COLOMBO: Saudi Arabia’s NEOM smart city offers a great opportunity for Sri Lankan professionals and skilled workers, a government minister from the South Asian nation said on Friday.
Labor and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara visited the site of the megaproject in northwestern Tabuk province last month during an official visit to the Kingdom.
He also met his Saudi counterpart, Human Resources and Social Development Minister Ahmed bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, to discuss ways to boost labor relations and find employment opportunities for skilled Sri Lankan workers on some of the huge infrastructure projects being implemented under Saudi Vision 2030.
Sri Lanka produces world-class engineers, architects and city planners. They can contribute their technical and creative capabilities. Projects will be a lifetime opportunity for most of them.
Manusha Nanayakkara, Labor and foreign employment minister
“NEOM is a futuristic concept and I was blown away by looking at the amount of work that has gone into it,” Nanayakkara told Arab News. “Also, once the project is complete it will trigger a significant transformation in traditional tourism and modern living.”
He added: “NEOM offers a substantial amount of job opportunities in various categories and I am trying to orient as many aspiring migrant workers to capitalize on this.”
Some of the best opportunities were for construction, engineering, IT and urban planning professionals, he said.
“Sri Lanka produces world-class engineers, architects and city planners. They can contribute their technical and creative capabilities. Projects like NEOM are rare in the world and it will be a lifetime opportunity for most of them.”
Sri Lanka is keen to find work overseas for its professionals as it is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence in 1948 and in desperate need of foreign currency.
The island nation of 22 million people officially defaulted on its debts in April and without foreign currency reserves has been left unable to pay for imports. Most of its citizens are facing daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities.
Remittances from Sri Lankans working overseas have long been a key source of foreign exchange for the country.
“(An) Immediate contribution, without a doubt, would be foreign remittance,” Nanayakkara said, adding that involvement in NEOM would also bring long-term benefits for Sri Lankan workers.
“The expertise and experience they gain by being employed by NEOM will add to their credentials as professionals.”
NEW DELHI: Middle Eastern influence on Indian architecture is most famously represented by the iconic Taj Mahal, but the mausoleum is not the only fine example of the unique style that throughout centuries developed into a blend of Arab, Persian and indigenous designs.
The earliest examples of Islamic architecture to survive in the Indian subcontinent date from the late years of the 12th century, but the cultural influence of Islamic art had already been present there since the Arabs conquered the Sindh region — now in Pakistan — in 712.
As Muslims came to India, new features and architectural techniques were introduced in building design, including the use of the arch and dome, the construction of which was further refined by the Hindu craftsmen who long before had mastered the art of stonework.
The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in the Qutb Minar complex in Delhi is the earliest surviving mosque in India. Its construction began in 1192, under Qutb-ud-din Aibak, a Turkic general, who later became the first ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi.
The mosque’s arched facade gives it an Islamic feel, but rich floral ornamentation is an Indian feature.
“Cultural interactions started from the Sultanate period onwards…The coming of Turks and their local interactions led to Hindu architecture influencing mosque architecture,” said Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University and secretary of the Indian History Congress.
“Muslim rulers brought architects and engineers from Iran, the Arab world and Central Asia…but the master craftsmen and artisans were locals. The end result was the amalgamation of traditions.”
As time passed, new Muslim powers arrived in India, bringing their architectural heritage. At the same time, local sultanates emerged and flourished as well, developing their own forms. The Hindu kingdoms that retained different degrees of independence during the time of Muslim supremacy also produced important works and influenced predominant styles.
These multilevel exchanges yielded an architecture that was neither strictly Islamic nor strictly Hindu.
“There are many places in Gujarat where it is not easy to identify mosques and temples. In the northern Hindu city of Ayodhya, temples look similar to mosques because they have domes,” Rezavi told Arab News. “If you are talking about India’s history, you cannot talk in terms of Hindus and Muslims. There was no distinction between them.
They borrowed each other’s characteristic features.” But it was the Mughals who brought the Indo-Islamic style to its full bloom.
The advent of the Mughal dynasty, which ruled the subcontinent between the 16th and 19th centuries, marked the global revival of Islamic architecture with works that until today are examples of the highest quality and refinement.
Originally from Central Asia, the Mughals carried cultural elements borrowed from Arabs, Persians and Ottomans. As they settled in India, they fused them with the various provincial styles they found in their new domains.
For Anuj Srivastva, one of the most renowned Indian architects who teaches at the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, it is no wonder that when the British took control of the subcontinent in the 19th century, they regarded Mughal architecture as the classic Indian style.
“Indo-Saracenic architecture is an amalgamation of styles. It drew stylistic and decorative elements from native Indo-Islamic architecture,” he told Arab News.
“When the Mughals came, they carried Central Asian, Arab and Persian influences, and they created their own style and integrated it with the existing architecture in India.”
The 1570 tomb of Humayun, the son of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, inaugurated the Mughal dynasty’s style. The first garden tomb on the subcontinent, it inspired other major architectural innovations, which three generations later culminated in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
One of the most significant architectural achievements of Humayun’s son, Akbar, was the great fort at Agra and the city of Fatehpur Sikri. They also brought Middle Eastern styles deeper into the Indian realm.
“Fatehpur Sikri displays distinct Persian and Arabic influence,” Rezavi said.
“Some of the temples in the Hindu city of Mathura have the same carvings as Mughal King Akbar’s capital Fatehpur Sikri. You have the same architecture, the same carvings, the same styles, big vaults. Entire temple grounds are similar to the typical features that were used in mosques.”
It was during the reign of Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, when Mughal architectural creativity reached its zenith.
He built the great Red Fort complex at Delhi in 1648, where the planning of the palace was based on Islamic prototypes but the pavilions and garden design reflect a fusion of all traditions of the subcontinent at that time. The structure influenced later buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and beyond.
The Jama Masjid was built by Shah Jahan in Delhi in 1656. Constructed in red sandstone and marble, it is one of the largest and finest mosques in India. It took a decade to complete and the work of thousands of artisans.
But the greatest masterpiece of Shah Jahan’s time is the Taj Mahal, a white-marble mausoleum he built in Agra in 1648, in memory of the emperor’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Known as one of the world’s wonders and a “monument of love,” it is recognized by UNESCO as “the greatest architectural achievement in the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture.”
For Rezavi, it is also a structure where native Indian styles reached their finest display.
“The architecture in India is an amalgamation of indigenous and Indo-Islamic traditions,” he said.
“Look at the Taj Mahal. It has both Indian and Iranian influences, but I feel that indigenous influences are more prominent.”
US downs Chinese balloon over ocean, moves to recover debris
An operation was underway in U.S. territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean to recover debris from the balloon
Television footage showed a small explosion, followed by the balloon descending toward the water
Updated 50 min 2 sec ago
WASHINGTON: The United States on Saturday downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America and became the latest flashpoint in tensions between Washington and Beijing.
An operation was underway in US territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean to recover debris from the balloon, which had been flying at about 60,000 feet and was estimated to be about the size of three school buses.
President Joe Biden had told reporters earlier Saturday that “we’re going to take care of it,” when asked about the balloon. The Federal Aviation Administration and Coast Guard worked to clear the airspace and water below the balloon as it reached the ocean.
Television footage showed a small explosion, followed by the balloon descending toward the water. US military jets were seen flying in the vicinity and ships were deployed in the water to mount the recovery operation.
Officials were aiming to time the operation so they could recover as much of the debris as possible before it sinks into the ocean. The Pentagon had previously estimated that any debris field would be substantial.
The balloon was spotted Saturday morning over the Carolinas as it approached the coast. In preparation for the operation, the FAA Administration temporarily closed airspace over the Carolina coastline, including the airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina. The FAA rerouted air traffic from the area and warned of delays as a result of the flight restrictions.
The Coast Guard advised mariners to immediately leave the area because of US military operations “that present a significant hazard.”
Biden had been inclined to down the balloon over land when he was first briefed on it on Tuesday, but Pentagon officials advised against it, warning that the potential risk to people on the ground outweighed the assessment of potential Chinese intelligence gains.
The public disclosure of the balloon this week prompted the cancelation of a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing scheduled for Sunday for talks aimed at reducing US-China tensions. The Chinese government on Saturday sought to play down the cancelation.
“In actuality, the US and China have never announced any visit, the US making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning.
China has continued to claim that the balloon was merely a weather research “airship” that had been blown off course. The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China’s contention that it was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.
The balloon was spotted over Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
The Pentagon also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a question about the second balloon.
Blinken, who had been due to depart Washington for Beijing late Friday, said he had told senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in a phone call that sending the balloon over the US was “an irresponsible act and that (China’s) decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.”
Uncensored reactions on the Chinese Internet mirrored the official government stance that the US was hyping the situation. Some used it as a chance to poke fun at US defenses, saying it couldn’t even defend against a balloon, and nationalist influencers leapt to use the news to mock the US
China has denied any claims of spying and said it is a civilian-use balloon intended for meteorology research. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that the balloon’s journey was out of its control and urged the US not to “smear” it based on the balloon.
Protect, advance women for a better South Sudan, pope says
The rights of girls and women was a recurring theme on the penultimate day of the pope's visit to South Sudan
"Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honour every woman, every girl, young woman, mother and grandmother" the pope said
Updated 04 February 2023
JUBA: Pope Francis joined other Christian leaders and the UN on Saturday in urging the protection and advancement of women in South Sudan, where rape has been a weapon of war, child brides are common and most girls do not reach secondary education.
The rights of girls and women was a recurring theme on the penultimate day of the pope’s visit to South Sudan, an unprecedented joint “pilgrimage of peace” with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields.
“Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honor every woman, every girl, young woman, mother and grandmother. Otherwise, there will be no future,” the pope said during a meeting of the three leaders with people displaced by conflict.
Later, Welby returned to the theme in his address to about 50,000 people at an ecumenical prayer vigil at a mausoleum to South Sudan’s liberation hero John Garang.
“Young men, you will value and honor women, never raping, never violent, never cruel, never using them as if they were there to satisfy desire,” he said.
“Women of South Sudan, I know that on top of the grief of conflict and the responsibility to provide for your families, many of you live with the trauma of sexual violence and the daily fear of mistreatment in your own homes.”
A United Nations report on South Sudan issued last March condemned widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and said it was “fueled by systemic impunity.”
The report said “widespread rape is being perpetrated by all armed groups across the country, often as part of military tactics for which government and military leaders are responsible.”
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into civil war in 2013 with ethnic groups turning on each other. Despite a 2018 peace deal between the two main antagonists, bouts of inter-ethnic fighting have continued to kill and displace large numbers of civilians.
PROTECT, RESPECT, HONOUR
At the event where the three religious leaders heard accounts from children living in displaced persons camps, the resident UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, also raised the issue of pervasive sexual violence against women and girls.
The pope responded by calling on everyone in South Sudan “to ensure that women are protected, respected, valued and honored.”
Francis said that if women are given opportunities “they will have the ability to change the face of South Sudan, to give it a peaceful and cohesive development!“
Sister Orla Treacy, an Irish member of the Loreto Sisters religious order who runs a school in Rumbek, north of the capital, and works to prevent child marriages, said less than 5 percent of girls finish secondary school. About 10 percent of 15-year-old girls and 52 percent of 18-year-old girls in South Sudan are married, she said.
Treacy and a group of students had walked about 200 km (125 miles) from Lakes State to see the pope. She said the governor of that region had recently signed a decree promising to stop child marriages.
South Sudan has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, according to the World Bank, and poverty and hunger are rife across the country, with two thirds of the population needing humanitarian assistance as a result of conflict as well as three years of catastrophic floods.
"One winter sports enthusiast was killed in an avalanche in Kaltenbach on Saturday," said a police spokesman
A 32-year-old Chinese man, also said to be skiing away from the designated routes, died in an avalanche in the resort of Soelden
Updated 04 February 2023
VIENNA: A series of avalanches in Austria has left three people dead since Friday, as the ski season gets into full swing, with authorities warning of the risks posed by a particularly unstable snow cover.
“One winter sports enthusiast was killed in an avalanche in Kaltenbach on Saturday,” a police spokesman told AFP, declining to give any information about the circumstances of the accident in the small Alpine village.
According to the Austrian news agency APA, the victim was a 17-year-old New Zealander who was skiing off-piste.
On Friday, a 32-year-old Chinese man, also said to be skiing away from the designated routes, died in an avalanche in the resort of Soelden.
A third victim was found dead Saturday after being reported missing the previous day.
APA reported that the man was 50 years old and died in the Kleinwalsertal valley on the border with Germany.
Over the past two days, intensive snowfall and wind have increased the avalanche danger in the Alpine Tyrol and Vorarlberg regions.
Warnings have been issued in both these popular ski resort regions, urging winter sports enthusiasts to exercise caution.
However an alert level four, on a scale of five, has not prevented many holidaymakers from venturing off the marked slopes, authorities said.
The avalanche situation also led to numerous rescue operations on Saturday, made hazardous by the weather conditions.
The February school holidays have begun in Vienna and resorts have filled up, after a gloomy start to the season, marked by the absence of snow at low and medium altitudes.
In recent years, in Austria, a leading winter sports destination, there have been an annual average of 20 deaths on the slopes.
Ukraine, Russia swap prisoners; bodies of British volunteers returned
The Ukrainian president's chief of staff said 116 Ukrainians had been returned
Russian news agencies cited Moscow's defence ministry saying 63 Russian POWs had been freed
Updated 04 February 2023
DUBAI: Ukraine and Russia traded almost 200 prisoners of war in a swap announced separately by both sides on Saturday, with the bodies of two British volunteers also being sent back to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said 116 Ukrainians had been returned, while Russian news agencies cited Moscow’s defense ministry saying 63 Russian POWs had been freed.
“We managed to return 116 of our people, defenders of Mariupol, partisans from Kherson, snipers from the Bakhmut (front) and other heroes of ours,” Yermak wrote on Telegram.
Yermak also said the bodies of British volunteer aid workers Andrew Bagshaw and Chris Parry had been sent back to Ukraine.
Bagshaw and Parry were killed during an attempted humanitarian evacuation in eastern Ukraine in January, Parry’s family has previously said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the released Russian servicemen included “sensitive category” persons.