Malaysian Hajj pilgrims make most of Makkah Route

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At Kuala Lumpur Airport, pilgrims first enter the Malaysian immigration hall to get their passports processed, then proceed to the Saudi hall for the visa check. The whole process takes about 10 minutes before they are ushered into the waiting hall for boarding. (AN photos by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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Saudi Ambassador to Malaysia, Ambassador Mahmoud Hussien Qattan said the Mecca Road Initiative is part of Saudi's Vision 2030 to develop better services to the people who visit Saudi Arabia. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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Malaysian pilgrim said the Mecca Road Initiative would give pilgrims a peace of mind when travelling for Hajj. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The whole visa process for the Mecca Road Initiative took only 10 minutes, said Malaysian pilgrim Maznah Bashar. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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"we are the first and last person to greet the pilgrims at the airport and I always try to leave a good impression to them," said Saudi Immigration Officer, Saad Alqarni, to Arab News. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
Updated 03 August 2019

Malaysian Hajj pilgrims make most of Makkah Route

  • The initiative has helped pilgrims clear immigration in just 10 minutes

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Hajj pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia via Kuala Lumpur International Airport as part of the Makkah Route initiative are spending only 10 minutes at both Malaysian and Saudi immigration counters before boarding.

“The Malaysian and Saudi governments are very happy with the initiative,” Saudi Ambassador to Malaysia Mahmoud Hussien Qattan told Arab News. “We’ve been successful in reducing time spent on immigration procedures.”
The initiative will process 30,200 Malaysian pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.
Malaysia was the first country to implement the initiative in 2017. Indonesia followed suit in 2018.
This year, it has been expanded to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tunisia, and 250,000 pilgrims are expected to be processed.
“We chose Malaysia as the first pilot program for the initiative because they’re very cooperative and organized. We’re in constant discussion with the Malaysian side and the relation is very good,” said Qattan.
The initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, and the government wants to make the visa process easier for Muslims who want to go to Makkah and Madinah, he added.
“One of our goals is to develop our services for the people who visit Saudi Arabia, especially for those who come for Hajj and Umrah. However, our aim is to serve Muslims who visit Saudi Arabia all year around,” he said.
At Kuala Lumpur International Airport, there are two halls for Malaysian and Saudi immigration, which are situated side by side.
Malaysian pilgrims first enter the Malaysian immigration hall to get their passports processed, then proceed to the Saudi hall for the visa check.
The whole process takes about 10 minutes before they are ushered into the waiting hall for boarding.
“The initiative helps to finalize the immigration process for pilgrims on Malaysian soil, as if they’re in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi immigration officer Maj. Ahmad Ahshehri told Arab News.
“Malaysians are very friendly people. It’s very easy to communicate and cooperate with them.”

FASTFACT

• The Makkah Route initiative will process 30,200 Malaysian pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.

• Malaysia was the first country to implement the initiative in 2017. Indonesia followed suit in 2018.

• This year, it has been expanded to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tunisia, and 250,000 pilgrims are expected to be processed.

• The Makkah Route initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, says Saudi envoy to Malaysia.

Saudi immigration officer Saad Al-Qarni said he has not encountered any problems processing visas for Malaysian pilgrims as part of the initiative.
“Everything here is facilitated by the Malaysian government. It’s a good initiative because it’s easy and convenient for pilgrims,” he told Arab News.
“After processing their visa and passport, they can enter Saudi Arabia without going through immigration in Jeddah,” he said.
“I enjoy my work at immigration because we’re the first and last person to greet pilgrims at the airport, and I always try to leave a good impression on them.”
Malaysian pilgrim Maznah Bashar, 60, said she was both excited and anxious about going to Makkah for Hajj for the first time.
“I went to Makkah for Umrah before, but it’s not the same experience as we didn’t go to Arafat, Muzdalifah, Mina and many more (places),” she told Arab News.
“Before this, I didn’t enjoy the long wait at Saudi immigration in Jeddah, but under the Makkah Route initiative, the whole process took a mere 10 minutes and they treated us very well,” she said.
“After we arrive in Jeddah, a bus will await us at the airport and will send us straight to our hotel. Even our luggage will be sent directly to the hotel. The system is very fast.”
But Bashar said the immigration hall “felt a bit crowded as there were more than 400 pilgrims processed” there.
Zaifizar bin Zainal Abidin, 42, a Malaysian pilgrim traveling with his wife and daughter, told Arab News that the initiative “helps give us peace of mind, especially for us who have to travel for a long period of time.”
He said: “I’m excited to go to Makkah. It’ll be the first and probably the only time I’ll experience Hajj together with my wife and daughter.”


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”