Saudi Arabia opens to tourists with new visa, no abaya rule

Robie de Guzman   •   September 28, 2019   •   609

Saudi Arabia threw open its doors to tourists on Friday (September 27), launching a new visa program for 49 countries and appealing to foreign companies to invest in a sector it hopes will contribute 10% of gross domestic product by 2030.

Visas will be available online for about $80 (£65), with no restrictions for unaccompanied women as in the past.

Access to the Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina is restricted. Until now, foreigners travelling to Saudi Arabia have been largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travellers, and Muslim pilgrims who receive special visas to visit holy sites.

The ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom has in recent years relaxed strict social codes, like segregating men and women in public places and requiring women to wear all-covering black robes, or abayas.

Tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb told Reuters in an interview ahead of the official announcement that abayas will not be mandatory for women tourists but modest dress is, including at public beaches.

Khateeb said China, Japan, Europe and the United States were among the top outbound targets.

The move is part of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plans to develop new industries to wean the world’s top oil exporter off crude and open up society.

Many of his reforms received international praise, but his image has been tarnished by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the arrest of critics including prominent women activists, and a nearly five-year war in Yemen where tens of thousands of people have been killed.

More details, including which countries are eligible, were expected later on Friday. (Reuters)

(Production: Nael Shyouki)

DOLE prepares for repatriation of OFWs who died of COVID-19 from Saudi

Robie de Guzman   •   June 26, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Friday said it is now preparing for the repatriation of the bodies of Filipino workers who succumbed to novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and other causes in several regions of Saudi Arabia.

In a statement, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said their preparations include a set of protocols from the Department of Health on the handling, reception, and domestic transport of those who died from COVID-19.

Bello said they will be repatriating the remains of 152 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia who succumbed to COVID-19 and 149 others who died from various causes.

The labor chief said the bodies will be flown home by early next month after he was able to secure the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the repatriation process.

Based on initial preparations, two chartered planes will separately fly the coronavirus fatalities and those who died of other causes.

The bodies will be transported from various points to Riyadh and Jeddah, and will be flown back to the country by the second week of July.

Bello said the three Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) that will be involved in the process will have to abide by the strict guidelines of both the Saudi and Philippine governments in the transport of the remains.

Families will be notified of the arrival of the remains of their loved ones, along with their respective local government units (LGU) to allow their domestic transport, DOLE said.

Upon arrival in the country, the bodies of COVID-19 victims will be transported, with the help of the Department of National Defense, directly to the crematoriums of choice of the family or the LGU.

The remains of those who died of natural or other causes, meanwhile, will be allowed to be fetched at the airport by their respective families.

OPEC and allies agree to extend historic output cut to end of July

UNTV News   •   June 8, 2020

REUTERS – The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies led by Russia, known as OPEC+, agreed on Saturday (June 6) to extend the historic 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) production cut till the end of July 2020.

The decision was made by the OPEC via video conference of members on Saturday to further support the rebound in international oil prices.

All participants agreed to extend the cut of 9.7 million bpd pertaining in May and June by one further month, instead of the planned reduction of 7.7 million barrels a day after this month, according to a statement published on OPEC’s website later Saturday.

The meeting recognized that the output cut carried out in May had helped garner “tentative signs of a recovery” in the global economy and oil market.

It noted that global oil demand was still expected to contract by around 9 million bpd for the whole of 2020.

Meanwhile, countries that failed to achieve 100 percent of its production cuts in May and June will make extra reductions from July to September to compensate for their failings.

All parties will also keep a close watch on the oil market, which will also be assessed at the end of this month to decide whether to extend the agreement further.

According to the Saudi Arabian energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud in the video conference, despite many uncertainties, concerted action by oil producing countries is needed to restore global confidence in the oil market.

Saudi Arabia pumped more than 12 million barrels of oil after talks with Russia and other countries broke down in March.

But during these times, the oil prices fell sharply due to the COVID-19, leading to the continuous collapse of crude oil prices.

On April 13, Saudi Arabia and Russia reached an agreement with other oil producers to cut oil output by a record 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for May and June.

Since then, international oil prices have rallied sharply, with Brent crude rising from the lowest about 16 U.S. dollars a barrel to about 40 U.S. dollars.

Saudi-led ceasefire in Yemen begins, raising hopes for peace

UNTV News   •   April 10, 2020

A nationwide ceasefire in response to the global coronavirus outbreak went into effect in Yemen on Thursday (April 9), raising hope for an end to the five-year-old war that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.

A Saudi-led coalition fighting against Yemen’s Houthi movement said it would halt military operations from 0900 GMT for two weeks in support of United Nations efforts to end the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people.

The Iran-aligned movement, which controls the capital Sanaa and most big urban centres, has yet to announce whether it will follow suit in what would be the first major breakthrough in peace efforts since late 2018.

The United Nations and Western allies have pointed to the threat of the coronavirus to push the combatants to restart talks to end the war, which has shattered Yemen’s health system.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Lise Grande, told Reuters at least half of Yemen’s population was in a “very degraded health status” while three quarters require some form of humanitarian assistance or protection.

The conflict, widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in military stalemate for years and brought Yemen’s economy to its knees. (Reuters)

(Production: Nael Shyoukhi, Ahmed Ansi, Abdelruhman Yahya, Tarek Fahmy, Hamuda Hassan)

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