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After 22 years, India mulling resuming use of Arabian Sea route to ferry Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia

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Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Image Source: Wikimedia
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Mumbai, April 14, 2017: Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Friday said the Centre is “actively considering” a plan to resume — after 22 years — the use of the Arabian Sea route to ferry Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and consultations with the Shipping Ministry are already on.

He said the “revolutionary and pilgrim-friendly decision” of sea travel will cut down travel expenses by nearly half compared with air fares. The use of the sea route between Mumbai and Jeddah for Haj was discontinued in 1995.

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“A high-level committee, formed by the government to frame the Haj Policy 2018 as per the Supreme Court’s 2012 order, is exploring the issue for sending pilgrims via the sea route to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia,” the Minister of State for Minority Affairs said at a training programme at the Haj House here.

The committee will soon submit its report to the government.

At present, Haj pilgrims travel by air from 21 points across the country.

The minister said another advantage was that ships nowadays are modern and well equipped to ferry 4,000 to 5,000 persons at one go.

“They can cover the 2,300-odd nautical miles between Mumbai and Jeddah in just two-three days. Earlier, ships used to take 12 to 15 days to cover this distance,” he said.

He said the new Haj policy is aimed at making the entire pilgrimage process easier and transparent. Facilities for pilgrims will be the focus of the new policy.

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In 2016, as many as 99,903 pilgrims went to Jeddah for Haj through the Haj Committee of India, besides nearly 36,000 persons who went through private tour operators.

In 2017, a total of 1,70,025 persons will go for Haj from India, including 1,25,025 through the Haj Committee and 45,000 others through private operators.

This year, he said, 129,196 applications were received online.

The Ministry of Minority Affairs along with other agencies has started preparations for the biggest annual pilgrimage very early in coordination with various agencies, he added. The aim is to provide world class facilities to Haj pilgrims.

With an increase of 34,005 in India’s annual Haj quota by host country Saudi Arabia, announced last year, all Indian states will benefit for this year’s pilgrimage, Naqvi said.

“The decision was taken during the signing of a bilateral annual Haj agreement between the two countries at Jeddah on January 11. It is the biggest increase in the Haj quota for India after many years,” the Minister said.

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More than 500 trainers from different states are participating in the three-day training programme that deals with various dos and don’ts to be adhered to during the pilgrimage. They are enlightened about transport, accommodation and laws in Saudi Arabia, among other things.

Officials from the Haj Committee of India, Saudi Arabia Consulate, BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, Saudi Airlines, Air India, customs and immigration departments and doctors are involved in the endeavour.

These trainers will further train prospective pilgrims at different camps across the country. (IANS)

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Despite Pleas From Senate, U.S. President Donald Trump Stands By Saudi Prince

Trump said he could abide by legislation ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen

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U.S. President Donald Trump sits for an exclusive interview with Reuters journalists in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.

“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.

Saudi Arabia Prince
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the second day of the Future Investment Initiative conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. VOA

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.

“I just haven’t heard that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

While Trump has condemned the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was often critical of MbS, he has given the benefit of the doubt to the prince with whom he has cultivated a deep relationship.

Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the “crown prince vehemently denies” involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.

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Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. VOA

Trump has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them. Last month, the CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing, which Trump called “very premature.”

“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MbS,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.

Meeting with Senators

Graham and other senators who have supported the U.S.-Saudi alliance over the years have said that Trump should impose more sanctions after a first round targeted 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters after a closed-door security briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and involvement of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at the Capitol in Washington. VOA

As the Senate considers this week a joint resolution condemning the crown prince for the killing, something that the president would have to sign or veto if passed by Congress, Trump said he would meet with senators.

Trump said he hoped senators would not propose stopping arms sales to the Saudis, deals he has doggedly fought to save ever since the gruesome details of Khashoggi’s murder were leaked by Turkey.

“And I really hope that people aren’t going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they’re going to siphon off to Russia and to China,” Trump said.

Also Read: The Khashoggi Killing Creates Differences Between Trump And U.S. Lawmakers

Trump said he could abide by legislation ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen, a proxy war with regional rival Iran that has led to a deepening humanitarian disaster.

“Well, I’m much more open to Yemen because frankly, I hate to see what’s going on in Yemen,” Trump said. “But it takes two to tango. I’d want to see Iran pull out of Yemen too. Because – and I think they will.” (VOA)