RIYADH: Fancy taking a virtual space flight to Mars, or testing your skills as a ninja warrior?
These are just two of a host of entertainment and educational activities available to Saudi youngsters and their families at the Riyadh Home Coming festival in the north of the capital.
The festival, which was launched by General Entertainment Authority Chairman Turki Al-Sheikh on Tuesday, is expected to be a hit with children looking for added thrills as their summer break draws to a close.
Among surprises are shows including “Disney on Ice,” and plays such as “University of the Rowdies” that are being presented for the first time.
The festival features three zones and two stages, and promises visitors “an integrated and distinctive interactive experience combining knowledge and entertainment.”
Activities are appropriate for all age groups and cover a variety of interests. Among the highlights are a circus show at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater in Riyadh Boulevard City and a performance by singer Rasha Rizk, known for singing the Arabic theme songs for popular cartoons and anime.
Riyadh Home Coming also aims to help youngsters make decisions about their future professional careers and jobs.
Arts and creativity are heavily represented at the festival, in addition to a wide selection of local and global innovation and entertainment stations.
As well as a simulated “space experience,” virtual travel to Mars and an inspiring children’s art experience, the festival will offer children six interactive experiences in the fields of environmental sciences, biology and chemistry.
One of the corners is devoted to learning languages, including Arabic, Japanese, Korean and even sign language.
Aliaa’ Al-Omar, an instructor in sign language, told Arab News: “We are interested in spreading sign language as a community partnership, and we inform people about the tasks carried out by the Saudi Society for Sign Language Interpretation. We have a sign language mobile application, dictionaries for children, activities, and training in sign language that benefit children who want to learn sign language, as well as adults.”
Japanese speaker Fatima Al-Inani said that she and her family are taking part in the festival to “build bridges” between the Arabic and Japanese languages.
“We are here to talk about Japanese culture. We talk about the differences between the Arabic and the Japanese cultures, and we teach the visitors and children how to write their names in Japanese.”
A ninja warrior experience will also be offered for the first time in Saudi Arabia to help children, and their parents, develop mental and physical skills.
“‘Ninja Warrior’ is one of the most popular shows in the US — the winner becomes famous. Here we are having it for the first time in Saudi Arabia. It’s a course for children and adults where they go through challenges to test their physical limits, and it’s good for parents to bond with their kids,” one of the site workers said.
Riyadh Home Coming offers a variety of restaurants, cafes and shops.
The festival is open daily until Sept. 5. Entry is SR20 ($5.33) with bookings via the link:
US Mission expands interview waiver program for Saudis on tourist visa
The US Mission to Saudi Arabia has resumed immigrant visa and nonimmigrant visa processing for all categories
Travelers can schedule appointments for the range of visa categories on-line
Updated 17 sec ago
RIYADH: The US diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia have announced an expansion of the waiver program for Saudi nationals from attending personal interviews to obtain US tourist visas.
“Good news for Saudi citizens: We are pleased to announce the expansion of the Tourist Visa Renewal Interview Waiver Program to include certain applicants who are 40 years of age or older or 17 years of age or younger,” tweeted the US Embassy in Riyadh.
Sharing more information on exemption eligibility, it said the US Mission to Saudi Arabia has resumed immigrant visa and nonimmigrant visa processing for all categories.
Travelers can schedule appointments for the range of visa categories on-line.
“While the Embassy and Consulates General aim to process cases as soon as practicable, backlogs developed during the COVID pandemic and limited capacity due to COVID-19 mitigation measures will result in longer wait times for appointments. If you have an urgent matter and need to travel immediately, please follow the guidance provided at http://www.ustraveldocs.com/sa to request an emergency appointment,” said a statement on the US Embassy website.
“We understand that many nonimmigrant visa applicants paid a visa application fee (known as the MRV fee) and are still waiting to schedule a visa interview. The US Mission will extend the validity of this MRV fee until Sept. 30, 2023, to allow all applicants who were unable to schedule an appointment as a result of the suspension of routine visa services an opportunity to schedule an appointment with the already paid fee,” it added.
The consular sections of the US Embassy in Riyadh and the consulate generals in Jeddah and Dhahran are responsible for providing visa services to those seeking to enter the US for a temporary period and for those wishing to take up indefinite or permanent residence in the US.
The US missions last January exempted Saudi nationals aged 50 and above from attending personal interviews to obtain tourist visas, saying: “The US Embassy and Consulate General are happy to announce that interview waivers are now available for Saudi citizens at least 50 years old renewing a tourist visa.
“The new interview waiver program will ease the visa process for thousands of Saudi citizens who qualify as well as free up visa appointments for many others at a time when international travel is beginning to return to normal levels,” it said, adding: “It is a sign of the importance and strength of the ties between the US and Saudi Arabia.”
Welcoming the announcement, Dr. Osama Ghanem Al-Obaidy, a professor of law at the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh, told Arab News: “This waiver expansion announced by the US Embassy will further promote Saudi-US relations and make it easier to get a US tourist visa for those qualifying for such an exemption.”
Saudi-US trade ties can only go one way — and that is up, says US official
“What is most impressive is that we see Vision 2030 already being implemented. It is not just a vision; it is becoming a reality,” said Venkataraman
Updated 03 February 2023
RIYADH: A senior US official remains optimistic that Saudi-American trade relations will flourish — in contrast to the dire predictions of many Western pundits that recent political disagreements might hinder the ongoing strategic and mutually beneficial 80-year relationship between the two nations.
US-Saudi economic relations can be taken to a “new level,” according to Arun Venkataraman, assistant secretary of commerce for global markets and director general of the US and Foreign Commercial Service.
“What we see here in Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a spectacular transformation that began as a result of Vision 2030.”
Venkataraman expressed his pleasure at being able to witness the changes in person. “And what is most impressive is that we see Vision 2030 already being implemented. So, it is not just a vision; it is becoming a reality and I am so pleased to be here and see it in person.”
The reason behind his visit and meetings in Saudi Arabia was explained in this way. “We hope through our meetings to build on the existing commercial work plan designed to strengthen our commercial partnership, which is so critical, and which underpins the strong strategic relationship between our two nations.”
Furthering commercial relations is at the top of his agenda in addition to deepening the already existing partnership. “We know there are many areas for collaboration in the business between our governments. The opportunities we have, and the way they complement our economies and our private sectors, are so vast that we want to make sure we take full advantage of them. Only by doing so can we be sure that the actions will benefit both our peoples.”
Since the launch of Vision 2030 in 2016, the Kingdom has gone through significant transformations on several fronts, including the empowering of women and diversifying the economy. Venkataraman called the transformations “game changers.”
“We see women taking their rightful place in professional society and in driving the work of both the private sector and the government. In meeting both American and Saudi companies today, I was really taken with the fact that both groups of companies emphasized how much they depend on women to fill the talent gaps. In addition, they are looking to women to be the future leaders in their companies in Saudi Arabia.
During his trip to Riyadh, Venkataraman held many meetings but what stood out the most for him was the Apple Academy at Princess Nourah University. “The first visible sign is noting how women have taken on a new role. In my visit to the Apple Academy, it was so inspiring to see the university supporting the young women’s skills development in a space that women have really not until now been present in, either in Saudi Arabia or the United States.”
He was impressed with the level of skill the young women have acquired. “To see those young women develop the skills and start creating completely new apps out of the blue, and to see the passion and the pride that they exhibited in doing so was striking. That’s the kind of spirit and passion that is at the core of Vision 2030.”
Venkataraman noted that there had been diversification of the economy in many sectors. “We see that in the digital sector. We see that in the move to the development of clean energy, moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. We also see tremendous advances in healthcare, not only in terms of pharmaceuticals, but really looking at smaller, more cutting-edge areas of healthcare, like research, development and clinical trials.”
“I think we also see something of particular interest in the entertainment space. We know that Saudi Arabia has a long history of being a cultural leader in the region in terms of disseminating culture. To see it now, however, as it expands that role and gives our partnership special opportunities for American cultural industries, is really exciting.”
Commenting on the recent Bloomberg report that the Saudi economy had grown 8.7 percent in 2022, he said: “Saudi Arabia had a fantastic year last year with a growth rate that we could only wish the rest of the world had enjoyed, particularly as we emerged from COVID-19 in 2022. Saudi Arabia’s growth was historic.”
According to Venkataraman, what that really shows is that “Vision 2030 is working. The intention to diversify the economy which the government is supporting is evident. It translates on the ground to what we are excited about from our perspective as the government pushes to diversify the economy.”
“We are proud that American companies have a role to play and can really greatly contribute to that diversification across a wide range of sectors. Such partnerships will further strengthen and underpin the strength of our bilateral relationship.”
Venkataraman reiterated that relations between the two countries can only go one way — and that is up.
“I think we are fortunate to have such a strong broad-based foundation to our relationship. And what that means is that the commercial opportunities that exist are so vast that really, I see the opportunities as limitless. This is true whether we want to talk in terms of supporting Saudi Arabia through weapons sales, or whether we talk about supporting the movement away from fossil fuels by supporting clean energy development, or supporting the expanded role of tourism in the Saudi economy.”
“I think there are so many areas, both old and new, that will form the basis for the next stage of impactful, high-level economic activity between our two countries. I would say the future looks bright for our bilateral relations and I look forward to being a part of that relationship and facilitating it in the future.”
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2.1 category Union Cyclists event being organized across the region
Updated 02 February 2023
ALULA: The third edition of the Saudi Tour cycling race, currently taking place and being broadcast on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel, shows AlUla’s ambition to become the cycling capital of the Kingdom.
AlUla is the perfect location to take Saudi cycling to the next level, according to the coaching staff behind the Saudi Cycling Federation team, speaking exclusively to Arab News on the sidelines of the 2.1 category Union Cyclists International event, which is taking place across the region from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.
The Saudi Cycling Federation team has enjoyed a wonderful learning experience mixing in the peloton with UCI World Tour teams such as Team Jayco AlUla, Astana Qazaqstan Team, Bahrain Victorious, Cofidis, Movistar Team, Team DSM and UAE Team Emirates.
Five-time Tour de France stage winner Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco AlUla, two-time Cycling Monument winner John Degenkolb, and Jonathan Milan of Cofidis have all demonstrated their abilities during the race, providing the Saudi team of Hassan Al-Jumah, Abdulaziz Hashim, Hani Al-Mhrhoon, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, and Murthada Al-Shaghab with priceless riding experience.
Salem Al-Salem, a vital member of the coaching team, told Arab News: “I am from Saudi Arabia, and since I was born in 1980, I have gone to cities all over the Kingdom, and AlUla looks incredible. It is a beautiful venue for hosting a world-class cycling event such as the Saudi Tour.
This has been a real learning curve for the team and me, and I think that AlUla is the perfect place to move to the next level. It has everything necessary for a training camp, from the accommodation, food, and facilities to the right cycling conditions,” he added.
The Royal Commission for AlUla recently signed a deal to become a second named sponsor of the Australian-based Team Jayco AlUla, the UCI World Tour team currently considered among the top three teams in the world.
The partnership aims to put the destination of AlUla on the map for 1.7 billion road cycling spectators around the globe. The cyclists and teams in the Saudi Tour are finding out for themselves exactly what the destination has to offer.
Al-Salem added: “I don’t think you can imagine how important this will be for developing cyclists from Saudi Arabia. AlUla would be perfect for training camps, national races, one and two-day events, and even international races. When I look at AlUla and the facilities and infrastructure here, I can’t see how we would want to train anywhere else from December to March each year.”
As well as giving the riders top-level experience, the Saudi Tour has showcased the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of AlUla, with the five stages passing the area’s extraordinary sights, including preserved tombs, historic dwellings and monuments, both man-made and natural, and geological formations that hold 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history.
The first stage was a 180-km sprint leg that showcased both the evolving infrastructure and heritage of the region, starting at the redeveloped AlUla International Airport and finishing in the stunning landscape of Khaybar, featuring rare white volcanoes, lava fields, caves and wadis with freshwater springs supporting an abundance of plant and animal life.
The second stage was a 184-km sprint from Winter Park through Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which finished up at Shalal Sijlyat Rocks, an area of natural wonder and dramatic rock formations. Wednesday’s third stage was a 159.2-km journey from the Al-Manshiyah Train Station to Abu Rakah via short climbs.
The architectural splendor of Maraya offered a unique backdrop for the start of the 163.4-km fourth stage today, which will finish at the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid. In contrast, Friday’s fifth stage will provide a fitting finale, a 142.9-km ride that takes the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s Arts and Culture District, before finishing up at Maraya.
Saudi Arabia’s many sports fans can follow the third edition live on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/experiencealula
RIYADH: Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, stressed the importance of strengthening the Gulf-French strategic partnership, in a way that contributes to serving common interests.
He expressed these views during a meeting with the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna in Riyadh on Thursday.
The two sides discussed ways to strengthen the strategic partnership and Gulf-French relations and develop them in all fields, through the joint action plan for 2023-2028.
They also discussed several issues of common interest, in addition to following up on the latest regional and international developments.
The meeting was attended by the GCC assistant secretary for political affairs and negotiations, Dr. Abdulaziz Hamad Al-Owaisheg.