Indonesia kicks off Bali trial of quarantine-free travel

Special Indonesia kicks off Bali trial of quarantine-free travel
Foreign tourists carrying their luggage walk as they arrive at the I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 March 2022

Indonesia kicks off Bali trial of quarantine-free travel

Indonesia kicks off Bali trial of quarantine-free travel
  • Travelers from 23 countries can now get a visa on arrival at Ngurah Rai International Airport
  • If the trial run proves successful, officials say quarantine-free arrival will apply nationwide in April

JAKARTA: Indonesia began allowing quarantine-free entry for foreigners traveling to Bali on Monday, in a trial run that officials said could be applied nationwide from April. 

Travelers from 23 countries, including the ASEAN countries, the US, Australia and the UAE, can now get a visa on arrival for $35 at Ngurah Rai International Airport, though they must be fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19 prior to their departure to the popular holiday destination. 

The government brought forward the quarantine-free trial plan by a week after deciding that Indonesia is ready to step into a “transition period” as infection and fatality rates remain relatively low. 

“If this trial is successful, we will implement quarantine-free travel for all arrivals from abroad arriving in the country by April 1, 2022, or even sooner,” Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan, who oversees Indonesia’s COVID-19 response, said during a virtual press conference. 

Under the latest policy, visitors must take a PCR test upon arrival, show proof of a minimum four-day hotel booking in Bali, and have health insurance that guarantees COVID-19 coverage. Visitors are expected to take another PCR on their third day in the country. 

Indonesia officially opened Bali to visitors from 19 countries last October, when travelers had to be quarantined for five days upon arrival. However, international arrivals only returned last month, when scheduled flights finally touched down in Denpasar. 

Since Feb. 3, Ngurah Rai has welcomed over 2,500 international visitors, head of information at Ngurah Rai Immigration Office Putu Suhendra told Arab News. 

Bali’s economy is largely dependent on the tourism sector, which contributes more than half of the province’s GDP. In 2019, the island known for its beaches, temples and lively nightlife, welcomed around 6.2 million foreign visitors, mostly from Australia and China. 

After two years of the pandemic bringing tourist activity to a halt, tourism stakeholders are hopeful that the latest policy will boost industry recovery. 

“Hopefully with the eased (restrictions) for travelers visiting Bali, tourism can gradually recover, and so does the Bali economy,” Hariyadi B. S. Sukamdani, chairman of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association, told reporters.   

“That’s what we’re hoping for.”


Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur
Updated 30 June 2022

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur
  • More than 1,000 participants arrived from Saudi Arabia and 16 Asian countries
  • Conference was opened by Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob

KUALA LUMPUR: Participants from 17 countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday for the first conference of Asian religious scholars organized in Malaysia by the Muslim World League to unite efforts addressing extremist ideologies.

The MWL is an international non-governmental Islamic organization founded in Saudi Arabia in 1962, that focuses on promoting and clarifying the worldwide understanding of Islam. It is headquartered in Makkah and maintains offices around the world.

More than 1,000 participants arrived from Saudi Arabia and countries including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

The conference was opened by Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysian Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad and MWL Secretary-General Sheikh Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa.

“We feel proud and lucky that the MWL has chosen Malaysia to host the conference, which of course is a recognition to our country, which highlights Islam as a harmonious, safe and prosperous religion in a multi-racial and multi-religious society,” Yaakob said, adding that the meeting was taking place at a time when Muslims are still facing various challenges, including disputes among themselves, provocation, and Islamophobia.

The meeting will pave the way for the establishment in Kuala Lumpur a permanent council under the umbrella of the MWL.

Al-Issa said that the council’s first session was planned next year. The conference aims at developing educational tools and initiatives to foster collaboration and solidarity, especially among young and emerging leaders, to combat extremist ideology and what the MWL said in a statement were “artificial differences that sometimes exist” in politically diverse societies.

“With the efforts of the scholars, multi-pronged activities are being carried out to counter extremism in all parts of the world,” Al-Issa told Arab News on the sidelines of the conference. “We are hopeful that such efforts will bear fruits in due course and help wipe out extremism totally.”

He said that the MWL had chosen multiethnic Malaysia as it is “well known for its harmonious life.

“It is an ideal region for the propagation of harmony and peaceful coexistence among Muslims and non-Muslims,” he added.

“The attendance in large numbers bears eloquent testimony to the enthusiasm of the people and religious scholars to work towards peace, harmony, and coexistence.”


Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover

Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover
Updated 13 sec ago

Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover

Taliban meet tribal leaders, minority reps in first loya jirga since takeover
  • Participants included non-Taliban local leaders, representatives of Afghan refugees
  • Gunshots heard near gathering site, 2 attackers reportedly killed

KABUL: Around 3,500 scholars and tribal elders from throughout Afghanistan gathered in Kabul on Thursday for a grand assembly meeting, the first such session since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year.

Known as the loya jirga, grand assemblies are a centuries-old Afghan institution, a forum attended by various parties to discuss and reach a consensus on important political issues.

The conference, expected to end by July 2, was called by the Taliban, as unacknowledged by foreign governments they have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.

Participants in Thursday’s session included non-Taliban local leaders, members of the minority Shiite community, as well as representatives of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. No female delegates were present.

Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, acting prime minister of Afghanistan, opened the session by calling on the representatives of all Afghan groups to help uphold the Islamic system of governance, which the Taliban introduced as they took control of the country in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.

“We all should work to strengthen it,” Akhund said. “The Islamic Emirate is trying in all aspects to address all issues. There might be problems in some places, but if they are shared with us, we will take steps to solve them.”

Mawlawi Mohammed Omar Khattabi, from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, who runs a network of madrasas and Islamic radios in southern Afghanistan, urged Taliban authorities to seek consultations with religious scholars when it came to the Islamic system, “because they know the nature of it,” but in professional and technical issues they, “must consult with experts.”

The issue of reopening of schools for girls was raised by Shiite scholar Sayed Nasrullah Waezi, from Bamyan in central Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban assumed power, they have introduced a series of restrictions on women, including on their clothing and choice of profession. Secondary school girls have been barred from education.

Waezi, who belongs to the Hazara community that had been targeted during the first Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, said he hoped that under the current Taliban leadership Afghans could create in their country, “an atmosphere of harmony, sincerity, brotherhood, and fraternity.”

Despite heavy security surrounding the meeting’s venue, the Loya Jirga Tent at Kabul’s Polytechnic University, gunshots were heard during a lunch break. State broadcaster RTA reported that two assailants were killed.

The first loya jirga since the Taliban takeover, the meeting has so far raised hopes that some of the country’s current challenges can be addressed.

“It is a very positive step that the Taliban called for this gathering of scholars and tribal elders from all provinces of Afghanistan. Jirga has historically played a vital role in discussing and solving major national issues,” Hekmatullah Zaland, a member of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies, told Arab News.

He said it was important that critical issues such as girls’ education, political reconciliation, people’s participation, and engagement with the international community be raised, as such discussions could, “help in addressing the challenges that we are facing right now.”


Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history
Updated 30 June 2022

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history
  • Rise to power comes 36 years after his dictator father was forced from office in a bloodless popular uprising
  • New leader promises economic transformation, education reform and support for millions of overseas Filipino workers

MANILA: Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was sworn in as president of the Philippines on Thursday, vowing to open a new chapter in the country’s history, almost four decades after his dictator and namesake father was ousted in a popular uprising.
Marcos Jr., 64, scored a landslide victory in May’s presidential election, winning almost 60 percent of the vote after promising unity, prosperity and happiness to the 110 million population weary of years of political polarization and pandemic hardship. 
His rise to power comes 36 years after his father was removed from office by the bloodless popular revolt known as People Power. The dictator had ruled the country with an iron fist for two decades — an era marred by martial law, widespread corruption and human rights abuses.
For years, Marcos Jr. has sought to rehabilitate the family name by portraying his father’s rule as an age of prosperity. But while he mentioned infrastructure projects built at the time, he distanced himself from the past in his inaugural address.  
“In this fresh chapter of our history, I extend my hand to all Filipinos,” he said during a ceremony at the steps of the National Museum in Manila. “I am here not to talk about the past. I am here to tell you about our future.”
In the 25-minute speech, Marcos Jr. covered plans for economic transformation, education reform, improvement of food sufficiency, infrastructure development, energy supplies, pollution, waste management, as well as support for millions of overseas Filipino workers.
“Come, let us put our shoulders to the wheel and give that wheel a faster turn to repair and to rebuild and to address challenges in new ways to provide what all Filipinos need, to be all that we can,” the incoming president said, adding that he seeks dialogue and to “listen respectfully to contrary views.”
Marcos’ thematic speech, which covered all issues, came as a surprise since he has little direct experience on the political scene.
“He took up all things, he even had something to say on climate change,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila, told Arab News.
However, Casiple added that he will reserve judgment until Marcos speaks before Congress.
“By then, he will already have concrete proposals. That’s more important for me.”
The political analyst believes Marcos’ references to the future were attempts at charting “his own path,” not merely a continuation of his father’s.
“I’ve already noticed that during the campaign. He was avoiding talking about martial law and he was also avoiding debates. He doesn’t want to be treated as a son to the father in terms of his programs. His inaugural speech was basically his own,” Casiple said. “There’s hope.”
However, the new administration, despite the unity pledge, is likely to be a polarizing one due to the historical burden the Marcos family carries, according to political sociologist Prof. Frederick Rey.
“A polarizing administration in the sense that there is what I call the natural enemy of the Marcoses. This may be viewed as a love affair, a Filipino love affair, but on the other side of it, there is also a natural enemy when we talk about the dark history of the Philippines, as mentioned in our textbooks,” Rey said in a TV interview.
“This really is a difficult administration.”


Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
Updated 30 June 2022

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
  • Contamination is investigated at Barry Callebaut company
  • All chocolate products made at the plant placed on hold

BRUSSELS: A huge Belgian chocolate factory has halted production after detecting salmonella in a batch of chocolates.
The Barry Callebaut company said Thursday that its plant in Wieze – which it says is the world’s largest chocolate factory – shut down all production lines as a precaution while the contamination is investigated.
Barry Callebaut produces chocolate for multiple brands sold around the world.
The salmonella was detected Monday, and all chocolate products made at the plant were placed on hold pending investigation, the company said. It identified lecithin, an emulsifier routinely used in making chocolates, as the source of the contamination.
The company said it informed Belgian food safety authorities and is contacting customers who might have contaminated products in their possession.
It is unclear whether any consumers have reported being sickened by the chocolates.
Earlier this year, at least 200 reported cases of salmonella were believed linked to chocolate Easter eggs made in another Belgian plant operated by Italian company Ferrero.


Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas
Updated 30 June 2022

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas
  • Pro-democracy medics said one demonstrator was shot dead “by a bullet in the chest” Wednesday night
  • Troops and police blocked off roads leading to both army headquarters and the presidential palace

KHARTOUM: Security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades as thousands of anti-coup protesters took to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum and its suburbs Thursday demanding an end to military rule, AFP correspondents said.
“Down with Burhan’s rule,” protesters chanted in north Khartoum, urging the reversal of an October military coup by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan that prompted foreign governments to slash aid, deepening a chronic economic crisis.
“Even if we die, the military will not rule us,” they cried.
Pro-democracy medics said one demonstrator was shot dead “by a bullet in the chest” Wednesday night, in small-scale protests in the run-up to the main rallies.
More than 100 people have been killed in protest-related violence, according to UN figures, as the military has cracked down on the anti-coup movement over the past eight months.
An AFP correspondent said Internet and phone lines had been disrupted since the early hours of Thursday, a measure the Sudanese authorities often impose to prevent mass gatherings.
Security was tight in Khartoum despite the recent lifting of a state of emergency imposed after the coup.
Troops and police blocked off roads leading to both army headquarters and the presidential palace, witnesses said.
Shops around the capital were largely shuttered.
Activists have been calling for “million-strong” rallies.
UN special representative Volker Perthes said Thursday that “violence needs to end,” while the US embassy in Khartoum urged restraint and “the protection of civilians so that no more lives are lost.”

Sudan’s foreign ministry has repeatedly criticized the UN envoy’s comments, saying they were built on “assumptions” and “contradict his role as facilitator” in troubled talks on ending Sudan’s political crisis.
The latest protests come on the anniversary of a previous coup in 1989 that toppled the country’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by Islamist-backed general Omar Al-Bashir.
They also come on the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals, who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year, cede power to civilians.
Those protests led to the formation of the mixed civilian-military transitional government which was toppled in last year’s coup.
Sudan has been roiled by near-weekly protests as the country’s economic woes have deepened since Burhan seized power last year.
“June 30 is our way to bring down the coup and block the path of any fake alternatives,” said the Forces for Freedom and Change, an alliance of civilian groups whose leaders were ousted in the coup.
Alongside the African Union and east African bloc IGAD, the United Nations has been attempting to broker talks between the generals and civilians, but they have been boycotted by all the main civilian factions.
The UN has warned that the deepening economic and political crisis has pushed one third of the country’s population of more than 40 million toward life-threatening food shortages.