Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull

Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull
Rows of shops selling popular Arab delicacies are seen in Bukit Bintang area, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday. (AN photo)
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Updated 24 May 2022

Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull

Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull
  • Southeast Asian nation ranked as a top destination in the Global Muslim Travel Index since 2015
  • Influx of tourists expected from June when school holidays start in many Mideast countries

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is welcoming back visitors from the Middle East after two years of pandemic closures, with businesses in the tourism sector expecting to attract especially those who arrive for family holidays.

Malaysia’s tourism ministry has been ramping up its promotional activities in a bid to attract 2 million international visitors this year following the reopening of the country’s borders in April to allow quarantine-free travel.

“We’ve just participated in Arabian Travel Market, and we’ve seen how keen they are to travel,” Mohmed Razip Hajji Hasan, director-general of the Islamic Tourism Center, an entity under the Ministry of Tourism, told Arab News.

“People are looking to experience travel again, and our industry players can take advantage of the reopening of borders to attract this niche market known for their longer stays and higher spending habits.”

The coronavirus pandemic brought the Malaysian tourism industry to a standstill and this year’s target is over 10 times lower than the 26.1 million arrivals it saw in 2019.

Malaysia is popular with visitors from the Middle East and has been ranking as a top destination in the Global Muslim Travel Index since 2015.

To further develop a welcoming environment for Mideast travelers, Hasan said that the ministry is working with airlines, tour operators and hoteliers to offer privacy and safe spaces for families.

Omar Hameed, manager at the Al-Diuf Al-Arabia Tourism and Travel agency, said that he is positive Malaysian tourism will start picking up by next month, the end of the school season in many Middle Eastern countries. Many visitors from the region do not need visas to enter the country.

“It will be peak tourism season for Malaysia by then as most Middle Eastern families will want to have their vacation here,” he told Arab News. “It is not as crowded as in Indonesia.”

But some in the hospitality business say that the country still has issues to address in order to be a comfortable destination.

“Many people love Malaysia, but unfortunately some of the small things need to be corrected,” said Alaa A., owner of Hadramot House, a restaurant that serves Yemeni food in Bukit Bintang — an upscale shopping district in Kuala Lumpur, which is popular among visitors from the Middle East.

He cited the problems tourists face with taxi drivers, who often refuse to use meters and seek to charge much higher fixed fares.

Before the global pandemic, Malaysia received about 400,000 visitors from the Middle East in 2019. Travelers from Saudi Arabia topped the arrivals, accounting for a quarter of the visits.

Even though the tourism industry is still picking up the pace, Arab News was able to meet Saudi tourists in the Malaysian capital.

Wisam and her husband Basil said that they have been traveling across Malaysia for the past two weeks and found it easy to explore the country.

“We have been to Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi Island, Penang Island and Genting Highlands. We enjoyed it,” Wisam said. “It is my first trip to Malaysia and it is beautiful.”


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
Updated 12 sec ago

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India
NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show
Updated 17 August 2022

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show
  • Yoon Suk-yeol repeats his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea

SEOUL: Talks with North Korea should not be for political show but contribute to establishing peace, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Wednesday, speaking at a wide-ranging press conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
Yoon repeated his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea if it ended nuclear weapons development and began denuclearization, noting that he had called for a dialogue with Pyongyang since his campaign.
“Any dialogue between the leaders of the South and North, or negotiations between main working-level officials, should not be a political show, but should contribute to establishing substantive peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” he said.
The comments were an apparent criticism of a series of summits involving his predecessor Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and then-US President Donald Trump.
Despite those meetings, denuclearization talks stalled in 2019 and North Korea has said it will not trade away its self-defense, though it has called for an end to sanctions. It has been observed preparing for a possible nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.
South Korea was not in a position to guarantee the North’s security if it gave up its nuclear weapons, but Seoul did not want a forced change in the status quo in the North, Yoon said.
The North’s recent missile tests and nuclear development has revived debate over whether the South should pursue its own nuclear weapons. Yoon said that he was committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and working with the United States to boost its “extended deterrence” for South Korea.
“The NPT should not be abandoned and I will adhere to that until the end,” he said.


Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
Updated 17 August 2022

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
  • It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say

ATLANTA: Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to appear in an Atlanta courthouse to testify before a special grand jury that is investigating attempts by former President Donald Trump and others to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.
It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say now that his lawyers have been informed he’s a target of the investigation. Questioning will take place behind closed doors Wednesday because the special grand jury proceedings are secret.
Yet Giuliani’s appearance is another high-profile step in a rapidly escalating investigation that has ensnared several Trump allies and brought heightened scrutiny to the desperate and ultimately failed efforts to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election win. It’s one of several investigations into Trump’s actions in office as he lays the groundwork for another run at the White House in 2024.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened her investigation after the disclosure of a remarkable Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. On the call, Trump suggested that Raffensperger could “find” the exact number of votes that would be needed to flip the election results in Georgia.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. He has described the call as “perfect.”
Willis last month filed petitions to compel testimony from seven Trump associates and advisers. She has also said she’s considering calling Trump himself to testify, and the former president has hired a legal team in Atlanta that includes a prominent criminal defense attorney.
In seeking Giuliani’s testimony, Willis noted that he was both a personal attorney for Trump and a lead attorney for his 2020 campaign.
She recalled in a petition how Giuliani and others appeared at a state Senate committee meeting in late 2020 and presented a video that Giuliani said showed election workers producing “suitcases” of unlawful ballots from unknown sources, outside the view of election poll watchers. The claims of fraud were debunked by Georgia election officials within 24 hours. Yet Giuliani continued to make statements to the public and in subsequent legislative hearings claiming widespread election fraud using the debunked video, Willis noted in her filing.
Two of the election workers seen in the video, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, said they faced relentless harassment online and in person after it was shown at the Dec. 3 Georgia legislative hearing in which Giuliani appeared. At another hearing a week later, Giuliani said the footage showed the women “surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin or cocaine.” They actually were passing a piece of candy.
Willis wrote in the court filing that Giuliani’s hearing appearance and testimony were “part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Willis also wrote in a petition seeking the testimony of attorney Kenneth Chesebro that he worked with Giuliani to coordinate and carry out a plan to have Georgia Republicans serve as fake electors. Those 16 people signed a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won the 2020 presidential election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors even though Biden had won the state and a slate of Democratic electors was certified.
Giuliani’s attorneys tried to delay his appearance before the special grand jury, saying he was unable to fly due to heart stent surgery in early July.
But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, said during a hearing last week that Giuliani needed to be in Atlanta on Wednesday and could travel by bus, car or train if necessary.
Other Trump allies have also been swept up in the probe. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, received a subpoena ordering him to appear for testimony on Aug. 23. Graham has challenged that subpoena, citing his protections as a member of Congress. A judge on Monday rejected that argument and said he must testify. Graham has said he’ll appeal.
Willis has indicated she is interested in calls between Graham and Raffensberger about the results in Georgia in the weeks after the election.


US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
Updated 17 August 2022

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
  • Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage

LOS ANGELES: Water supplies to some US states and Mexico will be cut to avoid “catastrophic collapse” of the Colorado River, Washington officials said Tuesday, as a historic drought bites.
More than two decades of well below average rainfall have left the river — the lifeblood of the western United States — at critical levels, as human-caused climate change worsens the natural drought cycle.
Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage, and on Tuesday, the federal government said it was stepping in.
“In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the US Interior Department.
Arizona’s allocation from the river will fall by 21 percent in 2023, while Nevada will get eight percent less. Mexico’s allotment will drop by seven percent.
California, the biggest user of the river’s water and the most populous of the western states, will not be affected next year.
The Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains and snakes its way through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and northern Mexico, where it empties into the Gulf of California.
It is fed chiefly by snowpack at high altitudes, which melts slowly throughout the warmer months.
But reduced precipitation and the higher temperatures caused by humanity’s unchecked burning of fossil fuels means less snow is falling, and what snow exists, is melting faster.
As a consequence, there is not as much water in the river that supplies tens of millions of people and countless acres of farmland.
The states that use the water have been locked in negotiations over how to slash usage, but missed a Monday deadline to cut a deal, so Washington stepped in.
Officials in upstream states hit out Tuesday at what they saw as an unfair settlement, with California exempted from any cuts.
“It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed,” said a statement by Tom Buschatzke, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project.
Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said his department — which oversees US water supplies — was “using every resource available to conserve water and ensure that irrigators, Tribes and adjoining communities receive adequate assistance.”
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” he said.
“In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes.”
The western United States is suffering under a drought that is now in its 23rd year, the worst episode in more than 1,000 years.
That drought has left swathes of the country dry and vulnerable to hotter, faster and more destructive wildfires.
Communities served by the Colorado River, including Los Angeles, have been ordered to save water, with unpopular restrictions in place on outdoor watering.
Those restrictions are unevenly adhered to, with some lawns — especially in the plushest parts of Los Angeles and its surroundings — still remarkably green.


Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation
Updated 17 August 2022

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation
  • In a triumphant signing event at the White House, Biden pointed to the law as proof that democracy — no matter how long or messy the process — can still deliver for voters in America

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden signed Democrats’ landmark climate change and health care bill into law on Tuesday, delivering what he has called the “final piece” of his pared-down domestic agenda, as he aims to boost his party’s standing with voters less than three months before the midterm elections.
The legislation includes the most substantial federal investment in history to fight climate change — some $375 billion over the decade — and would cap prescription drug costs at $2,000 out-of-pocket annually for Medicare recipients. It also would help an estimated 13 million Americans pay for health care insurance by extending subsidies provided during the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure is paid for by new taxes on large companies and stepped-up IRS enforcement of wealthy individuals and entities, with additional funds going to reduce the federal deficit.
In a triumphant signing event at the White House, Biden pointed to the law as proof that democracy — no matter how long or messy the process — can still deliver for voters in America as he road-tested a line he will likely repeat later this fall ahead of the midterms: “The American people won, and the special interests lost.”
“In this historic moment, Democrats sided with the American people, and every single Republican in the Congress sided with the special interests in this vote,” Biden said, repeatedly seizing on the contrast between his party and the GOP. “Every single one.”
The House on Friday approved the measure on a party-line 220-207 vote. It passed the Senate days earlier with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a 50-50 tie in that chamber.
“In normal times, getting these bills done would be a huge achievement,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said during the White House ceremony. “But to do it now, with only 50 Democratic votes in the Senate, over an intransigent Republican minority, is nothing short of amazing.”
Biden signed the bill into law during a small ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House, sandwiched between his return from a six-day beachside vacation in South Carolina and his departure for his home in Wilmington, Delaware. He plans to hold a larger “celebration” for the legislation on Sept. 6 once lawmakers return to Washington.
The signing caps a spurt of legislative productivity for Biden and Congress, who in three months have approved legislation on veterans’ benefits, the semiconductor industry and gun checks for young buyers. The president and lawmakers have also responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and overwhelmingly supported NATO membership for Sweden and Finland.
With Biden’s approval rating lagging, Democrats are hoping that the string of successes will jump-start their chances of maintaining control in Washington in the November midterms. The 79-year-old president aims to restore his own standing with voters as he contemplates a reelection bid.
The White House announced Monday that it was going to deploy Biden and members of his Cabinet on a “Building a Better America Tour” to promote the recent victories. One of Biden’s trips will be to Ohio, where he’ll view the groundbreaking of a semiconductor plant that will benefit from the recent law to bolster production of such computer chips. He will also stop in Pennsylvania to promote his administration’s plan for safer communities, a visit that had been planned the same day he tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
Biden also plans to hold a Cabinet meeting to discuss how to implement the new climate and health care law.
Republicans say the legislation’s new business taxes will increase prices, worsening the nation’s bout with its highest inflation since 1981. Though Democrats have labeled the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, nonpartisan analysts say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday continued those same criticisms, although he acknowledged there would be “benefit” through extensions on tax credits for renewable energy projects like solar and wind.
“I think it’s too much spending, too much taxing, and in my view wrong priorities, and a super-charged, super-sized IRS that is going to be going after a lot of not just high-income taxpayers but a lot of mid-income taxpayers,” said Thune, speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event in Sioux Falls. The administration has disputed that anyone but high earners will face increased tax scrutiny, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directing the tax agency to focus solely on businesses and people earning more than $400,000 per year for the new audits.
The measure is a slimmed-down version of the more ambitious plan to supercharge environment and social programs that Biden and his party unveiled early last year.
Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal also envisioned free prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and eased immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Virginia, said it was too costly, using the leverage every Democrat has in the evenly divided Senate.
During the signing event, Biden addressed Manchin, who struck the critical deal with Schumer on the package last month, saying, “Joe, I never had a doubt” as the crowd chuckled. Later, outside the White House, Manchin said he has always maintained a “friendly relationship” with Biden and it has “never been personal” between the two, despite Manchin breaking off his negotiations with the White House last year.
“He’s a little bit more vintage than I am, but not much,” Manchin said of Biden.
Though the law is considerably smaller than their initial ambitions, Biden and Democrats are hailing the legislation as a once-in-a-generation investment in addressing the long-term effects of climate change, as well as drought in the nation’s West.
The bill will direct spending, tax credits and loans to bolster technology like solar panels, consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment for coal- and gas-powered power plants, and air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities.
Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums over the next three years for privately bought health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10 drugs. Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription costs would be limited to $2,000 annually starting in 2025, and beginning next year would pay no more than $35 monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a powerful political ally to Biden, noted during the White House ceremony that his late wife, Emily, who battled diabetes for three decades, would be “beyond joy” if she were alive today because of the insulin cap.
“Many seem surprised at your successes,” Clyburn told Biden. “I am not. I know you.”