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New national training program in Saudi Arabia seeks to support booming tourism sector

Saudi Arabia has launched a training program to develop skills in the tourism and hospitality industry, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Wednesday.

Titled ‘Tourism Pioneers,’ the program seeks to attract 100,000 young Saudis in preparation for the “booming tourism sector in the Kingdom,” according to SPA.

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On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s tourism minister told AFP that the Kingdom is aiming to triple foreign tourism this year as COVID-19 restrictions ease, Hajj pilgrims return, and the first elements of the crown prince’s signature projects open.

An uptick in domestic travel in 2020 and 2021 – authorities tallied a record 64 million “domestic visits” last year – helped save the nascent Saudi tourism sector from collapse. Now Saudi officials want to seize more of the international market, Ahmed al-Khateeb said in the AFP interview

Ahmed bin Aqeel al-Khateeb, the minister of tourism, said the program demonstrated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to empowering young people by providing them with the necessary skills and opportunities to pave the way for the future of the tourism sector.

Some of the world’s highest-rated educational institutions have been selected to offer their services for the program, including Les Roches Marbella from Spain, the European School of Economics, Business and Hotel Management School from Switzerland, and Montreal Institute.

He added that the program aligns with the country’s Vision 2030 in terms of job creation and supporting the tourism sector.

Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows with its goal of attracting 100 million visitors by 2030, an element of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan intended to diversify the oil-dependent economy and open up to the world.

The Kingdom has in recent years relaxed rules barring cinemas, gender-mixed concerts, and sporting extravaganzas.

Another high-profile feature of the tourism push is the giga-projects spearheaded by the Crown Prince, including the $500 billion futuristic megacity known as NEOM, and Diriyah, which is being redeveloped as a heritage and entertainment destination.

In light of these developments, the new training program is open to Saudi nationals who speak English fluently and are interested in working in the Kingdom’s tourism sector.

Registration for the program is now open on the ministry’s website.

With AFP

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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