Friday, August 31, 2007

India denies Maldives role in Hyderabad blasts

India has rejected media reports alleging that terrorists who engineered the weekend blasts in Hyderabad came via the Maldives, saying such reports are 'irresponsible and need to be condemned'.

"In the wake of recent bombing attacks in Hyderabad, stray reports in the Indian media have projected the Maldives as a possible route for terrorists and their instigators," the Indian Embassy in Male said in a statement, according IANS report.

"Such reports are completely unrelated to the facts on the ground and the government of India totally rejects the same," the statement said.

"The Maldives is a remarkably peace loving, tranquil society and a law-abiding member of the international community. Given its enviable track record, irresponsible press reports of the nature cited above deserves to be condemned," Indian Embassy said.

In a statement earlier this week, Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest serving ruler who has been leading the Indian Ocean atoll nation for nearly three decades, condemned Saturday's twin blasts in Hyderabad that claimed 42 lives and injured over 100 and expressed solidarity with the victims.

In a message to Indian President Pratibha Patil, President Gayoom expressed sympathies on behalf of the people of the Maldives for the tragedy.

"I extend my profound sympathy to you, the government, and people of India, especially to those who have been directly affected by the explosions. We also convey our sincere condolences to the members of the bereaved families," Gayoom said in a letter to Patil.

Some reports in the Indian media suggested that militant groups were using routes from Pakistan and Bangladesh via Male in Maldives, primarily to target South Indian cities.

Indian security agencies are investigating the suspected link of the Bangladesh based militant outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islam (HuJI) to the blasts in Hyderabad.

Source: IRNA

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Maldives invites bids to build luxury hotel in capital


The Maldives has invited international investors to bid for the right to construct the tropical nation's first luxury hotel on the island capital Male, officials said Thursday.

The proposed development is part of the Maldives' plan to attract a million tourists by 2010 and increase its hotel bed capacity some 80 percent to 36,700 by 2012.

The government has offered an area of 40,000 square feet (3,716 square meters) on a 25-year lease for the 200-bed hotel, Tourism Minister Mahamood Shougee told AFP.

Male, which measures one square mile (2.5 square kilometres), has over a dozen guest houses and small hotels but no five-star property.

"We don't really have a proper five-star hotel in the city, and we expect to fill the void with this proposed hotel development," Shougee said.

Bids are expected to close on September 16. No estimate has been given for the value of the project.

The successful bidder must also sell a 30 percent stake in the new venture through a stock market flotation within three years of signing the contract, according to the bidding rules. Shougee said the new hotel would be a replacement for Male's Nasandhura Palace Hotel, which is owned by the state and is to be demolished to make way for a city park.

Besides Nasandhura, the Maldivian government owns the Farukolhufushi Island and a substantial stake in the Hulhule Island Hotel.

Since opening its first two resorts with 280 beds in 1972, Maldives now has luxury resorts sitting on 89 coral islands, with occupancy rates averaging 95 percent.

A further 51 new islands were opened to investors last year to develop a combination of resort and hotels alongside 10 regional airports that are to be built.

South Asia's most exotic holiday destination attracts over 600,000 visitors each year, mostly celebrities and high spenders from Italy, Germany, Britain and Japan.

For the six months to June 2007, tourist arrivals rose 15 percent to 342,515, according to the Maldives Tourist Promotion Board, which is aiming for 690,000 visitors by the end of the year.

Holidaymakers have made Maldives the richest nation in South Asia, with a per capita income of 2,674 dollars. Tourism and fishing account for a large share of the nation's economy of just under one billion dollars.

Source: LBO

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Maldives lost zero lives and India loses maximum lives to terror except Iraq

Despite the US and UK claims that they are leading the war on terror globally, the country that has had to face the worst of terrorist attacks on its own soil, barring war-torn Iraq, is India.

In fact, India has since 2004 lost more lives to terrorist incidents than all of North America, South America, Central America, Europe and Eurasia put together.

All of these vast swathes of the globe lost a total of 3,280 lives in terrorist incidents between January 2004 and March this year. India alone lost 3,674 lives over the same period of three years and three months, a leading English daily TOI reported here today
India not only had the highest number of deaths after Iraq, but also the highest number of terror-related incidents and injured among all countries (again, barring Iraq) - more than all the war zones around the globe. India has been hit by terrorists at will and with chilling regularity - Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Malegaon, Varanasi, Jammu and Kashmir, the list is endless.

Indeed, if one had to pick a terrorist hotspot on the globe it would have to be South Asia. Outside of Iraq, 20,781 people were killed in terrorist violence between January 2004 and March 2007, according to data available from the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS) of the US National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

Almost half of them, 9,283 to be precise, were killed in South Asia.

Besides India, Afghanistan has seen 2,405 lives being lost while more than 1,000 each have been killed in Pakistan and Nepal. Sri Lanka has had 866 terrorism-related deaths and Bangladesh 158. Bhutan and the Maldives are the only South Asian nations not to have lost lives to terror in this period.

Source: IRNA

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Maldives President condemns Hyderabad blasts


The President of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has condemned Saturday's twin blasts in Hyderabad, which claimed 42 lives and caused injury to another 100.

In a message to President Pratibha Patil, President Gayoom expressed sympathies on behalf of the people of Maldives for the tragedy.

"I extend my profound sympathy to you, the Government, and people of India, especially to those who have been directly affected by the explosions. We also convey our sincere condolences to the members of the bereaved families," President Gayoom said in his letter to President Patil.

Source: Daily India

Monday, August 27, 2007

Maldives' tourist paradise flourishing after 35 years

Sabrina Chang decided this year to treat herself to a fancy vacation, opting to stay in a thatched bungalow over a lagoon in the Maldives where a swim with exotic fish is as common as taking a stroll.

The Maldives is celebrating the 35th anniversary since its first two resorts opened and visitors like Chang are among a growing breed of tourists who splash out for a slice of paradise on the remote islands.

Chang, 38, a Hong Kong-based programmer, said she wanted to be pampered for a week and learn about marine life at a biology center on Kurumathi Island, 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of the Maldivian capital island Male.

"It's a luxury holiday combined with an educational experience," said Chang, who spent US$320 a night for her luxury room at Kurumathi Blue Lagoon.

Holidaymakers like Chang have made Maldives the richest nation in South Asia with a per capita income of US$2,674.

The 600,000 visitors who jet here each year rarely see the congested capital Male. Once they clear the airport island, they are whisked off by speedboat or seaplane to resorts.

"They need not leave the resort unless to dive, snorkle or view dolphins," Tourism Minister Mahamoud Shougee told AFP.

Guests do not even need to change their hard currency into the local rufiyaa as dollar purchases are permitted and the few Maldivians they meet will often be resort staff.

Home to 300,000 Sunni Muslims, the Islamic Republic of the Maldives has relaxed rules in the resorts where alcohol is served, unlike in the capital island where it is prohibited.

Presently, 89 islands have luxury resorts, with occupancy rates averaging 95 percent. The government last year opened 51 new islands for a combination of resort and airport development.

"The hotel developments, some of which will come alongside 10 new airports, is part of our plan to attract a million tourists by 2010 and increase our bed capacity from present 20,500 to 36,700 by 2012," Shougee said.

Investors are expected to inject US$120 million within the next 10 years, some into exclusive villas that charge in excess of US$30,000 a night, pampering to the rich and famous.

But most holidaymakers are package tourists from Italy, Germany and Britain -- with countries like China, India and the Gulf fast emerging as the next big growth market, said Shougee.

"Some of the new resort developments are being tweaked in terms of menus and products on offer to cater to Chinese, Indian and Gulf tourists, who are not low-budget but want a slightly different experience," he said.

However, Maldives Association of Tourism Industry head Mohamed Sim Ibrahim says the resort industry has "reached a crossroads."

"The government is under pressure to release more islands for resort development," he said.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who has ruled since 1978, promises to "protect investors" and not "cheapen" the Maldives' reputation as a premium eco-destination.

Tourism accounts for a large chunk of the Maldives' economy of just under US$1 billion with money coming from resort lease rentals, annual taxes on resort beds and airport departure taxes.

A three percent goods and service tax on resort sales will also kick in later this year to boost government revenue.

But trouble may be on the horizon for the low-lying islands which are vulnerable to climate change. Gayoom has warned a rise of about three feet, or one meter, of water would swamp much of his nation, leaving mere sandbars.

Source: The China Post

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Will Maldive be the new terror hub?

The twin blasts at Hyderabad shattered the calm of the city. This the second terrorist strike on the city in the last five months. Proof that the South has become a target for terror activities. As intelligence agencies pieced together the terror plot, a new route for militant activity has been revealed.

The route that starts from Pakistan to Male in Maldives and to the southern cities which have direct flights to Male. The Maldives is an Islamic state and recent evidence points to its traditional tolerant views being undermined.

President Abdul Gayoom is facing widespread opposition to his 29 year rule in 1998 helped by the Indian navy he overcame a coup but now as opposition mounts it is reported that he is using Islam to support his regime.

Some of the 52 madrassas set up under the president's patronage, have been linked to militant Islam in recent years. Human rights activist say the existence of luxurious holiday resorts Is helping radicals recruiting on the islands.

It is this that the militant oragnisations are using to target India as well. With Maldives offering easy entry to visitors Militant groups are able to send activists to Southern Indian cities via Maldives.

Intelligence reports suggest that even the LTTE is using Maldives to ferry arms, run drug smuggling, and send illegal migrants to work as spies. This could also present another threat to India.

For India this represents a new threat in the war against terror as traditional militant routes via Jammu and Kashmir and Nepal are identified. Those who target India are finding newer routes to get to its heart.

Source: Time Now India

Friday, August 24, 2007

Maldives E-Passport

Source:

Maldives President sees reforms complete in 2-3 yrs



By Simon Gardner

MALE (Reuters) - Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom aims to complete a raft of democratising reforms in his Indian Ocean archipelago within 2-3 years and says he is not seeking to indefinitely extend his three-decade rule.

Buoyed by a weekend referendum seen as an endorsement of his rule, Asia's longest-serving leader will run for re-election at the island cluster's first multi-party presidential elections next year.

But he stressed in an interview that, after 29 years in power, one more five-year term would be enough.

Political opponents describe 71-year-old Gayoom as a dictator who rules like a sultan of old, and say it is time he handed over the reins of a land best known for luxury honeymoons and world-class scuba now.

"For the whole of the reform agenda to be completed, it might take 2-3 years from now," Gayoom told Reuters late on Sunday at his office in the island capital of Male, just hours after more than 60 percent of voters opted to adopt the U.S.-style presidential model he advocated.

"I want ... to see the reform programme through till it is finally settled. I want that to be my legacy to the nation," the former university lecturer added. "After that I have no ambition to continue in this post."

And why wait 29 years to implement reform in the chain of 1,200 mostly uninhabited islands 800 km off the toe of India?

"We hadn't developed enough to be able to cope with the concept of democracy," he said. "(Now) we have a more educated people ... I think people are more or less ready now to have a full-fledged democracy."

Outside, his supporters danced to blaring music on flatbed trucks driving along the sea-front of this densely populated 2.0 square kilometre coral island that is home to a third of the island cluster's 300,000 mostly Sunni Muslim population.

Gayoom pledged democratic reforms in late 2004 to revamp the Maldives' autocratic power structure in the face of harsh criticism of the government's rights record. Rights groups have decried crackdowns on political dissent and described terror and treason charges levelled against opponents as draconian.

Political parties were legalised in 2005, but promised reforms including a new constitution, separation of powers and judicial independence are still to materialise, and many are frustrated at the pace. Two leading cabinet members Gayoom had hand-picked quit earlier this month, accusing him of stalling.

"Nothing has been held (back) or put a brake on. To say the pace of the reform agenda is slow is not correct at all," Gayoom said. "The most important part of the reform agenda is the constitution. I know it has taken some time, but now they have finally decided to complete it by Nov. 30."

Many ordinary Maldivians saw the poll as a chance to vote against Gayoom, saying revenues from 89 luxury island resorts -- some charging well over $1,000 a night -- are not fairly distributed to the half the population who live on a dollar a day.

The resorts accounted directly for 35 percent of the island's $700 million gross domestic product in 2006, while tourism and related sectors accounted for around 85 percent of foreign exchange revenues.

Gayoom said he plans to license more than 50 new resorts over the next 3-5 years in a bid to boost tourism and revenues.

Source: Reuters India

Maldives President sees reforms complete in 2-3 yrs

By Simon Gardner

MALE (Reuters) - Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom aims to complete a raft of democratising reforms in his Indian Ocean archipelago within 2-3 years and says he is not seeking to indefinitely extend his three-decade rule.

Buoyed by a weekend referendum seen as an endorsement of his rule, Asia's longest-serving leader will run for re-election at the island cluster's first multi-party presidential elections next year.

But he stressed in an interview that, after 29 years in power, one more five-year term would be enough.

Political opponents describe 71-year-old Gayoom as a dictator who rules like a sultan of old, and say it is time he handed over the reins of a land best known for luxury honeymoons and world-class scuba now.

"For the whole of the reform agenda to be completed, it might take 2-3 years from now," Gayoom told Reuters late on Sunday at his office in the island capital of Male, just hours after more than 60 percent of voters opted to adopt the U.S.-style presidential model he advocated.

"I want ... to see the reform programme through till it is finally settled. I want that to be my legacy to the nation," the former university lecturer added. "After that I have no ambition to continue in this post."

And why wait 29 years to implement reform in the chain of 1,200 mostly uninhabited islands 800 km off the toe of India?

"We hadn't developed enough to be able to cope with the concept of democracy," he said. "(Now) we have a more educated people ... I think people are more or less ready now to have a full-fledged democracy."

Outside, his supporters danced to blaring music on flatbed trucks driving along the sea-front of this densely populated 2.0 square kilometre coral island that is home to a third of the island cluster's 300,000 mostly Sunni Muslim population.

Gayoom pledged democratic reforms in late 2004 to revamp the Maldives' autocratic power structure in the face of harsh criticism of the government's rights record. Rights groups have decried crackdowns on political dissent and described terror and treason charges levelled against opponents as draconian.

Political parties were legalised in 2005, but promised reforms including a new constitution, separation of powers and judicial independence are still to materialise, and many are frustrated at the pace. Two leading cabinet members Gayoom had hand-picked quit earlier this month, accusing him of stalling.

"Nothing has been held (back) or put a brake on. To say the pace of the reform agenda is slow is not correct at all," Gayoom said. "The most important part of the reform agenda is the constitution. I know it has taken some time, but now they have finally decided to complete it by Nov. 30."

Many ordinary Maldivians saw the poll as a chance to vote against Gayoom, saying revenues from 89 luxury island resorts -- some charging well over $1,000 a night -- are not fairly distributed to the half the population who live on a dollar a day.

The resorts accounted directly for 35 percent of the island's $700 million gross domestic product in 2006, while tourism and related sectors accounted for around 85 percent of foreign exchange revenues.

Gayoom said he plans to license more than 50 new resorts over the next 3-5 years in a bid to boost tourism and revenues.

Source: Reuters India

Shahid And Muiz Replace New Maldives In Cabinet


Abdullah Shahid has been appointed to the cabinet as Foreign Minister one month after he tried to resign from the government. He is joined in the cabinet by new Justice Minister Mohamed Muiz Adnan.

The appointments come as President Gayoom grapples with the resignation of the three most vocal and recognisable advocates of reform in his cabinet, in the space of three weeks.

Dr Hassan Saeed and Mohamed Jameel resigned from cabinet in early August blaming Gayoom for delaying reform, while Dr Shaheed resigned as Foreign Minister on Tuesday.

In a separate move, Rilwan Shareef has been promoted to State Minister for Finance, following the appointment of Abdullah Jihad as Governor of the country’s central bank.

A Tale Of Two Resignations

Dr Ahmed Shaheed quit the cabinet on Tuesday, in what was believed to be his third resignation attempt in a week.

He has been replaced by Abdullah Shahid, who himself handed in a letter of resignation from the government in July, only for President Gayoom to reject it.

Shahid has been promoted from his position as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, where he had been working under Dr Shaheed.

He has pledged to continue Dr Shaheed's initiatives, especially in the field of human rights, but said he would have preferred the promotion, "under different circumstances," than his former boss' resignation.

Following Shaheed’s departure many expected President Gayoom’s daughter, Dunya Maumoom the current Deputy Foreign Minister, to be promoted to cabinet.

But Shahid denied Dunya presents a threat to his job, saying, “I do not regard her as the President’s daughter but as a qualified and experienced professional.”

Preferred Choice

Mohamed Muiz Adnan has been appointed Justice Minister to replace Mohamed Jameel.

Muiz is not himself a qualified lawyer, having failed to complete his law degree at Colombo university. But lawyers have expressed relief at his appointment.

On Wednesday it had been widely reported Ahmed “Thaggandu” Mohamed was to be appointed Justice Minister.

Thaggundu’s nickname, meaning stamp, stems from his tenure as head of the criminal court, when he rubber stamped every police request to extend detention of suspects.

Many lawyers actively lobbied against Thaggandu’s appointment yesterday. And most lawyers are understood to be comparatively pleased with the appointment of Muiz, who is regarded as an independent voice.

Muiz’s brother is a former Legal spokesman for the opposition MDP, and he himself used to work at the Anti-Corruption Board.

Two To Go

The two promotions mean President Gayoom has now filled eleven of the thirteen positions in his cabinet. Following the resignation of Dr Shaheed on Tuesday, the cabinet had shrunk to nine.
The position of Attorney General is proving difficult to fill. Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed was the favourite to win the coveted post, after being appointed temporary AG.

But Nasheed has said he is unwilling to take on the former position of his mentor, Dr Hassan Saeed’s, saying it would be like, "marrying the ex-wife of my best friend.”

The Higher Education and Employment portfolio has now been vacant since the resignation of the President’s half brother Abdullah Yameen in April. It is believed the cabinet position is being kept open for Yameen’s possible return to government.

Source: Minivan News

Foreign adviser asks Maldives to ensure security

Foreign Affairs Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury has expressed concern over the alleged attacks on Bangladeshi workers in the Maldives, resulting in death of a worker.

In a letter to the Maldives foreign minister yesterday, the adviser urged him to take all necessary steps to ensure security of Bangladeshi workers in his country.

He also asked for "enhanced measures" in this respect, referring to the mutual trust and understanding that are the hallmarks of the bilateral relations.

The adviser talked to the Bangladesh High Commissioner in Male, Mijarul Quayes, and asked him to constantly monitor the situation and report thereon.

The envoy told the adviser that the Maldives government had assured him that the incident was being "thoroughly investigated" and the culprits would be punished.

Source: The Daily Star

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Maldives Foreign Min quits over reform pace


Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed said he submitted his resignation on Tuesday, the third top cabinet member to quit this month, accusing conservative elements in the government of stalling on democratising reforms.

Shaheed called Reuters from the capital Male just before handing his resignation letter to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

"There is a conservative guard within the parliament and cabinet which is resisting the proposals of reformists like me," Shaheed told Reuters. "So I think the answer is to work outside the system and find a middle ground and provide an alternative."

It was not immediately clear how the president had reacted.

Shaheed was a key architect of the reform agenda Gayoom pledged in late 2004 to revamp the Maldives' autocratic power structure in the face of harsh criticism of the government's rights record.

He will now join fellow reformists -- the former justice minister and attorney general who quit earlier this month and call themselves 'New Maldives' -- to forge an alternative centre ground ahead of the first multi-party presidential elections next year.

Unlike his two colleagues, Shaheed did not accuse Gayoom himself of delaying reforms. But he did say he thought it was time Asia's longest-serving ruler passed on the baton after 29 years in power.

Political parties were legalised in 2005, but promised reforms -- including a new constitution providing for separation of powers, judicial independence and the right of free assembly among others -- have yet to materialise in the chain of 1,200 mostly uninhabited islands 800 km off the toe of India.

"I want to applaud Gayoom for risks he has taken by taking forward the sweeping reform agenda and I remain a friend and fan of the reform process," Shaheed added.

"President Gayoom has a chance to emulate Nelson Mandela to pass the torch on to a new generation, and I hope he does it."

Gayoom told Reuters on Sunday he planned to run for re-election next year for a seventh and final term to see his reforms through. He aims to complete the reform process within 2-3 years.

With Shaheed's exit, Gayoom's directly appointed 13-strong cabinet is now down to nine members.

His resignation comes just days after the Maldives voted to adopt a U.S.-style presidency in a referendum seen as an endorsement of Gayoom's rule.

It also comes on the eve of a no-confidence vote scheduled in parliament brought against Shaheed by political rivals after he declared it was not effectively protecting the rights of ordinary citizens in a land of 300,000 mostly Sunni Muslims best known as a luxury honeymoon destination.

Source: Reuters India

The new Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the Maldives presents his credentials to the President


The new Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the Maldives, Dr. Tamerlan Garayev, presented his credentials to the President today.

At the presentation of his Letter of Credence held at the President’s Office this afternoon, the President and the Ambassador discussed about the bilateral relations existing between the Maldives and Azerbaijan and ways to further strengthen these ties.

Speaking at the meeting, Dr. Tamerlan Garayev noted the victory achieved for the Presidential form of Government in the recent referendum held to decide the future system of Government in the Maldives. The Ambassador also noted the peaceful atmosphere in which the referendum was conducted and congratulated the President for it. He also said that Azerbaijan has a Presidential form of Government and it is very successful.

The meeting was attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the Minister for Presidential Affairs Mr. Mohamed Hussain, and the Deputy Minister at the President’s Office, Ms Nahid Ali.

Source:

Votes tallied in Maldives, Thailand and Kazakhstan

Thailand: Voters in a national referendum approved a new constitution Sunday with 57 percent favoring it and 41 percent against, clearing the way for an election by December that would restore civilian rule after last year's military-led coup, unofficial results showed.

The 186-page constitution, which would be the country's 18th since 1932, curbs the role of politicians, gives more power to unelected bodies such as the courts and could perpetuate the behind-the-scenes power the military has long wielded.

Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said the vote was "the first step in moving forward to full democracy" after last year's coup deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The charter is expected to be enacted by the end of August after it is endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Surayud said he hoped an election could be held soon after the monarch's Dec. 5 birthday.

Kazakhstan: The authoritarian president's party swept Kazakhstan's parliamentary election, winning all the seats in a vote that was rejected Sunday by the opposition and deemed flawed by international observers. Nursultan Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party got 88 percent of Saturday's vote, and no other party cleared the 7 percent barrier needed to win seats in the legislature, according to preliminary results released Sunday by the Central Elections Commission.

Maldives: Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the longtime president of this Indian Ocean nation, won an overwhelming victory Sunday in a referendum on the future form of government, but the opposition said the results were rigged.

The vote was expected to clear the way for the Sunni Muslim nation of 300,000 to adopt a new constitution in November. Gayoom sought a U.S.-style political system with a powerful executive presidency. Results Sunday showed the presidential form of government winning more than 60 percent of the vote, while the parliamentary system took 38 percent.

Source: Star Tribune

Votes tallied in Maldives, Thailand and Kazakhstan

Thailand: Voters in a national referendum approved a new constitution Sunday with 57 percent favoring it and 41 percent against, clearing the way for an election by December that would restore civilian rule after last year's military-led coup, unofficial results showed.

The 186-page constitution, which would be the country's 18th since 1932, curbs the role of politicians, gives more power to unelected bodies such as the courts and could perpetuate the behind-the-scenes power the military has long wielded.

Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said the vote was "the first step in moving forward to full democracy" after last year's coup deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The charter is expected to be enacted by the end of August after it is endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Surayud said he hoped an election could be held soon after the monarch's Dec. 5 birthday.

Kazakhstan: The authoritarian president's party swept Kazakhstan's parliamentary election, winning all the seats in a vote that was rejected Sunday by the opposition and deemed flawed by international observers. Nursultan Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party got 88 percent of Saturday's vote, and no other party cleared the 7 percent barrier needed to win seats in the legislature, according to preliminary results released Sunday by the Central Elections Commission.

Maldives: Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the longtime president of this Indian Ocean nation, won an overwhelming victory Sunday in a referendum on the future form of government, but the opposition said the results were rigged.

The vote was expected to clear the way for the Sunni Muslim nation of 300,000 to adopt a new constitution in November. Gayoom sought a U.S.-style political system with a powerful executive presidency. Results Sunday showed the presidential form of government winning more than 60 percent of the vote, while the parliamentary system took 38 percent.

Source: Star Tribune

Maldives foreign minister resigns

The Maldives foreign minister Ahmed Shaheed says he has submitted his resignation.

He is the third top cabinet member to quit this month, and is accusing conservative elements in the government of stalling on democratising reforms.

Mr Shaheed called Reuters newsagency from the capital Male, just before handing his resignation letter to the president.

He told the agency there is a conservative guard within the parliament and cabinet which is resisting the proposals of reformists like him.

He says he thinks the answer is to work outside the system and find a middle ground and provide an alternative.

Source: ABC Radio

Monday, August 20, 2007

Private Island with Luxury Yacht in the Maldives launches Wedding Promotion

The Rania Experience in the Maldives has launched a private wedding package for lovers to renew vows, honeymoon or celebrate a wedding anniversary. The exclusive castaway retreat on a private island in the Maldives even comes with with its own luxury yacht.

Grooms start the day diving or fishing, followed by a massage, facial, manicure and pedicure before being escorted to the blessing at a beach pavilion or aboard ‘The Rania’ yacht to the sound of local Maldivian drums.

Brides enjoy a sumptuous breakfast before being whisked away to the spa for a full day of pampering with beauty treatments and styling.

The simple and elegant ceremony takes place just before sunset over the Indian Ocean, performed by an Island Senior in the local Dhivehi language - with a transcription presented in English along with the Blessing Certificate.

Following the exchange of rings, cutting of the Blessing Cake and photos taken by a private butler, couples board a private yacht for a sunset cruise with Dom Perignon Champagne and canapés.

On returning to the island, a candlelit five-course dinner is served on the beach or other island venue – with the option of a bed on the beach to sleep under the stars.

Offering unlimited gourmet dining, drinking and spa treatments, along with yoga, fishing or diving on demand, The Rania Experience was this year hailed by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the world’s most “scene-stealing” new hotels and resorts, “raising pampering to a new level”.

The “ultimate romantic getaway” on Faafu Atoll is a picture postcard paradise of white sands and turquoise blue waters 35-minutes by seaplane from Malé International Airport.

Guests can enjoy private use of ‘The Rania’, a luxury 86ft yacht with indoor and outdoor lounges and dining areas, Jacuzzi, air-conditioning and a full entertainment system including home-theatre.

Designed with barefoot luxury in mind, the island encompasses the lavish air-conditioned three bedroom Rania Suite overlooking a plunge pool and a stones throw away are three individual beach villas with thatched roofs and traditional Maldivian open-air style bathrooms.

Guests can enjoy unlimited pampering at The Rania Spa, offering Ayurvedic and other specialized treatments. Massages and treatments can be taken anywhere, from the beach at sunset to the privacy of their villa or aboard the yacht at the time preferred by the guests.

Gourmet dining is cooked and served anytime and anywhere, either on the island or aboard ‘The Rania’.

Blessed with some of the world's most spectacular sunsets, a variety of cultural shows can also be arranged on request and at an additional charge, from a lively traditional Bodu Beru (local drums) dance to a laid-back local Maldivian band.

Additional amenities on the island include a small personal gym, state of the art karaoke system, billiards, beach volleyball and Badminton, satellite TV, a selection of films and a host of board games.

The 'Rania Experience' is limited to just one exclusive booking at any one time.

The ‘Wedding Blessing’ package price of US$ 1,100 per couple is in addition to the Island Rental Rate and Inclusive of 10% service charge which is paid directly to staff. Couples holding their Blessing Ceremony on the island are also offered a first year anniversary discount of 15%.

Source: Asia Travel Tips

Maldives leader wins referendum

Maldivians have decided on a US-style presidential system in a referendum to decide which democratic model the island chain should adopt.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Maldives' president, and three other parties advocated a presidential system, while the main opposition party pushed for a British-style parliamentary government.








The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had billed the vote as a referendum on Gayoom's 29-year autocratic rule.
Officials said the presidential model choice won 62 per cent of the vote, with 38 per cent against. They said just over 150,000 of a total electorate of 193,000 turned out to vote.











Leadership
Speaking at a news conference, Gayoom said: "This referendum was not about my leadership, it was about what form of government the people wanted to have in the future."
"But [with] this result, I am very much in position to say I am very happy with the endorsement, the massive endorsement that the people has given to our party position in the referendum."
He also rejected charges of vote-rigging from the opposition and called for cross-party unity.
Critics have said Gayoom is delaying the implementation of promised democratic reforms and say it is time he went.
Aides say he will run for office in the country's first multi-party election, due to take place next year.
Political parties were only legalised in the Maldives in 2005.
'Intimidation'
Gayoom's Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party's (DRP) and rival MDP accused each other of intimidating voters and breaking election rules.
Election officials said ballot papers were short at some stations, and ordered a recount of one ballot box.

Mariya Didi, an MDP spokeswoman, said: "It is an ill-gotten result ... Look at how they used state media, bribery, corruption, voter intimidation and threats to withhold jobs.
"It comes as no surprise. The MDP always said giving ballot boxes to election officials appointed by the president was like taking Dracula to the blood bank."
Gayoom's critics say he is stalling on implementing a raft of democratic reforms pledged in late 2004 to revamp the power structure in the face of harsh criticism of the government's rights record.
His opponents billed a vote for a parliamentary system as a vote for him to quit, saying revenues from 89 luxury island resorts are not benefiting the half of the population who live in poverty on about a dollar a day.
Dissent has also flared within the ranks of Gayoom's cabinet.
Two members quit earlier this month, accusing him of stalling on a new constitution and judicial independence.

Source: Al Jazeera

Maldives President wins landmark poll

MALE (Reuters) - Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom won a landmark referendum on Sunday to adopt a U.S.-style presidential system in the remote Indian Ocean island chain, in a vote seen as an acid test for Asia's longest serving ruler.

Gayoom had advocated a presidential system, while the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party pushed for a British-style parliamentary system in a vote it billed as referendum on his 29-year rule they describe as a dictatorship.

Officials said Gayoom and his Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party's (DRP) presidential model choice won 62 percent of the vote, with 38 percent against. Just over 150,000 of a total electorate of 193,000 turned out to vote in a land best known for luxury honeymoons and Hollywood star visitors such as Tom Cruise.

"This referendum was not about my leadership, it was about what form of government the people wanted to have in the future," Gayoom told a news conference.

"But (with) this result, I am very much in position to say I am very happy with the endorsement, the massive endorsement that the people has given to our party position in the referendum," he added, rejecting opposition charges of vote-rigging and calling for cross-party unity.

Critics say Gayoom, who aides say will run again in the first multi-party election due next year, is dragging his feet on pledged democratising reforms and say it is time he went.

Gayoom's DRP and its rival MDP accused each other of voter intimidation and breaking election rules. Election officials said ballot papers were short at some stations, and ordered a recount of one ballot box, but said overall the vote appeared to be fair.

"It is an ill-gotten result ... Look at how they used state media, bribery, corruption, voter intimidation and threats to withhold jobs," said MDP spokeswoman Mariya Didi.

"It comes as no surprise. The MDP always said giving ballot boxes to election officials appointed by the president was like taking Dracula to the blood bank."

RIGHTS RECORD

Gayoom's critics say he is stalling on implementing a raft of democratic reforms pledged in late 2004 to revamp the power structure in the face of harsh criticism of the government's rights record.

His opponents billed a vote for a parliamentary system as a vote for him to quit, saying revenues from 89 luxury island resorts -- some charging well over $1,000 a night for rooms on stilts over azure lagoons -- are not benefiting the half of the population who live in poverty on a dollar a day.

"The money is not distributed to the people. There are no rights for workers, we have a lot of problems," said 35-year resort worker Zara, who gave a nickname for fear of retribution for speaking out against Gayoom.

"We don't even have electricity on my native island."

Zara earns $200 a month working at a luxury resort island, and must rely on tips from customers to supplement his income.

"He is not a good president, he has been cheating the public. I wanted change," he added, traditional wooden ferries bobbing in the clear waters behind him that have made the cluster a top scuba destination.

Dissent has also flared within the ranks of Gayoom's cabinet, which under existing rules he handpicks and appoints.

Two leading members of his government quit earlier this month, accusing him of stalling on a new constitution and judicial independence in a country that only legalised the existence of political parties in 2005.

Source: Reuters

Sunday, August 19, 2007

India to give anti-terror lessons to Maldives

With the ever-growing spectre of terrorism looming large over the globe, more and more countries now want to learn from the Indian Army's substantial experience in dealing with militancy, insurgency and sub-conventional operations.

The 1.13-million Army, the third largest in the world, will hold as many as 10 joint military exercises with countries ranging from Maldives, Seychelles, Thailand and Mongolia to Russia, UK, China and, of course, the US, before the end of this year.

The thrust in most of these exercises will be counter-terrorism, both in "urban and rural settings". Apart from building "interoperability", the endeavour also provides India with the opportunity to engage constructively with nations in Central and East Asia as well as those in the Indian Ocean Region.

At the same time, despite the banner of protest raised by the Left, exercises with the US constitute a major chunk of this "encounter" with foreign armies. The Army alone has held around 20 joint exercises with the US over the last five years, with their names ranging from "Balance Iroquois" and "Yudh Abhyas" to "Shatrujeet" and "Vajra Prahar".

In 2007 itself, Indian and US armies are slated to hold five joint exercises. If the navies and air forces are also taken into account, almost 50 Indo-US military exercises have been held in the last five-six years.

Incidentally, the Army's elite Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) at Vairengte in Mizoram is a big hit among foreign armies for its unique facilities, which promise to teach them how to "fight the guerrilla like a guerrilla". And a team of US marines will be back at CIJWS for another exercise between August 25 and September 15.

"Conventional wars as an instrument of state policy have become less relevant today. Sub-conventional operations are emerging as the predominant form of warfare," said a senior officer.

"With India having fought terrorism in J&K and North-East for decades, foreign armies are very keen to learn from our experience, especially after the 9/11 terrorist strikes," he added.

Even countries like Seychelles, Maldives, Thailand and Mongolia are keen to imbibe counter-terrorism skills. The exercise with the Royal Thai Army, named "Maitree", for instance, will be held at Ramgarh from September 1-19 to "share experiences in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism" as well as improve interoperability.

Source: The Times of India

More Maldivians favor presidential system: initial results

Initial counting of a referendum in the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago Maldives showed that more than 60 percent voters favored a United States-style presidential form and a little more than 30 percent liked a Britain-style parliamentary system.

Chief government spokesman Mohamed Hussain Shareef told Xinhua by telephone from the Maldivian capital of Male that as of 8:30 a. m. (0330 GMT) on Sunday 79,513 votes had been counted and 52,969 voters were in favor of a presidential form while 26,544 chose a parliamentary system.

Shareef said 300 voting boxes, or two-thirds of the total, have been opened and counted, adding that the final result will be available later Sunday or early Monday.

He said more than 70 percent of the 193,000 voters cast their votes on Saturday to decide whether the country should follow a presidential form or a parliamentary system in future.

"It is a landmark in Maldives's democracy as the people decide the future of the country by their votes," Shareef said.

He expressed confidence that Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's party, the DRP (Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party) will win the referendum.

Analysts say the referendum is a trial of strength between the DRP and the main opposition MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) led by its chairman Mohamed Nasheed and its president Mohamed Munavaar.

The DRP favors the presidential form, saying it guarantees maximum stability in a small country like Maldives and that the form makes it possible for the people to elect directly their leader in the elections.

The party also said it could provide improved living standards and service to the people in this chain of 1,192 islands strung across the equator.

On the other hand, the MDP said a parliamentary system ensures maximum participation of the people in the overall administration of the government and the affairs of the country.

It said the parliamentary system will ensure a fair distribution of wealth of the country.

Home to around 300,000 Sunni Muslims, the Maldives has an appointed body the Majlis which can comment on the legislation.

Diplomats also said Gayoom is likely to win the referendum as most Maldivians appeared unwilling to embrace radical change in the nation which enjoys South Asia's highest per capita income of more than 2,300 dollars.

Political parties were allowed in the Maldives for the first time in June 2005 as part of the reforms sponsored by President Gayoom who was first elected in 1978 and is currently the longest- serving head of state in Asia.

Source: People News of China

President declares victory in referendum, calls for national reconciliation


President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom today afternoon declared victory in yesterday’s public referendum to decide on a style of government for Maldives after winning an overwhelming endorsement from the public for a presidential system which was supported by Gayoom and his ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.

At a press conference held at Nasandhura Palace Hotel, the President thanked all the Maldivian people who voted in yesterday’s referendum, and said that the people have now given the government “massive support” to go ahead with his Reform Agenda of June 2004.

The President also said that this clears the main hurdle in completing the amendment of the constitution and called on the People’s Special Majlis, the interim constitutional assembly, to carry out work speedily so that the constitution can be amended by November 30. [Read More]

Source: Haveeru Online

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Maldives votes in referendum seen as test for leader

With ballot boxes whisked by motor launch to outlying coral islands, Maldivians voted on Saturday in a referendum to choose between a British-style parliament and a U.S.-style presidency -- seen as a litmus test for Asia's longest-serving ruler.

As polls opened at schools and the sports stadium in the island cluster capital of Male, many, like 45-year-old speed boat company manager Ibrahim Mohamed, hoped the vote would send a signal that it was time for President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to go after 29 years in power.

Gayoom's critics say he is stalling on implementing a raft of democratising reforms pledged in late 2004 to revamp the power structure in the nation of 300,000 mostly Sunni Muslims in response to criticism of his government's rights record.

"For me it is not a vote for a parliamentary or presidential system. It is a question of voting yes or no for the existing president, and I say no," said Mohamed. "I believe the reform process will only start after changing this government."

"The islands have prospered, but it has not been equal. We don't have proper hospital facilities. Some islanders are living in very poor conditions," he added. "It is time for him to go."

Gayoom proposes adopting a presidential system to replace what government officials themselves have described as an autocratic sultanate of old, while his main Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) opponents want a parliamentary system.

Whatever the result, Gayoom says he intends to run for another term in the island's first multi-party elections next year, to see his reforms through, and hopes to retire early by 2010.

But his opponents say a vote for a parliamentary system is a vote against him.

Pressure on Gayoom is mounting from within his own ranks.

Two leading figures of his own cabinet, which under the present system he handpicks and appoints, quit his government earlier this month, accusing him of stalling on a new constitution and independence of the judiciary.

Gayoom's critics accuse him of cracking down on dissenting views in the Indian Ocean archipelago to hold on to power and maintain control of tourism resorts, which rake in millions of tourist dollars each year.

CALLS FOR CHANGE

Many ordinary Maldivians feel cheated, and say the revenues from the island's 89 cash cow luxury island resorts, where accommodation in pavilions on stilts over azure lagoons can run to well over $1,000 a night, is not trickling down to the half the population who live in poverty on a dollar a day.

"The current regime has not given any opportunities to the young," said 31-year-old Ahmed Marzook, a former member of the Maldives national soccer team, as workers arrived by ferryboat in the crystalline waters that have given the island's a reputation as a one of the world's top scuba spots and a magnet for Hollywood jetsetters such as Tom Cruise.

"There's nowhere we can go for higher education. There's not one university."

Marzook said local businessmen had helped fund him to study at Solent University, in southern England, but at 7,900 pounds ($15,650) a year for tuition alone, the funds weren't enough and he was now back in the Maldives trying to raise more to finish his course.

The government on Saturday accused MDP supporters of attacking three elderly voters because they backed the president, and said the party had broken election rules by refusing to take down electioneering hoardings and posters.

Officials say they are pushing on with plans for reforms such as freedom of assembly -- the chain of 1,200 mostly uninhabited islands 500 miles (800 km) off the toe of India only legalised the existence of political parties in 2005.

"We need these reforms because socio-economic progress ... in recent years has increased expectations," said reformist Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed. "We also need to subscribe to international norms and values of human rights and democracy."

"Because we rely on tourism, we need to update our legal system to protect people's rights and investment."

Gayoom reserved comment on the referendum, saying he was bound by election campaign laws.

"My lips are sealed," the diminutive leader told Reuters after registering his own vote at a school in Male. "It is the right of every citizen to vote today, so I've come to do so too."

Initial results of the vote count are due out late on Saturday.

Source: Reuters

Voting begins in the Maldives


People in the Maldives are voting to decide whether their country follows the British democratic model or that of the US.

Voters lined up to cast their ballots in the referendum on Saturday, a poll which is seen also as a vote on the president, who has lead the country for 29 years.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is Asia's longest-serving ruler.

Although the country, made up of 1,190 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, has had a period of high economic growth, Gayoom has been accused of using torture and police crackdowns to stifle dissent.

Protesters, led by the Maldivian Democratic party (MDP), have demanded greater civil rights.

The election commission said polling stations opened at 7am (0200 GMT) and will stay open for 12 hours.

The 194,000 eligible voters are being asked whether to switch to a British-style parliamentary democracy or to elect a US-model presidency.

Mohamed Nasheed, leader of the Maldivian Democratic party, said: "It will be a turning point in the history of the Maldives."

"Whatever the people of the Indian Ocean country choose, it will be turning toward a people's government."

Changing direction

Nasheed says that the only way to inject democracy and good governance is to have a prime minister answerable to parliament.

The opposition is wary of giving too much power to another leader, or to Gayoom for another five-year term, and is therefore in support of a British-style parliament.

Gayoom is pushing for a US-style political system, with a powerful executive presidency.

The vote is the culmination of a reform initiative started by the president in 2004 amid street protests in the capital, Male, that threatened to bring down the government.

His other reform efforts over the past three years - legalising opposition parties and allowing them to print newspapers - have been followed by police crackdowns on public rallies and the arrests of dissidents.

Western support

Ahmed Shaheed, the foreign minister, said: "To my judgment, this is a very sincere effort by the president to bring the Maldives into the 21st century."

Western diplomats say that they believe Gayoom, who has won six elections but has never faced an opponent, did intend to move towards a multiparty democracy.

Robert Blake, the US ambassador, said: "By and large, things are going in a positive direction."

The Maldives is the wealthiest country in South Asia, with tourism accounting for one-third of the economy.

Half of the population is under 18-years old and reasonably well-educated, but unemployment remains high.

The country's highest point is only 2.4m above sea level and rising ocean levels threaten to inundate some islands.

The islands were devastated by the tsunami of 2004 and were battered again earlier this year by storms.

Source: Al Jazeera

Friday, August 17, 2007

Maldives: Welcome to waterworld


This is a nation of some 1200 tiny atolls scattered across the Indian Ocean, where the tourist can experience utter beauty, luxury and charm. Susie Boswell gives it a try.

Our seaplane skims along, smooth and low over pure, sparkling, translucent blue ocean stretching to the horizon.

Below, the stunning aquamarine expanse is broken only by a sprinkling of small islands separated as if by some supreme architect at discreet distances, each in its own private space.

Each, too, is circled by white beaches slipping into clear, gentle shallows; the centres are lush with exotic greenery and palms. Thatched roofs peek through to the brilliant sky and sleek jetties reach out their arms like daddy-longlegs, hosting a string of over-water timber bungalows looking out over placid lagoons and waves beyond, breaking on coral reefs.

Water is the leitmotif of the Maldives, more so than anywhere else on Earth, except perhaps the Arctic. As ice is to the polar seas, so this nation is comprised of nothing but some 1200 tiny atolls scattered across the Indian Ocean to Australia's north-north-west.

Even the international airport and the Maldives capital of Male are each located on adjacent small islands. In fact, close to 100 per cent of this country's territory is actually under water: the thousands of individual, small, land masses rise no higher anywhere than a metre or two above sea level.

It's a delightful entree - to emerge from an international flight to immediately board your speedboat or seaplane at the airport's water's edge, ferried fast to your holiday island.

Water sports are, naturally, the highlight. Magnificent corals and tropical fish lie at your feet as you wade into the welcoming wetness just steps from your bungalow or villa. Then there's surfing, windsurfing, sailing, parasailing, snorkelling, diving, game fishing and so on. The ocean, of course, is the Maldivians' larder and a seafood feast the hallmark of every table.

But the Maldives has taken its watery trademark to inventive levels. At one resort, I descended by staircase to the ocean floor to dine in a massive submarine wine cellar, its walls lined with 6000 premium bottles.

At another I was soothed by a herbal facial and a pedicure in a submerged aquarium: I was the "goldfish in the bowl" as curious schools of sharks and tropical fish cruised by the picture-glass walls around me.

Most over-water rooms feature glass coffee tables, or open wells, for viewing and feeding the fish, attracted in the evening by spotlights fixed to piers below.

At one resort I followed a staircase from my room directly into a clear, lime-green lagoon. As I frolicked about, my eyes at the waterline, I could watch the foam sprays off a nearby reef. No one could tell I'd forgotten my costume: the villa's timber modesty-screen rose up on piers around me.

Then there are the bathrooms: typically, a deep white tub will be set just inside an immense glass wall overlooking the sea. Or your shower is a waterfall in a spacious outdoor cubicle, perhaps made of glass bricks but open to the sunshine or starry sky and the sound of waves nearby. At any rate, the room will somehow seem to have no boundary between you and nature - a cheeky, sensual feeling of freedom and indulgence.

Dining, too, is waterside and "no shoes" is generally de rigueur as you slip your soles through a raked and manicured sand-floor to your table, or the bar. Or, if the floors are made of white Indian marble, there's happily cause for another watery feature: at every doorway a large crock of water and coconut shell ladle invite washing the feet of sand before entry.

Sometimes there's a moat between the sand pathway and the restaurant, a Maldivian contrivance to fill a void with floating flowers, and fish. And, of course, there's dining a deux on a secluded beach, beach barbecues, intimate cafes set in sandy clearings, or a Robinson Crusoe moonlight picnic on a deserted isle.

Food in the Maldives is a standout, every meal an event. The cuisine suits the New Zealand palate and has a clean freshness. Presentation is unerringly faultless, with multiple choices and limitless supply.

Impeccable care and attention flows through to your room: flowers placed on beds, scented sachets between the sheets, French-perfumed toiletries in bathrooms.

The butler, or thakuru, is a feature of the Maldives. At all high-end resorts your personal butler introduces himself at the jetty, chilled hand towels, canapes and champagne in hand. You're conveyed by golf buggy to your bungalow or villa and the butler offers his mobile number to summon him at will.

A rain shower passes by? The butler collects you and delivers you to lunch. Forgotten your sunscreen? It's fetched promptly. Whatever your wish, the butler does it.

And who was by my side till check-in on my departure for Male? My butler.

*Sally Boswell was a guest of World Resorts of Distinction, Huvafen Fushi and Singapore Airlines.

- Detours, HoS

Source: nzherald.co.nz

Maldives First South Asian Nation To Issue E-passports

Maldives has become the first South Asian nation to issue for its citizens e-passports, compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization specifications.

The new passport follows a completely new design, and features the passport holder's facial and fingerprint information as biometric identifiers, according to a statement from the Maldives immigration department.

It is designed to enable easier passage for Maldivian nationals when they travel abroad.

One of the first holders of the e-passport, Ibrahim Shaheeb, first secretary in the Maldivian high commission in New Delhi, told IANS that he had a smooth passage when he transited in Sri Lanka while on his way to New Delhi recently.

According to the press release, the new passport is printed by Austrian State Printing House, Osterreichische Staatsdruckerei, with IRIS Corp of Malaysia supplying the inlays for the microchip that is embedded on the back cover.

Despite the introduction of this new generation passports, passports issued on or before July 25 can be used until their expiry. And it is not compulsory for anyone to switch to the new passport, according to the Maldivian authorities.

Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was presented with the first such e-passport at a ceremony in Male on July 26, Maldives' Independence Day.

Source: News Post India

Maldives president faces test of power

Residents of the tropical islands of the Maldives will tomorrow take part in a historic vote to decide the future political direction of their country.

After years under the same leadership, Maldivians are being given the chance to switch to either an executive US-style presidential system or to elect a Westminster-style parliament, and local opinion is completely divided.

Sitting in the Indian Ocean just over 400 miles south-west of Sri Lanka, the former British protectorate attracts thousands of UK tourists each year, with most staying at expensive hotels located on some of the country's 1,200 isolated islands. Many would have no idea of the huge changes happening in the lives of some 370,000 Maldivians.

Saturday's national referendum comes after years of simmering political unrest in the largely Muslim country. Since 2003, protesters have taken to the streets on several occasions to demand greater civil rights and demonstrate against the power of the country's autocratic leader, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who heads the leading Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.

The situation came to a head last autumn when opposition activists planned a large rally for November 10 to push the government into faster reforms. The government accused protesters of having a "violent agenda" and of plotting "to overthrow the government illegally". Tensions grew and organisers eventually cancelled the rally amid security fears after more than 100 people were reported to have been arrested.

Officially Asia's longest serving ruler, President Gayoom, a former academic, has led the presidential republic as the head of state, head of government, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and leader of the national police force for 29 years. But things are slowly changing.

Voters, rather than just politicians, can now directly elect their president and political parties have been permitted to operate in the country since 2005, after the president launched his Agenda for Democracy, Human Rights and Reform.

This set out promises to expand the fundamental rights of citizens under a new national constitution, create an independent judiciary and police, and even open the way for women to stand for president. Critics, however, say that reforms have been slow.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have criticised the country for failing to abide by international standards. Detainees in the country's prisons are still being tortured and ill-treated, Amnesty said in its 2007 report, adding that "political freedom continues to be undermined by the slow pace of constitutional reforms".

Key figures imprisoned by the Gayoom government include the local journalist Jennifer Latheef and Mohamed Nasheed, the chair of the leading opposition group, the Maldivian Democratic Party.

The situation on the islands has prompted several British MPs to express concerns in parliament. But after a meeting with Mr Gayoom in London last month, Mark Malloch-Brown, the minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, said the two had "had very constructive discussions ... about the democratic reform agenda".

Speaking to Guardian Unlimited on Wednesday from the densely-populated Maldivian capital Male, Mr Nasheed, who still chairs the MDP, disagreed with Lord Malloch Brown's comments.

"[President Gayoom] is not serious at all [about the reform process]. I wouldn't be surprised if he brings out the military on Saturday to obstruct voting," he said.

Opposition members are still being arrested at a rate of one or two a day, Mr Nasheed went on to say. But he added: "People are going to come out in large numbers and vote Gayoom out. The people of the Maldives will vote for a parliamentary system. They want to vote for a change.

"We believe that after the election, the government will have very little room to assert the reform process and hopefully ... we will have a multi-party general election by early next year."

But Ibrahim Shafiu, a chief government spokesman, said he had "100% confidence that the Maldivians will choose a presidential system" in the referendum.

He said he was anticipating a good turnout and believed Mr Gayoom's reform agenda was going well. "The dialogue is on, the debate is on and [society] is moving," he said.

But asked if he could guarantee that opposition voters and activists would not face intimidation by government forces during voting, Mr Shafiu said: "I am not sure. The opposition has a very strong hand on the street creating a lot of intimidation. I cannot guarantee that it will not happen, but I think [the voters] will be very controlled."

Mr Shafiu said all parties had been invited to participate in vote-counting and observation by the country's election commissioner. He said a team of Commonwealth experts from Britain would also oversee the referendum.

Whatever happens, the result is certain to have profound ramifications for the country. As Mr Gayoom himself said during his July trip to London: "These are exciting times indeed for the Maldives. We aim to establish a peaceful, prosperous and just society for all ... and we are equally convinced that our friends in the United Kingdom have an important role to play in helping us along the road."

Source: Guardian Online

Maldives president faces test of power

Residents of the tropical islands of the Maldives will tomorrow take part in a historic vote to decide the future political direction of their country.

After years under the same leadership, Maldivians are being given the chance to switch to either an executive US-style presidential system or to elect a Westminster-style parliament, and local opinion is completely divided.

Sitting in the Indian Ocean just over 400 miles south-west of Sri Lanka, the former British protectorate attracts thousands of UK tourists each year, with most staying at expensive hotels located on some of the country's 1,200 isolated islands. Many would have no idea of the huge changes happening in the lives of some 370,000 Maldivians.

Saturday's national referendum comes after years of simmering political unrest in the largely Muslim country. Since 2003, protesters have taken to the streets on several occasions to demand greater civil rights and demonstrate against the power of the country's autocratic leader, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who heads the leading Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.

The situation came to a head last autumn when opposition activists planned a large rally for November 10 to push the government into faster reforms. The government accused protesters of having a "violent agenda" and of plotting "to overthrow the government illegally". Tensions grew and organisers eventually cancelled the rally amid security fears after more than 100 people were reported to have been arrested.

Officially Asia's longest serving ruler, President Gayoom, a former academic, has led the presidential republic as the head of state, head of government, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and leader of the national police force for 29 years. But things are slowly changing.

Voters, rather than just politicians, can now directly elect their president and political parties have been permitted to operate in the country since 2005, after the president launched his Agenda for Democracy, Human Rights and Reform.

This set out promises to expand the fundamental rights of citizens under a new national constitution, create an independent judiciary and police, and even open the way for women to stand for president. Critics, however, say that reforms have been slow.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have criticised the country for failing to abide by international standards. Detainees in the country's prisons are still being tortured and ill-treated, Amnesty said in its 2007 report, adding that "political freedom continues to be undermined by the slow pace of constitutional reforms".

Key figures imprisoned by the Gayoom government include the local journalist Jennifer Latheef and Mohamed Nasheed, the chair of the leading opposition group, the Maldivian Democratic Party.

The situation on the islands has prompted several British MPs to express concerns in parliament. But after a meeting with Mr Gayoom in London last month, Mark Malloch-Brown, the minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, said the two had "had very constructive discussions ... about the democratic reform agenda".

Speaking to Guardian Unlimited on Wednesday from the densely-populated Maldivian capital Male, Mr Nasheed, who still chairs the MDP, disagreed with Lord Malloch Brown's comments.

"[President Gayoom] is not serious at all [about the reform process]. I wouldn't be surprised if he brings out the military on Saturday to obstruct voting," he said.

Opposition members are still being arrested at a rate of one or two a day, Mr Nasheed went on to say. But he added: "People are going to come out in large numbers and vote Gayoom out. The people of the Maldives will vote for a parliamentary system. They want to vote for a change.

"We believe that after the election, the government will have very little room to assert the reform process and hopefully ... we will have a multi-party general election by early next year."

But Ibrahim Shafiu, a chief government spokesman, said he had "100% confidence that the Maldivians will choose a presidential system" in the referendum.

He said he was anticipating a good turnout and believed Mr Gayoom's reform agenda was going well. "The dialogue is on, the debate is on and [society] is moving," he said.

But asked if he could guarantee that opposition voters and activists would not face intimidation by government forces during voting, Mr Shafiu said: "I am not sure. The opposition has a very strong hand on the street creating a lot of intimidation. I cannot guarantee that it will not happen, but I think [the voters] will be very controlled."

Mr Shafiu said all parties had been invited to participate in vote-counting and observation by the country's election commissioner. He said a team of Commonwealth experts from Britain would also oversee the referendum.

Whatever happens, the result is certain to have profound ramifications for the country. As Mr Gayoom himself said during his July trip to London: "These are exciting times indeed for the Maldives. We aim to establish a peaceful, prosperous and just society for all ... and we are equally convinced that our friends in the United Kingdom have an important role to play in helping us along the road."

Source: Guardian Online

Broadband revolutionizes education on remote Maldives atolls

The standard of education was falling in the Maldives before broadband Internet access brought a quiet online revolution to classrooms in the Indian Ocean atoll nation.

RASHDOO ISLAND, Maldives (AFP) - Now Asina Ahmed hooks up to the Internet and uses a smart board with a touch-sensitive screen to liven up a maths class for a group of young Maldivian children on remote Rashdoo Island.

Ahmed invites eight-year-old Aishath Zayba Ismail to count the number of cherries in a fruit basket. Ismail approaches the board, places her hand over the images and glides each cherry across the white board.

With a special pen she scribbles "four cherries" on the screen.

Before the smart board arrived, there was no interactive learning in Rashdoo Island, 37 miles (60 kilometres) west of the capital island Male.

Broadband connectivity across the atolls has enabled interactive learning methods like the smart board to take off, putting the fun back into classrooms and encouraging children's communications skills.

"The smart board has made me a child-friendly teacher. The lessons are e-mailed each day and I can use the Internet to show children little things like how a cherry tree farm looks like, unlike a photograph in a text book," Ahmed said.

Literacy rates in this Indian Ocean archipelago exceed 90 percent, with nearly all children receiving some form of primary education, but the quality of teaching remains low, partly due to the low skills of the teachers themselves.

Home to 300,000 Sunni Muslims, some 70 percent of the population live on islands far from the capital.

The UN Children's Fund UNICEF estimates that more than 30 percent of Maldivian teachers are untrained with many islands having up to 100 pupils per trained primary teacher.

"It's down to basics. Transport is costly making it expensive for children to travel between islands to get a better education and for teachers to upgrade their skills," said UNICEF representative for the Maldives, Ken Maskall.

Basic services are expensive, given the geographic nature of this nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered some 850 kilometres (550 miles) across the equator.

UNICEF estimates that islands with the lowest population still do not have access to secondary school and around 12 islands provide schooling only up to grade five.

"People are so scattered in different little islands that this type of teaching method helps schools and communities to develop," Maskall told AFP during a tour of the island.

UNICEF has spent more than two million dollars to set up broadband-enabled learning centres which will link 20 atolls in the Maldives by the end of this year.

Rashdoo, one of the Maldives' 200 inhabited islands, is among the 11 islands to be connected so far.

"The smart board has brought the world to children's feet," said Rashdoo Island chief Mohamed Shafi, a former teacher himself. "I can sense the frustration of learning is quietly reducing."

Source: Sawf News

Wind of change stirs in Maldives as President's iron grip weakens


Mention the Maldives and what springs to most people’s minds is a vision of tropical paradise — palm-fringed beaches, luxury hotels full of smiling staff, and some of the best scuba diving in the world.

What is less well known is that this popular honeymoon destination is ruled by one of the most repressive regimes in Asia and is headed by the continent’s longest-serving leader — Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

But now, after 29 years in power, President Gayoom is finally allowing a referendum to decide whether to maintain his autocratic system of government or switch to Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.

The unprecedented poll, which will be held tomorrow, is designed to show Western donors that the Indian Ocean island state of 370,000 people — mostly Sunni Muslims — is becoming more democratic before its first multi-party elections in 2008.

It is also regarded as a proxy vote on Mr Gayoom’s popularity in the former British protectorate, which is made up of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered over 550 miles across the Equator.

Since taking power in 1978, critics say, he has stifled political dissent, squandered millions of pounds of public money, and enforced a system of “apartheid” tourism that bans most Maldivians from its island resorts.

While foreign tourists enjoy five-star luxury, more than a third of Maldivians live in the cramped concrete blocks and narrow, congested lanes of the capital city, Male.

Mr Gayoom — a 69-year-old former academic who counted Saddam Hussein as a friend — lives in a palace in the capital that is said to be guarded by Gurkha mercenaries because he does not trust his own people.

In 2004 he started a democratic reform programme in response to antigovernment riots and allegations of the torture of political prisoners. Political parties were allowed for the first time the following year.

Now Mr Gayoom wants to establish what he describes as a US-style executive presidential system of government and to impose a limit of two five-year terms on the presidency.

Although already on his sixth term, he plans to stand in next year’s election and then retire in 2010, or whenever his reform programme is complete.

“What many countries had achieved over the course of decades or even centuries is being introduced in the Maldives in only a handful of years,” he said on a visit to Britain last month. “Despite this ambitious time-table, much progress has already been made. In just three years, the reform agenda has transformed the political landscape of the Maldives.”

Not fast enough, though, for his opponents — which include some within his own government and even his family. In the first week of this month, the Justice Minister and Attorney-General resigned from the Cabinet, saying that they were frustrated with delays in democratic reforms. Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the reform-minded Foreign Minister, was rumoured widely to have handed in his resignation yesterday. Mr Gayoom’s younger half-brother, a hardliner within the Government, also resigned his Cabinet portfolio this year.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) says that the only path to clean, accountable government is to introduce a multi-party political system with a prime minister who is answerable to parliament. It accuses the Government of illegally detaining, sodomising and torturing dozens of its members, including its leader, Mohamed Nasheed. Mr Nasheed, known locally as Anni, has spent six of the past 16 years in Maldivian prisons. He also spent several years in exile in Britain organising his party, which was illegal until 2005.

“More democracy will bring more accountability and this will help to stamp out the corruption in the country,” Mohamed Shihab, an MDP parliamentary leader, said in India. “The people of the Maldives must see change. It is up to all of us here to ensure that democracy is brought to the Maldives in a peaceful manner.”

Under the current system, President Gayoom appoints all Cabinet ministers and they answer directly to him. There is a partially elected body, known as the Citizens’ Majlis, which can comment on, but not change, presidential legislation.

The referendum is being watched closely in Britain, which ruled the Maldives from 1887 to 1965 and is now one of the country’s biggest foreign donors. “It is important that the elections due in 2008 are seen to be free, fair and inclusive and that they enjoy the support of all the people of the Maldives,” Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office Minister, said during Mr Gayoom’s visit in July.

Flower of the Indies

Archaeological finds suggest that the Maldives, described by Marco Polo as the “flower of the Indies”, have been inhabited since 1500BC

Arab visitors from AD749 took trade and Islam. It was a sultanate through the 17th century and became a British protectorate in 1887. It gained independence in 1965 and became a republic in 1968

Only 200 of 1,190 islands are inhabited; 80 more have tourist resorts. The land surface area of the archipelago is 300sq km (116 sq miles), inhabited by 369,000 people

Gross Domestic Product in 2006 was £1,971 per capita, 28 per cent of which was derived from tourism, the largest industry, followed by fishing

Divehi, the Maldivian language, contributed the word “atoll” (a ring-shaped coral reef) to English

The Maldives’ earliest history is preserved in the Loamaafaanu chronicles dating from AD1194, written on narrow strips of copper in the now extinct Eveylaa script

Unemployment is negligible, though 21 per cent of the population live below the poverty line

Source: Times Online

President congratulates Megachip

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has congratulated Megachip Maldives, in recognition of the achievement of the International Quality Summit Gold Award on Monday. The President congratulated the Company at a meeting held with the Directors of Megachip, Ilyas Labeeb and Mohamed Zareer, at the President’s Office.

The Business Initiative Directions (BID), the European Foundation for Quality Management, awarded the International Quality Summit Gold Award to Megachip Maldives, in appreciation of its commitment to Quality, Leadership, Technology and Innovation.

While speaking at the meeting, President Gayoom said Megachip Maldives had attained a privileged award. He also noted the special honor of receiving an international award by a private company of the Maldives, and stated that it was evidence of the thriving capacity of Maldivian companies in maintaining their status in the arena of International Commerce. The President also acknowledged the Company’s endeavor in enhancing the field of Information Communications Technology in the Maldives.

The Directors of Megachip Maldives, Ilyas Labeeb and Mohamed Zareer, thanked the President for this opportunity to meet them, and said that it was a privilege and honor to the Company. They also noted that people of Maldives show a keen interest on Information Technology. They also provided the President with information on the Company’s current activities and initiatives for further developments.

The meeting was attended by Minister of Economic Development and Trade Mohamed Jaleel and the Executive Secretary to the President Dr. Ahmed Shareef.

Megachip Maldives started its business operations in 1994 as an electronics service centre.

Source: Haveeru