Cairo, Dec 23 (AP/UNB) — On the Giza Plateau outside Cairo, thousands of Egyptians are laboring in the shadow of the pyramids to erect a monument worthy of the pharaohs.
The Grand Egyptian Museum has been under construction for well over a decade and is intended to showcase Egypt's ancient treasures while drawing tourists to help fund its future development. But the project has been subject to repeated delays, with a "soft opening" planned for next year scrapped in favor of a more triumphant inauguration in 2020. Costs have meanwhile soared from an initial $650 million to well over $1 billion, with most of the financing coming from Japan.
It's the latest mega-project to be championed by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is wagering that massive investments in infrastructure will revive an economy weakened by decades of stagnation and battered by the unrest that followed the 2011 uprising.
The museum is a series of towering concrete halls that will eventually hold some 50,000 artifacts, including the famed mask of Tutankhamen — popularly known as King Tut — and other treasures currently housed in the century-old Egyptian Museum in Cairo's congested Tahrir Square. The hope is that tourists will stay awhile, and provide the foreign currency Egypt needs to buttress its economy.
"It's a place where you can linger to enjoy ancient Egypt," project director Tarek Tawfik said on a recent tour of the site, which will also include a conference center, a cinema, 28 shops, 10 restaurants and a boutique hotel. Giant windows open onto the 5,000-year-old pyramids, and the museum will feature an intact wooden ship and a towering statue of Ramses II.
Tawfik describes it as "a fantastic experience of ancient Egypt in a very modern building that provides all kind of modern, comfortable functions."
That would mark a major change from the current setup, in which tourists visiting the pyramids and the Sphinx are routinely hassled by touts and camel-drivers.
Tourists are gradually returning to Egypt, but the industry has yet to recover from the 2011 uprising, which toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak and ushered in a period of instability, culminating in the military overthrow of the country's first freely elected president, an Islamist whose brief rule sparked mass protests.
El-Sissi, who led the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and was elected the following year, has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent. Political demonstrations, heavily restricted under a 2013 law, are now unheard of. A Sinai-based insurgency that gathered steam after Morsi's overthrow has carried out a series of attacks in recent years, mainly on security forces and Christians, but has only rarely targeted foreign tourists.
El-Sissi has meanwhile sought to use large-scale projects to bolster the image of the state — with mixed results. A trumpeted expansion of the Suez Canal in 2015 has yet to deliver the soaring revenues the government promised, as global trade has eased. A grandiose new administrative capital under construction outside Cairo is still in the early stages, with negligible foreign investment and foreign embassies not keen to move so far out into the desert.
Egypt's pharaonic heritage remains a major draw, however, and Tawfik expects the museum to attract 8 million people a year once it opens. An estimated 8 million tourists will have visited Egypt in 2018, an increase from previous years but well below a peak of 14.7 million before the 2011 uprising.
Egypt's multi-national construction giant Orascom built the museum, with initial loans from the Japanese government of $320 million in 2006 and $450 million in 2016. The Japanese continue to advise on the museum's development and artifact restoration, but it is unclear who will provide the additional financing for the project, with costs now estimated at $1.1 billion. A bidding process is underway to find someone to operate the site.
Much of the financing may end up coming from the military or affiliated companies, which play a major role in the economy and have been heavily involved in other mega-projects. The Associated Press spent several weeks seeking permission to visit the museum, which was ultimately granted by the military.
Tawfik said the military is helping with "value engineering" — the sourcing of local components like stone cladding and materials to reduce reliance on more expensive imports. Egypt floated its currency in 2016 in order to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, leading to a devaluation that has taken a heavy toll on poor and middle-class Egyptians.
"Today, despite all the increases in costs and the floating of the Egyptian pound, it's quite amazing that the project will be completed, thanks to good management and value engineering," he said.
Dhaka, Dec 23 (AP/UNB) - A painting that was stolen during World War II and later spent decades in a Connecticut home will be returned to an art museum in Ukraine, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials.
The FBI seized the painting after a retired couple in Ridgefield transported it to Washington, D.C., to be auctioned last year. The couple, David and Gabby Tracy, had long cherished the painting but figured it was a copy, not the signed original.
Standing nearly 8 feet tall (2.4 meters), the painting depicts the 16th century Russian czar Ivan the Terrible looking crestfallen as he flees the Kremlin on horseback.
It had been left behind in a Ridgefield home that David Tracy bought in 1987. The previous couple in the home said the painting was already there when they purchased the house from a Swiss man in 1962.
When Tracy and his wife moved to a different house in the area, they paid $37,000 to add a sunroom big enough to display the painting.
"This painting was a beautiful painting, and we treasured it," Gabby Tracy, 84, told The Associated Press on Saturday. "You couldn't help but admire the fine painting, what detail was in Ivan's face."
But as they made plans to move to a condominium in Maine last year, they realized the painting wouldn't fit. They hired an auctioning company near Washington to sell the work, which was appraised at about $5,000.
After the auction house added the painting to its catalog, though, an employee received an urgent email from an art museum in Ukraine.
"Attention! Painting 'Ivan the Terrible' was in the collection of the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum until 1941 and was stolen during the Second World War," the email said, according to court documents. "Please stop selling this painting at auction!!!"
The museum identified the painting as a 1911 work by Mikhail Panin, titled "Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina." It was a permanent exhibit at the Ukrainian museum until 1941 but disappeared during Nazi occupation of the city.
FBI officials took custody of the painting and later traced it to the Swiss man who sold the Ridgefield home in 1962. Officials didn't release his name but said he moved to the U.S. in 1946 after serving in the Swiss Army. He died in 1986. Gabby Tracy said it's unknown how he obtained the painting.
After learning it had been stolen, the Tracy couple agreed the painting should be returned to Ukraine. The story particularly moved Gabby, who was born in Slovakia and survived the Holocaust. Her father, Samuel Weiss, died in a concentration camp.
"There was never a question that it was going back. It's just sad that we had to go through this experience," Gabby said. "It's ironic that I should have been so worried about keeping this painting safe."
Federal officials filed paperwork Thursday formally passing the painting from the FBI to the U.S. District Attorney's Office in Washington, which is turning it over to Ukraine's embassy.
"The looting of cultural heritage during World War II was tragic, and we are happy to be able to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners," U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu said in a statement Friday.
Officials at Ukraine's embassy thanked the Tracy couple and U.S. officials who helped recover the painting. A statement from spokeswoman Natalia Solyeva said it's the first time the two nations have worked together to recover stolen cultural goods.
"The Embassy of Ukraine was excited to work with its American partners on the case of returning the painting to its rightful owners — the people of Ukraine," the statement said.
London, Dec 22 (Xinhua/UNB) -London's Big Ben will chime at midnight on New Year's Eve with its iconic big bongs, British Parliament confirmed Friday.
The coming new year will herald the 160th anniversary of the year one of the world's best known clocks started keeping time for the nation.
At midnight exactly, Big Ben will ring 12 times, replicating the usual strike rate of 4.5 seconds. To make this possible, a bespoke electric mechanism has been built to power the 200kg striking hammer.
The Elizabeth Tower, the formal name for the clock tower, is currently undergoing a complex conservation program to safeguard the 159-year-old iconic clock for generations to come.
As one of London's most photographed attractions, the clock tower is now clad in scaffolding, with its clock hands and the 159-year-old clock mechanism completely disconnected and dismantled for the first time.
It is part of a specialist task to restore the historic building to its former glory. Experts from around Britain are involved in the huge task of restoring the landmark, combining ancient craftsmanship with cutting edge modern techniques.
"This is the most significant restoration of the Elizabeth Tower in its entire history, with many challenges and complexities emerging since the project began," said principal architect Adam Watrobski.
According to Watrobski, the first newly painted clock dial will be revealed next year.
Measuring 2.7m across and 2.2m high, the 13.7-tonne bell could produce musical note E when struck and will be test rung on a number of occasions ahead of the New Year celebration.
Dhaka, Dec 21 (UNB) - A get-together programme ‘Poetry Evening on Hafez Shirazi’ was held at Iran Cultural Centre in the city on Friday.
Iran Cultural Centre in Dhaka arranged the programme on the occasion of ‘Shab-e-Yalda’, a traditional night of Iran (The longest night of the year).
Ambassador of Iran in Bangladesh Mohammad Reza Nafar and Poet Asad Chowdhury were present at the programme as special guests.
Speakers said the influence of Hafez's literature exists in Bangla literature. The national poet of Bangaladesh Kazi Nazrul Islam has helped Bangla literature enrich through translating Diwane Hafez’s poetries.
Poet Asad Chowdhury, Shihab Sarker, Hasan Hafiz, and Shah Newaz Tabib recited during the programme.
A documentary on ' Shab- e-Yalda' was screened as part of the programme.
Acting cultural counselor Dr Seyed Mahdi Hosseini Faegh delivered the welcome speech.
Egypt, Dec 16 (AP/UNB) — Egypt on Saturday announced the discovery of a private tomb belonging to a senior official from the 5th dynasty of the pharaohs, which ruled roughly 4,400 years ago.
Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani announced the find at the site of the tomb in Saqqara, just west of Cairo, which is also home to the famed Step Pyramid.
He said drawings on the tomb's walls were "exceptionally well-preserved." The drawings depicted the official and his family, he added.
The tomb also contained a total of 45 statues carved in rock. Again, they depict the official and his family.
In recent years, Egypt has heavily promoted new archaeological finds to international media and diplomats in the hope of attracting more tourists to the country. The vital tourism sector has suffered from the years of political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.