeting the growing demand for long-term financing for productive sectors in the country.

BB has already signed separate Participating Financial Institutes (PFI) agreement with 31 banks to distribute the long term finance among the country’s export oriented industries.

Of the total amount, World Bank will provide $300 million and rest of the amount will provide from BB’s own fund. The tenure of the project is July 1, 2015 to March 31, 2021.

The amount will be provided under four components- strengthening financial market infrastructure (US$50m), strengthening financial sector regulators ($5million), long term financing facility ($292.50million) and project implementation and monitoring ($2.5million).

Under the FSSP fund for long-term financing, the banks can lend money for ventures in the industrial productive sectors for tenure of 5 to 10 years, having that the banks would have to pay interest rate between 2.50 percent to 3.50 including LIBOR (London Inter Bank Offered Rate) depending on the category of banks.

The interest will be fixed considering the respective bank’s CAMELS (Capital, Assets quality, Management, Earning, Liquidity, and Sensitivity) rating, a recognized international rating system that bank supervisory authorities use in order to rate financial institutions.

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’Sultan Mela’ begins in Narail

NARAIL, 14 Jan 2017, (BSS) – A seven-day ‘Sultan Mela (fair)’ in remembrance of the 92th birth anniversary of celebrated artist SM Sultan will begin in front of Sultan Mancha on Narail Government Victoria College premises tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.

SM Sultan Foundation in association with the district administration has organised the fair to mark the birth anniversary of the renowned artist. The fair will continue until January 21.

All preparations have been made for a successful holding of the fair, said Deputy Commissioner (DC) Helal Mahmud Sharif.

Deputy Speaker Fazle Rabbi Miah will inaugurate the fair as the chief guest with deputy commissioner and president of Sultan Foundation Helal Mahmud Sharif in the chair.

A total of 100 stalls with traditional textile and cottage industry products set up for sale on the fair.

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Afghan National Cricket Team Beats UAE Team

Kabul, 11 January 2017, (BNA)- Afghanistan National Cricket team defeated one of the United Arabic Emirates teams yesterday.

Farid Hotak spokesman of cricket board told BNA, in this friendly match Afghan players started the match with losing 4 players set a target of 220 runs for the UAE team, the UAE team could not chase the given target, achieved 119 runs and failed.

He added, its due that Afghanistan National Cricket Team in its first visit would play T20 competitions in UAE with Ireland national cricket team in the next Saturday on January 14.

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Herat, Shirkhan Port Connection Planned

Kabul, 07 January 2017, (BNA) – President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, in a meeting with a number of elders and influential figures of Kunduz called for a plan to connect Herat with Sherkhan port, his office said in a statement Thursday.

The president also called for evolving an effective plan to develop Afghanistan’s economy, according to the statement.

The president, while hearing complaints about some key problems faced by the people in Northern Province of Kunduz, made the remarks during a meeting with the tribal elders and influential figures, the statement added.

The problems, the elders shared with the president included security, education, agriculture, healthcare and nomads’ issues, the statement added.

Likewise, the provincial elders suggested reforms in the Kunduz government and provision of essential facilities for the investors of the private sector, with the president seeking cooperation from tribal elders, religious scholars and other people with an efforts leading to reform.

He said identifying all its aspects was necessary for putting an end to the conflict in the country, and added that coordination among security organs had improved as a result of reforms.

President blamed some individuals for misusing the available opportunity for promoting their own interests, something he said led the country plunge into crisis for the past four decades, as according to him, the crisis has been the source of their income, said the statement.

He said Afghanistan had been converted into an integral part of Asia, helping regional cooperation improved and that China was convinced that the Silk Route must pass through Afghanistan.

In the next three years, Herat province would be connected with Kunduz’s Sher Khan Port, a plan would help stabilize the country’s economic situation, the president promised.

“Paying serious heed to building railway line and supplying it with electricity in the province, is our main focus,” said the president adding his administration was planned to convert Afghanistan into the center of regional gravity.

The statement quoted the president as saying the government was committed to reforms, implementation of uplift projects and providing basic facilities for the private sector and the port province, Kunduz would be connected with Iran, Turkmenistan and China.

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RICHT head underlines regional training on cultural heritage

Tehran, Jan 9, (IRNA) – Head of the Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and Tourism (RICHT) Seyed Mohammad Beheshti referred to the valuable results of common cooperation in Choghazanbil, Bam Citadel, Persepolis, etc saying that after a long halt in such activities RICHT and office of the cultural heritage deputy are ready to organize regional training workshops in the field of cultural heritage, RICHT reported.

Beheshti made the remark at the opening session of the first international training workshop of museum environment and preventive conservation on the way to green museum, on Sunday.

According to RICHT Public Relations Office, he referred to some characteristics of the world of cultural heritage and said the population living in the world of cultural heritage are not high, that is to say the tribe of the cultural heritage and the expertise associated with cultural heritage is not large.

The head of the Institute for Cultural Heritage and Tourism pointed to lack of heavy investment as another characteristic of the cultural heritage world and stressed that since the cultural heritage field has no high economic efficiency in comparison with other fields, governments are not ready for making big investments.

Stressing that the cultural heritage field in view of the people who make the investments is not a good place for large investments, Beheshti said as a result the countries in accordance with their economic position do not take advantage of the capacities that are required for dealing with cultural heritage.

“It is not the case that countries with better financial situation are more capable in their mission with regard to the cultural heritage, therefore, the knowledge and science associated with the science of cultural heritage is scattered around the world like pieces of a puzzle that is to say each country (Italy, China, Japan, France, the US, etc.) is skillful in one field.

Pointing to the fact that different countries of the world have capabilities that are not complete alone, he said thus they can be connected with each other and teach and learn always in the position of teacher and student.

Stating that the sky of the cultural heritage is the same color all over the world, Beheshti noted that the entire world is entangled with its own cultural heritage.

Beheshti said: “If you enter the Louvre Museum from the tourist entrance, you will evaluate everything good and under control, but if you enter it from the back door you will see that they have also some problems that are not specific of weaker and poorer countries but the unsolved problems of the powerful countries is more than their resolved problems.”

According to Beheshti, the cultural heritage is not like other fields in which capabilities can be sold to each other rather all should join hands in order to see the happening of a good event and the present cultural heritage could be preserved for the future generations.

Describing as wrong the idea that each country is responsible to preserve its own cultural heritage, the head of the Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and Tourism said: “The works we have at the National Museum do not exclusively belong to the

Iranian people and this period; rather they belong to the entire people of the world and by preserving them we are fulfilling an international mission, therefore the same feeling of responsibility we have towards our museums we should have with regard to other museums.”

Saying that such cooperation and support for solving problems can be developed in different ways, he said today the best and easiest way for this purpose is regional cooperation, especially when there is proximity and affinity in the region.

“Different countries in the region may differ in political, economic, etc. terms but in the area of cultural heritage they are close to each other.”

Referring to regional educational programs and common cooperation in the preservation and retrofitting of historical monuments, Beheshti said such cooperation and activities had been halted for different reasons, “but we as one of the regional countries that have practiced such activities repeatedly are ready to organize educational workshops similar to the present one in RICHT and the cultural heritage deputy office in the area of preservation of mobile and immobile works and in other fields.”

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Tehran-Islamabad direct flights planned for June

Islamabad, 12 Jan 2017, (IRNA) – Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost says Iran and Pakistan are discussing resumption of direct flights between the capitals of the two countries and hopefully the first flight will be launched in June this year.

Visiting the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), he said the direct flights would help both countries to improve trade.

“Iran is a big market and Pakistani goods have a good reputation there. There is a big demand of Pakistani basmati rice in Iran,” he said.

Honardoost said Pakistan and Iran are culturally, historically, linguistically and religiously attached with each other.

“There are tremendous opportunities to improve the trade relations between the two countries. Sanctions have now been lifted by the world powers. Pakistan can capitalize on lucrative incentives offered by Iranian government in sectors like energy, pharmaceutical, auto and information technology,” he said.

The envoy showed his government’s resolve to reactivate bilateral trade relations and said that both sides are working to finalize the Free Trade Agreement, which will help remove many barriers in bilateral trade.

“Banking officials of both countries are working hard to resume banking channels between Iran and Pakistan as the need of hour to improve bilateral trade,’ he said.

He emphasized the need for improving contacts at chambers level. The Iranian ambassador said strong relations were mutually beneficial to the people of both the countries.

The RCCI president, Raja Amer Iqbal, stressed the need for enhancing the bilateral trade volume and suggested that exchange of delegation is important.

“Joint ventures in poultry, marble, pharmaceutical and information technology sectors can help both countries to increase the trade volume. Single country exhibitions can be a great source of introducing products in each other’s markets,” he said.

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Iranian car assembly unit to start next March in Algeria

TIARET, 14 Jan 2017, (Algeria Press Service) – The car assembly unit of the Iranian brand “Saipa” which will be built in the industrial zone of Frenda (Tiaret) will enter production phase next March, the prefecture said Tuesday.

Falling under the framework of a partnership between Group Tahkout “Cima Motors” and the Iranian company “Saipa”, this unit located in Frenda will create hundreds of jobs for the youth in the region.

Tiaret includes two other car assembly plants for “Hyundai” and “Mercedes Benz” brands.

In addition, the same source announced Frenda industrial zone will experience 30 investment projects of the private sector in the sectors of construction and public works (BTP) sectors and the food industry.

The Frenda industrial zone includes 46 projects of investment, which 30 already launched.

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Albania to remove all trade barriers with Iran

Tehran, 14 January 2017, (IRNA) – Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati said on Saturday that his country plans to remove all trade barriers with Iran and prepare suitable ground to increase the trade volume.

In a meeting with the Head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA), Gholam-Hossein Shafei, in Tehran on Saturday, Bushati said Albania is ready to hold joint meetings for organizing different exhibitions to prepare the ground for suitable cooperation between the two countries.

He said the aim of his visit to Tehran is to consider appropriate grounds to expand political, economic relations with Iran.

He added that trade society of the two countries have a little information about each other, so politicians should prepare the ground to facilitate relations between their people and businessmen.

Bushati said gas, agricultural crops and tourism are the grounds for cooperation with Iran and ‘we welcome cooperation in other sectors with Iran as well.’

He underlined that in his meeting with counterpart Zarif the two sides will discuss avoiding double taxation for investment.

Ditmir Bushati, heading a trade, economic delegation, arrived in Tehran on Saturday.

He is to meet with a number of Iranian officials on Saturday and Sunday.

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Iran among top 10 countries in vaccine production

Karaj, 8 Jan 2017, (IRNA) – Head of Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute said on Sunday that Iran is among the top ten countries in terms of vaccine production and it is the only country in the Middle East which is able to produce human, livestock and poultry vaccines.

Iran among top 10 countries in vaccine production

Hamid Kahram told reporters on Sunday that Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan are among the countries in the Middle East, which have gained remarkable achievements but they have managed to produce livestock vaccines alone and failed to produce human and poultry vaccines.

Noting that countries near Iran are unable to produce human vaccines, Kahram added that the 92-year-old Razi Institute can serve as a model for other countries in producing human and poultry vaccines.

Today, the institute has turned into a science generating body, which can meet the healthcare needs such as human, livestock and poultry health, he said.

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Iran Receives 1st New Airbus Jet

TEHRAN, Iran, 12 Jan 2017, (NNN-Xinhua) – Iran formally received the first commercial plane from France’s Airbus on Wednesday, Tehran Times daily reported.

The delivery of an A321 is the first in a batch of 100 jets purchased by Iran Air to renew its aged passenger fleet, the report said.

According to Iran’s official IRNA news agency, the A321 has already left France and will arrive in Iran shortly.

“Today, for civil aviation in Iran, is a memorable day,” Iran Air Chief Executive Farhad Parvaresh said in France’s Toulouse at the handover event on Wednesday.

“The change in international perspective” helped to lay foundations for the deal, Parvaresh said, hailing the agreement as “one of the most significant deals in the history of civil aviation.”

This would be Iran’s first brand-new plane in over 37 years. The country’s current fleet is comprised of planes purchased before the 1979 Islamic revolution. All post-1979 purchases that were made with a variety of providers involved second-hand planes.

In December, Iran sealed a contract with Airbus to buy 100 aircraft worth over 18 billion U.S. dollars.

Parvaresh said that Iran Air would receive seven or eight planes from Airbus in 2017. He hoped that the delivery would be made in due time.

In January 2016, Iran signed a preliminary agreement with Airbus to purchase 106 commercial planes, however, the agreement waited for the U.S. Treasury Department’s go-ahead license which was issued in November.

Also in December, Iran Air finalized another agreement with the U.S. Boeing to purchase 80 commercial planes.

The agreement, signed in capital Tehran, envisages the purchase of 50 twinjet narrow-body Boeing 737 planes and 30 long-range wide-body 777 aircraft with a total value of 16.6 billion dollars.

The planes by Boeing would be delivered to Iran within 10 years, Parvaresh said, adding that the first deliveries are expected in 2018.

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Iranian banks improving foreign relations in post-sanctions era

Tehran, 14 Jan 2017, (IRNA) – Vice Governor of Bank Meli Iran for Foreign Exchange Affairs emphasized the fact that Iranian banks are reinforcing international ties in the post-sanctions era, adding that technical, trade and political obstacles still exist.

Iranian banks improving foreign relations in post-sanction era

Gholamreza Panahi told IRNA on Saturday that many Iranian banks have resumed brokerage ties with foreign banks and they perform various affairs like opening letters of credit (LC) and bank drafts.

Regarding the reason for which big world banks haven’t established relations with Iranian banks yet, he said that having cooperation with big banks and firms is important in financing projects, but many banks can be used for brokerage ties

He expounded on the obstacles on the way of having relations with foreign banks, saying it is obvious that firms should identify each other which could be achieved through compilation of financial statements in conformity with international standards.

‘Due to being far away from international banking system for 10 years, Iranian banking standards have not become updated,’ he said.

Panahi referred to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) and international conventions in fighting corruption, money laundering and terrorism financing as international regulations necessary for establishing international ties.

‘Suspending obstacles on Iran which happened in the wake of approving laws on fighting money laundering and financing terrorism has been effective in improving international relations,’ he added.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issued a statement on June 24, 2016, suspending Iran in the blacklist of its uncooperative countries.

This came as the result of numerous actions taken by the Iranian government, parliament and judiciary in the past few years like adopting laws against financing terrorism and other actions which legally bounded Iran to take action to eliminate shortcomings of the body’s existing anti-money laundering policies and its decision to seek assistance with implementation.

‘Iran has also established brokerage ties with some 25 banks and started 100 SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) relations,’ Panahi said.

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Archaeologist warns of land speculators at Persian Gulf ports

Tehran, 9 Jan 2017, (IRNA) – An archaeologist by referring to the attempt of land speculators to illegally hold possession of and occupy the historical ports of Siraf, Nayband Najiram (Bataneh) in the Persian Gulf, called for determination of the boundaries of these ports, the Public Relations Office of the Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and Tourism (RICHT) reported.

RICHT commented on the briefing of head of the archeological team of historical islands of Siraf and Nayband Hossein Towfiqian of the inspection tour of the team, also comprising experts from the French National Research Center, of Siraf, Nayband and Bataneh historical ports.

He further noted that in the inspection tour he observed destructions and abundant illegal occupation in the valuable historical ports.

“I deem it necessary that while giving informing about the deplorable status of the historical ports as the latest evidence of the historical preservation of the Iranians over the Persian Gulf, I demand all to offer expert and scientific solutions to save the ports from total and perpetual destruction,” Towfiqian said.

The archaeologist noted that Siraf, Nayband and Najiram are considered the most important ports of the Persian Gulf in the eastern coasts of Bushehr Province, between the cities of Dayyer and Nayband Bay.

These great trade centers which in the Sassanid era up to the first centuries after Islam connected the Iranian markets to the markets in East Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and East Asia played an important role in the expression and excellence of culture and civilization of Iran. Siraf as the largest and most important historical port in the Persian Gulf was not only the big trade center but the center for the dialogue of civilizations and the Iranian, East Asian, Arab, Indian and African nations.

Towfiqian continued by saying that the Silk Road from the first centuries BC would transfer commodities of ancient China to the Western and Mediterranean markets and in the extreme conditions of surface routes and unsafe caravans, it relied on the marine routes which continued from China Sea and the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf. The Silk Road marine route became a reliable substitute for the safe passage of goods from trade ports of China to the ports of the Persian Gulf such as Siraf, Nayband and Najiram which, after passing through Iran’s central plateau and reconnection to the surface Silk Road, reach the wealthy purchasers of the Western world.

“Now, after 15 centuries of resistance against hardships of the time we have been assigned the task of protecting these historical ports and preserving them for the future generations,’ he said.

According to Towfiqian, in the past decades the littoral states of the Persian Gulf by spending millions of dollars and by using subservient European professionals attempted to distort the name and date of the Persian Gulf and published thousands of books and papers in this regard and distributed them in the entire reputable universities and scientific centers.

In recent years, they have even trespassed this limit and brought the territory of their research studies from deserts and the southern coasts of the Persian Gulf into the water and by purchasing advanced research ships entered into new stages of historical distortion of the history of the Persian Gulf.

The archaeologist went on to say that with ever-increasing expansion of the new South and North Pars, the price of land has jumped as such that many of the inhabitants of the area have divided coast lands into smaller pieces and after obtaining legal permits, or even illegally, have embarked on enclosing the lands and are waiting for customers.

Towfiqian said obviously the historical Siraf, Nayband and Najiram ports which are located in the best points of the coastal area have not remained immune of this illegal destruction and like an unattended infant are expecting the arrival of buyers.

The archaeologist stressed that unfortunately, the tragic position of Siraf and Najiram ports is not better than Nayband and the story of the destruction and illegal possession in Siraf has been repeated in the historical Siraf port due to the presence of gas industries.

According to him, almost all the European researchers believe that the turquoise type of pottery which was traded as a valuable commodity through the Persian Gulf to the ports of East Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and East Asia, have been made in Mesopotamia.

Whereas, he added, in the midst of the soil obtained from the ruined pottery furnaces of the historical Najiram port, many broken pieces of the turquoise pottery are seen which is indicative of the production of this valuable pottery in the Najiram port.

In conclusion, Towfiqian called for determination of the limits of the historical ports of the Persian Gulf, especially Siraf, Nayband and Najiram and said by purchasing the occupied lands the privacy of this valuable territory could be protected by installing appropriate signage and fences.

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Turkish singer organises concert for needy Pakistan students

ISLAMABAD, 12 Jan 2017, (APP) – Turkish singer and international goodwill Ambassador Ersin Faikzade on Thursday announced to organize a musical concert here to support Pakistan’s needy students.

Talking to APP, he said musical show will be specially for supporting the school students education.

International Star Ersin Faikzade famous as Diamond of Turkey on Thursday also visited here various schools.

During visit, the school children made selfies with Turkish famous singer.

Ersin Faikzade said that he had no words to explain his feelings whenever he came Pakistan. But, I can say thank you Pakistan for the love who came here again after three years.

He said “I feel as I came my own home here in Pakistan.”

He said that he is visiting across the world and organizing musical concerts for the purpose to support hospitals and charity associations.

Ersin Faikzade is an international volunteer, a singer and a writer. He was born in 1982 in Izmir, Turkey, where he has completed the elementary and secondary school.

He has developed and consolidated his tenor technique through combining his interest in music (which started at an early age) with his studies.

After his mother got Multiple Sclerosis, Faikzade devoted himself to the sick and needy.

With this objective in mind, He has given many free concerts for various charities and organizations in Turkey, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

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U.A.E. Conference to Attract Leading Defence, Security Experts

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, 9 Jan 2017, (NNN-WAM) – The world’s leading defence and security experts will gather in Abu Dhabi for a major conference in Feb.

IDEX Conference 2017, part of the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) and Naval Defence Exhibition (NAVDEX), is set to see the participation of leading security and defence decision makers and experts from across the world.

‘Disrupting Innovation in Defence and Security’ will be the theme of the conference, prior to IDEX and NAVDEX 2017, at the headquarters of the National Archives in Abu Dhabi, on Feb 18.

The conference will include three keynote sessions, entitled Disruptive Emerging Technology and Innovation: A New Military Paradigm, The Next Big Leap in Cyber Defence, and Defence and Security Control/Mitigate Multiple Disruptions.

Organised by ADNEC, in collaboration with the UAE Armed Forces, and under the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE President and Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, IDEX and NAVDEX 2017, will be held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, from Feb 19 to 23.

IDEX 2015 attracted more than 1,200 local and international defence manufacturers and contractors, and drew over 101,000 visitors from across the world. The event also hosted the signing of business agreements worth AED18.3 billion (USD4.98 billion).

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U.A.E. Launches First Robot Pharmacy

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, 14 Jan 2017, (NNN-WAM) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE), has inaugurated its first “robot pharmacy” at Rashid Hospital in Dubai.

This smart pharmacy is deploying a robot, for the first time in the UAE, to dispense prescribed medication, which would be done at a click of a button, based on a bar code, therefore, “minimising any human error,” said the report.

The robot, which will start serving customers from Sunday (tomorrow), can store up to 35,000 medicines and dispense around 12 prescriptions in less than a minute, which would reduce customers’ waiting time significantly.

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said, it plans to adopt the use of robot in all its hospitals soon.

The robot is one of the latest smart technologies, adopted by the authority, to meet the 2016-2021 strategy, which aims to achieve a “happy and healthy society,” DHA said.

The UAE has installed robots at several public places, in order to be at the forefront of a digital economy, within the Arab world.

Robots greet passengers at Dubai international airport, and the first driver-less cars are tested by the Dubai government, in the Business Bay area, near the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa.

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U.A.E. Raises The Bar on Sustainable Future

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, 14 Jan 2017, (NNN-WAM) – New energy strategy marks an appropriate continuation of UAE’s policy of inclusive progress, said a newspaper.

In a commentary carried today, the English language daily ‘Gulf News’ said, the UAE’s decision to invest Dh600 billion (USD164 billion) in renewable energy projects by 2050, and achieve a balance of clean energy in the nation’s energy mix, is a landmark decision that sets the stage for rapid but sustainable economic growth.

The UAE Energy Plan 2050, announced by Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, outlines a reduction in carbon emissions from its power plants by 70 percent, while setting ambitious targets of generating 44 percent of national power from renewable sources, such as solar energy, 38 percent from gas, 12 percent from clean coal and six percent from nuclear energy. It also aims to improve energy efficiency by 40 percent, with the collective effort resulting in savings worth Dh700 billion (USD191 billion).

“For a core member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, with some of the world’s biggest oil-and-gas reserves, to commit to such goals is yet another reflection of the UAE leadership’s pragmatic vision for the future, focusing on building a burgeoning and diverse economy that is increasingly less reliant on oil.”

The strategy also achieves a significant synergy between sources of energy ranging from renewable and nuclear to clean fossil fuel, while its emphasis on integration and innovation will spur research and investments in the sector and increase public-private partnerships to further strengthen the industry, it added.

The paper concluded by saying, “Such impressive goals now require the full cooperation and active support of all sectors within the country, including responsible public participation towards making them a reality. Further, as exhorted by Shaikh Mohammad, other Gulf economies would do well to strive towards a unified Gulf Cooperation Council energy strategy, that would not only help them optimise natural resources, but also boost the collective strength of the region.”

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U.A.E. University to Create Gene Bank for 150 Date Varieties

AL AIN, United Arab Emirates, 12 Jan 2017, (NNN-WAM) – Researchers at the Date Palm Development Research Unit, DPDRU, of the UAE University, are planning to create a gene bank for 150 date varieties.

The centre was set up in 1989, to lead and facilitate research, related to date palm production in the country, through the application of tissue culture techniques – an in-vitro technique, to mass propagate date palm varieties.

Commenting on the announcement, Moza Al Shamsi, Head of the Research and Development Unit at DPDRU, said, “The introduction of a gene bank is the natural next step in the centre’s overall strategy.

“We are planning to get all the varieties in one area and create a genetic bank here in our lab,” says Al Shamsi. “We are planning for 150 varieties, with a view of it being a reference, or a date library. We will focus on the UAE varieties – which range from khlass and khenizi to Fard and LuLu – and will work in collaboration with the Khalifa Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, KCGEB.”

The genetic bank will complement the centre’s existing processes, such as ‘finger-printing,’ whereby the centre retrieves the leaves, reads the profile and stores the information for future reference.

To date, the DPDRU has produced and distributed one million date palms of 65 varieties, and grows 60,000 to 80,000 plants per year, as a result of plant tissue culture.

Al Shamsi explains the process behind the technique, saying, “We start with the mother plants – in the UAE we have more than 200 varieties. We then gradually take off the outer leaves and roots until we reach the heart of the date plant – we call this the meristematic tissue. We take it to the lab, sterilise it and then the tissue culture technique will begin.

“The first stage, the introduction stage, may take from one to two years to produce the buds that we need to propagate the date palm. As soon as we have the buds, we move to the second stage, which we call multiplication, so we multiply the buds. The third stage is the elongation stage, where the buds are sub-cultured on another medium, to induce their elongation and produce the aerial part without a root system. When they reach 10 to 12 cm in height, these young plant-lets are sub-cultured into a rooting medium. Finally, the fourth step is the rooting phase.

“When the emerging plant-lets are strong enough, we transfer them to the greenhouse. After around one year in the greenhouse, you can take the plant to the fields.”

When compared to natural date palms, which are a common site across the UAE, Al Shamsi says, plants derived from the date palm tissue culture have myriad benefits, including a greater survival rate, rapid growth, early ripening and high yield. Additionally, they are disease- and pest-free and they do not need a lot of water, since they are well rooted. The greater survival rate is because of the well rooted system, there is no relation between that and the low need of water.

The tissue culture option also produces the fruits earlier – three years after planting – and will produce more fruits. Moreover, it provides consistency for farmers. “With the offshoots from tissue culture, you can make sure that they are the same age, so you can receive the fruits at the same time,” explains Al Shamsi, before concluding, “Another advantage of the tissue culture is that, the date palms are small, so you can move them from place to place easily, from country to country.”

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UAE Launches Electronic Channel in Sign Language

ABU DHABI, 13 Jan 2017, (NNN-WAM) – The Ministry of Interior has established a new channel through its website for communicating in sign language with people with disabilities.

The Ministry of Interior is considered among the leading government bodies providing services in sign languages, which reflects its willingness to provide excellent services to all sectors of the society.

Website users can call the employee in charge of using sign language.

Brigadier Hussein Ahmed Al Harethy, Manager of the Electronic Services and Communications Department in the Ministry of Interior, spoke of the ministry’s keenness to satisfy users, and create a positive and happy environment.

He referred to the main services provided by the ministry to people with disabilities, including inquiries, suggestions and filing of complaints. They can also respond to users using sign language, he added.

The ministry sought to provide awareness material about the smart services provided by it by publishing awareness videos using sign language.

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Kuwait local realty sales reaches KD 2.55 billion — report

KUWAIT, 14 Jan 2017, (KUNA) – Volume of annual sales in the domestic realty sector amounted to KD 2.55 billion in 2016 as compared to KD 3.4 billion in 2015, dropping by 26 percent, according to a report by Kuwait International Bank (KIB) publicized on Saturday.

Property sales in 2016 were largely limited as compared to 2015. Overall executed transactions by end of December 2016 reached 4,610 deals, compared to 5,955 in 2015, dropping by 23 percent. Each deal averaged in value KD 553,000, falling by four percent on annual basis.

Total sales (contracts and agencies) rose by 31 percent on monthly basis and one percent per annum.

The commercial sector led the indices of overall sales during December which witnessed two major deals, overall value of which neared third of the month’s sales. Moreover, the index of executed transactions rose by eight percent on monthly basis but dropped by 18 percent yearly.

The market sales were buoyed with bullish trends in the sectors — housing, investments and commercial — with the housing sector rising by 23 percent on monthly basis, that of the investments by 18 percent while the commercial one doubled. (USD=KD 0.305).

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Kuwaitis heavily invested in Dubai’s real estate last year

DUBAI, 14 Jan 2017, (KUNA) – Some USD 544 million in Kuwaiti money was invested in Dubai’s real estate sector in 2016, said a report Saturday.

A report by Dubai Land Department revealed that there were about 770 Kuwaiti investors in 2016, coming in third place GCC-wise behind their counterparts from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who ranked first and second respectively.

The report said that the total of GCC investments in Dubai’s real estate sector came at USD 9.5 billion.

The department noted that Indian investors, who amounted to 6,200, ranked first when it came to the total volume of money invested, with over USD 5.7 billion, while British investors; about 3,300, came in second with around USD 1.58 billion.

Investments from China, Canada, Iran, Russia, the US, and France amounted to USD 11.9 billion in 2016, said the report, which indicated that the collective number of investors from these countries was at 22,000 people.

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Kuwait Opens 23rd Qurain Cultural Festival

KUWAIT, 12 Jan 2017, (NNN-KUNA) – Kuwait’s Minister of Information and Minister of State for Youth Affairs, Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, opened the 23rd edition of Qurain Cultural Festival, on Wednesday evening, with honouring the winners of the state incentive and recognition awards for 2016.

The festival, being organised by the National Council for Culture, Art and Letters (NCCAL), under auspices of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, lasts until Jan 28.

Sheikh Salman, who doubles as president of NCCAL, said at the opening ceremony that, Kuwait is proud of its innovative thinkers and artists, who contribute to the country’s high status and civilisation.

Through honouring the pioneers in arts and letters, Kuwait is doing its duty towards not only its citizens but its ambitious cultural project as well, he said.

Kuwait believes in the role of the intelligentsia in boosting enlightenment, and the values of tolerance, coexistence and opening up to the cultures of other nations, he pointed out.

Sheikh Salman spoke highly of the contributions of state award laureates, to the cultural movement, in such areas as, literature, theatre and formative art.

Among the prize winners is Dr. Morsel Al-Ajmi, who delivered a speech on behalf of all laureates.

The winners of the state awards of recognition are: Laila Mohammad Saleh (literature), Ibrahim Al-Sallah (theatrical arts), and Mahmoud Al-Radhwan (formative arts).

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Qatar’s real estate deals reach QR260.5mn

16 January 2017, (MENAFN) Qatar’s real estate deal value reached QR260.5mn in the last week, while the real estate market experienced a sharp decline in terms of value of deals signed amid 1-5 Jan.

Furthermore, the joined value of transactions amid the week reached QR260.5mn, a decline of almost 36 percent compared to QR411.7mn.

Accordingly, the sharp decline was due to the absence of any exceptional deals, value surpassing over QR100mn signed amid the cited week.

In addition, the drop in the number of real estate transactions and value was due to the beginning of the New Year 2017 when most real estate developers remain busy.

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Saudi’s Flynas to buy Airbus planes at USD8.6bn worth

12 January 2017, (MENAFN) – Saudi Arabia’s Flynas has inked a deal with Airbus in order to buy planes worth USD8.6bn, as stated Kingdom Holding, which owns 34.1pct of the budget carrier.

Meanwhile, Airbus finished a deal to sell more than 60 jets to Flynas, while the order was predicted to cover more than 60 A320neo narrow body planes.

In addion, the A320neo sale would be Airbus’ first in the Middle East since Qatar Airways refused deliveries in Dec 2015 and would swap its order for a larger version.

The order, which would replace and expand a fleet of leased A320s, would give Flynas one of the largest Middle East low-cost fleets after state-owned FlyDubai.

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Shop Qatar Festival boost for local entrepreneurs

12 Jan 2017, (MENAFN – The Peninsula) – The ongoing Shop Qatar Festival, organised by Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), lends strong support to local entrepreneurs through the pop-up shops located in a number of participating malls.

A total of 30 pop-up shops are taking part in the first edition of the festival, ten of which are located in Mall of Qatar, while Ezdan Mall, Landmark Mall, The Gate Mall and Lagoona Mall have five pop-up shops each.

‘As an important element of the festival, we have started 30 pop-up shops in participating malls featuring local entrepreneurs and start-ups for them to have a venue for their products. This is part of our commitment to develop the community, providing them the platform to showcase their creativity, said Saif Al Kuwari, Director of PR and Communication at QTA.

While the majority of the pop-up shops are selling clothing, kids’ fashion, abayas, jewellery and accessories, others are offering art, furniture and chocolate.

One of the pop-up shops is Kaafe Chocolatier, a local brand which has been attracting many visitors for its unique chocolate concept. ‘We have been in the market for more than five years now starting off by selling our products online until we opened our first shop two years ago. Now we are planning to open our second shop soon, said Maryam Al Sulaiti of Kaafe Chocolatier, one of the ten pop-up shops in Mall of Qatar.

‘What keeps us unique is our Arabic chocolate concept mixed with other cultures. For instance, we combine Belgian chocolate with Arabic flavours such as cardamom and saffron. Everything is handmade which enables us to customise the flavours as well as the colours and other elements to suit the theme of the occasion, said Al Sulaiti.

She lauded QTA’s initiative to include Qatari entrepreneurs and small businesses in Shop Qatar Festival and other events.

‘We are honoured to be chosen as one of the participants in Shop Qatar Festival. QTA is doing a great job giving full support to us entrepreneurs and small Qatari businesses in this festival and other events it organises, she said.

Allowing them to participate in festivals such as Qatar International Food Festival and Qatar Summer Festival helps them expand their reach, she stressed.

‘We are now working with our franchise programme with support from QDB. We are targeting to sell our first unit in five months time and by the end of the year sell five units in the GCC region. Our five-year plan includes extending our reach internationally in cities such as London and Tokyo, she said.

With regard to the response of visitors to the pop-up shops, she said, ‘It has been a pleasant surprise for people to see that there are local businessmen and women behind this. It has been very well received.

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Oman to host First Horse Dressage Competition

BARKA, Oman, 14 Jan 2017, (NNN-ONA) – The first horse dressage competitions, organised by the Oman Equestrian Federation (OEF), for the 2016/2017 season, will kick off on Sunday (tomorrow), at Al Rahbah Racecourse, in the Wilayat of Barka.

Adel bin Isa al-Balushi, Supervisor of Dressage Competitions, said that, the first competition of the season will witness the participation of a group of horses, amounting to 21 horses of various government cavalry units and private stables.

He said, in a press statement, that, “the competition includes the first three categories: general category, with the participation of two horses, second category is medium category, with the participation of six horses, and third the category, junior category with the participation of 16 horses.

He pointed out that this season includes four competitions for horse’s dressage, including the grand prize, as well as, the final competition, which will be held on Apr 9.

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Dewa Sponsors 10th World Future Energy Summit

DUBAI, 11 Jan 2017, (NNN-WAM) – Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, DEWA, will participate in the World Future Energy Summit (WFES), 2017 in Abu Dhabi, which is part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

DEWA is sponsor of WFES, which is organised by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s multi-faceted renewable energy company, from 16th-19th January 2017 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD & CEO of DEWA, praised the efforts made by the UAE to achieve the sustainable development, under the leadership of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

He also thanked Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for sponsoring WFES.

The World Future Energy Summit has become an international platform for discussing the security and future of energy, ensuring the ongoing development and innovation in sustainable energy around the world.

Al Tayer also praised the efforts of the organisers, and commended the strategic partnership between DEWA and Masdar in the renewable energy sector, noting that this partnership supports DEWA’s vision to become a sustainable innovative world-class utility.

“We are pleased to once again sponsor the World Future Energy Summit, which is one of the most prominent international platforms to address the challenges and future of the energy sector. It is an annual forum that brings together experts and specialists to exchange ideas and best practices, and explore the growing investment opportunities in the clean energy sector in the Middle East and North Africa, which is one of the most promising renewable energy markets in the world. Sponsoring WFES supports DEWA’s efforts to enhance the UAE’s leadership in renewable energy investments.”

All efforts integrate together to deliver quality services according to the best international practices and standards, and find innovative solutions in energy that contributes to building a sustainable future, for generations to come,” said Al Tayer.

Influencers and pioneers in the investment, financial, academic, and industrial sectors will take part in WFES 2017 during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, to encourage innovation, dialogue, investment and commercial opportunities, and further spread sustainable energy solutions around the world.

In 2016, the exhibition at the World Future Energy Summit brought together 600 companies from 32 countries and over 30,000 attendees from 150 countries.

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Bio-Metric Data Activation Office Launched at Doha Airport

DOHA, Qatar, 12 Jan 2017, (NNN-QNA) – Qatari Interior Ministry’s Airport Security and Passports Department, has opened an office for the activation of e-gate services, both at the departure and arrival terminals of Hamad International Airport (HIA).

The system is available for use for any resident over 18 years of age, through their ID and passport, whether departing or arriving in the country.

The office includes five self-service machines to facilitate travel procedures through e-gates, for those who didn’t have their bio-metric data activated before, Colonel Muhammad Rashid Al Mazroui, director of the Airport Security and Passports Department, said.

Travellers can now update their bio-metric data in less than a minute, thanks to a software that the ministry introduced to the self-service machines, Al Mazroui said, adding that, a lot of residents’ data are recorded in the bio-metric database and e-gates use these data, which makes it easier and faster to finish the check process at the e-gates.

“The bio-metric data activation office works around the clock and has a technician to assist travellers, in case they were unable to update their data at the (self-service) machine,” Al Mazroui said.

He added that, the ministry is working to increase the number of e-gates at the departure and arrival terminals to 35, to address the increasing need of travellers, to adopt smart technology in finalising their travel procedures.

He also invited travellers to use e-gates, to ease their travel experience without the need to line up for passport control counters, noting that, a counter was placed near the e-gates, to assist residents in case they needed help in using e-gates, or requested an exit stamp in their passports.

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Construction of Kuwait airport terminal on as due

KUWAIT, 14 Jan 2017, (KUNA) – Construction of a new terminal at the airport is proceeding according to schedule since work started in early December, Minister of Public Works Abdulrahman Al-Mutawaa said on Saturday.

The minister, during an inspection tour at the venture site, indicated that more time might be needed to thrash out some emerging problems such as presence of civil and military installations at the location. “Such hurdles will be tackled through coordination with the relevant authorities,” he said.

A special supervision panel will be established, he said, indicating that more hurdles might emerge during the execution. However, the minister re-affirmed his keenness on accomplishing the mega project on time.

Meanwhile, Ghaleb Shlash, the ministry’s undersecretary for construction projects, said the venture is set to be executed in six years, according to the contract.

For his part, Faisal Al-Ostath, the chief engineer of the project, said construction of the passenger terminal will make the facility one of the largest airports in the world.

The KD 1.3 billion project was signed with the Turkish construction company, Limak, on May 2, 2016. (USD=KD 0.305).

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Alwaleed Philanthropies launch “Ambassadors of Peaceful Dialogue

Riyadh, 14 January 2017, (IINA) – Jeddah Alwaleed Philanthropies, chaired by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, announced the launch of its “Ambassadors of Peaceful Dialogue” program in partnership with King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue (KACND) at a press conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Attending the launch event and participating in a panel discussion was Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud, secretary-general of Alwaleed Philanthropies. Faisal Bin Muammar, deputy chairman of the board of trustees and secretary-general of KANCD, along with representatives from the education and development sectors, took part in the discussions.

In his opening remarks, Bin Muammar praised Alwaleed Philanthropies for its commitment to investing in youth by providing them with education and skills that help improve self-knowledge and enhance overall awareness. He emphasized the importance of these teachings in order to understand the changes in global civilization, create innovative tools that add to the authentication of national identity and help cultivate awareness of transformations in a contemporary world.

Bin Muammar said the Ambassadors of Peaceful Dialogue is designed to prepare high school students who are the generation’s future leaders to face challenges and initiate creative solutions. In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the program focuses on extensive training in interfaith dialogue, social cohesion, positive outreach and engagement with members of different religions and sects.

Bin Muammar thanked Dr. Abdullah Al-Manaa, director general of education in Riyadh, as well as the team that helped facilitate the program launch. Speaking on the occasion, Princess Lamia said: “We at Alwaleed Philanthropies understand the crucial role that interfaith dialogue plays in promoting harmonious and socially cohesive communities. Through this program and the valuable partnerships we have created, we hope that young men and women in Saudi Arabia will become ambassadors among their peers and inspire positive thinking and acceptance of others, whatever their religion, gender or background.”

She added: “Civilizations are built on foundations of education and knowledge as the essence of progress and development. The partnership between Alwaleed Philanthropies, KACND and the Ministry of Education to launch this initiative is a true representation of combining efforts in tackling extremism by spreading the importance of peaceful dialogue and acceptance in society. After equipping students and teachers with the ability to cope with different cultures and religions, we will witness a generation that promotes tolerance and focuses on the commonalities among different groups, as opposed to differences.”

Running over the course of two years and lasting until 2018, the program will be implemented across four phases. The first phase depends on the development of communication skills, whereas the second phase is set to teach civil dialogue. The third phase following civil dialogue includes courses on critical thinking and then finally self-assessment through discussions and seminars that support open conversation, innovation and creativity with the aim of healing divides and increasing understanding.

Founded in 2003, the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue is an independent national organization that seeks to promote and develop channels of intellectual dialogue among Saudi citizens, different segments of Saudi society and Saudi institutions. It also aims to establish and diffuse a culture of dialogue in society. The center undertakes studies and discussions about issues of national importance that affect the lives of Saudi citizens and participates in the advancement of the nation by giving space to all different groups, points of view and institutions in Saudi society through dialogue.

For over 37 years, Alwaleed Philanthropies has supported and initiated projects in over 124 countries regardless race or religion. It collaborates with a range of philanthropic, government and educational organizations to combat poverty, empower women and youth, develop communities, provide disaster relief and create cultural understanding through education.

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Bahrain leads Gulf Countries in Biodiversity Protection

MANAMA, 12 Jan 2017, (NNN-UNEP) – Bahrain, which means ‘two seas’ in Arabic, is the third smallest nation in Asia after the Maldives and Singapore but boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the Arab world. An archipelago off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain was once made up of 33 islands before extensive land reclamation increased the number to 84.

Land reclamation is part of Bahrain’s drive to attain economic, environmental and social sustainability which it hopes will see household incomes doubled by 2030. But it is an ambition that is being dampened by threats to the nation’s biodiversity. Climate change, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, droughts and water scarcity are putting immense pressures on the country’s wildlife.

Bahrain is a centre of biodiversity in a region characterized by dry conditions. More than 330 species of birds have been recorded in the Bahrain archipelago, including one globally endangered species, the Houbara bustard.

Bahrain is home to the second largest population of dugongs, following Australia, and hosts the largest breeding colony of the Socotra Cormorant in the world. It also boasts two wetlands protected under the Ramsar Convention and one UNESCO natural world heritage site, as well as a number of marine protected areas.

In a bold effort to safeguard its biodiversity for future generations and restore its degraded lands, the Bahraini government embarked on a two year project in 2013, in collaboration with every major sector of Bahraini society to document and conserve the country’s biodiversity for the first time in its history.

It is hoped that through this process – which culminated in the development of Bahrain’s first implementable National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan – livelihoods can be better protected and food security assured in a country with less than 3 percent arable land.

Balakrishna Pisupati, a biodiversity and governance expert from UN Environment who worked with the Bahraini government on the project said, “We worked closely with them to ensure that their National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan aligned with all of the other biodiversity related conventions, including desertification and climate change, Ramsar on wetlands and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.”

“This is really critical, because through these kind of synergies Bahrain can contribute to achieving the Global Biodiversity Targets and help meet carbon mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

The strategy aims to restore marine resources and fish stocks to safe and sustainable limits in addition to protecting agricultural lands from urban development which has become a growing problem for the rapidly developing nation.

“Everyone was engaged in this process – NGOs, the public and private sector, including the Ministry of Finance and oil companies, academic institutions and youth. Even though it may have taken longer and required a lot more effort on the government’s part, now Bahrainis are so much more aware of the kind of biodiversity the country actually possesses and what’s at stake if we don’t do more to conserve it”, said Reem Al Mealla, founder of ‘Inspiring Change’ and a biodiversity conservation and marine specialist who helped implement the project.

One very critical aspect of the process was to ensure that any biodiversity goals and objectives aligned with the Global or ‘Aichi’ Biodiversity Targets, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. This has enabled Bahrain to understand the significance of their national efforts to achieving much bigger global development objectives.

Bahrain is the first country in the Gulf to establish a Clearing House Mechanism for biodiversity, which is essentially a biodiversity database, and an obligation under the Convention on Biological Diversity. In the process, they have found 20 species that weren’t previously known to live in Bahrain.

In a bid to boost south-south cooperation UN Environment identified experts from other developing countries who trained local stakeholders in updating and managing the Clearing House Mechanism. UN Environment also helped to identify funding sources through the Global Environment Facility and supported capacity building on the Aichi Targets and Strategic Plan for Biodiversity.

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170,025 Indians to perform Hajj

Jeddah, 14 January 2017, (IINA) – Saudi Arabia and India signed the Annual Bilateral Agreement for Hajj 2017 here on Wednesday.

The Indian delegation was led by Minister of State for Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and the Saudi delegation was led by Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Bantan. Naqvi expressed gratitude to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah for increasing the quota of Indian Hajj pilgrims from 1,36,020 to 1,70,025 for Hajj 2017.

During the discussion with the Saudi delegation, the Indian minister conveyed appreciation for the Hajj arrangements for the Hajj 2016 and assured full cooperation for the success of the Hajj 2017. The meeting was attended by Ambassador of India Ahmad Javed, Consul General of India Md. Noor Rahman Sheikh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Minority Affairs Jan-e-Alam, Deputy Consul General and Consul(Hajj) Mohd. Shahid Alam, and Deputy Secretary, MOMA, Aftab Alam.

Member of Parliament and Chairman of Hajj Committee of India (HCOI) Choudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser; Chief Executive Officer, HCOI, Ataur Rahman; General Manager, Air India Rajneesh Duggal; and a representative from Private Tour Operators were also present during the signing of the agreement.

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Support program trains 1,000 Syrian entrepreneurs

12 January 2017, (MENAFN – The Peninsula), ISTANBUL – A UN-backed program to train Syrian entrepreneurs in Turkey has produced a thousand graduates, a Turkish NGO said on Wednesday.

The three-month scheme was a pilot program run by Habitat and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Called IMECE — a Turkish word which refers to an ancient tradition of solidarity and working collectively for a common purpose — the course saw participants across 14 provinces trained to develop business ideas to help them participate in Turkey’s economy.

“We will provide further support for Syrian refugees who completed the program,” said Basak Saral, general coordinator of Habitat and IMECE drector.

Saral said that the program would continue in 2017 with expansions and improvements like introducing a mentoring program.

“A contest will be open for graduates and 20 sectoral experts, who will provide special counseling for the winners.

‘We will also analyze the needs of Syrian and Turkish participants to decide what kind of financial support can be provided to them,” Saral added.

Turkey hosts about three million Syrian refugees. The country has spent around 25 billion on helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of Syrian civil war.

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Jordan, UAE Sign Grant Deal of US$20M

AMMAN, 11 Jan 2017, (NNN-PETRA) – The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), a UAE government-owned entity, announced a grant of $200 million to finance a major expansion of Jordan’s largest army-run medical center.

The grant is part of the Arab Gulf country’s commitment in a $5-billion package the Gulf Cooperation Council pledged to Jordan in 2011. With this grant, the UAE has fully fulfilled its $1.25bln share of the package.

The grant was announced at a press conference at the Queen Rania Hospital for Children and brought together Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Imad Fakhoury, Director of the Royal Medical Services, Maj. Gen. Mu’ain Habashnah, Director-General of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, Muhammad Saif al-Suwaidi and UAE Ambassador in Amman, Bilal al-Rabea’.

Fakhoury explained that the expansion scheme of the King Hussein Medical Center, established in 1973, incorporates 3 phases that include the construction of a new hospital with 940-bed capacity and a gynecology, obstetrics and newborn care hospital with a capacity of 400 beds.

Additionally, the scheme will see the construction of a comprehensive complex that houses ophthalmology, otorhinolaryngology, neurosurgery and dental clinics and other specialist clinics.

The first phase of the scheme will cost $600 million and upon completion of all phases, the total bed capacity of the King Hussein Medical Center will jump to 2472, up by 97 per cent from the current capacity.

The minister thanked the UAE for this generous donation and said it reflects a deep-rooted relationship between the two countries. He said the UAE’s contribution in the GCC package helped Jordan finance priority and strategic projects at a time when the Kingdom faces economic hardships arising from regional turmoil.

Fakhoury said the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development is a key partner in supporting Jordan’s development efforts as it helped in financing 11 priority social and economic projects in the Kingdom.

ADFD Director-General, Muhammad Saif al-Suwaidi, emphasized that the UAE will always stand by Jordan to help bypass the challenges it faces due to regional circumstances.

He said the UAE leadership is keen to develop and cement ties with Jordan in various domains.

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Russian experts to check security at Egyptian airports

CAIRO, Egypt, 14 Jan 2017, (NNN-MENA) – Two groups of Russian experts have begun to review security measures being taken at Egypt’s resort cities of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, sources in Cairo told Russia’s TASS news agency.

“Two groups of Russian experts arrived in Egypt on Wednesday. They are now inspecting the airports in two resort cities. The inspections are expected to be completed by Jan 16,” the sources said.

The experts will examine security control systems, installed at the airports, including security cameras, capable of storing footage for a month, as well as, the new personnel bio-metric access systems, which will be used for scanning fingerprints and retina.

Moscow suspended air service with Egypt, after a Russian passenger plane crashed over Sinai on Oct 31, 2015, as a result of a terrorist attack. Egypt’s authorities hired experts of the Control Risks British company, who were reviewing security measures at Egyptian airports throughout 2016. Russian experts have also conducted several inspections.

Bio-metric equipment has already been installed at Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada international airports, at Moscow’s request. Members of the Falcon Group private security company have been deployed there.

Mohamed Saeed Mahrous, chairperson of the Egyptian Holding Company for Airports and Air Navigation, said, the new system would be put into operation at Cairo airport’s Terminal 2, today.

According to Egypt’s authorities, the Russian experts will have an opportunity to take part in security checks and inspection of aircraft flying to Russia.

The time frame for resuming air service between Moscow and Cairo has not been determined yet. However, Terminal 2 of Cairo International Airport is considered to be ready to serve Russian citizens, as far as security goes.

In Dec, 2016, Russian Transport Minister, Maksim Sokolov, said, air service between the two countries was likely to be resumed in Jan, 2017.

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Swedish archaeologists discover 12 ancient Egyptian cemeteries

11 January 2017, (MENAFN – Gulf Times) – Swedish archaeologists have unearthed a dozen burial sites near the southern city of Aswan that date back almost 3,500 years to the New Kingdom era of ancient Egypt, the Antiquities Ministry said on Wednesday.

Human and animal remains were found in the cemeteries, which were discovered in the Gabal al-Silsila or Chain of Mountains area 65 km (40.3 miles) north of Aswan and would have been used during the reigns of pharaohs Thutmose III and Amenhotep II.

It is hoped the burial sites will help historians better understand ancient Egyptian healthcare and give a boost to Egypt’s struggling tourism industry, which has been beset by political upheaval and militant attacks since the unseating of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Some of the cemeteries were or animals and contain one or two chambers with either stone or clay coffins, or ones made of cartonnage, Mahmoud Afify, the ministry’s head of Ancient Egyptian Antiquities, said in a statement. Totems and scorpions were also found.

The expedition from Sweden’s Lund University began in 2012. In 2015 it discovered the remains of an ancient temple also in Gabal al-Silsila.

Initial examinations revealed several complete bodies as well as evidence of malnutrition and broken bones that were the result of heavy labour, the ministry quoted expedition head Maria Nilsson as saying.

Further studies are expected to reveal the social rankings of those buried there and what exactly what purpose the uncovered cemeteries served.

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New life for Egypt’s sabil-kuttabs

12 January 2017, (Al Ahram Weekly) – Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities is to revive the original function of the historic sabil-kuttabs of Islamic Cairo, but with a little twist. These buildings were originally used as public water dispensaries, and they are built of stone and distinguished by opulent foliage and geometric stone designs adorned with stalactite decorations and inscribed with Quranic verses.

Built at crossroads and outside mosques throughout the Mameluke and Ottoman periods to provide drinking water for pedestrians as well as enabling ritual purification before prayer, some sabil-kuttabs have large basins for horses or camels while others have kuttabs (Quranic schools) on their second floors.

During the Ottoman period this type of independent sabil-kuttab structure became a favourite type of urban charitably endowed building, providing economically and efficiently two forms of charity most commended by the Islamic faith: providing water to thirsty people and education to young people.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, head of the ministry’s Islamic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, said that the oldest sabil-kuttab in the area was the Asenbogha Sabil at Darb Saada in the Bab Al-Khalq district that dates to 1370 CE.

It was built by the emir Asanbogha who came to Egypt as a child during the reign of the Mameluke Sultan Mansour Ibn Qalawoun as a mameluke slave soldier. He was later significantly promoted and appointed to several top government positions, among them in Alexandria and Aleppo. His sabil has a kuttab and a residential hall for its owner.

Abdel-Aziz said that at the end of the 19th century, in an attempt to preserve these edifices from deterioration, the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’art arabe, the Committee for the Conservation of the Monuments of Arab Art, established in 1881 by the Khedive Tawfik to preserve Islamic and Coptic monuments in Egypt, had registered these edifices as well as other historical monuments on Egypt’s Antiquities List.

The sabil-kuttabs were then abundant, though they no longer fulfilled their original functions and were mostly historical attractions visited by tourists.

Time then took its toll on the monuments. Most later suffered from the same classic problems of the leakage of subterranean water, misuse by the area’s residents, structural deterioration and serious environmental damage from air pollution, humidity and decaying foundations, and not least the effects of the 1992 earthquake which caused cracking and the collapse of architectural elements.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities, now the Ministry of Antiquities, adopted a policy to revive these edifices and restore them to their original appearance.

“After the restoration of the sabil-kuttabs in Islamic Cairo, the Ministry of Antiquities has decided to resurrect their functions with a little twist,” Abdel-Aziz told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that using the sabils as water dispensaries would threaten them with deterioration.

But the ministry was aiming to resurrect their original educational function by converting them into cultural centres aiming to foster children’s heritage awareness and enhance their loyalty towards their country and its heritage.

Activities at the centres are targeting children from the area under ten years old and aim at increasing the awareness of these children not only in the field of heritage but also in the arts. They include workshops on painting, handicrafts, theatre, reading and folk art.

Tours of the different monuments of Islamic Cairo will be organised for children, as well as lectures on the monuments they visit. Documentaries relating the old and recent condition of the area’s monuments as well as the restoration work implemented to return them to their original appearance will also be shown.

The activities are to be held in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and schools in Islamic Cairo.

The restored sabil-kuttabs will be furnished with simple furniture similar to that used during the Mameluke and Ottoman eras in an attempt to maintain their original atmosphere and spirit. The toilets of neighbouring mosques will be used by centre participants instead of the original ones to prevent any leakage of water inside the archaeological monuments.

Abdel-Aziz said that six sabil-kuttabs would be converted under the ministry’s plans, including those of Ismail Maghlawi, Al-Bazdar, Amin Effendi Hezaa, Abul Eqbal, Zein Al-Abedin, and Al-Kharbotly

He explained that the Ismail Maghlawi Sabil consisted of a large rectangular hall with two windows looking onto the Darb Al-Qazzazine. Its ceiling has simple decorations in a geometric design.

In 1933, this sabil was transferred from its original position between the Al-Azhar and Hussein Mosques under a scheme to enlarge the Hussein Mosque. The Al-Bazdar Sabil in Bab Al-Akhdar Street was also moved in 1935 for the same reason.

The latter building was constructed during the Ottoman era by Mohamed Effendi Ahmed Al-Bazdar, “judge of the judges” under the Mameluke legal system. It consists of three floors, one of them devoted to the kuttab.

The Amin Effendi Hezaa Sabil is constructed in Mameluke style in spite of its dating from the Ottoman period. The first of the three floors houses the water cistern, the second the sabil itself, and the third the kuttab. The ceiling of the sabil is of wood ornamented with geometric designs that still show the original vivid colours.

The Abul Eqbal Sabil is located in the Al-Batniya area and was built by a top government official, Arefeen Bek, known by the name of Abul Eqbal. The sabil is constructed in the Ottoman style and consists of two floors. The first is dedicated to the sabil where a cistern is found as well as two windows for drinking. The second floor is divided into three chambers dedicated to the kuttab.

The Zein Al-Abedin Sabil dates to the mid-17th century and is located in Hamam Al-Masbagha Street. It has two floors with two facades and one window.

The Al-Kharbotly Sabil was built by Soliman Al-Kharbotly in 1637 during the reign of Mohamed Pasha. It overlooks the Al-Dardiri and Hamam Al-Masbagha Streets in the Al-Azhar area and consists of two floors, two windows and two facades.

It has a rectangular chamber on its ground floor for the cistern.

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Sixth meeting of Tunisian-Indian Joint Working Group on Medicines

Tunisia, January 14, 2017, (Tunis Daily News) – Developing co-operation in the fields of medicines, medical equipment, research and student exchange are the main thrusts of the 6th meeting of the Tunisian- Indian Joint Working Group in the field of medicines and pharmaceuticals, organised on Friday at the headquarters of the Ministry of Health.

The meeting provided an opportunity for both partners to review the laws and procedures governing the field of medicines and medical equipment in both countries.

An overview of the progress made in the drug industry in Tunisia and India was also on the agenda of the meeting.

A representative of the Indian delegation called for strengthened co-operation between the two countries in the field of the pharmaceutical industry, to learn about the specificities of the Indian pharmaceutical industry and to facilitate import procedures so that India could position itself in the Tunisian market.

Nadia Fenina, Adviser to the Minister of Health said the department will benefit from Indian expertise in the field of the drug industry and take advantage of the decline in the cost of imported Indian medicines, estimated at over 90% compared to European and American countries.

Fenina stressed the importance of exchanges with the Indian market in the field of therapeutic treatment against cancer as well as vaccines not present on traditional markets.

In the same context, Hechmi Louzir, Director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, emphasised India’s effectiveness in the field of pharmaceutical industry, particularly in the vaccine sector, recalling, in this regard, that 25% of vaccine packages marketed worldwide are produced in India.

He also said the Pasteur Institute cooperates with Indian institutes and laboratories in the field of research within the framework of scientific publications or participation in research projects on several diseases, with Indian teams.

Samira Merai, Minister of Health, said her department is keen on strengthening co-operation in the medical field with Asian and African countries, pointing, in this regard, to the implementation of several exchange programmes with India in the field of industrialization of drugs, biotechnology and vaccines.

The meeting of the joint Tunisian-Indian working group on medicines and pharmaceuticals is organized every two years.

This 6th meeting follows a meeting held in 2013 in New Delhi, bringing together a Tunisian delegation chaired by the central pharmacy, with the participation of the National Medicines Control Laboratory and the Directorate of Pharmacy and Medicine.

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Tunis Governor encouraging street vendors to leave the street

23 December 2016, (African Manager Economic & Financial News) – In an interview with AfricanManager, Governor of Tunis, Omar Mansour, said he was committed to the application of the law, without pressure, to stop smuggling.

He also pointed out that economic recovery remains dependent on social peace, patience, but especially return to work.

For 2017, he said his strategy will focus on youth, employment and culture. For him, nothing is difficult in Tunisia. We need just to have the ideas and goodwill to win the bet.


What is your assessment of the economic situation of the governorate of Tunis?

One cannot treat only the situation of Tunis; it is the situation of the entire Tunisia. In any case, the situation is disrupted. But with the combined efforts of all the stakeholders, we are trying to revive our economy. We have no other choice. This is the basis for ensuring development and meeting all the challenges encountered.

But how to achieve this?

The achievement of this goal depends on social peace, patience, but especially return to work. Indeed, we cannot reform the economy in a context marked by the rise of social unrest and demands.

The return to work is in my opinion a sine qua none condition to be able to win this challenge.

Everything is possible, if one succeeds in meeting these conditions.

Can you tell us about the strategy adopted to ensure development in this region?

As I mentioned earlier, we cannot talk about a specific strategy for each governorate. It is a joint effort between all actors.

Our aim is to offer more jobs to unemployed young people and to organize economic sectors.

What do you mean by that?

Try to provide a favorable climate for investors, facilitate procedures while minimizing the obstacles encountered, which are essentially administrative and legal.

This is an important and crucial step in boosting economic activity.

To achieve this, a great responsibility rests with the Governor of each region to meet this challenge.

At our level, blocked projects are also considered a priority. A meeting in this direction has recently taken place at the level of our governorate to speed up the necessary procedures… Moreover, deadlines are set for the implementation of these projects.

What about the fight against illegal street vending and smuggling?

Illegal street vending is part of the smuggling, which continues to impact our economy and more specifically the owners of commercial spaces or those who control business.

This is worrying as the informal economy now accounts for more than 50% of the global economy, especially as several commercial spaces are threatened with closure.

Therefore, we have to put an end to this dangerous phenomenon in order to revive the economic chain, knowing that a major step has been taken in this direction.

This sector needs to be organized while ensuring that it joins the formal sector.

Have you encountered difficulties in this mission?

Certainly yes, but every official must know how to move the machine to improve its action and apply the law without being subject to the pressure exerted by certain parties.

Law enforcement remains useful, given that the government is committed to providing space for vendors in downtown Tunis. This is important insofar as anarchic sale spaces have reached proportions that can no longer be tolerated.

My job today is to speed up the procedure for setting up these spaces, which will be installed at Mongi Slim Avenue, Al Jazira Street and others. In addition to the setting up of these spaces, several street vendors will soon be trained in certain sectors.

Moreover, with this approach to law enforcement, but also respect for the citizens, I am announcing that the number of itinerant vendors has dropped from 700 since I took office to 3, 4 at present.

What will be your work strategy for 2017?

I have no strategy. I work with the same pace and in a horizontal manner for all years. I target all sectors without exception.

For the next stage, the strategy will focus mainly on youth, employment and culture with the programming of cultural activities and the reopening of closed spaces, which number around 94.

Emphasis will also be placed on cleanliness campaigns. Add to this the planning of maintenance projects concerning the Belvedere Park and other green spaces of the capital such as the Passage Park, which will be better maintained and may even host cultural and leisure activities.

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Tunisia plans economic integration project for young people

13 January 2017, ((African Manager Economic & Financial News) – A program of co-operation between the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment and the World Bank, with a total value of 132 million dinars, will be launched in the field of economic integration of young people from vulnerable categories.

The announcement was made Thursday by the Minister of Vocational Training and Employment, Imed Hammami at a workshop in Tunis to kick-start the program.

The minister pointed out that seven regions of the country (Manouba, Siliana, Kasserine, Kairouan, Sfax, Jendouba and Kebili) will benefit from the interventions of this project.

“The aim is to promote entrepreneurship among young people living in the regions, in order to achieve economic development at regional and local levels,” he said, noting that this project spanning six years is implemented in collaboration with several departments such as the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Women, the Family and Children, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Development and International Cooperation.

According to the minister, this also means creating jobs and facilitating the creation of projects through the economic and social integration of young people in general and of women in particular.

For his part, Mohamed Chayati, representative of the World Bank, stressed that the effective start of this project will take place in the next six or nine months.

The objective of this two-day workshop is to discuss the main ideas of the economic integration project for young people between the ages of 18 and 35 to train them to better present their job applications,” he said.

He added that after this phase of preparation, criteria will be established to select young people who will join the program in the seven regions mentioned, pending the extension of the project to the whole country.

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Tunisia organises training on fundamentals of Islamic finance

12 January 2017, (African Manager Economic & Financial News) -The Agency for the Promotion of Industry and Innovation (APII) organized, on Wednesday, January 11, a training session on the fundamentals of Islamic finance and project development.

This training, according to several officials of the agency, is part of an agreement signed previously with the microfinance institution Zitouna Tamkeen with the aim of making its contribution in the fight against unemployment by the creation of new jobs.

This partnership, it is recalled, will serve mainly to diversify the sources of funding for young promoters, while helping them to better contribute to the economic recovery.

For APII, this type of training is of particular importance, especially as it ensures the launch of the work program set up by the two partners to facilitate the integration of young promoters in the economic market by providing them with training, support and supervision needed to guarantee the durability of their projects.

It is a strategic approach that will certainly increase the number of new projects, overseen by the APII, knowing that the agency has supported nearly 2,500 young promoters since 2005.

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Tunisia: High influx of Algerian tourists (2016)

9 Jan 2017, (African Manager Economic & Financial News) – The border crossing of Melloula, Tabarka delegation (Jendouba governorate), saw, for the first time, a strong influx of Algerian tourists, with the arrival of 644 thousand tourists until December 2016, up more than 32% compared to the year 2015, TAP said, quoting a report from the regional commissioner of tourism in Tabarka.

The border crossing of Babbouche (delegation Ain Drahem to Jendouba) had recorded the entry on the Tunisian territory of nearly 127 thousand Algerian tourists until the end of 2016, up more than 55% compared to 2015, according to the report.

Regional Tourism Commissioner Hichem Mehouachi said the number of Algerian tourists who have entered Tunisia through the border points of Melloula, Babbouche and Jelil (governorate of Jendouba) and Sakiet Sid Youssef (governorate of Kef) exceeds a million tourists representing half of the Algerian tourists staying in Tunisia in 2016.

The number of tourists visiting the city of Tabarka exceeded some 158 thousand tourists in 2016, a rise of more than 15% compared to the year 2015, according to the same source.

This strong influx of Algerian tourists is explained by the security stability registered in the region and the quality of tourist services provided, in addition to the importance of the tourist promotion campaign launched by the National Tourist Office, said the same source.

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Tunisia Increase exports to sell abundant citrus crop

Tunisia, 14 January 2017, (Tunis Daily News) – In Tunisia, record production of citrus fruits (560 000 tonnes, or + 47% compared to the previous season) is not easy to manage for the sector.

The very abundant production can not be sold on the local market. Solutions: Strengthen transformation and promote exports. In particular to France, a traditional Tunisian citrus market, but also to Algeria and Russia.

The Interprofessional Fruit Group sets up a marketing program for these different markets.

For the French market, participation in the Salon de l’Agriculture, week of promotion of oranges, tasting days. For the Algerian market, aid for the marketing of products. For the Russian market, launch of a direct line Tunisia / Russia (Sfax / Novorossiysk) and participation in the international trade show of the agroalimentary of Moscow in a few weeks.

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Efforts to boost Algerian-Tunisian cooperation for protection of archaeological heritage

TEBESSA, 09 January 2017, (Algeria Press Service) – A delegation of Algerian and Tunisian archaeologists visited Sunday several historic sites in Tebessa (634km east of Algiers) as part of an initiative of the association “Minerve” for the protection of the vestiges with the collaboration of the local administration of museums and archaeological sites.

According to the organizers, this cultural initiative aims at boosting the cooperation between the two countries to protect and develop the archaeological heritage.

A ceremony was organized on this occasion by the administration of museums and archaeological sites in the presence of representatives of the province’s cultural and tourism departments and members of the delegation. The strengthening of the bilateral cooperation in the archaeological research in addition to the opening of cultural tours in Tebessa between the two countries were emphasized.

It was also proposed to organize a marathon between the two border cities of Tebessa (Algeria) and Haidra (Tunisia).

The joint delegation is made up of four Tunisian researchers from the history department of the Human and Social Sciences Faculty of Tunisia and the archaeology department of the Faculty of Literature and Human Sciences of Kairouan as well as two researchers from the archaeology department of the Guelma’s University.

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Transport & Logistics Exhibition 21-24 November in Algiers

ALGIERS, 26 October 2016, (Algeria Press Service) – The 1st International Transport and Logistics Exhibition (Logistical) will take place from 21 to 24 November at the Exhibition Centre, in Algiers, with the participation of more than 50 national and foreign exhibitors.

This economic event, devoted to the logistic chain, cargo and freight transportation, will see the participation of five exhibitors from France and Germany, said the event’s organizers in a press conference held Wednesday in Algiers.

“This exhibition will bring together different contributors in the logistics to improve the activity of companies working in the transport of goods,” said Saadane Kaderi, secretary general of the Algerian Chamber of Trade and Industry (CACI) which organizes the exhibition in partnership with SAFEX and CACI-France under the theme “For the control of logistic costs.”

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Dams in Algeria now 58 PCT Full Following Recent Rains

ALGIERS, 13 Jan 2017, (NNN-APS) – The filling up rate of dams throughout Algeria has reached 58 per cent of total capacity following the recent rainfalls in several regions of the country, says Minister of Water Resources and Environment Abdelkader Ouali.

He said in a media statement issued here Thursday on the sidelines of a plenary session at the People’s National Assembly (lower House of Parliament) that recent rainfall had resulted in the increase of dam levels.

“Algeria’s dams are now nearly 58 per cent full and this rate is expected to rise in the coming days,” the statement added

Ten dams are 90 per cent full while 30 others are at 60 per cent of capacity, according to figures provided by the minister.

In reply to a question in Parliament about the delay in construction of some desalination plants and the rise in their costs, the minister said that resorting to seawater desalination is a strategic choice with social and economic dimensions and something which cannot be given up despite its high costs.

“The 11 desalination plants built so far have enabled us to produce more than 2.1 million cubic metres of water per day, or 800 million cubic metres per year, which is close to the volume of Algeria’s largest dam (Beni Haroun Dam),” explained Ouali.

This quantity of desalinated water is used to supply nearly seven million consumers in coastal provinces with drinking water and the transfer of conventional waters to the agricultural sector in order to double the areas of irrigated land, create jobs and achieve food sufficiency, added the minister.

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9th Arab Theatre Festival opens in Oran

ORAN, 11 January 2017, (Algeria Press Service)- The ninth Arab Theatre Festival, dedicated to late Azzedine Medjoubi, kicked off Tuesday evening in Oran in a ceremony chaired by Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi.

In his speech on this occasion, the minister expressed the wish that this new year, marked by the holding of this 9th edition, would be that of creation, cultural influence, art and thought.

The opening ceremony of this cultural event, whose activities will be simultaneously held in Oran and Mostaganem until January 19, was marked by the presence of Minister of National Solidarity, Family and Women’s Affairs Mounia Meslem, Secretary General of the Arab Theatre Institute Ismail Abdullah, several Arab ambassador to Algeria as well as national and Arab great cultural and art figures.

This event, organized by the Arab Theatre Institute in collaboration with the National Office of Culture and Information (ONCI), will see the participation of 550 guests from Arab countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Egypt , Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

A total of eight plays will compete for the Prize “Sultan Bin Mohammed al-Qasimi.”

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US lifts 20-year economic embargo on Sudan

Washington, 14 January 2017, (IINA) – The United States has announced the end of a 20-year economic embargo on Sudan, lifting trade and financial sanctions in an effort to foster ties with the Sudanese government.

The announcement made by outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday comes after an executive order to permanently repeal a range of sanctions as a result of Sudan’s efforts to improve security in the region. For the first time in two decades, Sudan will be able to receive imported goods and services from the US, as authorized by the US Department of the Treasury.

The lift will also release frozen Sudanese property and assets held in the US, and permits the trade with the oil and gas industry in Sudan. Following talks to improve cooperative relations, the move is expected to tackle concerns including enhanced accessibility for aid groups, and efforts to end the Darfur conflict.

“Sudan has long expressed a desire to get out from under sanctions, as well as other restrictions that the United States has imposed on Sudan going back 20 years,” a senior US administration official told reporters. “Over the past two years we have looked for a way to engage with Sudan in a way we could overcome some of the lack of trust of the past,” he said.

While it is still unclear what US President-elect Donald Trump’s stance is on the embargo lift, Sudan welcomed the decision. Gharib Allah Khidir, spokesperson for the Sudanese foreign ministry, said “this step represents a positive and important development for the course of bilateral relations between the United States of America and Sudan, and is the natural result of joint efforts and long and frank discussions”. However, some US sanctions tied to Sudan’s “state sponsor of terrorism” title remain in place, including a ban on weapons sales and restrictions on Darfur-related sanctions remain in effect.

Darfur has been engulfed in a deadly conflict since 2003, when ethnic minority tribes took up arms against the government, accusing it of marginalizing the region. Washington’s outreach will still be limited, as the US is unlikely to engage directly with Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, which he denies.

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AFDB Commits US$40.8M To Reinforce Lome-Cotonou Road, Protection Against Erosion

ABIDJAN, 13 January 2017, (NNN-AfDB) – The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has approved a US$40.8-million loan to the Republics of Benin and Togo to finance the upgrading into a four-lane 30-kilometre road section linking the capitals of both countries, as well as an important program of coastal protection.

The project will reinforce and secure the missing link on the Togolese portion of the Abidjan-Lagos corridor, a strategic route for the movement of people and goods in Western Africa. As a consequence the project will consolidate regional integration and improve living condition of 1.7 million people living in the project area.

Located on the major axis linking Togo and Benin, the Avépozo–Aného road section is particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion and faces a rising traffic volumes. Through this project, the Bank aims to improve the level of service of the transport logistical chain and traffic, as well as strengthen the climate resilience of infrastructure in coastal areas in Togo and Benin.

The construction of 28 barriers, or groynes, and reinforcement of sand on exposed beaches aims to reduce erosion of the coastline from 20 metres per year to 1 metre a year.

Like all the coastal countries in the sub-region, Togo and Benin have an interconnected coastal and marine environment, which is densely populated with heavy infrastructure and industries and along with economic centres or capital cities.

However, these coastal areas are frequently subject to flooding and erosion, which cause considerable damage. The situation threatens the livelihood of coastal communities and nearby coastal infrastructure, drastically reducing the potential for economic development along the coast.

“The combined construction of the road and coastal protection infrastructure will not only improve the level of service between Lomé and Cotonou – it will most of all preserve human lives, the national territory and socio-economic infrastructure of great importance such as the Abidjan–Lagos corridor,” said Lydie Ehouman, Transport Economist at the AfDB.

The coastal erosion works will be completed by an institutional support program for authorities of both countries. The project will finance in particular the establishment of a coastal protection management structure, the launch of coastal protection studies, the setting up of an early warning system alongside sensitization campaigns targeted at the vulnerable populations.

“It’s an important step in the protection of the entire Togolese and Beninese coast, as it will enable development of a coherent, comprehensive and multi-dimensional program to fight against coastal erosion in both countries,” said Ehouman.

“The project demonstrates the attention paid by the Bank to the questions of resilience and durability of infrastructures, in particular in a context of vulnerability to climate change. This preoccupation is in line with the core mission of the Bank, which is the promotion of an inclusive and sustainable growth,” said Amadou Oumarou, Director of the Bank’s Transport and ICT Department.

Concerning the level of service on the corridor itself, the project will facilitate the activities of the logistic operators, financing also a one-stop border post at the Togo/Benin border, and promoting customs systems harmonization. Once complete in 2020, the average travel time between Lomé and Cotonou is expected to be reduced from 11 hours to five hours for trucks.

The project is jointly financed by the African Development Fund (ADF), the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the European Union (EU), the West African Development Bank (BOAD), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), and the Government of Togo for an estimated cost of US $187.1 million.

Bank financing makes up US $40.8 million or 21.82% of the project cost, with an African Development Fund (ADF) loan of US $1.4 million to the Republic of Benin, an ADF loan of US $12.5 million to the Republic of Togo, a US $25.6 million Transition Support Facility (TSF) loan, an ADF grant of US $1.3 million and a TSF grant of US $0.04 million.

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Brunei Expects Tourist Arrivals to Reach 450,000 by 2020

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, 14 Jan 2017, (NNN-Bernama) — Easing visa requirements for visitors from a number of countries will boost the inflow of tourists into Brunei, thus helping the country achieve the annual target of 450,000 visitor arrivals by air by 2020 from 218,000 in 2015, China’s Xinhua news agency reported Haji Ali, Brunei’s minister of Primary Resources and Tourism as saying.

“The ease of visa requirements will help ease travel to Brunei Darussalam and increase the number of visitors to the country,” the minister told local media recently on the sidelines of the launch of the new Bandar Seri Begawan and Kampong Ayer (or the Water Village) National Heritage Tour packages.

“In addition, providing clear tour packages comprising affordable prices can give a competitive advantage for Brunei over other tourism hotspots in the region,” he said.

Following last September the launch of tour packages for Temburong, a protected area boasting the country’s natural reserve of tropical rainforest, “We are also planning to launch tour packages in Tutong and Belait areas so that travellers can stay in the country for a longer period,” the minister said.

“It is important to build Brunei as a very attractive tourist destination for tourists to repeatedly visit the country,” he said.

On developing qualified local tour guides, the minister revealed that his ministry’s Tourism Development Department is working with private schools to offer tourism courses to produce qualified guides.

“It is important for tour guides to be able to give proper and accurate explanation on the significance of our historical sites,” he added.

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27th Africa-France Summit to open Saturday in Bamako

BAMAKO (Mali), 14 January 2017, (Algeria Press Service) – The works of the 27th Africa-France Summit will open Saturday, in Bamako (Mali), with the participation of about thirty Heads of State and Government, including Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal who represents, on this occasion, the president of the Republic, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Organized under the theme “For partnership, peace and emergence,” the Summit will be sanctioned by a final declaration dealing with notably “challenges and threats to peace,” and “economy and development: emergence, for an inclusive and job-creating growth.”

Speaking at the end of the preparatory ministerial meeting, the minister of Maghreb Affairs, African Union and the Arab League Abdelkader Messahel, who accompanies Abdelmalek Sellal on this occasion, said that the Declaration of Bamako would underline “the African continent’s interest in the global challenges.”

The participants to this Summit will also assess the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations resulting from the 26th Summit held in Paris in 2013.

This meeting will also focus on the “ways likely to deepen this cooperation framework to collectively take up the common challenges notably peace, security and development of Africa.”

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IsDB Group backs Niger’s food security and energy programs

Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 10 January 2017: The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group has affirmed its commitment to support the Government of the Republic of Niger in ensuring food security and the development of energy and transport sectors of the country.

This was disclosed during a discussion between the President of the Republic of Niger, H.E. Mahamadou Issoufou and the IsDB Group President, Dr. Bandar Hajjar.

During his official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Issoufou also paid a visit to the IsDB Group headquaters in Jeddah on Tuesday to strengthen the bilateral cooperation between the Republic of Niger and the IsDB Group.

In his welcome statement, Dr. Bandar Hajjar commended the President of the Republic of Niger for his efforts to diversify the country’s economy through business reforms.

Since 1974 when the Republic of Niger joind the IsDB, the Bank Group has provided US $760 million worth of financing to the country.

Dr. Hajjar assured President Issoufou that the IsDB Group will work on the key proposals submitted by the Government of the Republic of Niger for the socio-economic development of the country.

In his response, H.E. President Mahamadou Issoufou thanked the IsDB Group for the support it has extended to the country over the years. “The priority of my government is in food security, education, healthcare and water supply. Niger is also ready to provide a platform for the development of Islamic finance in Sub-Saharan Africa,” he stated.

President Issoufou then called on the IsDB Group to support the country in the development of Waqf (endowment) in order to further spearhead poverty eradication efforts in his country.

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Gabon Set to Host African Football Championship 2017

LIBREVILLE, GABON, 13 Jan 2017, (NNN-SABC) – Final preparations are underway in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, as the country prepares to host the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) football championship which begins on Saturday against a backdrop of civil strife in this central African nation.

The tournament will be played at four venues in four host cities in the oil-rich country. The hosts will open the tournament against debutants Guinea-Bissau in Libreville, at the 40,000-capacity Stade de l’Amitié.

This year’s tournament has been overshadowed by the aftermath of Gabon’s disputed elections held in August 2016 which saw President Ali Bongo retain power amid allegations of widespread fraud. The vote divided the political class and the country, leading to a wave of riots.

Despite the government’s re-assurance that the tournament will take place without incidents, there have been continuing calls in recent months for strike action by the opposition.

This is the second time that Gabon will host the continent’s biggest football tournament. It co-hosted the event with Equatorial Guinea in 2012 and was only awarded this year’s event because the instability in the initial host nation, Libya, was regarded too big a risk.

Football fans in Gabon hope the tournament will boost their team’s chances of winning the trophy for the first time.

The final will be played on Feb 5 in in Libreville.

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