Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector

Special Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector
Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim introduces President Ranil Wickremesinghe to a member of the Saudi delegation, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Nov. 27, 2023. (Presidential Secretariat)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector

Sri Lanka eyes Saudi investment to modernize tourism sector
  • Tourism is a key industry for Sri Lanka, accounting for 12 percent of GDP in 2019
  • Officials also discussed possibility of Saudia Airlines launching direct flight to Colombo

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is looking for Saudi investment to modernize its tourism and other sectors, top officials in Colombo have said following an official visit of Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim. 

Al-Ibrahim was in the Sri Lankan capital on Monday, where he met President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to discuss ways to strengthen economic ties. 

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe … further highlighted that the tourism and agriculture sectors were areas open to greater investment, as the country is committed to modernizing these domains,” the presidential secretariat said in a statement. 

Tourism and agriculture are key industries for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 12 percent and 7 percent of its 2019 GDP respectively. The country has been working to revive its crisis-hit economy following a severe financial crisis that drove the country to bankruptcy last year. 

Al-Ibrahim said that he was honored to meet Wickremesinghe. 

“We discussed both countries’ ambitions and transformation journeys as well as strengthening our bilateral economic ties and trade and investment growth opportunities,” Al-Ibrahim wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. 

During Al-Ibrahim’s meeting with Sabry, the two officials discussed Saudi investment, as well as manpower and tourism cooperation, the foreign minister said.  

“We also discussed (ways) to improve the tourism traffic between the two countries and further strengthen people-to-people contact. We also discussed the possibility of Saudia Airlines commencing direct flights to Colombo,” Sabry told Arab News. 

“We decided to explore possibilities of Saudi investment in Sri Lanka and opportunities for the Sri Lankans for further skilled employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia in its planned construction boom,” he said, alluding to the Kingdom’s various megaprojects under Vision 2030.  

“All in all, we had a very productive discussion and agreed to have a clear plan to continue our cooperation.” 

Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka have expanded ties in the past year. They agreed to broaden their political consultation following their first joint committee meeting in May and earlier this year launched a new employment scheme aimed at boosting Colombo’s manpower exports to the Kingdom.


Hungary’s parliament ratifies Sweden’s NATO accession, clearing the final obstacle to membership

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, bottom right, addresses a parliament session.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, bottom right, addresses a parliament session.
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Hungary’s parliament ratifies Sweden’s NATO accession, clearing the final obstacle to membership

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, bottom right, addresses a parliament session.

BUDAPEST: Hungary’s parliament voted Monday to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO, bringing an end to more than 18 months of delays that have frustrated the alliance as it seeks to expand in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The vote, which passed with 188 votes for and six against, came as a culmination of months of wrangling by Hungary’s allies to convince its nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden’s membership. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán submitted the protocols for approving Sweden’s entry into NATO in July 2022, but the matter had stalled in parliament over opposition by governing party lawmakers.
Unanimous support among all NATO members is required to admit new countries, and Hungary is the last of the alliance’s 31 members to give its backing since Turkiye ratified the request last month.
Orbán, a right-wing populist who has forged close ties with Russia, has said that criticism of Hungary’s democracy by Swedish politicians had soured relations between the two countries and led to reluctance among lawmakers in his Fidesz party.
But the vote on Monday removed the final membership hurdle for Sweden which, along with neighboring Finland, first applied to join the alliance in May 2022.
Addressing lawmakers before the vote, Orbán said: “Sweden and Hungary’s military cooperation and Sweden’s NATO accession strengthen Hungary’s security.”
Orbán criticized Hungary’s European Union and NATO allies for placing increased pressure on his government in recent months to move forward on bringing Sweden into the alliance.
“Several people tried to intervene from the outside in the settling of our disputes (with Sweden), but this did not help but rather hampered the issue,” Orbán said. “Hungary is a sovereign country, it does not tolerate being dictated by others, whether it be the content of its decisions or their timing.”
Last weekend, a bipartisan group of US senators visited Hungary and announced it would submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning Hungary’s alleged democratic backsliding and urging Orbán’s government to immediately lift its block on Sweden’s trans-Atlantic integration.
But on Friday, Ulf Kristersson, Sweden’s prime minister, met with Orbán in Hungary’s capital where they appeared to reach a decisive reconciliation after months of diplomatic tensions.
Following their meeting, the leaders announced the conclusion of a defense industry agreement that will include Hungary’s purchase of four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets and the extension of a service contract for its existing Gripen fleet.
Orbán said the additional fighter jets “will significantly increase our military capabilities and further strengthen our role abroad” and will improve Hungary’s ability to participate in joint NATO operations.
“To be a member of NATO together with another country means we are ready to die for each other,” Orbán said. “A deal on defense and military capacities helps to reconstruct the trust between the two countries.”
Monday’s vote on Sweden’s NATO accession was just one matter on a busy agenda for lawmakers in the Hungarian parliament. A vote was also held on accepting the resignation of President Katalin Novák, who stepped down earlier this month in a scandal over her decision to pardon to a man convicted of covering up a string of child sexual abuses.
After accepting Novák’s resignation, lawmakers are expected to confirm Tamás Sulyok, the president of Hungary’s Constitutional Court, as the country’s new president. He is set to formally take office on March 5.
Some opposition parties have said they will not participate in a vote to confirm a new president and have called for direct presidential elections. But Sulyok was nominated by Orbán’s Fidesz party, which has a two-thirds majority in parliament and is expected to easily approve his presidency.
A presidential signature is needed to formally endorse the approval of Sweden’s NATO bid, which is expected within the next few days.


Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine
Updated 26 February 2024
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Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine
  • Israel’s ‘systematic misinformation campaigns’ aim to ‘cover its brutality and genocidal massacres’ in Gaza, OIC says
  • At least 88 journalists have been killed in Palestine since Israel’s onslaught on Gaza began in October 

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s state minister for information has proposed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation create a collaborative digital platform to combat Israel’s disinformation campaign against Palestine, as the Muslim grouping launches new plans to expose Tel Aviv’s war crimes. 

Information ministers of OIC member countries were in Turkiye over the weekend for an extraordinary session discussing Israel’s disinformation campaign and attacks on journalists in Gaza, where nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since October. 

State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Ali Arafat said Israel’s “despicable disinformation campaign” is an attempt to cover its blatant war crimes in Gaza, including the indiscriminate targeting of babies and children, as well as journalists and humanitarian workers. 

“The world has hardly seen the continued killing of journalists and the spreading of disinformation as is happening in Gaza. I believe fighting to contain and combat against such dissemination of misinformation needs collective effort,” Arafat told the participants. 

At least 88 journalists and media workers were among the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in over four months since Israel began its onslaught on Gaza, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

“We need to create a collaborative digital platform to combat the spreading of such disinformation against Palestine. I request the OIC Secretariat to prepare a plan in this regard immediately,” Arafat said. 

Bangladesh is ready to support the OIC in establishing an information pool documenting Israeli war crimes that can be regularly shared with its member states, he added. 

“Muslim Ummah must work together to stop this massacre and let the world know the truth. Bangladesh supports and stands firm by our Palestinian brothers and sisters in this dire situation.” 

In a final communique, OIC information ministers condemned Israel’s “systematic misinformation campaigns” to “cover its brutality and genocidal massacres committed in the Gaza Strip.”

The 57-member organization also condemned Israel’s “systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists,” describing it as part of a campaign to “silence the voices of truth-tellers.” 

The OIC said they are determined to collectively “counter and expose attempts by the Israel colonial occupation to cover up the destruction” in the besieged enclave, as they mandate the group’s media monitoring unit to establish an action plan to “lay bare and counter” the Israeli disinformation campaign at the international level. 


US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Updated 26 February 2024
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US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
  • The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media
  • In the video, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid

WASHINGTON: An active member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington over the weekend in protest of the war in Gaza, the Pentagon said Monday.
Emergency responders on Sunday had rushed to the scene just before 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) in response to a “call for person on fire outside the Israeli Embassy,” according to a message on X, formerly Twitter, by the capital city’s fire department.
They arrived to find that officers from the Secret Service — the US law enforcement agency tasked with protecting embassies in Washington — had already extinguished the fire.
The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media.
He was initially transported to hospital with “critical life-threatening injuries,” the fire department said.
An Air Force spokeswoman told AFP Monday morning that the unnamed “individual involved in yesterday’s incident succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night.”
“We will provide additional details 24 hours after next-of-kin notifications are complete.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said no staff were injured in the incident, and that the man was “unknown” to them.
In the video shared on social media, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid.
He then lights himself on fire while yelling “Free Palestine!” until he falls on the ground.
The video was reportedly first shared in a livestream on the social platform Twitch.
The shocking act came as protests are increasing across the United States against Israel’s actions in Gaza, where it is waging a retaliatory war for an attack on October 7 by Hamas militants.
With the death toll in Gaza nearing 30,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there, international pressure has been increasing on the United States to rein in its ally Israel and call for a ceasefire.


Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism
Updated 26 February 2024
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Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism
  • The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army

The Russian authorities on Monday sought a prison sentence of nearly three years for a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine.
The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army and sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison, in a retrial after he was earlier ordered to pay a fine. In a move that underscored how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin’s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution appealed the fine, seeking a harsher punishment.
The charges against Orlov, co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, came after he posted on Facebook an article he wrote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. He has rejected the case against him as politically motivated.
A court in Moscow in October 2023 delivered a guilty verdict and fined Orlov 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time), a significantly milder punishment compared to the lengthy prison terms some other Russians have received for criticizing the war.
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the verdict, and a higher court voided the fine and sent the case back to the prosecutors. A new trial began earlier this month, another step in a yearslong, unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that the Kremlin ratcheted up after sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
The hearing on Monday drew over 100 supporters and more than a dozen Western diplomats, Russian independent news site Mediazona reported. Orlov brought a book to the hearing — “The Trial” by Franz Kafka — reflecting his view of the trial as absurd. At a hearing on Thursday, Orlov read the novel and refused to engage in the proceedings.


The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan
Updated 4 min 12 sec ago
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The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan
  • The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan
  • It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban held a public execution on Monday of a man convicted of murder in northern Afghanistan as thousands watched at a sports stadium, the third such death sentence to be carried out in the past five days.
The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, where the brother of the murdered man shot the convict five times with a rifle, according to an eyewitness . Security around the stadium was tight, said the witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war.
The development was ominous as the Taliban, despite initial promises of a more moderate rule, began carrying out severe punishments in public — executions, floggings and stonings — shortly after coming to power. The punishments are similar to those under their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Taliban government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The statement said Monday’s death sentence was carried out following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The executed man, identified as Nazar Mohammad from the district of Bilcheragh in Faryab province, had killed Khal Mohammad, also from Faryab. The killing took place in Jawzjan.
On Thursday in the southeastern Ghazni province, the Taliban executed two men convicted of stabbing their victims to death. Relatives of the victims fired guns at the two men, also at a sports stadium as thousands of people watched.
Separate statements from the Taliban’s supreme court said a man and a woman convicted of adultery were flogged with 35 lashes each in northern Balkh province over the weekend. Two other people were lashed in eastern Laghman province, also over the weekend; they were given each 30 lashes for allegedly committing immoral acts.
The United Nations has strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings and stonings since seizing power, and called on the country’s rulers to halt such practices.