Pigeons and balloons as Pakistan prepares for Saudi crown prince’s visit

A banner in Islamabad welcomes the Saudi visit. (AFP)
Updated 17 February 2019

Pigeons and balloons as Pakistan prepares for Saudi crown prince’s visit

  • Islamabad is hoping to sign a raft of investment deals and other agreements during the crown prince’s visit

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan was rescheduling flights, blocking off luxury hotels and, according to one report on Friday, collecting 3,500 pigeons and colorful balloons to release during a welcome ceremony for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Islamabad is hoping to sign a raft of investment deals and other agreements during the crown prince’s visit, which will include talks with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Banners heralding the crown prince were already lining the streets of the capital on Friday, while the Express Tribune newspaper reported that authorities were trying to catch so many pigeons for a welcome ceremony that they were
forced to collect birds from other cities.

Police, the armed forces and the Saudi Royal Guards will provide security, said a senior Islamabad police official.

The capital’s “red zone,” which houses Parliament House and the presidency, was to be sealed off, while civil aviation authorities have been told to reschedule flights during the crown prince’s arrival and departure.

Officials said that Pakistan had taken measures to ensure that fool-proof security arrangements are in place ahead of the royal visit.

“The main security arrangements have been handed over to the army,” said Islamabad Capital Territory Police spokesman Naeem Iqbal. “The police will assist the army and ensure a smooth flow of traffic in the city.”

A traffic plan has been devised to avoid congestion on the main roads, he added. 

When asked about the deployment of police personnel, he said: “Around 4,000 personnel have been deployed in the city. All the important locations are manned, including the entry and exit points of the federal capital.”

Iqbal added that 1,200 security pickets were being set up at different points of the city. Authorities in the capital said two five-star hotels had been ordered to cancel all advance bookings as the rooms will be reserved for the crown prince’s entourage.

Local media reported earlier in the week that his personal belongings, including luxury vehicles and his own gym, were flown to Pakistan in two C130 airplanes.

The crown prince is expected to sign a range of agreements worth up to $15 billion, including deals for three power plants in Pakistan’s Punjab province and an oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the coastal city of Gwadar in Balochistan province.

“We’re working with full speed on technical and feasibility studies for the establishment of the oil refinery and petrochemical complex in Gwadar … and will perform the ground-breaking by early 2020,” Pakistani Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told Arab News.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman said that Islamabad is seeking to sign a number of other deals, including one “combating organized crime.”

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are participating in talks with the US and other countries seeking to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with Kabul after more than 17 years of war.


Pope Francis begins visit to Thailand as faithful jostle for selfies

Updated 20 November 2019

Pope Francis begins visit to Thailand as faithful jostle for selfies

  • Catholics are a tiny minority in mostly Buddhist Thailand, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population
  • Among those welcoming him was his cousin and childhood friend from Argentina, 77-year-old nun Sister Ana Rosa Sivori
BANGKOK: Pope Francis arrived in Thailand on Wednesday to meet with its small but devoted Catholic minority on a seven-day Asian trip that will include a family reunion in Bangkok and take his anti-nuclear message to Japan.
Waiting for a glimpse of the pontiff, excited Catholics thronged around the Vatican’s Bangkok embassy and St. Louis Hospital to take selfies.
“Once in a lifetime, I want to see him and be able receive prayer from him,” said 60-year-old Orawan Thongjamroon outside the Vatican embassy, where she had been waiting since early morning for the papal motorcade.
Catholics are a tiny minority in mostly Buddhist Thailand, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population.
The pope’s plane touched down outside Bangkok around midday and he descended to a red-carpet airport welcome from church leaders for a visit that coincides with the 350th anniversary of the first papal mission in Siam, the former name of Thailand.
Among those welcoming him was his cousin and childhood friend from Argentina, 77-year-old nun Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, who has worked in Thai schools for more than 50 years and will be the pope’s personal translator in Thailand.
The pair, whose grandfathers were brothers, beamed as they made their way over the tarmac through crowds of clergy, children and government officials to a waiting motorcade.
“Dear friends in Thailand and Japan, before we meet, let us pray together that these days may be rich in grace and joy,” read a message on the pontiff’s official Twitter account before he left the Vatican.
At Bangkok’s St. Louis Church, a Thai Catholic woman proudly showed photographs of her and Pope Francis from a visit she made to the Vatican with her husband.
“I never thought that I would have another chance to see him again,” said Nuchnaree Praresri, 49.
But when she was invited to be a cleaner at St. Louis Church for the papal visit, she seized the opportunity.
“This might not be an important role for others, but I’m very proud,” she said.
Catholicism first arrived in Thailand in the mid-1500s with Portuguese missionaries and traders, and Catholics have over the years built respected schools and hospitals.
Pope Francis begins his official program on Thursday when he is scheduled to meet King Maha Vajiralongkorn as well as the supreme Buddhist patriarch before offering mass at the National Stadium.
He will hold another mass at Bangkok’s Assumption Cathedral before leaving on Saturday for Japan, where he will visit the nuclear ground zeros of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.