Saudi tourism boosts presence in Bangladesh, targets 3 million visitors by 2030

Saudi tourism boosts presence in Bangladesh, targets 3 million visitors by 2030
Alhasan Al-Dabbagh, Saudi Tourism Authority president for Asia-Pacific markets, speaks to Arab News on Aug. 25. (AN Photo)
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Updated 26 August 2023
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Saudi tourism boosts presence in Bangladesh, targets 3 million visitors by 2030

Saudi tourism boosts presence in Bangladesh, targets 3 million visitors by 2030
  • STA was part of Saudi Hajj and Umrah minister’s delegation to Dhaka this week
  • Earlier this year, the STA ran an extensive promotional campaign in neighboring India

DHAKA: The Saudi Tourism Authority is establishing a representative office in Bangladesh, its Asia-Pacific president told Arab News on Thursday. The authority hopes to attract more than 3 million Bangladeshi travelers to the Kingdom by 2030.

The STA was part of a Saudi delegation, led by Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, that visited Dhaka this week to launch the Kingdom’s flagship Nusuk initiative and to sign agreements with Bangladeshi authorities to boost ties between the two countries.

Nusuk is an e-visa and booking platform that allows pilgrims to create itineraries for Makkah, Madinah and beyond, and helps them arrange their visit.

While it was launched to streamline the Umrah journey for Bangladeshis, the STA also hopes they will visit the Kingdom’s heritage and nature sites.

“Our ambition is to attract more than 3 million Bangladeshis by 2030 ... it is a very important market for us,” Alhasan Al-Dabbagh, STA president for Asia-Pacific markets, told Arab News in an interview in Dhaka on Thursday.

“(So far this year) we have welcomed more than 300,000 Bangladeshis to Saudi Arabia. Most of them are coming for Umrah, but also there are people who are coming to visit their family and friends. There are people who are coming for business as well.”

After an extensive promotional campaign in India earlier this year — which aimed to attract more than 12 million Indian visitors to Saudi Arabia by 2030 — during this week’s visit, the STA has signed agreements to boost its presence in Bangladesh.

“We’re doing a lot here. First of all, we’re establishing a rep office. We’re working now very closely with our trade partners, tour operators and travel agents,” Al-Dabbagh said.

The launch of Nusuk, extended visas for Umrah, and new transit visas for Bangladeshis, make Umrah easier than ever before and allow visitors to travel beyond the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah.

“Saudi has six UNESCO World Heritage sites. It has more than 10,000 archeological sites. And its topography is very diverse,” Al-Dabbagh said. “You have the big cities like Jeddah and Riyadh. You have the desert experiences. You have the beautiful Red Sea with its rich, colorful coral reef. And you have the mountains of Asir in the south, where the weather is always cool the entire year.”

Tourism is a booming sector in the Kingdom under Saudi Vision 2030, a key part of which is to position Saudi Arabia as a dynamic, diverse, year-round tourism destination. The plan is for tourism to contribute 10 percent to gross domestic product by 2030.

“This is why we are here today: to raise awareness of the offerings and experiences that we have in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Dabbagh said.


Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide

Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide
Updated 7 sec ago
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Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide

Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s party earned a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, local media reported on Monday, a result set to move the Indian Ocean archipelago closer to China and away from traditional partner India.

Muizzu’s People’s National Congress, also known as PNC, won 71 of the 93 seats available on Sunday, preliminary results from the Maldives Elections Commission and media projections showed.

The party together with its coalition partners holds 75 seats in total while the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party dwindled to only 12 seats from 65 previously.

Jubilant voters celebrated with party poppers and cut cakes in their constituencies.

Both Beijing and New Delhi have wooed the Maldives as they vie for influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Elected last year, Muizzu has pledged to end the country’s “India First” policy, straining ties with New Delhi.

His government has asked dozens of Indian military personnel to leave the Maldives, a move critics say could hasten its shift toward China.

Muizzu has also said his government is keen to explore partnerships under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, including the expansion of the country’s central airport and commercial port.

Chinese firms have invested $1.37 billion in the Maldives in the last decade making it the largest bilateral creditor, World Bank data showed.

“Now Muizzu has more leverage and space to pursue a more balanced foreign policy. He would seek to forge a more diversified policy but I don’t think he will necessarily severe India relations,” said Azim Zahir, a lecturer at the University of Western Australia.

Muizzu’s position as president was not affected by Sunday’s vote, in which 368 candidates stood for five-year terms.


India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims

India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims
Updated 22 April 2024
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India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims

India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims
  • Modi, who is seeking a third consecutive term, referred to Muslims as ‘infiltrators’ during Sunday’s speech
  • Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Modi’s ‘deeply objectionable’ statement violated sections of law

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress party petitioned the Election Commission on Monday to act against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making what it said were “deeply objectionable” comments about Muslims that violated election laws.

Modi, who is seeking a rare third consecutive term, referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” during a campaign speech on Sunday, drawing widespread criticism from opposition groups.

In his speech, Modi said the Congress election manifesto promised to confiscate and redistribute the wealth of Indians, which it denies.

Modi said if the party adhered to remarks in 2006 of then Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that minority Muslims should have the “first claim on resources” to share in the fruits of development, then wealth would be distributed to “infiltrators” and those who have “more children.”

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates often refer to Muslim militants illegally crossing the border from Pakistan as infiltrators.

They have also criticized Muslims for their higher birth rates and invoked fears that India’s Muslim population would overtake that of its majority Hindus.

India’s estimated 200 million Muslims make up the world’s third-largest Muslim population. India has a population of 1.42 billion people.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Modi’s “deeply objectionable” statement violated sections of the law that prohibit candidates from asking people to vote or refrain from voting for anyone on the grounds of “religion,” “community” or “religious symbols.”

“We have asked the Election Commission to state that this is the position in law,” Singhvi told reporters, urging it to act against Modi in the same way it would against anyone else accused of similar offenses.

The Election Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Modi’s government has repeatedly been accused of discrimination against Muslims, with civil society, opposition groups, and some foreign governments raising concerns over decisions they say are aimed at fanning discrimination and keeping the BJP in power.

The government has denied all accusations, and Modi has said he works for the betterment of all.

Under election laws, the Election Commission can ask a party or its leader to respond to a complaint, issue adviseries cautioning them or prohibit them from campaigning for a specified period, or launch a criminal case against repeat offenders. India’s seven-week election began on April 19 and will end on June 1, with results due on June 4.


Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi

Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi
Updated 22 April 2024
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Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi

Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi
  • Macron had also reiterated to Netanyahu that France wanted an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron held phone calls on Monday with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to discuss ways of avoiding an escalation in the Middle East crisis, said France and Egypt.
The French presidency said Macron, in his call with Netanyahu, had reaffirmed Paris’s desire to avoid an escalation in the Middle East and to stand up to what it said were Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region.
The French presidency added that Macron had also reiterated to Netanyahu that France wanted an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza and said Paris was working to ease tensions arising from clashes on the border between Israel and Lebanon.
In a separate statement, Egyptian presidential spokesperson Ahmed Fahmy said Macron had also discussed the Middle East crisis with the Egyptian leader and that both Macron and El-Sisi had agreed on the need to avoid further regional escalation.


India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires

India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires
Updated 22 April 2024
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India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires

India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires
  • Kohli fell early in Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s chase after he was caught by Kolkata Knight Riders Harshit Rana
  • Visuals on social media showed Kohli having discussion with umpire after the match as pundits weighed in on dismissal

NEW DELHI: India star Virat Kohli has been fined half his match fee for an angry outburst in response to his dismissal from an Indian Premier League match, the league said Monday.

Kohli fell early in Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s chase on Sunday after he was caught and bowled by Kolkata Knight Riders pace bowler Harshit Rana and his team went on to lose by one run at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

But the former India captain looked confident the high full-toss was above his waist as the umpires checked for a no-ball.

TV umpire Michael Gough declared it out after technology suggested the trajectory of the ball dipped below the waist of the batsman, who returned furious after exchanging words with the on-field officials.

“Kohli committed a Level 1 offense under Article 2.8 of the IPL’s Code of Conduct,” an IPL statement said.

“He admitted to the offense and accepted the Match Referee’s sanction.”

Visuals on social media showed Kohli having a long discussion with an umpire after the match ended and pundits weighed in on the dismissal.

Former India batsman Navjot Singh Sidhu slammed the call and asked for the “rules to be changed“

Ex-India quick Irfan Pathan said on X, formerly Twitter, “if Virat Kohli was standing at the popping crease the ball would have been lower than his measured waist height, making it a legal delivery.”

Kohli has been the top run-getter in the T20 tournament so far with 379 runs in eight matches but his team Bengaluru remains bottom of the 10-team table with just one win.


Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea
Updated 22 April 2024
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Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea
  • More than 16,000 Filipino, American soldiers are involved in the annual exercises this year
  • Beijing, Philippines have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea

MANILA: Filipino and US forces began their annual joint military drills on Monday, segments of which will, for the first time, take place outside of the Philippines’ territorial waters following a string of maritime clashes between Manila and Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

The exercises, known as Balikatan — Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder — will run up until May 10 and involve over 16,000 military personnel, along with more than 250 Australian and French forces.

For the first time since the annual drills started over 30 years ago, the Philippines and the US will conduct joint naval drills beyond the 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) of the Philippines’ territorial waters, in parts of the open sea claimed by China.

“This exercise represents the essence of unity, collective responsibility, and enduring partnership between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America and other partners,” Philippines’ military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said during the opening ceremony.

“It is not a partnership of convenience but rather a clear reflection of our shared history, unwavering commitment to democracy and respect for international law in our pursuit of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Throughout the three-week exercise, soldiers from the two militaries will operate out of a joint command center to perform four major activities with a focus on countering maritime, air, land, and cyber attacks.

“It’s the first time that we are going beyond our (12) nautical miles,” Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, Philippines exercise director, told reporters.

The Balikatan training operations are not directed at a particular country, he said, but are more focused on the “development of interoperability,” with an increased complexity of the drills and scenarios to let soldiers learn more from one another.

The joint exercises take place as Philippine and Chinese coast guard and other vessels have featured in a series of increasingly tense territorial face-offs since last year, including Chinese use of water cannons against a Philippine vessel in the South China Sea last month, causing damage and injuries.

After the incident, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said his government would take countermeasures against “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks” by the Chinese Coast Guard.

“We seek no conflict with any nation, more so nations that purport and claim to be our friends but we will not be cowed into silence, submission, or subservience,” Marcos had said in a statement.

The Philippines and China, along with several other countries, have overlapping claims in the resource-rich waterway, where a bulk of the world’s commerce and oil transits.

Beijing has been increasing its military activity over the past few years, with the Chinese Coast Guard regularly encroaching on the Philippine part of the waters, the West Philippine Sea, despite a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague dismissing China’s expansive claims.

Don McLain Gill, an international studies lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, said the scope of this year’s Balikatan is a “clear reflection of Manila’s commitment to exercise its sovereignty and sovereign rights within its exclusive economic zone.

“This year ’s exercise will also involve complex maritime security issues such as simulations of recovering islands from hostile forces, which add a practical dimension to collective self defense efforts by the like-minded partners,” he told Arab News.

“Clearly, securing the WPS based on international law will not bode well for China’s expansionist interests. While the Balikatan is aimed at improving joint preparedness amidst emerging challenges in the region, the challenge posed by China's expansionism is clearly one of the critical factors that provoke regional security.”