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Maldives, Mauritius, Dubai among top destinations booked for Eid al-Fitr in GCC

The Maldives, Mauritius, Dubai, Bangkok, Cairo, Paris, and London are the top travel destinations booked by Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) residents for Eid al-Fitr this year, according to travel agencies.

“Eid holiday is a popular time to travel for UAE nationals and residents. Many people start planning their trip and looking for getaway deals during the second week of Ramadan. Thankfully, the pandemic is not the same disease as it was last year and the year before,” Saleem Sharif, Deputy Managing Director of United Arab Emirates-based travel agency ATS Travel, told Al Arabiya English.

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Sharif added that the subsiding effects of the pandemic have led to a “considerable increase” in flight bookings during this period, with the average Eid holiday duration being four to five days.

London, Switzerland, Paris and various US cities were among the top destinations booked through ATS for Eid this year by Saudi and UAE nationals.

Emirates, Dubai-based airline, told Al Arabiya English in an email that most of its Saudi-based customers will be venturing to Dubai, the Maldives, Paris, Bangkok, Mauritius, Manila and Los Angeles for the Eid holiday.

Popular destinations for Kuwaiti travelers booked via Emirates this year also include Dubai, the Maldives, Manila, Bangkok, London, Mauritius and Paris. To cater to this uptick in travel demand, Emirates said it will be operating eight additional flights served by its Boeing 777 during Eid.

The most popular destinations for UAE travelers via Emirates during this period include London, Istanbul, Manila, Cairo, Paris, Casablanca, New York and Los Angeles.

“These destinations have been the top destinations for travel pre and during the pandemic, and we are seeing a further surge in demand due to the relaxation of travel restrictions,” Emirates said in an email.

“All of the destinations have long been top destinations for travel [in the region] but the pandemic has definitely increased the potential for the Maldives and Mauritius, among our other Indian Ocean destinations. Also, Thailand is a new destination for Saudi Arabia with the easing of restrictions to travel there,” the Dubai-based carrier added.

SAUDIA Airlines, the Kingdom’s national carrier which serves over 50 international airports and operates more than 8,000 flights, said that the top three international flight routes during this period are: Cairo to Jeddah, Dubai to Jeddah, and Dubai to Riyadh.

“There’s definitely a positive change in the demand and there are new trends shaping up the post-pandemic world for the travel sector,” said Sharif. “The Indian Ocean Islands were among the first destinations to open their doors for tourism after the lockdown. This, in addition to other factors like air connectivity helped keep these destinations quite popular.”

Echoing his sentiment, Emirates said, “We have seen a major step-up of demand across GCC markets, which were largely closed until late last year, as many travelers are considering travel again due to the relaxation in [COVID-19] restrictions in the GCC and abroad.”

AlUla, an ancient Saudi Arabian city that dates back to over 200 thousand years of unexplored history, is emerging as one of the region’s new up-and-coming destinations, attracting travelers from all over the world. After officially opening up to the world last year, it has since expanded its flight services, operating flights from various airlines in Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s budget airlines FlyDubai.

“New destinations are becoming popular for luxury adventure and customized tourism such as Uganda and AlUla in Saudi Arabia, among other destinations,” Sharif said.

Home to UNESCO World Heritage site Hegra, AlUla is hosting special packages for Eid this year, alongside its many other travel packages which include luxury resort experiences and tours through its Old Town and historical heritage sites.

“Mauritius is also considered by many a good choice for an affordable luxury tourism. Zanzibar, Georgia, and Jordan are popular destinations for affordable travel packages and more of a relaxing travel experience,” Sharif added.

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Ukraine army denies claims Lysychansk is ‘encircled’

The Ukrainian army on Saturday rejected claims that Moscow-backed separatists and Russian forces had surrounded the key eastern city of Lysychansk, but said heavy fighting was ongoing on its edges.
“Fighting rages around Lysychansk. (But) luckily the city has not been encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army,” Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said on Ukrainian television, after a separatist spokesman made the allegations earlier in the day.
Capturing the city would allow the Russians to push deeper into the wider eastern region of the Donbas, which has become the focus of their offensive since failing to capture Kyiv after launching their military operation in Ukraine in late February.
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Across the Donets river from Lysychansk, the Russians seized the neighboring city Sievierodonetsk last week.
Andrei Marotchko, a spokesman for the separatist forces, earlier told the TASS news agency: “Today the Luhansk popular militia and Russian forces occupied the last strategic heights, which allows us to confirm that Lysychansk is completely encircled.”
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China adds $45 billion in stimulus to pay for infrastructure projects

China announced another stimulus measure to finance infrastructure projects, part of its push to drive investment and increase employment in the second half of this year as the economy starts to recover from the effects of Covid lockdowns.

The government will raise 300 billion yuan ($44.8 billion) to finance infrastructure projects by selling financial bonds and other methods, the State Council chaired by Premier Li Keqiang decided Wednesday, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.

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Those bonds are usually sold by policy banks. The money will be used to replenish the capital of major projects such as new types of infrastructure, the statement on Thursday said.

These types of financial tools can help expand effective investment, drive employment and facilitate consumption and allow China to stick to its stance of “not flooding the economy with stimulus or over-printing money,” the meeting concluded, adding that this will help banks achieve a better match between their loans and deposits and improve the transmission of monetary policy.

The People’s Bank of China will take the lead to support China Development Bank and Agricultural Development Bank of China to raise the funds via financial bonds, according to a late Friday report by Financial News, a newspaper published by the central bank.

The top economic planner will come up with a list of projects for the investment, in collaboration with other agencies and state-owned enterprises, it said.

Infrastructure projects are a key factor in determining how fast the economy can grow in the remaining six months of this year as other sources of growth such as housing and private consumption are still slowing.

President Xi Jinping pledged last month to strive to meet economic targets for the year, although Beijing’s Covid Zero strategy has caused analysts to cut their forecasts for annual growth to levels far below the official goal of around 5.5 percent.

The announcement lifted the share price of heavy equipment makers in the onshore market. SANY Heavy Industry Co. climbed 4.1 percent on Friday, Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. gained 4.9 percent and Jiangsu Hengli Hydraulic Co. rose 1.9 percent, while the benchmark CSI 300 Index dipped 0.4 percent.

New Stimulus

The new stimulus can in theory leverage as much as 1.2 trillion yuan in credit from the banking sector and capital markets, based on the government requirement that the money should be at least 20 percent of overall investment, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. economists including Lu Ting.

But its impact in reality could be much smaller, and won’t be enough to plug an estimated 6 trillion yuan funding gap that the government has to fill if it wants to carry out its proactive fiscal policy, they wrote in a note Friday.

Local authorities are under huge financial stress this year due to the cost of Covid controls and tax cuts, as well as a slump in land sales that reduced a key source of revenue.

The new money is in addition to the 800 billion yuan the three policy banks were told in June to lend for infrastructure projects. That loan quota has already been allocated to the policy banks, local newspaper the 21st Century Business Herald reported Friday, citing sources it didn’t identify.

China Development Bank was allowed to boost lending by 400 billion yuan, Agricultural Development Bank of China’s quota for new credit was 300 billion yuan and another 100 billion yuan was assigned to the Export-Import Bank of China, the newspaper reported.

The development banks’ main source of funds is issuing bonds or loans from China’s central bank, although it hasn’t been announced where the money to finance these new loans will come from.

The size of the additional bonds is only a fraction of what the policy banks normally issue in a year. The banks sold a gross amount of 5.5 trillion yuan bonds in the interbank market last year, with a monthly average of 460 billion yuan, according to Bloomberg calculation based on Chinabond and Shanghai Clearing House data. Between January and May this year, they issued 2.3 trillion yuan in bonds.

The State Council, which is China’s cabinet, also vowed to implement a batch of investment projects that are aimed at increasing workers’ income and boosting their consumption.

These projects will have to spend more than 30 percent of central government funding on paying workers, up from 15 percent previously.

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UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital Tripoli and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
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Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December following challenges including legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
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