DUBAI: The UAE has launched the U-Ask platform, a unified AI-powered chatbot for government services, the Emirates News Agency reported on Tuesday.
The platform, which employs generative AI technology, enables users to access information about government services in Arabic and English, such as service requirements, relevant information based on their preferences, and direct links for applications.
Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi, the minister of state for government development, said the chatbot platform was part of the UAE government’s digital efforts, which include integrating and coordinating projects and enhancing system efficiency.
Mohamed bin Taliah, the chief of government services, said that the body and the platform would serve different groups and sectors both inside and outside the country.
The platform is designed to handle a wide range of inquiries and requests, from basic information to more complex service requirements. It also provides comprehensive answers, including basic information and ways to apply for services.
It was developed in partnership with Microsoft and PwC Middle East, and can deliver personalized recommendations and suggestions based on the preferences and previous interactions of users.
Iran says it puts imaging satellite sucessfully into orbit amid tensions with West
here was no immediate acknowledgment from Western officials of the launch
Updated 55 min 17 sec ago
DUBAI: Iran claimed on Wednesday that it has successfully put an imaging satellite into space.
The state-run IRNA news agency, quoting the country’s Communication Minister Isa Zarepour, said the Noor-3 satellite had been put in an orbit 450 kilometers (280 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
There was no immediate acknowledgment from Western officials of the launch or of the satellite being put into orbit. Iran has had a series of failed launches in recent years.
Zarepour said the aerospace arm of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched the satellite carrier, which has had success in launching satellites from its previously secret launch program. Authorities did not immediately release images of the launch.
The United States has alleged that Iran’s satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The US intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment claims such a satellite launch vehicle “shortens the timeline” to an intercontinental ballistic missile for Iran as it uses “similar technologies.”
Iran, which has long said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003. Iran has maintained its program is for peaceful purposes.
Qatar Airways executive says invasive gynecological examinations of passengers won’t be repeated
Qatar Airways Senior Vice President for Global Sales Matt Raos described the incident as “a one-off incident, a very extreme incident.”
Updated 27 September 2023
CANBERRA, Australia: A senior Qatar Airways executive told an Australian Senate inquiry on Wednesday there would be no repeat of an incident at Doha’s international airport in 2020 in which female passengers were subjected to invasive gynecological examinations.
Australian Transport Minister Catherine King said three weeks ago that the examinations of 13 Australian women who had boarded a Qatar Airways plane to Sydney were a factor in her decision in July to refuse the Qatar government-owned airline additional flights to Australia.
Qatar Airways Senior Vice President for Global Sales Matt Raos described the incident, which occurred when authorities were looking for the mother of a newborn baby found abandoned in a Hamad International Airport trash can, as “a one-off incident, a very extreme incident.”
“We’ve had nothing like it previously in our history and we’re completely committed to ensuring nothing like this ever happens again,” Raos told the committee.
Raos was responding to government Sen. Tony Sheldon, who had asked for a guarantee on behalf of female passengers who feared they would be subjected to such treatment.
The Doha-based executive declined to detail the incident because five women are suing the airline in Australian Federal Court.
“We are participating in that process. We think it’s a very important process and we need to honor it and respect it. It does preclude us from going further into this topic today,” Raos said.
“The outcome of that Federal Court case is something that we will honor and abide,” Raos added.
The five Australian women, whose names are suppressed by a court gag order, say they were taken off the flight to Sydney at Doha at gunpoint by guards and were searched without consent.
Qatar Airways provided no response to their complaints and offered no apology, the women said.
They wrote to Catherine King through their lawyer in June urging that Qatar Airways not be allowed to double its number of Australian services from the current 28 flights per week.
“It is our strong belief that Qatar Airways is not fit to carry passengers around the globe let alone to major Australian airports,” they wrote.
“When you are considering Qatar Airways’ bid for extra landing rights, we beg you to consider its insensitive and irresponsible treatment of us and its failure to ensure the safety and dignity of its passengers,” they said.
Raos said Qatar was “surprised and shocked” that Australia had rejected without explanation its application for additional services to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth which was made on Aug. 22, 2022.
Qatar Senior Vice President Fathi Atti told the inquiry that the airline learned of the decision through the news media on July 10 and did not receive official notification from the Australian government until 10 days later.
The airline said it calculated that the additional services would have provided Australia with 3 billion Australian dollars ($1.9 billion) in economic benefits over five years.
Earlier this month, King said her decision was made in the “context” of women’s complaints about their treatment.
“There is no one factor that I would point to that swayed my decision one way or the other,” King told reporters.
The committee is examining a number of Australia’s bilateral air service agreements.
Small fire at Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel extinguished; occupants have returned to rooms - official
Updated 27 September 2023
BAGHDAD: A small fire that led to guests and diplomatic personnel being evacuated from Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel has been brought under control, an official at the hotel told Reuters via phone early on Wednesday.
The hotel houses several envoys from Gulf states.
The small fire occurred in kitchen, and an official described the evacuation as a routine precautionary measure, saying guests had safely returned to their rooms.
The hotel is in Iraq’s highly fortified Green Zone which hosts parliament, many government buildings and foreign embassies.
Iraq wants to overcome dispute with Kuwait over maritime waterway, PM says
Kuwait’s prime minister has described the Iraqi court ruling on the waterway as containing “historical fallacies,” calling on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address it
Updated 27 September 2023
Iraq is keen to overcome a dispute with Kuwait on maritime navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway between the two countries, Iraq’s prime minister said on Tuesday.
In comments carried by Iraq’s state news agency, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani said the country wants a solution that does not conflict with its constitution or with international law.
Iraq respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait and is committed to all its bilateral agreements with countries and to the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, a statement from the prime minister’s media office said on Tuesday after Al-Sudani’s meeting with the state’s administration coalition.
“Such crises are resolved through understanding and reliance on rationality, away from the language of emotion and convulsive populist statements that only produce more crises and tension,” Al-Sudani was quoted as telling his cabinet.
Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled this month that a bilateral agreement regulating navigation in the waterway was unconstitutional. The court said the law ratifying the accord should have been approved by two-thirds of parliament.
The countries’ shared land border was demarcated by the United Nations in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries. This was left for the two oil producers to resolve.
A maritime border agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.
Kuwait’s prime minister has described the Iraqi court ruling on the waterway as containing “historical fallacies,” calling on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address it.
More than 100 dead, scores more injured in Iraq wedding inferno
The fire ripped through a large events hall after fireworks were lit during the celebration
Updated 27 September 2023
Qaraqosh, Iraq: At least 100 people were killed and more than 150 injured when a fire broke out during a wedding at an event hall in the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh, officials said early Wednesday.
At the main hospital in the predominantly Christian town east of Mosul, an AFP photographer saw ambulances arriving with sirens blaring and dozens of people gathering in the courtyard to donate blood.
Others could be seen gathering in front of the open doors of a refrigerated truck loaded with black body bags.
Citing a “preliminary tally,” Iraq’s official INA news agency reported that health authorities in Nineveh province had “counted 100 dead and more than 150 injured in the fire at a marriage hall in Hamdaniyah,” as the town is also known.
The casualty toll was confirmed to AFP by health ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr.
Badr said most of the injured were being treated for burns or oxygen deprivation, adding that there had also been crowd crushes at the scene.
In a statement, civil defense authorities reported the presence of prefabricated panels inside the event hall that were “highly flammable and contravened safety standards.”
The danger was compounded by the “release of toxic gases linked to the combustion of the panels,” which contained plastic.
“The fire caused some parts of the ceiling to fall due to the use of highly flammable, low-cost construction materials,” the statement said, with “preliminary information” suggesting fireworks were to blame for the blaze.
Wedding guest Rania Waad, who sustained a burn to her hand, said that as the bride and groom “were slow dancing, the fireworks started to climb to the ceiling (and) the whole hall went up in flames.”
“We couldn’t see anything,” the 17-year-old said, choking back sobs. “We were suffocating, we didn’t know how to get out.”
Emergency crews were seen sifting through the charred remains of the event hall early Wednesday, inspecting the scene by flashlight.
In a brief statement, Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani called on the health and interior ministers to “mobilize all rescue efforts” to help the victims of the fire.
The health ministry said “medical aid trucks” had been dispatched to the area from Baghdad and other provinces, adding that its teams in Nineveh had been mobilized to care for the injured.
Safety standards in Iraq’s construction sector are often disregarded, and the country, whose infrastructure is in disrepair after decades of conflict, is often the scene of fatal fires and accidents.
In July 2021, a fire in the Covid unit of a hospital in southern Iraq killed more than 60 people.
And in April of the same year, exploding oxygen tanks triggered a fire at a hospital in Baghdad — also dedicated to Covid patients — that killed more than 80 people.
Like many Christian towns in the Nineveh Plains, northeast of Mosul, Qaraqosh was ransacked by jihadists of the Daesh group after they entered the town in 2014.
Qaraqosh and its churches were slowly rebuilt after the group’s ouster in 2017, and Pope Francis visited the town in March 2021.