Sri Lanka seeks to strengthen ties with Kingdom

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Azmi Thassim confers with Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar in this file photo. (AN photo)
Updated 03 February 2017
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Sri Lanka seeks to strengthen ties with Kingdom

RIYADH: Sri Lanka looks forward to further strengthening ties with the Kingdom, especially in the fields of employment, trade, investment and tourism, the island’s Ambassador Azmi Thassim told Arab News on the eve of his country’s Independence and National Day on Saturday.
“Appreciating the long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia, our country wholeheartedly supports Vision 2030 under the wise leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and the NTP (National Transformation Program) 2020 initiated by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and defense minister,” Thassim said.
The envoy, who met with Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar recently, expressed hope for the enhancement of bilateral ties.
“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, trade and tourism have tremendously increased for the benefit of the people of the two friendly countries,” Thassim said, adding that nearly 38,000 Saudis visited Sri Lanka last year.
The diplomat said his country is an ideal tourist destination for a family holiday: “We have plenty of attractions to offer Saudi tourists, and we are making every effort to attract tourists from this part of the world.”
He added that Saudi families who had visited Sri Lanka had always opted to repeat their visits because of the island’s natural scenic beauty and the hospitality of its people.
“Muslim visitors will feel at home in the city of Colombo since they can see mosques in the vicinity of every shopping center,” he said, adding that women in hijab are a common sight in the capital. “A good number of Saudis are currently visiting Sri Lanka for their leisure and honeymoon.”
Thassim said: “Our target is to promote trade and investment with the Kingdom.” Sri Lankan exports to Saudi Arabia include tea, garments, fruit and vegetables, cut flowers, leather goods and porcelain products.
“Ever since we established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom in July 1974, the two countries have maintained excellent relations in social, cultural, political and economic fields,” the ambassador said.
He added that the relationship with Saudi Arabia is significant not only because it is home to nearly 200,000 Sri Lankans, but also because it is a holy land for the Muslims who form 10 percent of the island’s population of 24 million.
A large number of Sri Lankan Muslims regularly travel to the Kingdom for the annual Haj and Umrah pilgrimage.
Thassim thanked the Saudi leadership for the “special care given to Muslims from all parts of the world, including Sri Lanka.”
He also thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and interior minister, and Prince Mohammed for their kind cooperation in maintaining relations with friendly countries such as Sri Lanka.


End of women driving ban caps dramatic year of achievements since Saudi crown prince’s appointment

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has overseen reforms focusing on women’s freedoms and expansion of the entertainment sector. AFP
Updated 24 June 2018
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End of women driving ban caps dramatic year of achievements since Saudi crown prince’s appointment

  • The beginning of 2018 brought a decision that took the Kingdom closer to ending all forms of discrimination against its female population, with women allowed to watch football matches with their families
  • On April 18, a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted, with a screening of Marvel’s “Black Panther”

JEDDAH: A crackdown on corruption, guarantees of women’s rights, an overhaul of the entertainment sector and a shake-up of the economy — in the past year, Saudi Arabia has witnessed extraordinary changes.
The bold reforms, introduced in the 12 months since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took his post last June 21, have made headlines locally and globally.
The first sign of social transformation in the Kingdom came on
Sept. 26, 2017, with a royal decree lifting the decades-long ban on women driving. Less than a month later, Princess Reema bint Bandar became the first Saudi woman to be appointed head of a sports federation.
Then, last November, Saudi Arabia initiated unprecedented anti-corruption measures that included princes, government officials and major business owners among its targets. The Kingdom so far has recovered more than $100 billion in its crackdown, and sent a clear signal that those who engage in corrupt business practices will face prosecution.
Corruption was not the only obstacle facing the crown prince, who made clear that embracing moderate Islam is the way forward. “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world,” he told a Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh.
The beginning of 2018 brought a decision that took the Kingdom closer to ending all forms of discrimination against its female population, with women allowed to watch football matches with their families.
Strengthening the Kingdom’s international and diplomatic ties, the crown prince landed in the UK on March 7, kick-starting a global tour to focus on business, political and defense initiatives. After a warm welcome in London, he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Queen Elizabeth and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Landing in Washington on March 20, the crown prince had a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and, in New York, met with former US president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state John Kerry. He also held talks with representatives from Harvard University, MIT, Amazon and Warner Bros. studio.
In only a year, the crown prince has successfully reformed many sectors of the Kingdom. Some of the biggest changes were in the Saudi entertainment sector with large-scale concerts and family events surging in popularity.
On April 18, a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted, with a screening of Marvel’s “Black Panther.” The decision is expected to secure hundreds of millions of dollars that previously Saudi tourists had spent traveling abroad to attend movies. Global companies eager to invest in this unprecedented market in the Kingdom included the blockbuster American theater chain AMC and the UAE’s VOX Cinemas.
The entertainment overhaul is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the country’s economy. On Thursday, the reforms were given added impetus when the Saudi Arabian stock exchange (Tadawul) was upgraded and joined the MSCI Emerging Market Index.
“This is a significant milestone for the Saudi capital market,” Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Finance, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, said.

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