Category Archives: People

Rift among people, global indifference worsen Iraq crisis

Muscat: Iraq is going through a difficult period and the recent surge of violence has displaced thousands of citizens. However, the suffering is not limited to people living in Iraq only, the hearts of Iraqi nationals are bleeding for their motherland even as they watch the developments from miles away from home.

“The situation in Iraq has become very complicated. The people should come together and unite to help solve the problem,” said Abdulrazaq, an Iraqi national, who lives in Muscat.

“There is a plan to divide Iraq, and different parties in the country should reach an agreement,” he told the Times of Oman.

He also said that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), known colloquially as Daesh, poses a threat not only to Iraq but to other countries in the region. “We should come together,” he added.

Another Muscat-based Iraqi national, who asked not to be named, said that a practical solution should be found to the crisis to prevent Iraq from plunging into further chaos. Daesh is a great danger to Iraq and the whole region, he said, adding that the situation in Iraq is now ‘difficult, dangerous and complicated.’

“I am optimistic and hope all the problems will be resolved with the help of God because my family is in Iraq. But at the same time, I see black fog covering Iraq’s sky,” he said, adding that the main problem is the disagreement between people of different sects in Iraq.

He also criticised the inaction on the part of the United Nations and other international organisations concerned.

“They just condemn the things. They do not do anything.”

Commenting on foreign interference in Iraq, the Iraqi national said that it only makes the situation worse.

“I hope that what happened in 2007, when mosques and other prayer sites were destroyed, is not repeated again,” he said.

“There is a big crisis going on in Iraq now. It is not going in the right direction,” he said, expressing the hope that peace and stability will come back to Iraq.

“It is not only my opinion. I am sure all my countrymen all over the world feel the same way for our country,” he concluded.

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Royal Oman Police seeks people’s help to curb begging

Muscat: As beggars become an ubiquitous presence all over Oman, the Royal Oman Police (ROP) has urged people to help combat this menace effectively since it has “negative social implications.”

The ROP, in coordination with the Ministry of Social Development, has set up a team to curb the practice. This team can be approached on phone numbers 24704886, 24794949 and 24707405.

The ROP, in a statement, said that people of various nationalities were found begging in various areas. “This practice has adverse social implications and it came from outside and has entered the Omani society,” it said.

Beggars frequent many areas including those in the vicinity of mosques and marketing complexes. Some of these beggars pretend as if they really need help.

According to Article 234 of the Omani Penal Code, begging is a crime. If anyone is spotted begging in a public place, he or she would have to face an imprisonment for a period of two months to a year with a fine of OMR 50-100.

Children being used for begging
According to the data of Ministry of Social Development, more than 500 people, both Omanis and expatriates, were arrested while begging in Muscat. Among them, 264 were Omanis and 245 were non-Omanis. Of the Omanis caught, 200 were men and 64 were women. Among the 245 non-Omani beggars, 173 were men
and 72 women.

Some families are reported to have utilising their children for begging. The data from 2013 suggests that eight males and 12 females arrested were aged below 12 years and 33 males and five females were  aged  between 12 and 18 years. There were 117 males and 51 females in the age group of 18 to 40 years.

The largest segment belonged to the age group between 40 and 60 years. There were 136 males and 46 females in this age group.

Then came the age group of those above 60 years, which had 79 males and 22 females, according to the ministry’s data.

MCBS students develop smartphone app for people with speech disabilities

Three graduate students pursuing the computer science programme at MCBS have developed an innovative, userfriendly smartphone app that assists inarticulate people communicate better.

The highlight of the Tawasul app, which assists people with difficulty in communicating to better integrate with community, is that it helps them function more efficiently in different cultural environments. Tasked with designing a project with significant real-life application value, final year students Nawaf al Alawi, Mazin al Hasni and Salim al Jabri doing their bachelor’s in computer science, zeroed in on the idea of developing a useful mobile app that would benefit people with communication disabilities.

“The app can be installed and used on any smartphone. It has a very simple and attractive interface offering a language choice of Arabic or English. It is also equipped with a special visual keyboard that matches the hand gestures with letters of the Arabic or English alphabet. All the users have to do is type the sentence they want to communicate and the software will encode and then decode it into audio-visual output,” the developers said.

At the project presentation and panel discussion event at MCBS, the project was hailed as best reflecting the college’s commitment to society, embodied in its students projects and activities aimed at adding value to people’s lives. “The scope of the project, as it came out in its final form, would definitely contribute a great deal towards establishing better social interaction between people of different social categories within the Omani society.

It is a project grand in intent and impact,” said Dr Basant Kumar, project guide at MCBS. “Our computer science programme fuses theory with practical learning through projects aimed at instilling a strong understanding of computing technology in students. The findings of this project have motivated them to carry out further research in order to develop an enhanced version of the proposed system,” he said, adding, final year Capstone Project is mandatory for all bachelor programmes at MCBS. The projects offer students a great opportunity to apply accumulated knowledge and knowhow in tackling real-life problems.

Books woo readers at Muscat’s Bareeq Al Shatti Mall

Muscat: From literature to romance, from children’s books to autobiography, from science to religious texts, books of all genres are on show at the yearly event that has found a special place in the heart of book lovers in Oman.

Some people who pass by the box at the entrance of Bareeq Al Shatti Mall, that reads ‘Help Us Educate’, may have no clue right inside the mall exists a treasure for readers who are looking for books at affordable prices.

Books, all donated by caring readers, are available from 100 baisa to OMR3, thanks to the initiative of Bareeq Al Shatti Mall, which started three years ago.

The event is organised by the mall in association with Al Qandeel. This year, the proceedings from the sale of the used books will be handed over to Down Syndrome Parents Support Group.

Inside the shopping centre, a growing collection of over 10,000 books covering a wide variety of topics, including Fun Word Search, All About Computers, Ballroom Dancing, Gas Conditioning and Processing and great novels of all time, attracts 150 to 200 people who browse through the many shelves of priceless material every day.

“It all started as an idea to promote reading culture in Oman and now many people here know about us. The event has become quite popular,” said Kaillash Gidwaaney, head of the mall and commercial leasing, Al Qandeel Real Estate.

Speaking to the Times of Oman, Gidwaaney explained that donated books are collected throughout the year and are put on display at the mall for a maximum of three months.

This year, the event started on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

“Books are expensive and not everyone can afford them. On the other hand, there are people who have read a book and no longer need it. So we decided to do something to help promote education here in Oman,” he said.

Those who want to contribute to this worthy cause can donate their books from 4 pm to midnight at the mall throughout the week, including Friday and Saturday. But this is not the only way to make a book donation.

“Special boxes have been placed at various outlets of Pizza Hut, Just Grilled, Lulu and VLCC as well as Al Araimi Complex,” Gidwaaney added.

Also, those who have piles of books can call the numbers printed on the boxes (99860545, 98082113, and 97202295) to have their books collected.

According to the mall’s head, the event will continue for two months after Ramadan and visitors can donate and buy books at the mall from 10am to 1pm and from 5pm to 10pm once the fasting month is over.
Volunteers are welcome to help with the sale and tagging of the books, he said.

According to Nilesh Pindolia, the event has received a very positive response from the people, especially since books in both Arabic and English are available.

“The event encourages people to read more,” he said, adding that the books are available at less than half a price.

“It starts from 100 baisa for small books to maximum OMR2.5, and some books like encyclopaedias are available at OMR3. We have all kinds of books for all age groups,” he said.

Additionally, regarding the qaranqashow event, Bareeq Al Shatti is organising a drawing and colouring competition for children and essay competition for parents on July 12 from 7.30pm onwards.

For more information about the event and for registration, interested people may call 24643892 from Sunday to Thursday between 9.30am and 3.30pm.

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WFP to provide food to displaced people

ISLAMABAD — The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is rapidly scaling up food distribution aiming to reach approximately half a million recently displaced people from North Waziristan.
A statement issued by the WFP here said that since the start of food distribution on June 22, WFP has provided 15-day food rations over 4,600 families in Bannu and Lakki Marwat districts.
“We are working closely with the national and provincial authorities and civil society and our utmost priority is to provide food to all displaced people in the shortest possible time,” said Lola Castro, the WFP Pakistan Country Director.
The Disaster Management Authority in the area said that around 36,000 families have been registered as displaced so far following an operation by security forces in North Waziristan earlier this month.
The WFP is aiming to provide food assistance to all those displaced families who have fled their homes and are staying in different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK) including Bannu, Lakki Marwat, DI Khan and Tank districts, it added.
It further said that the government of Pakistan has announced last Tuesday an additional contribution of 25,000 metric tonnes of wheat to WFP to continue providing food rations to all displaced people in KPK, including the families from North Waziristan.
With this contribution, WFP will be able to continue its relief assistance until early September; USAID has provided $5.5 million to cover the cost of milling, fortifying and distributing the wheat.
The WFP is distributing its standard food basket of fortified wheat flour, pulses, vegetable oil and iodized salt, as well as emergency rations of high- energy biscuits for children, it added.
The statement said that assistance is being provided from humanitarian hub established in Bannu and Lakki Marwat.
Plans are under way to establish further hubs and to operate from additional distribution points for NWA families in DI Khan and Tank. — Internews

Oman’s Ministry of Health warns people against engaging in high-risk practices

Muscat: As the main mode of HIV transmission is sexual contact, the Ministry of Health has warned people against engaging in high-risk practices, urging HIV testing.

“The most common route is heterosexual contact and some cases are related to homosexual activities.

The routes of transmission of 23 per cent are unknown,” Dr Mohd Redha Moosa Al Lawati, Head of National TB, AIDS and Leprosy Control Programmes at the Ministry of Health, told the Times of Oman.

According to the Ministry of Health, 2,394 HIV/AIDS infections were registered among Omanis by the end of 2013. Of these, 1,511 (63 per cent) were alive by the end of last year, 65 per cent of whom were males and 35 per cent were females. 

Source – Ministry of Health

Among those still alive with known mode of transmission, the main modes were heterosexual (50.6 per cent), homosexual-bisexual (13.8 per cent), mother-to-child (5.7 per cent), injection drug use (3.8 per cent) and blood transfusion (3.0 per cent).

Al Lawati said that transmission of HIV by blood transfusion is no longer a major route of transmission because blood is screened since early 1990.

He also explained that Oman is running a very effective programme, called the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, since July 2009 in which all pregnant women are tested for HIV after their “verbal consent”.

Infection transmission

If they are tested positive, they are treated to prevent the transmission of the infection to the foetus, he said. “Oman is a pioneer in PMTCT in the region, with 94 per cent of pregnant women being screened.”

He added that HIV is more prevalent among people aged 20 to 40 in Oman. “We do not see the usual trend seen in the West, where most of the HIV positive cases are 15 to 24 years old.”

According to Al Lawati, Oman and other Gulf countries are classified as low HIV prevalence. 

Stigma  and education
Al Lawati believes that the stigma attached to HIV is gradually becoming less powerful in Oman as people are becoming more and more educated.

However, he says, there are still many misconceptions about the disease and modes of transmission and the Ministry of Health is developing more educational programmes to raise people’s awareness.

“There are programmes on TV and radio. Also we started peer education programmes in 2005. Various programmes are also being conducted at schools, colleges and social clubs,” Al Lawati said.

Besides, the Ministry of Health participates in different festivals across the country, including Muscat and Salalah festivals.

“We set up a camp where we give people useful information about HIV and they can get tested for free. For example, during the last one-month long Muscat Festival in Naseem Park, 2,500 people visited our camp. Around 500 rapid tests for HIV were carried out after counselling and none were positive.”

All in all, Oman’s response to HIV has been very good since the first case was diagnosed in 1984, he said. “Soon after that the national AIDS programme was set up.”

In conclusion, Al Lawati warned everyone to avoid high-risk practices. “But if you have been engaged in such behaviours, go and get yourself tested and undergo treatment to prevent the transmission of the disease to somebody else,” the official said. 

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Oman’s Mufti, 3 sects: a unique experience in religious tolerance – Al

Omani poet Kamel al-Bathari recently stood at the podium of The Million’s Poet competition in Abu Dhabi and recited a poem praising religious tolerance in Oman and the sultanate’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad al-Khalili.

Al-Bathari’s poem, which stirred the depths of human longing for tolerance and co-existence among the followers of various faiths, also raised various questions: In Oman, how do the followers of the Ibadi (75%), the Sunni (17%) and Shia (8%) sects live in harmony? And how can this experience be replicated in countries that have the same ethnic and religious diversity?

Religious tolerance in Oman is a distinctive characteristic of the national and cultural identity, said writer, poet and playwright Saleh al-Fahdi, who serves as president of the Centre of Values.

This is attributable to several factors, he said, including the value of tolerance towards others that characterises the state of Oman and the non-suppression and non-exclusion of members of other Islamic sects.

This is not only a by-product of tolerance, which is at the essence of Islam, but also an attribute of the Omani identity, of which, mufassir (religious interpreter) al-Qurtubi said: “The people of Oman are a people of knowledge, virtue and certitude.”

These attributes “constitute a sound foundation for the cultivation of the value of tolerance in Omani society”, al-Fahdi said.

“Tolerance is an inherited trait of the Omani identity, by nature and as a way of life, in both religion and day to day life,” said Mohammed Reza al-Lawati, a researcher in the science of Islamic philosophy.

Wise leadership needed

Al-Lawati attributed the success of the Omani experience to Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed, saying he played a pivotal role in cultivating religious tolerance.

“Warding off sedition and preventing it from spreading in the country requires wise leadership, especially as Oman is surrounded by neighbouring countries that espouse different faiths, with deep religious and political conflicts between them,” he said.

Unity stems from the promotion of religious tolerance by treating the followers of all faiths as equal citizens in all matters, he added.

The religious and political order adopted in the sultanate has served to bring citizens of various faiths together on two basic principles, said Madrin al-Maktoumiya, a media professional specialised in religious affairs.

These principles are: understanding the spirit of the Islamic religion and giving priority to national unity over narrow interests and strife that have no relation to religion, she said.

The sultanate’s Grand Mufti “is a moderate, non-argumentative figure who is beloved by all Islamic faiths in the sultanate”, al-Maktoumiya said.

The mufti has gained the approval of other sects, and his familiarity with the religious jurisprudences of Oman’s other groups ensures he is not biased toward his own Ibadi faith, she added.

Oman’s experience of religious co-existence rests on “the ruler’s justice and equity in the treatment of all citizens in rights and duties regardless of faith, and the dissemination of knowledge among people about the tolerance, centricity and moderation of Islam,” al-Fahdi said.

These are necessary attributes for the promotion of religious tolerance, he added.

“Strict laws also must be enforced to confront extremists of all faiths, and extreme caution exercised in dealing with contentious issues among the faiths in religious preaching, whether in mosques or the media, and moderate scholars must be allowed to perform their duties truthfully and faithfully,” he said.

Six people killed in Quraiyyat road accident

Muscat: Six people were killed while three others sustained injuries in a road accident on Tuesday morning at around 8am in Salmah, 160km from Muscat, according to a reliable source in Fins.

Five persons died on the spot and one succumbed to his injuries later. The injured persons and the bodies of the dead were transferred to Quriyat and Khoula hospitals.

The vehicle carrying nine persons, three women and six men, from Fins village in the wilayat of Quriyat was heading from Salmah area to Fins when it fell into a wadi and caught fire.

Six of the nine persons travelling in the pickup vehicle, were seated on its tailgate. The Salmah area is almost 70 kilometres from the Quriyat centre.

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Brochure to educate people on Daymaniyat Natural Islands

By Zainab al Nasseri -
THE Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs issued an awareness brochure titled  Daymaniyat Natural Islands in order to introduce people to the natural treasures these islands have. The brochure also aims to educate the public regarding healthy ways to deal with wildlife aspects in the reserve of Daymaniyat and to protect them. A lot of endangered species are living in these islands like some kinds of birds and certain types of coral reefs. There are nine islands named — Karaba, Hayot, Jabal al Kabeer, Kafssiya, Gorfa, Lomiya, Kesma, and Jon.
Omran al Kemzari, Senior Specialist of Natural Reserves in the Ministry, confirmed that this reserve is one of the earlier reserves announced as per Royal Decree no 23 /96. “It is located in the East side of Barka, Governorate of al Batinah South. Having nine islands, the full area of the reserve extends to 203 km2. Some islands are considered perfect spots for camping like Jabal al Kabeer and Jon. However, the entry is restricted and one should have appropriate camping licenses from the Ministry for both citizens and residents.
Al Kemzari said that the purpose of having a reserve in Daymaniyat Islands is to guarantee protection of existing wildlife and natural resources, conserve natural habitats as rich materials for scientific studies and field researches, take advantage of such islands when it comes to tourism, cooperate with local fishing communities to enhance economic benefits sustainably, raise awareness towards environment protection including marine and land natural wealth, and to provide scientific and practical programmes to college students and volunteers.
The brochure however contains a lot of camping instructions like switching lights off by 9 pm, collect all rubbish leftovers and keep the place clean, not to throw plastic bottles in the sea water, not to use banned fishing equipment like lances, guns or banned nets, not to take pets, not to collect shellfishes, mollusks, snails, crustacean neither to damage coral reefs, not to harm any kind of wildlife or disturb turtles, birds or try to collect their eggs, and not to use water skies.
Daymaniyat is the only marine reserve in Oman. Many migratory birds nest in these nine islands in the summer and there are various species of fish found in the coral reefs, making the islands attractive to scuba divers. Large number of Hawksbill turtles, a globally endangered species, lay their eggs here which enhances the islands’ environmental importance. The green turtles also nest on the islands’ sandy beaches.
The islands are made from limestone rocks and coral reefs. At their northern side, they slope steeply under water to depths of more than 25 metres. To the south, they shelve gently into the sea and are flanked by extensive coral reefs.
Thousands of marine birds nest on the islands throughout the year, including terns, ospreys and Red-billed Tropic birds. The islands which have been turned into reserves are free from predators such as foxes, cats and dogs. There are two species of snakes living on the islands, whilst the sea contains marine snakes.
The Daymaniyat Islands Reserve has been established primarily to conserve the coral reefs and to provide safe nesting conditions for turtles and birds. The reserve encourages environmental research and ensures sustainable use of the marine environment by local fishermen.