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Kevin Spacey skips SAG awards to watch his Arab students perform in Sharjah

posted on 27/01/2015

Kevin Spacey couldn't make it to Los Angeles to accept his Screen Actors Guild Award on Sunday, because he had committed to being more than 13,000 kilometres away, in Sharjah, to watch an Arabic play put on by young theatre students he had spent two weeks personally mentoring.

Spacey took a seat in the front row at the Sharjah Institute for Theatrical Arts with Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, for the hour-long production of Dhow Under the Sun, by the Iraqi playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak.

That the play was in a language he does not understand did not seem to concern him. Neither did missing the SAG Awards, where the Oscar-winner picked up a gong for his work on the Netflix series House of Cards, adding to the Golden Globe Award he took home a week before.

The play, with 34 hand-picked participants from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan, was the product of a two-week long Home Grown theatre workshop, a partnership between the Kevin Spacey Foundation and Middle East Theatre Academy (Meta) in Sharjah.

Addressing the crowd before the play started, Spacey said: "Tonight is the kind of night I grew up with.

"This is what I experienced when I was very young. In my theatre class, I was a part of many programmes where I was brought together with other emerging artists to put on plays in workshops with professional directors and working actors.

"Tonight is only different in that all the performers you see are from so many different places. In many ways, just as the UAE was brought together by the spirit of a man who believed he could unite all under one banner, we celebrate that spirit by bringing together these young, remarkable talents from so many different places.”

As the play began, Spacey leaned forward, ignoring the titles that flashed on the screens placed at the edge of the stage. He put on his glasses, intently following the expressions and body language of the lead characters, Ghalia and Anis.

The theatre veteran, who completed an 11-year-stint as the artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre in London last year, slipped into the Emirates under the radar two weeks ago to personally train the participants.

One of those was Emirati multimedia design professional Rashed Al Nuaimi, 22, who was chosen for the workshop after a strenuous audition process last year.

"Kevin Spacey told us that ¬regardless of where we come from or the language we speak, human emotions are the same,” said Nuaimi.

"Each one of us had to read a couple of lines from our character and he'd tell us how to express better. I play a goon and he told me how to focus with eye contact, my stance and vocal projection.”

The play was commissioned specifically for Home Grown and explores themes prevalent to the region. After being hit by an environmental calamity, families of a fictional country are displaced and forced into a refugee camp where they have to deal with the struggle for daily amenities, electricity and survival. Writer Abdulrazzak's story was inspired by true accounts of young Syrian refugees who had to abandon their homes and education when the civil war began. The play tackles the issue of statelessness, global warming and corruption, while managing to infuse it with a touch of humour and glimmer of human spirit.

"There is a dictator in the camp controlling the electricity and people are struggling to find it,” explains Nuaimi. "Ghalia, a young refugee, is a threat to this bully as she is working on building a new source of energy.”

Nuaimi says Spacey didn't mince words when it came to critiquing their performance.

"He was so honest with his feedback,” he says.

"There were a couple of participants who he practised with over and over and when they still didn't get it right, he would go on stage and then you'd know you had it coming. He'd then say: ‘no, that's not what I said!,” says Nuaimi, raising his voice and trying to do an impression of the actor.

"We don't have the discipline of theatre and we don't take directions well, yet. So he made us focus, listen and concentrate.”

He says the actor also spoke about fuelling a desire to swim against the tide. "Theatre isn't really an acceptable path to take in the region. He told us he knows it is harder for people like us but then the reward is bigger, as well. It takes time for culture to change and we should be part of a generation where people can express themselves through theatre.

Alaa Masri Zadh, who plays Ghalia, remembers how Spacey raised her confidence while delivering the English dialogues.

"I was afraid because I'm not comfortable speaking in English,” says the 24-year-old, who travelled outside Syria for the first time to attend the workshop. "He pushed me to where I stand now.”

Hala Albassar, from Syria, was also part of the ensemble, playing an egoistic TV presenter and a "mean girl” on stage.

"Kevin talked about his experience and when he realised he wanted to be an actor,” says the 25-year-old graphic designer. "I don't have a huge part, but he told me that it doesn't matter whether I have one line or 10, how I deliver, believe and dress that character is what counts. That was really encouraging.”

Spacey says the ambition and effect of the project can be gauged by the efforts to put together a diverse cast from the region. "For some of these participants, this is the first time that they have left their country of origin, put their lives on hold, rearranged exams, missed weddings, left jobs, departed from families and are taking on this challenge of forging bonds with people they have never met from a wide variety of backgrounds. We chose participants based on their talents, ambition and potential. Our company here is a mixture of abilities, from the relatively experienced to the newly enthusiastic.”

The actor launched his foundation in 2010 to support aspiring thespians around the world with free professional workshops, grants and scholarships. The foundation initiated the Home Grown programme to unearth local talent who would otherwise not have the means to pursue a career in the performing arts. This is the third version of the Spacey Foundation's Home Grown workshops, with the first two held in the United States and United Kingdom last year.

The partnership with Meta, however, has been the most ¬successful yet, says Steve Winter, the executive director of the ¬foundation.

"The easiest way to determine whether it is a success is in the way the participants feel and how they act towards one another,” says Winter.

"The feeling here is one of transformation, positivity and self-¬belief. Historically, some of these individuals shouldn't really interact or aren't allowed to interact with one another, and this has been a learning curve for them. This version truly epitomises most clearly our mission, which is to discover the unknown.”

The future of the partnership, however, has yet to be decided, he says.

"Before we take our next step and see how to move forward, we have to evaluate our time here,” says Winter. "We want it to be authentic and organic and not presume that it will work in the same way.”

The theatre's director Matt Wilde, who worked with the participants to perfect their performance before presenting the full show to Spacey last night, says he has been amazed by the energy of the participants.

"We only had time for one dress rehearsal,” says the director. ‘I would have liked two but we didn't have time. The talent we've seen so far is brilliant. I say if this is just a small bit here on this stage, it'll be very exciting to see what more is out there.” – The National -


ADNEC gears up for busy week with four scheduled events

posted on 27/01/2015

Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, ADNEC, is gearing up to host four leading industry events this week, including Elite Real Estate Exhibition 2015, Tank Storage Middle East, the Bride Show 2015, and Beyond Beauty Arabia Abu Dhabi.

Set to run from 26th to 29th January in Hall 2, Elite Real Estate Exhibition 2015 will bring together leading real estate and property investment companies from the GCC and Middle-East, especially Kuwaiti companies, to present their latest real estate offerings and investment opportunities to companies and potential investors in the UAE.

This will mark the debut outing for many Kuwaiti companies showcasing their investment opportunities under one roof in the UAE.

Tank Storage Middle East will convene specialised companies and experts in the tank storage industry to meet and exchange industry best practices. To run from 26th to 27th January, the two day event will provide an ideal platform to review forecasts, explore new opportunities and find solutions for emerging challenges in the tank storage industry.

ADNEC will also host two separate events dedicated to fashion and lifestyle from 28th to 31st January.

The Bride Show is set to bring together 200 leading local and international suppliers from the wedding and lifestyle industry including make-up artists, hairstylists, wedding planners and fashion icons.

The event will feature a wide selection of bridal and evening dresses, abayas and jalabiyas, jewellery and watches, perfume and Arabic oud, as well as beauty and spa accessories. The Bride Show will host exclusive fashion shows, hair and beauty demonstrations and a series of health and wellness workshops.

Beyond Beauty Arabia Abu Dhabi will offer visitors an opportunity to learn new beauty and style tips and discover the latest trends in the industry by meeting experts from many leading make-up, skincare, perfume, hair-care, and nail-care brands as well as state-of-the-art spas.

During the event, visitors can also interact with popular bloggers and celebrities from the world of beauty, in addition to receiving free pampering treatments, make-overs and giveaways.

Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri, Acting Group Chief Executive Officer at Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, said, "At ADNEC, we are pleased with this opportunity to demonstrate the readiness of our facilities and services to host multiple events simultaneously and we are fully prepared to tackle any anticipated logistic challenges that might emerge due to these coinciding events. The growing number and diversity of our event portfolio is a direct result of our ongoing engagement with local and international event organisers, as well as our continued commitment to invest and develop our venue infrastructure." – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


UAE hotels named in Trip Advisor’s top 25 in the world

posted on 27/01/2015

Glistening blue seas, stunning mountain backdrops and fascinating architecture - competition is fierce to make it into Trip Advisor's 2015 Traveller's Choice World Top 25 Hotels.

But two from the UAE have successfully made the cut, with Dar Al Masyaf at Madinat Jumeirah Resort in Dubai coming in 13th place, and Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai doing even better in eighth.

The rankings are based on the reviews of travellers.

Dar Al Masyaf offers two-storey villas amid scenic waterways and landscaped gardens, while Al Maha describes itself as "nestled in a verdant palm oasis, deep within Dubai's magical dune and desert landscape … showcasing the heritage and architecture of the Bedouins and offers a sense of desert adventure”.

First place went to Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives with its bungalows on stilts reaching out across the water. The rest of the list stretched from Cambodia to Peru to Chicago.

"At Madinat Jumeirah we always focus on delivering exceptional experiences and memorable service to our guests,” said Azar Saliba, hotel manager of Al Qasr and Dar Al Masyaf.

"It is truly rewarding to see the results of our continuous commitment and our Stay Different brand promise reflected in online guest reviews.”

Here's the top 25 list:

1. Gili Lankanfushi, North Male Atoll, Maldives

2. Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica

3. Shinta Mani Club Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia

4. Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, Budapest, Hungary

5. Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco, Peru

6. Cocoa Island by COMO, Cocoa Island, South Male Atoll, Kaafu Atoll

7. Hotel Alpin Spa Tuxerhof, Tux, Austria

8. Al Maha, A Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Murqquab, UAE

9. Hotel Estalagem St Hubertus, Gramado, Brazil

10. Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Urubamba, Peru

11. Hotel Belvedere, Riccione, Italy

12. Four Seasons Country Club, Quinta do Lago, Portugal

13. Dar Al Masyaf at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE

14. Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai, China

15. Constance Moofushi, Maldives

16. The Gritti Palace, Venice, Italy

17. Constance Le Prince Maurice, Mauritius

18. Harvey's Point, Donegal Town, Ireland

19. The Upper House, Hong Kong

20. Haymarket Hotel, London

21. Casa Gangotena, Quito, Ecuador

22. The Langham, Chicago

23. The Oberoi, Mauritius

24. Kayakapi Premium Caves, Cappadocia, Turkey

25. The Royal Savoy Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. – The National -


Islamic art centre featuring historical pieces opens in Abu Dhabi

posted on 27/01/2015

An Islamic art centre opened in Abu Dhabi on Monday to a large crowd eager to view its historical pieces collected from around the Muslim world.

From paintings and sculptures to silk carpets, Ottoman pistols, jewel tapestries and shawls, the Miraj Islamic Art Centre boasted hundreds of art pieces at its new location in the Hilton Capital Grand.

Madina Mahmoud, a 43-year-old Russian who has been in Abu Dhabi for 15 years, was one of the visitors. "I used to make carpets when I was 15 years old for seven years,” she said. "I was interested in looking at the silk carpets and the work here is wonderful. Some of them have gold thread, it's really fantastic.”

She said she would potentially buy one for her new home. "My husband bought one a long time ago,” she said. "You can't just use it in any house as it's such a fragile item.”

Leanne Randall, an events manager from South Africa, said Islamic art was her passion.

"I love art, especially Islamic art, because it's so steeped in history,” she said. "It's very different from normal art - it's much more historical. The pieces are stunning and really a feast for the eyes, I'm just revelling in it, just the colours and textures are fantastic.”

Hassan Saad, the Ambassador of Lebanon to the UAE, said the centre was much-needed as such items required a decent place to be showcased in.

"As a Lebanese, we are very interested in all kinds of cultural aspects,” he said. "Maybe later on, they can bring some items to borrow from Lebanon for a couple of months. We are talking with Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, about this because we are planning to bring to the UAE 200 pieces for free for two months to show people what we have.”

Michelle Chen, general manager of Hunter International Travel and Tourism in Dubai, regularly brings Chinese tourists to the Dubai version of the Miraj Centre.

"We have a lot of groups who visit it,” she said. "The Miraj is a classic, it's a beautiful place with amazing art work and it's better than going to a souk because tourists like this kind of environment. We can't find such items in malls.”

Manzoor Kachroo, director of sales at the Miraj Islamic Art Centre, said the concept was brought by Cottage Industries, an Indian-based company in handicrafts.

"The board of directors decided to have an exposition of Islamic art,” he said. "So we sent people around the world, to many different countries, to collect the best Islamic artefacts from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, India, and others, to expose it to the world and make them understand that, when people think that Muslims are only into terrorism, we wanted to show them that they are god-gifted people with god-gifted fingers. They create art and we thought the UAE was the best place to give exposure to it.”

Some art pieces are worth up to a million dollars.

"What you see around is art, which is a form of worship,” Mr Kachroo said. "The UAE has become a Mecca of tourism. We are less interested in selling but more interested in showing the world what Muslim art is at the moment. Most of the items are for purchase, including paintings, marbles, sculptures, jewel carpets, shawls and silks.”

The Abu Dhabi centre will be open daily from 9am to 7pm. – The National -


Energy Minister: UAE committed to establish its stature as global oil and gas hub

posted on 27/01/2015

Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy, on Monday reiterated the UAE's commitment to developing and investing in oil and gas industry to further establish its stature as a major global energy producer.

In his opening remarks at the Tank Storage Middle East Conference in Abu Dhabi, Al Mazrouei stressed that the UAE is committed to developing oil facilities in accordance with the best international safety standards.

He stressed that protecting the environment and human safety is, however, a top priority of the UAE's oil and gas sector.

Al Mazrouri also emphasised that the UAE is a major international hub for specialised oil and gas conferences. He noted that the latest edition of Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) 2015, attracted more than 600 speakers, 1,800 exhibitors and 7,000 visitors.

He said that this is a testimony that the infrastructure of the UAE is attracting the world's leaders in oil and gas, contractors and specialised companies.

Later, the minister opened the Tank Storage Exhibition which attracted some 79 specialised exhibitors.

The two-day Tank Storage Middle East, taking place at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre(ADNEC), brought together a large number of global tank storage industry leaders and experts to exchange best practice solutions, review forecasts, discuss new opportunities and establish industry challenges and resolutions. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


UAE airports lead Middle East in smart technology adoption

posted on 27/01/2015

Robust passenger growth at UAE airports, projected at 5.6 per cent annually until 2034 by IATA, higher expectations of travellers about seamless experiences and ceaseless technological advancement are prompting Arabian Gulf airports to turn Smart.

The capacity of the UAE's airports, which handled about 100 million passengers last year, will increase to 250 million passengers by 2020. The UAE's airports are investing up to US$50 billion in new and expansion projects with smooth and efficient operations being the key expectation.

"The airport experience has changed at an amazing pace and it will change even more and for better in the next five years. Travellers have growing expectations from airports," said Mohammed Fouz, CEO of Smartworld, the leading system integrator and Digital ICT service provider in the Middle East.

"Smart technologies are transforming airports for better passenger facilitation as they grapple with a big rise in passengers. In the past five years, smart technology has overrun virtually every part of our private and public lives, and air travel is no exception. Airports can benefit through 25 per cent cut operation costs and enhanced capacity handling by turning to smart technologies." Established in 2008, Smartworld is a joint venture between Etisalat, the Middle East's leading telecommunications operator, and Dubai World Central (DWC), a master-planned aerotropolis designed to become the world's biggest airport.

The company has a strong track record of successful deployments and implementations of state-of-the-art ICT system at the Al Maktoum International Airport at DWC and the installation and implementation of a first-of-its-kind Open and Equal Access Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) at DWC. It also implemented a unique project at Terminal 2 of Dubai International which is now ranked as the world's top airport for international passengers.

He said the revolutionary technologies are changing the business model of airports which are grappling to provide passengers with seamless and unique travel experiences. Smartworld, he added, has been working with the airport operators in the region to help them in the adoption of smart technology to remain ahead of others across the world.

"The demand for smart technologies integrated into centre infrastructures will skyrocket in the next few years. All airports will be transformed into intelligent, adaptive and responsive environments. Changes in the ways we travel are coming at us faster. New technology promises to make travel even easier, more efficient and safer. Some changes are right around the corner and others are decades away," Mohammed Fouz remarked.

A Markets and Markets study has pointed out that global market for smart airports will reach $13.5 billion by 2020.

IATA wants aviation stakeholders to develop and use Information Technology (IT) to drive improvements in the passenger experience. Most airports are dealing with three business imperatives: improving the passenger experience; optimising operational processes; and improving the commercial and financial performance.

He said the mushrooming mix of devices, applications, networks and services will open up a whole new world for the systems integration in the airports environment.

The Arabian Gulf airports will welcome more than 450 million passengers by 2020. By 2020, about 100 million passengers will use Dubai International Airport, while Al Maktoum International Airport capacity will increase to 200 million passengers upon its completion. By 2020, aircraft movements in the UAE will be over 1.2 million. ICAO predicts 5.2 per cent annual growth in regional air traffic until 2030.

He remarked: "Technology is the only way ahead to enable all stakeholders to achieve their goals. Governments want to bring in more visitors while enhancing security. Airports want to accelerate travel, generate more revenues while reducing the costs. Airlines want to differentiate themselves and keep their customers happy." "Passengers are looking for stress-free journey with diversified options and seamless experiences. All stakeholders want to be efficient, fast, cost effective and secure. Without a strong and modern IT infrastructure all those plans and scenarios will be just a wishful thinking," he said. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


GCAA to issue UAVs regulations

posted on 27/01/2015

The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has announced that it will issue regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) within a few days to ensure aviation safety and smooth air traffic.

In a statement, Director-General of GCAA, Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, said that the regulatory body formed a special national committee in 2013 to conduct a comprehensive survey and draft the relevant detailed regulations and legislations for the unmanned aerial systems.

He added that the regulation will prevent the use of the country's airspace without a prior permit from the GCAA and coordination with the air traffic authorities.

The new regulations will ban the use of UAVs near airports, residential areas and public facilities and properties as well as banned places.

The GCAA official noted that the regulations will be based on weight and type of operators, including clubs and private users, to ensure control of our airspace. The regulations will also cover the commercial and corporate use of the unmanned systems.

Al Suwaidi urged all members of the society to abide by the new regulations, avoid violations and abstain from using UAVs in wrong ways that might affect the safety and security of aviation, individuals and facilities. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


UAE flights to New York hit by snowstorms

posted on 27/01/2015

Emirates and Etihad airlines flights to and from New York have been impacted by the snow storms on 26 and 27 January.

The airlines have advised passengers to check the flights schedules before they head to the airport.

According to a statement issued by Emirates, Flight EK202 from New York JFK to Dubai on 26 January will depart earlier than scheduled. Passengers who are unable to make the new timing will be rebooked on the same flight on 27 January.

Flights EK205/EK206 between Milan and New York on 26 January have been cancelled. Passengers will be rebooked to travel on 27 January. The EK205/EK206 service will continue as scheduled between Dubai and Milan.

Flights between Dubai and Boston will operate as scheduled at this time.

At this time, Emirates flights to New York on 27 January remain as scheduled, subject to weather developments.” We continue to monitor the situation closely,” the statement said.

Similarly, Etihad Airways' flight EY103 from Abu Dhabi to New York on 27 January 2015 has been cancelled due to a heavy snow storm in the Northeast. As a consequence, EY102 from New York to Abu Dhabi on 27 January is also cancelled.

The airline continues to monitor the weather conditions and has contingency plans in-place should there be any disruption to its remaining flight schedule.

The airline has commenced assisting all affected passengers and advising them of itinerary changes. – Gulf News -


DAE, Azul announce completion of Sale Leaseback Transactions

posted on 27/01/2015

Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, DAE, and Azul Brazilian Airlines, yesterday announced that they had recently completed delivery of 5 ATR 72-600s to the airline.

DAE Managing Director, Khalifa H. Al Daboos, said, "We are delighted to include AZUL as one of DAE's new clients in Latin America. We look forward to a mutually rewarding long-term relationship with Azul in this rapidly expanding market. We intend to continue to develop our business and increase our fleet through sale and lease-backs of targeted aircraft, such as the ATR 72-600 aircraft." David Neeleman, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Azul, said, "We are pleased to add DAE to our list of finance partners and look forward to a long-term relationship with DAE particularly as we increase the number of aircraft in our fleet. With the ATR72-600's covering our 100 domestic destinations we believe AZUL does and shall continue to truly serve all of Brazil." In 2014, DAE placed a direct order with the manufacturer for up to 40 ATR 72-600s. The total portfolio at year-end 2014 is approximately $3.6 billion. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Abu Dhabi Ports installs cutting edge terminal operating system

posted on 27/01/2015

Abu Dhabi Ports is implementing a brand new terminal operating system, TOS, which will enhance the general cargo operations at the emirate's ports, significantly improving processing times and the full range of customer service offerings.

The state-of-the-art port management software called "Master Terminal" will replace Abu Dhabi Ports' existing systems and support the management of all aspects of the general cargo operations, including bulk, break bulk, project and Roll-On/Roll-Off cargo.

It will provide real-time information about cargo flows at any time of the day and improve the utilisation of port facilities, while increasing visibility and productivity with regards to operations, planning and reporting procedures.

"We are committed to continual investment in order to stay competitive in the 21st century and to confirm our position at the forefront of progress. 'Master Terminal' will boost our service offerings and support us in handling our growing general cargo volumes and delivering trade excellence", says Gary Lemke, Executive Vice President, Ports Unit, Abu Dhabi Ports. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


DIFC Courts welcome London's Lord Mayor

posted on 27/01/2015

The visiting Lord Mayor of the City of London and a delegation of senior British business leaders yesterday visited the DIFC Courts, Dubai's English-language commercial courts.

Alderman Alan Yarrow, the 687th Lord Mayor of the City of London, is in the UAE as part of a series of visits to the world's leading commercial and financial centres.

Dubai and the City of London have built strong legal links in recent years. In 2013, the DIFC Courts and the Commercial Court of England and Wales, both of which are recognised as being leading English language commercial courts, signed a Memorandum of Guidance defining such issues as the mutual enforcement of money decisions.

The Memorandum is designed to provide greater certainty to investors, businessmen and lawyers in the UK who wish to develop closer trade and investment links with the emirate, and vice versa.

Sir John Chadwick, Deputy Chief Justice at the DIFC Courts, said, "The sense of shared interest and the spirit of cooperation between London and Dubai seems to grow stronger ever year. It was a privilege to show Alderman Yarrow how the DIFC Courts are not only empowering regional commerce through additional contract clarity and certainty, but also enabling British businesses to access new opportunities across the Middle East, Africa, Asia via the DIFC." Alderman Alan Yarrow commented, "It is great to see the DIFC Courts go from strength-to-strength, and I applaud the global connections they are building, which started with the UK and now extend into Africa and Asia. It is becoming ever more important for commercial courts to work together to protect global investments." – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Dubai Smart Government's ePay generates Dh 7 billion in 2014

posted on 27/01/2015

Recent statistics from Dubai Smart Government Department (DSG) have revealed that its ePay system for online payment of Dubai government fees witnessed a 25 percent increase from the previous year generating approximately Dh 7 billion in 2014.

The uptrend was accompanied by a 16 percent increase in the number of transactions and an increase in the number of entities using ePay to 30 entities, up from 25 entities in 2013.

The ePay system enables customers to pay for government services online and in a secure environment.

Approximately AED 7 billion was collected through DSG's ePay system in 2014, through 5,260,677 transactions compared to Dh 5.6 billion, through 4,546,865 transactions in 2013. This has led to substantial benefits in terms of reducing government expenses using a centralised payment system for most Dubai government entities.

"These results clearly demonstrate the increasing pace of the electronic and smart transformation process in Dubai and our success in fulfilling the vision of Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for providing a world-class smart government in Dubai to ease the lives of all segments of the society and make them happy. This is substantiated not only by the growing interest of customers in using the ePay service to complete their government transactions but also by their growing confidence in this highly efficient and secure option," said Ahmad Bin Humaidan, Director General of DSG, in his comment on this progress achieved in the adoption of electronic and smart services.

Bin Humaidan added, "The positive effects of electronic payment are not restricted to supporting the national economy and providing customers with open options for payment through multiple channels but extend to environmental sustainability, which is a mainstay of the green economy called for by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in his future vision for the UAE when he launched the UAE green development strategy under the slogan 'Green Economy for Sustainable Development', a long-term national initiative aimed at converting the UAE to a leading global centre in green development free of pollution resulting from the customer's use of transport and of the effect of exhaust on global warming." The ePay services enables individual and business customers to electronically pay for many government services. These include electricity bills, transport services, police fines, customs and health services and donations to worthy causes. ePay can be used easily either through credit cards, eDirham or direct debit from the seven banks participating in the service; namely: CBD, DIB, ADCB, ADIB, UNB, EIB and Emirates NBD.

The ePay system is part of Dubai Smart Government's strategy to provide government services through innovative and smart channels in order to facilitate government transactions. It is designed in such a manner that allows it to be connected with most of the smart/eServices of government entities, irrespective of the technologies and software used by them. It is also compatible with all means of electronic payment including the Internet, kiosks, interactive voice response (IVR) and major credit cards based on the needs of the entities participating in it. Users can also pay ePay fees through their smart phones. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Experts convene in Abu Dhabi to develop a framework for conservation of Arabian Tahr

posted on 27/01/2015

The National Forum for the Conservation of Arabian Tahr has begun in the capital with the participation of conservationists and Arabian tahr biologists from the UAE, Oman and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN.

The two-day forum, held under the patronage of Dr. Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water, aims to promote national collaboration towards species conservation through the involvement of relevant institutions on a national level.

The forum is a joint effort between the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Al Bustan Zoological Centre (ABZC), with the support and guidance of the Ministry of Environment and Water (MoEW) and facilitated by representatives of IUCN.

The main objectives of the forum are to provide these institutions with an overview of the in- and ex-situ population status within the UAE, and provide a platform to share information and lessons learned in ex-situ species management, including animal husbandry, captive breeding programmes and animal health issues. It also aims to initiate the process of developing a National Population Management Strategy and identifying possible re-introduction sites within the UAE and discussing the issues regarding these sites and the processes to be followed.

Speaking about the forum, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD's Secretary-General, said, "We are very pleased to see national, regional and international specialists gathering for two days to deliberate on an endemic Arabian species, the Arabian tahr, which is a unique species that occupies a very specialised habitat in the mountains of the UAE and Oman. This uniqueness makes it even more vulnerable to threats such as habitat destruction, hunting, predation and climate change. Through this forum, we hope to develop a framework that will serve as a strong baseline for all efforts towards the conservation of the species in their natural habitat for future generations." Dr. Shaikha Al Dhaheri, EAD's Executive Director, Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector and Chairman of the Arabian tahr Steering Committee, spoke at the forum on the introduction of the Arabian tahr to Sir Bani Yas Island.

The Arabian tahr release on Sir Bani Yas has been termed a Conservation Introduction according to the Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations (IUCN, 2013).

"Our overall vision is to restore the Arabian tahr to its suitable habitat within its former range in the mountains of the northern UAE to balance ecological, cultural and heritage values through raising awareness of Arabian tahr by the successful conservation introduction on Sir Bani Yas Island," said Dr. Al Dhaheri.

A breeding population of the Arabian tahr from Sir Bani Yas Island will be used for such re-introduction and release programmes. EAD's education and awareness programmes will support this project with the aim of improving public understanding of this unique species. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Environment and Protected Areas Authority confiscates four wolves in al-Sabkha district

posted on 27/01/2015

Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) in Sharjah has confiscated four wolves in al-Sabkha district, Sharjah, in cooperation with the General Headquarters of Sharjah Police and Sharjah Municipality.

The move comes in line with the administrative order No. 15 of year 2015, issued by H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, on banning the ownership of predators and dangerous animals in the Emirate of Sharjah.

Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, Chairperson of the EPAA, said she had received reports from al-Sabkha district inhabitants in Sharjah about people keeping such animals. She said after verifying the reports, an EPPA squad specialised in dealing with dangerous animals, along with personnel from police and the municipality, was set up. Al Suwaidi said the squad seized the four wolves.

She added that the Ruler of Sharjah's order on the possession of predators was clear to ensure public safety. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Abu Dhabi Environment Authority announces groundwater savings goals

posted on 27/01/2015

The Abu Dhabi Environment Authority (EAD) announced a strategy based on eight platforms to identify the sectors directly responsible for the depletion of groundwater resources in the emirate.

The goal is to reduce consumption to 717 million cubic metres per year by 2030, instead of the current 2.7 billion.

The authority said the agricultural sector, which consumes 60 per cent of groundwater in Abu Dhabi, can lessen usage by implementing modern crop irrigation techniques and local salt-tolerant crops, and relying on recycling and treated waste water.

Razan Al Mubarak, secretary general of EAD, said the goal is to reduce groundwater consumption over the next 15 years. – The National -


Court hears prosecution's pleading in espionage case

posted on 27/01/2015

The State Security Division at the Federal Supreme Court, chaired by Judge Falah Al Hajeri, yesterday heard the public prosecution's pleading in the case against A. R. A, an Emirati accused of having contacts with a foreign country and sharing information about his work that would harm national interests.

The court decided to adjourn the case to 9th February to hear the defence's pleading.

The accused appeared before the court where his relatives, media and representatives of civil society organisations were also present. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Saqr Ghobash chairs ILO meeting in Abu Dhabi

posted on 27/01/2015

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Arab Labour Organisation (ALO), Saqr Ghobash, Minister of Labour and Chairman of the ALO, has stressed the urgency to address labour market challenges and meet expectations, especially in light of the current unstable events in the Middle East.

"We're very keen on completing the organisation's agenda in dealing with labour related issues and finding a balanced relationship among the three production parties to maintain common interests," Ghobash said.

This came during the ALO Board of Directors meeting held on Monday in Abu Dhabi and presided over by Ghobash, alongside Ahmed Luqman, ALO Director-General, as well as Vice President for Business Owners Affairs, Ziad Homsi, Hassan Faqih ,Vice President for Labourers Affairs at the ILO, and Haider Abshr Al Tahir, ALO Assistant Director-General, Mubarak Al Dhaheri, Under-Secretary of Ministry of Labour, Humaid bin Deemas Al Suwaidi, Assistant Under-Secretary for Labour Affairs and Islam Sana legal adviser to the organisation.

The participants discussed the celebration of organisation's golden jubilee, which coincides with the 42nd Conference scheduled to be held in Kuwait in April.

Luqman proposed special arrangements to celebrate the ALO's 50th anniversary, as he clearly emphasised on the organisation's appreciated position, especially as it runs high-end dialogues according to the principles and values the organisation hold.

The ALO Board of Directors underlined Luqman's key role in carrying out such noble responsibilities over the past years, citing the achievements the ALO in various fields. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


KF team distributes winter aid to 4,500 Tunisian families

posted on 27/01/2015

The Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, KF, has distributed winter aid over the last two days to 4,500 Tunisian families in Kebili and Gafsa Governorates, located in north-western and southern Tunisia.

A KF official said the aid was provided under the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, noting that it was aimed at providing assistance to the underprivileged and needy families affected by the severe cold wave that recently hit the country.

He added that the KF team had visited and distributed aid in the two governorates in cooperation with the UAE Embassy in Tunisia and the Tunisian Union of Social Solidarity. The KF team was accompanied by Mostafa bin Mousa, Governor of Gafsa, and a number of Tunisian officials who praised the foundation's humanitarian gesture.

Later, the KF team moved to Kebili Governorate and was received by the Governor, who praised the KF's initiative. Moreover, while visiting the area, the team provided aid to 2,500 needy families. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Follow-Up Committee of UAE President's Initiatives approves completion of 429 houses for citizens

posted on 27/01/2015

In implementation of the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the follow-up of His Highness General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the Follow-Up Committee of the Initiatives of the UAE President has approved the completion and construction of 228 houses for citizens in different parts of the nation, at a total cost of Dh185 million.

The committee also approved the maintenance, refurbishment, and construction of 201 houses, at a total cost of Dh104 million.

During its meeting, held at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs under the chairmanship of Ahmed Juma Al Zaabi, Deputy Minister of Presidential Affairs, Al Zaabi commended the support extended by H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, to the committee and its projects, which are expected to be implemented on schedule and in accordance with the field's current best practices.

The meeting was attended by a number of senior officials. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


1.2 million patients visit DHCC in 2014

posted on 27/01/2015

A total of 1.2 million patients, indicating an elevation in medical tourism profile, visited the Dubai Health Care City (DHCC) last year compared to one million recorded in 2013, a senior official at the DHCC has said.

"Our 2014 figures represent the growth we expected. We recorded our highest patient visits, and found that laparoscopic surgeries such as gynaecological treatments, minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, laser eye procedures and CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) treatments were common. Our medical tourism profile has been elevated with more robust hard and soft infrastructure and accompanying policies and regulations," the CEO of DHCC, Marwan Abedin, told Gulf News daily.

Disclosing some of the landmark highlights of 2014, he said, "From 2014 first quarter, our roadmap focused on our work in health care, medical education, investment and regulatory. Our landmark announcement was the establishment of the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, which currently has an operational dental college, and admissions for its College of Medicine are expected by September 2015. The Mohammed bin Rashid University Hospital is being developed in parallel." The pace has been set for DHCC which is already looking to expansion into Phase 2 of its growth, he noted, adding, "In 2015, we will announce projects in Phase 1 linked to increasing medical specialisation and capacity. In Phase 2, we will welcome our first operational business partner. Towards community awareness, we are planning initiatives that will address some of the most pressing health challenges including cardiovascular diseases and diabetes." – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


Fatima bint Hazza greets ice skater Zahra Lari on figure skating achievement

posted on 27/01/2015

Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairwomen of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports, and Head of Abu Dhabi Ladies Club, has praised Emirati professional ice skater Zahra Lari for winning the first place in figure skating at the Reykjavik International Games which took place between 16-25 January in the Icelandic capital.

She also congratulated Lari's family and her coaches for the achievement which she said served as a new incentive for sportswomen to continue training for more achievements.

Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza emphasised that the academy takes great interest in nurturing national talents based on the unlimited support extended by "Mother of the Nation", H.H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union, GWU, Supreme President of the Family Development Foundation, FDF, and Head of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –