Ruiz Rues Three-Month Party As Joshua Avenges Loss

 

 

Andy Ruiz blamed three months of partying for his one-sided world heavyweight championship defeat to Anthony Joshua on Saturday, admitting he had failed to train seriously for his first title defense.

The 30-year-old Mexican-American stunned the world in June when he floored Joshua four times on the way to a sensational upset victory in their first fight at Madison Square Garden.

Ruiz had drawn gasps of disbelief on Friday when the weigh-in revealed he had ballooned to 283 pounds (128.4 kilograms), fully 15 pounds heavier than his fighting weight six months ago.

Ruiz’s poor conditioning was ruthlessly exposed by Joshua on Saturday, who nimbly outboxed the chubby champion.

“Three months of partying and celebrating affected me, what can I say?” Ruiz told reporters after the fight.

Asked what he’d do differently if granted a rematch with Joshua, Ruiz replied: “Listen to my coach. Listen to my dad. And take it more seriously.”

Ruiz, who was granted a ritzy homecoming parade in his Californian hometown of Imperial following his win in June, said he had started his training camp for the rematch too late.

Trainer Manny Robles had wanted Ruiz back in the gym in July. Ruiz only started his camp in September.

“I’m OK, I’m just a little disappointed,” Ruiz said. “I should have listened to them. I tried to do the training on my own. I should have listened to them more. There’s no excuses…the partying and all that stuff got the best of me.”

Robles meanwhile refused to point the finger at Ruiz.

“You’ve got to be with your fighter 100 percent,” he said. “I’m not the first coach where situations happen in camp. I have to apologise to him because this is a team effort and when you don’t win it hurts. It always hurts.”

Ruiz, however, was able to take encouragement from the fight, insisting he would be a different proposition in a third encounter.

“For being out of shape I did pretty good, I took all his shots,” he said. “I got him a few times … If we’d have gone toe to toe … For the trilogy I know I’m going to be a lot better.

“Being overweight, I wasn’t fluid enough, I wasn’t moving the way I wanted to move. I think if I’m lighter I’m going to let my hands go and be a completely different fighter.”

Saudi Arabia’s First Female Car Race Driver Set To Compete In Kingdom

Saudi Arabia’s first female race driver Reema al-Juffali is pictured inside her car during an interview with AFP in Diriyah district in Riyadh on November 20, 2019, ahead of the international Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series for electric zero-emission cars set for the weekend. PHOTO: FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP

 

Sliding behind the wheel of a sleek electric SUV, Reema Juffali is set to blaze a trail in male-dominated motorsports as the first Saudi woman to race in the kingdom.

Such adrenalin rushes were unimaginable for women in the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom until June last year, when it overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s wide-ranging liberalisation drive.

Juffali, a 27-year-old who made her motoring debut just months after the decades-old ban ended, will compete Friday and Saturday in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, an all-electric race in Diriyah, close to the capital Riyadh.

“The ban was lifted last year and I never expected to race professionally,” said Juffali, sitting in her black-and-green Jaguar I-Pace, an electric sports utility vehicle.

“The fact that I am doing it… is amazing,” Juffali, clad in a racing suit, told AFP in an interview close to the racing circuit in Diriyah.

Juffali, who hails from the western city of Jeddah and was educated in the United States, will participate as what organisers call a “VIP” guest driver, becoming the first Saudi woman to race on home soil.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports authority chief, has touted it as a “watershed” moment for the kingdom.

“Reema will have thousands cheering her on, as a professional racing driver,” the prince told AFP.

Juffali, who made one of her first appearances in competitive racing at the F4 British Championship at Brands Hatch in April, has only about a year of professional racing experience under her belt.

But she has had a passion for fast cars since her teenage years and grew up watching Formula One.

She passed her driving test after she moved to the United States to study some years ago, and is now one of only a handful of Saudi woman to have obtained a “racing licence” in her home country, a mandatory requirement to race professionally.

Even outside the Kingdom, only a few Saudi women have raced professionally.

“For a lot of women who haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to drive, to get behind the wheel is definitely something scary,” explained Juffali.

“For a lot of women in Saudi, it’s something so far away.”

Juffali said her dream is to one day race at Le Mans — a 24-hour competition in France that is one of the world’s most prestigious and gruelling competitions.

In Riyadh, she will be racing against the season’s veterans but will not score any points.

 Thrill of speed

Prince Mohammed has sought to shake off his country’s ultra-conservative image by allowing greater freedoms for women, including easing so-called “guardianship” rules that give men arbitrary authority over female relatives.

But alongside reforms he has also overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

Around a dozen women activists who long campaigned for the right to drive are on trial after being arrested last year, sparking widespread condemnation.

Some allege they were tortured and sexually harassed by interrogators; Saudi authorities deny the allegations.

The driving reform has been transformative for many Saudi women, freeing them from dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives.

Newly mobile Saudi women are now embracing what was previously deemed a male entitlement — fast cars.

Many are defying the perception that only dainty cars in bright colours are popular with women drivers.

Auto showrooms tapping women clients have rolled out a line-up of cherry red Mini Coopers, but sales professionals say many exhibit an appetite for muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro or the Mustang convertible.

Some women are taking up drifting –- oversteering the car to slip and skid or even spin, and other high-speed daredevilry — which is illegal in public but tolerated in the controlled environment of some theme parks.

Clad in skinny jeans and Harley-Davidson T-shirts, some women are also training to ride motorbikes at a Riyadh driving school, a scene that is still a stunning anomaly in the conservative petro-state.

“Many (people) are surprised by all the changes happening in Saudi,” said Juffali.

“Seeing me in a car, racing… For a lot of people it’s a surprise, but I am happy to surprise people.”

AFP

Messi Scores On Argentina Return To Sink Brazil

 

Lionel Messi struck on his return to international duty Friday following a three-month ban as Argentina defeated fierce rivals Brazil 1-0 in a friendly in Riyadh.

The Barcelona forward was suspended by CONMEBOL for accusing South American football’s ruling body of “corruption” after he was sent off in July’s third-place play-off with Chile at the Copa America.

Messi netted the only goal of the game at the King Saud University Stadium on 13 minutes, tapping home the rebound after his penalty was saved by Brazil goalkeeper Alisson.

His effort came shortly after Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus rolled a spot-kick wide for Brazil, who were playing without the injured Neymar.

Messi, who scored with a pair of free-kicks in his last game with Barcelona, twice threatened from set pieces in the second half before Liverpool ‘keeper Alisson beat away a powerful drive from Paredes.

Rodrygo, the 18-year-old who scored a sensational Champions League hat-trick with Real Madrid this month, made his Brazil debut as he replaced Willian for the final 20 minutes.

However, Brazil were unable to find an equaliser as their winless run since capturing the Copa America title extended to five matches.

The meeting between the two South American giants was the second in Saudi Arabia in little over a year. Brazil beat Argentina 1-0 in Jeddah in October 2018.

Brazil also defeated Argentina 2-0 at home in the semi-finals of this year’s Copa America, a controversial match that left Messi complaining the hosts had benefited from favouritism.

Brazil will play a friendly against South Korea in Abu Dhabi on November 19, in their final game before South American qualifying starts for the 2022 World Cup in March.

Saudi Arabia To Host January Spanish Super Cup

 

The Spanish Super Cup will be held in Saudi Arabia and moved to the winter for the next three editions, Spain’s football association (RFEF) announced on Monday.

Jeddah’s King-Abdullah stadium will host the four-team tournament in early January as opposed to its traditional pre-season date in August.

The competition sees La Liga winners Barcelona face Atletico Madrid and Copa del Rey champions Valencia play Real Madrid before a final on January 12.

RFEF president Luis Rubiales said women would be allowed into the ground for the fixtures and the governing body would subsequently help the Saudi Arabian football federation to organise a local league for women.

De facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recently introduced reforms including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas, and lifting a prohibition on women driving.

In December unified heavyweight world champion Andy Ruiz of Mexico will take on Britain’s Anthony Joshua in their rematch in Diriyah as the country attempts to improve its international image.

Five Things To Know About Saudi Arabia And Its Mammoth IPO

In this file photo taken on September 20, 2019, a general view of Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing plant. Saudi Aramco said it will list on the Riyadh stock exchange in what could be the world’s largest IPO, underpinning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions to overhaul the kingdom’s oil-reliant economy. PHOTO: FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP

 

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major transformation under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who intends to end the kingdom’s addiction to oil revenues.

As the country opens up on the economic front, there have also been some social reforms including more freedoms for women, but progress has been erratic and critics pushing for faster changes have ended up in jail.

The crown prince’s most ambitious economic initiative so far has been to push the state energy giant Aramco towards a stock market debut. After years of delays, the green light was announced on Sunday.

Why is the IPO such a big deal?

The sale of part of Aramco forms the foundation of Prince Mohammed’s turnaround plan for Saudi Arabia. The size of the listing remains in the air, but originally it was hoped it could generate as much as $100 billion.

That figure, based on a $2 trillion valuation of the company now seen as unrealistic, may not be reached but even so it it is likely to be the biggest share market offering of all time.

That money is needed to fund mega-projects like NEOM, a $500 billion futuristic mega city planned on the northern Red Sea coast, which officials say will have flying taxis and talking robots.

With no foreign listing planned at the moment, the crown prince will be relying on Saudi billionaires to heavily support the offering, and the kingdom’s representatives are reportedly visiting global capitals to woo investors further afield.

Will it be a success?

After years of stop-start progress towards the IPO, scepticism abounds and the new stock will be under close scrutiny when it launches on the Saudi bourse in coming weeks.

Apart from holding out for the big-ticket valuation, the delays are also said to be related to Saudi concerns that a foreign listing could shine an unwelcome light on the secretive company’s finances and inner workings.

“Should shares fall sharply after they begin trading, it would be a highly visible blow to the credibility of the economic reforms so closely associated with Mohammed bin Salman, which is why the valuation is so important,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States.

“International investors will pay very close attention to how Aramco performs on the domestic exchange, especially in the absence of any firm detail over the international portion of the eventual dual listing.”

Why is Aramco so important?

Aramco pumps about 10 percent of the world’s oil from its wells beneath the desert sands — mostly in the kingdom’s east but also in the evocatively named “Empty Quarter” in the south. There are also some major offshore oil fields.

The energy behemoth generated the most profit of any corporation last year with net income of $111 billion — more than Apple Inc., Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. combined.

The fate of Aramco is fundamental to world energy supplies — which was illustrated when oil prices were sent spiking after two of its facilities were targeted with strikes in September, temporarily knocking production down by half.

 How is MBS remaking the economy?

Even before he became crown prince in June 2017, the son of King Salman — often known by his initials MBS — had announced a plan to diversify the economy and push it away from its long reliance on oil.

Since then, the kingdom has witnessed a number of never-before-seen initiatives, mostly related to entertainment and tourism, including vast multi-island luxury destination projects.

Women were made more welcome in the workforce, concerts opened to Saudis, international sports events were given the green light, and the first tourist visas were issued.

Amid low oil prices, the kingdom also increased the prices of fuel and electricity, imposed a five percent value added tax (VAT) and levied duties on 11 million expatriates in a bid to generate additional revenue.

Selling the crown jewels

Aramco’s IPO has generated a feeling of pride among Saudis, although some are concerned about sharing the “family jewel” with foreigners.

“Aramco means family. From the work environment to the personalities you come across, it feels natural. It feels like home,” Naif Ghofaily, an Aramco employee in his 30s, told AFP.

“The sale has brought a lot of exposure for the company on a global scale. Although one of the biggest companies in the world long before its proposed listing, I feel as if many more people recognise Aramco today.”

Many of the employees live on plush company compounds, meaning that their immersion is total — particularly in a country where cities and towns offer few attractions.

For another employee, 33-year-old Haya, the landmark IPO risks “changing” the company.

“I was born in Aramco, my dad worked for Aramco for more than 50 years, both my parents retired from Aramco, I live in Aramco. To me Aramco is my home,” she told AFP.

“I’m feeling nervous about the IPO, I grew up planning for my kids to live the life I experienced in Aramco and I’m worried that with the IPO it won’t be the Aramco that we know.”

AFP

Saudi Arabia Holds First-Ever WWE Superstars Women Wrestling Match

Lacey Evans (red) fights against Natalya during the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Crown Jewel pay-per-view in Riyadh on October 31, 2019. PHOTO: Fayez Nureldine / AFP

 

Dressed demurely in black leggings and unflattering baggy t-shirts, rather than their trademark low-cut bikini tops, WWE superstars Natalya and Lacey Evans starred in the first-ever women’s wrestling match in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the latest unlikely event in the kingdom as it attempts to shrug off an ultra-conservative image.

As they arrived in the ring, with their flowing blonde hair uncovered, three teenagers laughed out loud having earlier in the evening been entranced by the spectacle served up by male, shirtless fighters.

“It’s nonsense,” said one to the other, struggling to be heard above the fireworks and rock ‘n’ roll music which blasted into the Riyadh night.

Evans, a former US Marine, and Natalya appeared at the King Fahd Stadium suitably dressed down for the occasion, their usual costumes left behind in the United States.

“Do you want them to be sent to jail?” said an expatriate fan who wished to remain anonymous when defending the dress code.

“Women’s wrestling in Saudi Arabia, yes, but only if they dress like that, otherwise it would not be possible, even if it’s a fact that the clothing is an integral part of the show,” added a young fan wearing a black World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) t-shirt, adorned with pictures of his favourite fighters.

Saudi Arabia is boosting entertainment that allows citizens to have fun, in what some see as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.

De facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas, and lifting a prohibition on women driving as part of a modernisation drive.

However, when it comes to women’s wrestling, it may be a long, hard road.

Last year, broadcast during a men’s wrestling match of a promotional video featuring scantily-clad female wrestlers sparked a scandal in the country, forcing the authorities concerned to apologise for the “indecent” images.

Ahmed, 24, who says he follows the sport from the kingdom, appeared disappointed with such furores.

“I was waiting for the women’s match. Those who want to see such a spectacle should have the right to access it, and those who do not like don’t have to come,” he said.

Ali, 40, attended with his two children and said he wanted to support the social changes in progress in the country.

However, he thinks there should be “limits”.

“These women’s shows, honestly…”, said Ali, wearing his country’s traditional all-white robe.

“That women drive, it’s already a shock for me. I’m not against it but you have to get used to it.”

Despite his discomfort, he said he had promised his daughter, pulling at his arm to show him her favourite wrestler, to teach her to drive when she is old enough.

AFP

Saudi Arabia To Stage First Women’s Wrestling Match

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

The first ever women’s wrestling match in Saudi Arabia will be held on Thursday, organisers said, the latest unlikely event staged in the kingdom as it attempts to shrug off an ultra-conservative image.

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) said that its “superstars” Natalya and Lacey Evans will face off in the pay-per-view event which will also feature former boxing champion Tyson Fury as he takes on Braun Strowman.

The organisers said the two women had done battle in some tough bouts recently, including one that Evans, a former US Marine, “won by powerbombing her foe off the side of the stage and through a table”.

The bout at King Fahd Stadium will be an incongruous scene in a country where women are generally obliged to wear the black “abaya” cloak.

However, Saudi Arabia is boosting entertainment that allows citizens to have fun, in what some see as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.

De facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas, and lifting a prohibition on women driving.

Developing the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of his Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world’s largest economy for the post-oil era.

In a landmark decision in August Saudi Arabia announced it would offer tourist visas — relaxing rules that had largely restricted visits to business travellers and Muslim pilgrims.

However, not all the initiatives have gone to plan. Nicki Minaj, known for her provocative, profanity-laced lyrics and skin-baring music videos, was to headline a concert in Riyadh in July but pulled out in a show of solidarity for women’s and gay rights in the kingdom.

The wrestling match is part of the Riyadh Season, which includes more than 100 entertainment and arts events over two months during the capital’s cooler winter months.

President Buhari Arrives In Saudi Arabia

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has arrived in the King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Mr President is in Riyadh to attend the Future Investment Initiative (FII).

Under the theme, ‘‘What’s Next for Global Business?’’, the event, which holds from October 29-31, will focus on three key pillars: Sustainable Future, Technology for Good and Advanced Society.

READ ALSO: Buhari To Visit London, After Saudi Arabia Trip

The three-day event will be held under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, deputy premier, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and PIF.

On the sideline of the event, President Buhari will hold bilateral talks with His Majesty King Salman and His Majesty King Abdullah ll of Jordan.

At the end of the summit, President Buhari will on Saturday 2nd November 2019, proceed to the United Kingdom on a private visit. He is expected to return to Nigeria on 17th November 2019,” the statement read in part.

Saudi Arabia Says Baghdadi ‘Distorted’ Image Of Islam, Praises Killing

The chief of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi purportedly appears for the first time in five years in a propaganda video in an undisclosed location.  AL-FURQAN MEDIA / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia said Monday that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had distorted the image of Islam, and hailed his killing by US special forces in northwestern Syria.

“The kingdom appreciates the US administration’s efforts to pursue members of this terrorist organisation that distorted the real image of Islam… and committed atrocities and crimes,” said a Saudi foreign ministry source, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

“Saudi Arabia continues its efforts with its allies, especially the United States, in fighting terrorism,” the source added.

US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that Baghdadi had died “like a dog” in an overnight raid by US special forces in Syria.

Trump said many IS jihadists had been killed in the raid and that Baghdadi had detonated a suicide vest when he was cornered in a tunnel.

IS had seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, imposing a violent form of Islamic rule on some seven million residents of its “caliphate”, headed by Baghdadi.

The Iraqi, believed to be 48 years old, was rarely seen during his years as leader of the group, last appearing in a propaganda video in April.

AFP

Saudi Replaces Foreign Minister Less Than A Year After Appointment

 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed a new foreign minister on Wednesday, according to a royal decree issued less than a year after his predecessor took office.

Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who has been serving as ambassador to Germany, will replace Ibrahim al-Assaf, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited the decree as saying.

Assaf will be demoted to minister of state, the SPA reported, having replaced Adel al-Jubeir in December 2018, two months after the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Assaf had been detained in 2017 in an anti-corruption sweep.

Saudi officials say he was released after being cleared of any wrongdoing, and he subsequently led a government delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year.

Saud will take office as the kingdom continues to deal with the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing, widely seen as the kingdom’s worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11 attacks, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.

The 45-year-old new foreign minister served as a key advisor at the Saudi embassy in Washington during the time of Khashoggi’s murder in October.

Farhan has “strong ties with ‘the West'”, tweeted Cinzia Bianco, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“He is dynamic and proactive. The ministry will likely be different than what we saw with Adel al-Jubeir and Ibrahim al-Assaf.”

She told AFP on Wednesday that Farhan “has really strong ties with traditional Saudi allies, US and even a more European outlook than would be traditionally the case”.

Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told AFP it was still not immediately clear why the replacements took place.

“Al-Jubeir, the foreign minister previously, is still rather present in the foreign policy scene,” she said.

“In fact, he has remained more prominent in the media than Assaf.”

Regional Tensions

Saudi King Salman also replaced the transport minister, Nabil al-Amoudi, with Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser on Wednesday.

This comes after 35 foreigners were killed when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Islamic holy city of Medina last week.

Transporting worshippers around the holy sites, particularly during the hajj, is a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia.

During the pilgrimage, the roads can be chaotic with thousands of buses creating interminable traffic jams.

The kingdom has also been navigating a spike in tensions with its regional arch-rival Iran, with attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month that temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude output and sent prices soaring.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility, but US officials blamed Tehran, charging that the rebels did not have the range or sophistication to target the facilities.

Tehran has denied involvement and warned of “total war” in the event of any attack on its territory.

Earlier this month, an Iranian tanker was hit in suspected missile strikes off the coast of Saudi Arabia, sparking new fears of war.

Saudi Arabia’s New 100% Shisha Tax Sparks Fury

A hooka (shisha) is pictured at a restaurant in Saudi Arabia’s western city of Jeddah on October 20, 2019. A decision to impose 100 percent tax on bills of restaurants that serve hookah, or shisha, has sparked social media fury in Saudi Arabia, which seeks to boost its economy. Some restaurants have stopped offering the popular pastime, while others lowered their prices to accomodate their customers. PHOTO: AFP

A decision to impose a 100 percent tax on bills at restaurants that serve shisha has ignited criticism on social media in Saudi Arabia, where the water pipes are a popular pastime.

The furore has also been fuelled by confusion over how the tax is applied.

In the meantime, some restaurants have stopped offering shisha, while others have lowered their prices to appease customers.

The government’s official gazette said earlier this month that the tax will apply to all tobacco products.

However the ruling from the ministry of rural and municipal affairs said it will apply “to the total invoice of the business serving tobacco products”.

A number of restaurants and cafes contacted by AFP said they believed that the tax applies to all table orders in any establishment that serves tobacco products, whether or not the order included shisha.

The decision sparked an avalanche of criticism on social media networks where the Arabic hashtag “tax on hookah restaurants” is trending in the kingdom.

Many people posted photos of their restaurant bills, with totals of more than double the initial amount when taking into account the new 100 percent tax and a still-unpopular five percent value added tax which went into effect last year.

“Tobacco tax — controversy and confusion,” read a headline in the Al-Madina newspaper on Monday.

In the face of persistent budget deficits, the world’s top crude oil exporter has resorted to measures like cutting subsidies on fuel and power and imposing new taxes including on cigarettes and soft drinks.

There were also suggestions that the new shisha tax could be a measure to protect public health.

“This is an indirect way to prohibit shisha without actually prohibiting it,” tweeted Electronic Lawyer, a popular commentator who has more than 80,000 followers.

Other Twitter users said the new decision goes against the country’s Vision 2030 ambitions to change its ultra-conservative image and revamp the economy.

Encouraging investment and kickstarting tourism are part of a reform programme envisaged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to wean the kingdom off its reliance on oil.

Saudi columnist Bassam Fatiny criticised the size of the tax as ill-considered.

“Let us assume that tax on tobacco has environmental and health benefits, is it logical that it be 100 percent!” he said on Twitter. “The ministry must have misunderstood Vision (2030).”

AFP

35 Killed In Saudi Arabia Bus Crash

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

Thirty-five foreigners were killed and four others injured when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Islamic holy city of Medina, Saudi state media said on Thursday.

The accident on Wednesday evening involved the collision of “a private chartered bus… with a heavy vehicle” near the western city, a spokesman for Medina police said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Those involved were Arab and Asian pilgrims travelling from Medina to Mecca, according to local media, which carried pictures of the bus engulfed in flames and with its windows blown out.

The injured have been transferred to Al-Hamna Hospital, SPA added. Authorities have launched an investigation.

The Okaz newspaper said that the victims were expatriates who lived in the kingdom and who were performing the umrah, the lesser pilgrimage to the Muslim holy places which can be undertaken year round.

This year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in August to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage — one of the five pillars of Islam.

The hajj and the umrah centre on the western city of Mecca and its surrounding hills and valleys, but the itinerary also often takes in the other holy city of Medina.

Last year, a high-speed train line was opened linking Mecca and Medina in just two and a half hours, halving the previous travel time.

Prince Faisal bin Salman, the governor of Medina region, expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, SPA said.

Pakistan said four people survived the bus crash, including one of its nationals, while several other Pakistani citizens were killed.

“It has been reported that 35 passengers out of total 39 lost their lives,” the foreign ministry in Islamabad said in a statement.

“Initial reports indicate that the deceased also include a certain number of Pakistani nationals. Of the four (4) survivors, there is one Pakistani named Mr. Akbar, who is seriously injured,” it added.

 Transport Challenge 

The nationalities of the other victims was not immediately known but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent his condolences.

“Anguished by the news of a bus crash near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. Praying for a quick recovery of the injured,” he tweeted.

Transporting worshippers around the holy sites, particularly during the hajj, is a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia.

During the pilgrimage, the roads can be chaotic with thousands of buses creating interminable traffic jams.

Four British pilgrims were killed and 12 others injured in April last year when their bus collided with a fuel tanker while they were on the way to Mecca.

And in January 2017, six Britons, including a two-month-old baby, were killed in a minibus on their way to Medina after making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers — including hundreds of Iranians — in the worst disaster ever to strike the hajj.

Earlier that month, 100 people were killed when a construction crane toppled into a courtyard of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

As part of efforts to diversify its oil-dependent economy, the ultra-conservative kingdom wants to foster a year-round religious tourism sector that attracts millions of pilgrims.

Up until last month, it only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events, but tourists are now allowed to visit as part of the drive to wean the biggest Arab economy off its dependence on oil.