RIYADH: Saudi King Salman will launch the construction of an “entertainment city” near Riyadh , authorities said, part of a series of multi-billion dollar projects as the kingdom seeks to diversify its oil-reliant economy.
The 334-square kilometre project in Qiddiya, southwest of Riyadh, would rival Walt Disney and include high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari park, officials say.
The facility highlights a “relentless effort to develop giga-projects that will help achieve many direct and indirect economic returns”, project official Fahd bin Abdullah Tounsi was quoted as saying in a government statement on Monday.
Qiddiya chief executive Michael Reininger said he expects the project will draw foreign investors in entertainment and other sectors, but did not specify the total cost of construction.
Such projects are the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a self-styled liberal change agent who is the chief architect of the sweeping “Vision 2030” reform programme.
Saudi Arabia has dazzled investors with several plans for hi-tech “giga projects”, funded in part by its sovereign wealth fund, but some sceptics question their viability in an era of cheap oil.
The kingdom has unveiled blueprints to build NEOM, a mega project billed as a regional Silicon Valley, in addition to the Red Sea project, a reef-fringed resort destination — both worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Analysts say the projects could create funding pressures at a time when the government faces a yawning budget deficit and growth in the kingdom`s non-oil economy is only slowly gathering pace.
The reform stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom has been reeling from an oil slump since 2014.
Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see films and visit amusement parks in neighbouring tourist hubs like Dubai and Bahrain.
In February, Saudi Arabia`s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) announced it will stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.
Sri Lanka bombings death toll rises to 359, 18 more suspects held overnight
Colombo: Police say the death toll in the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.
The prime minister warned that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.
Another top government official said the suicide bombings at the churches, hotels and other sites were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks and released images that purported to show the attackers. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that investigators were still determining the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.
UN says over 250 killed, over 1,200 injured in Libya battle
TRIPOLI: At least 264 people have been killed and over 1,200 wounded in weeks of fighting on the outskirts of Libya’s capital, the World Health Organisation said , as African leaders gathered in Cairo to discuss the crisis.
The agency called on Twitter for “a temporary cessation of hostilities, and for all parties to respect humanitarian law”.
Eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital on April 4, as his self-styled Libyan National Army pledged “to purge the west of terrorists and mercenaries”.
Forces loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, launched a counter-attack at the weekend.
The fighting has since eased somewhat as both sides appeared to be preparing for the next phase of the battle.
Fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs has so far displaced at least 35,000 people, UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya Maria do Valle Ribeiro said on Monday.
“Displacement is continuing at an increasing rate every day,” she said, warning that the figures were a conservative estimate.
The two sides have reached a near stalemate since armed groups backing the GNA launched their counter-attack on Saturday.
An AFP team on the ground at the weekend confirmed that GNA-aligned fighters had pushed the frontline back several kilometres in the southern district of Ain-Zara, around a dozen kilometres south of the city centre.
Another frontline is a little further southwest, around the districts of al-Swani and Qasr ben-Ghachir, around 30 kilometres from Tripoli, on a key road between the capital and the old international airport.
Occasional bursts of gunfire — and heavier projectiles — have been audible, sometimes resonating in the city centre.
“It is calm on most fronts,” Mustafa al-Mejii, a spokesman for GNA forces, said.
“Orders were given to forces on the perimeter of Tripoli airport to consolidate their positions,” he said.
Haftar’s force said on its official Facebook page it had received “significant” reinforcements, particularly in the west.
Valle Ribeiro said civilians were being displaced every day, while some had been trapped by fire including “heavy artillery and… shelling in some densely populated parts of the city”.
“Any country that has leverage should be using that leverage to ensure that civilians can be protected,” she said.
African leaders were due to meet in Cairo at the behest of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss the violence.
Israel to name Golan settlement after Trump
JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he plans to name a new settlement in the occupied Golan after US President Donald Trump in appreciation of his recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty there.
Netanyahu, who has been on a trip to the region with his family for the week-long Passover holiday, said in a video message that he would present a resolution to the government calling for a new settlement named after the US president.
“All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” he said.
Trump again broke with longstanding international consensus on March 25 when he recognised Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the part of the strategic plateau it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The decision came only two weeks ahead of a tightly contested Israeli election, which saw Netanyahu win a fifth term in office.
Trump has shifted US policy sharply in Israel’s favour since taking office, most notably by recognising the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israel annexed 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan it seized in 1981, a move never recognised by the international community.
Around 18,000 Syrians from the Druze sect — most of whom refuse to take Israeli citizenship — remain in the occupied Golan.
Some 20,000 Israeli settlers have moved there, spread over 33 settlements.