Friday, October 29, 2010

Maldives vows wedding crackdown

Maldivian High Commissioner to UK, Dr Farahanaz Faisal: "The whole country is shocked"

The Maldives' leader has promised strict new guidelines on conducting wedding ceremonies for tourists, after a couple renewing vows were abused.

All tourist hotels will be required to follow the rules to be issued shortly, President Mohamed Nasheed said in his weekly radio address.

He described the behaviour of those involved as "absolutely disgraceful".

Police have detained a celebrant who allegedly called the foreign couple "infidels" during a luxury ceremony.

'French' couple

The president's office told the BBC that the man was among two hotel employees detained.

Footage of the ceremony, which took place earlier this month, has gone viral since being posted on YouTube days ago.

With police refusing to confirm the couple's nationality, their identity remains a mystery, although a Maldives tourism official told AFP news agency they were French.

President Nasheed urged all those working in the Indian Ocean island's holiday resorts to be "vigilantly professional".

He noted that "bad behaviour, such as that depicted in the YouTube video, can cause enormous damage to the country's tourism industry".

The government has launched an investigation into the incident at the Vilu Reef resort.

Amateur film on YouTube shows a celebrant explaining the ceremony in English before everyone stands and holds their hands up to pray.


He uses the intonating style of prayers to unleash a torrent of abuse in the Dhivehi tongue on the couple, who smile shyly, unaware of what is being said.

"Your marriage is not a valid one," he says. "You are not the kind of people who can have a valid marriage. One of you is an infidel.

"The other, too, is an infidel - and we have reason to believe - an atheist, who does not even believe in an infidel religion.

"You fornicate and make a lot of children. You drink and you eat pork.

"Most of the children that you have are marked with spots and blemishes. These children that you have are bastards."

The camera focuses on the paperwork in front of him, which local media say was not a marriage document but employment contracts - he then begins to read from these.

The celebrant also makes references to bestiality, sexual diseases and "frequent fornication by homosexuals".

After the ceremony, the couple are taken to plant a coconut tree together, during which various comments are made about the bride's breasts.

Vilu Reef hotel, run by Sun Hotels and Resorts, charges $1,300 (£820) for the ceremony, which it says offers couples the chance to "mark a milestone in your amazing journey together".

The hotel has apologised for the conduct of its staff.

Manager Mohamed Rasheed told AFP on Thursday: "The man had used filthy language. Otherwise the ceremony was OK."


Tourists conned by Maldives marriage officiator

Two Swiss tourists who chose the Maldives' white-sand beaches as the setting to renew their marriage vows were instead mocked by the officiator, who chanted abuse and curses in the local language at the unsuspecting couple.

The ceremony, posted on YouTube with English subtitles translating the abuse, has embarrassed the Maldives, and President Mohammed Nasheed condemned it as "absolutely disgraceful." Police arrested the celebrant and a helper — an apparent damage-control bid for the country whose economy is driven by tourism.

Police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam told The Associated Press on Friday that the two men under arrest were hotel employees.

The government identified the couple as Swiss nationals but did not name them.

The video, posted Sunday, shows the woman in a white dress and the man wearing a white shirt and khaki trousers, standing with their palms facing upward around a table with two rings in coconut shells. Two witnesses and the celebrant are also present, all of them in a palm-leaf enclosure.

The officiator begins chanting in the Dhivehi language that "under penal code clause seven, forbidden fornication is now legal," and goes on to insult the couple, including calling them "swine." The whole time he maintains a prayer-like, chanting tone, bowing his head and gently rocking forward and back.

"Most of the children you get will have spots on their skin. Because of these spots your children will be considered illegitimate children," he says.

Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed apologized to the couple and said diplomats have been asked to meet them.

"The Maldives is grateful that the couple in question chose to renew their vows in one of our resorts. ... Because of the disrespectful and unacceptable actions of a few individuals, we have let them down," Shaheed said in his statement.

The ministry will write to the Swiss government to express its regret as well, Shaheed said.

The country's Tourism Ministry said in a statement that it is working with the resort to compensate the couple for the distress caused by the incident. It also promised tough action against the offenders.

"Episodes such as that captured on video have no place in the Maldives and are not in any way representative of the holiday experience enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year," the ministry said.

The Maldives is an Indian Ocean archipelago of 350,000 people chosen by many tourists for weddings and honeymoons.

Source: AP

Celebrant insults couple in native language

A luxury resort in the Maldives is under fire after employees used their native language to viciously insult an oblivious couple during a wedding ceremony.

Video uploaded to the internet shows the couple renewing their wedding vows with a celebrant speaking in the Dhivehi language at the Vilu Reef Beach and Spa resort.

But while the Islamic-style ceremony sounds legitimate to an English ear, a translation of the marriage vows reveals the celebrant, an employee named Hussein Didi, had other intentions.

"You are swine. The children that you bear from this marriage will all be bastard swine," Didi says, according to the Daily Mail.

"Your marriage is not a valid one. You are not the kind of people who can have a valid marriage.

"One of you is an infidel. The other too is an infidel and, we have reason to believe, an atheist who does not even believe in an infidel religion."

He is holding a document in his hand that shows text referring to "staff employment", suggesting it has nothing to do with marriage laws in the Maldives.

The couple are surrounded by close to 15 employees from the resort, none of whom attempt to stop the ceremony.

Didi reportedly continues insulting the English-speaking couple, who have not been identified, for nearly 15 minutes.

At one point the bride bends down to plant a coconut tree and a man is heard saying "can see her breasts".

Didi replies: "She is wearing something ... because my beard has gone grey watching those things. I have seen so many of them now that I don’t even want to look any more when I see them".

Police in the Maldives are investigating the incident, which has reportedly horrified the country's tourism authorities.

Employees at the resort, where room rates start from $1335 per person per night, have reportedly been sacked after the video emerged online.

In a statement, the resort's management expressed "deep concern and regret" over the insulting ceremony.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beating the White House to the Solar Punch

An island nation races ahead of the U.S. to capture the solar limelight

The Obama administration plans for the White House to go solar by next spring, but the U.S. first residence will be beaten to the renewable energy punch by the presidential home of an island nation in the Indian Ocean at the front line of climate change risk.

Workers on Thursday finished installation of 48 solar photovoltaic modules on the rooftop of the Mulee Aage, the official residence of the president of the Maldives—a system engineered by satellite technology from halfway around the world in California.

It is the latest gambit by Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed to draw attention to the problem of global warming, a ladder-high follow-up to an underwater cabinet meeting he staged one year ago.

The Maldives, a tropical archipelago of 1,190 coral islands spread out over 500 miles (860 kilometers), averages only about 5 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level, making it vulnerable to sea level rise and typhoons.

Nasheed says 16 of the islands already face serious erosion problems, and on 60 islands important freshwater sources have been contaminated by saltwater intrusion. The nation also worries that the depletion troubling its fishing industry, its second-largest economic sector next to tourism, is due to changes in the global climate.

“For the Maldives, climate change . . . is not a problem in the future,” Nasheed said in a conference call Tuesday from his nation’s capital, Male. “It is a problem that we are facing every day.”

The Maldives: Not a Big Polluter

The 11.5-kilowatt system that’s being installed is designed to generate 15,000 kilowatt-hours per year for the next 25 years, saving 200 tons of carbon dioxide. It’s meant to highlight Nasheed’s pledge to make the country 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2020, the most aggressive goal among the carbon-reduction plans submitted to the United Nations in the wake of the Copenhagen Accord.

For the Maldives to go zero carbon, however, hardly registers as a blip in worldwide greenhouse gas reduction.

The nation, with a total land area not even double the size of Washington, D.C., has little area for the kind of manufacturing or agriculture that would generate large emissions.

The Maldives ranks 168 out of 186 countries in carbon output, according to the World Resources Institute’s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool.

But for the nation’s 400,000 people, there’s a short-term renewable energy benefit—saving money. Like many island states, the Maldives relies mainly on oil to power its electricity—an expensive option that also leaves the nation vulnerable to wild swings in the global price of oil.

The Oakland, California, solar firm that designed the Mulee Aage system, Sungevity, estimates that it will save the Maldives government $300,000 in electricity costs over the life of the system. The panels were donated by the Korean module manufacturer LG Electronics.

“President Nasheed is demonstrating it is a wise, affordable investment for his country, just as President Obama has decided to show the people of America that solar is a wise, affordable investment for them,” said Danny Kennedy, co-founder and president of Sungevity.

Kennedy, a native of Australia was a longtime Greenpeace activist before starting the firm and was involved in the campaign that helped spur the California Solar Initiative. Along with the climate activism group, he has been one of the driving forces urging Obama and other world leaders to install solar energy systems on their residences.

In addition to the Maldives system and the planned installation at the White House, one other first residence gets power from the sun. In July, India’s presidential estate, Rashtrapati Bhavan, became a green-certified facility after a solar energy system was installed.

A Natural Turn of Events’

But for the Put Solar On It campaign there was no greater coup than Tuesday’s announcement that the Obama administration would bring solar power back to the White House after almost 25 years. President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels in the 1970s, but they were taken down during the 1980s by his successor, President Ronald Reagan.

When founder and writer/activist Bill McKibben led a group of activists to a meeting at the White House to push the solar idea last month, they came away disappointed.

The turnaround this week may have surprised some activists, but Nasheed said he wasn’t among them. “I have always felt President Obama is a believer,” he said. “That’s why in my mind, this was a natural turn of events.”

The Maldives solar system was designed using a remote-engineering system developed by Sungevity. Using photographs from space and other aerial images, the company creates a computerized three-dimensional model of a building that can provide enough detailed data on roof pitch and azimuth—essentially the angle at which the sun hits—to design the system in the company’s California offices. Pointing to a mango tree in a demonstration of the system using the Maldives photographs, Kennedy said, “That’s our chief shade threat right now.”

The two-year-old company has been doing such long-distance designs for homeowners in California, Colorado, and Arizona—allowing customers to get a system design and price quote by e-mail—and hopes to roll out a nationwide program next year. “We’re trying to make it feel like other internet commerce,” says Kennedy, whose company leases the systems so that customers don’t have to pay the entire capital cost of solar up front. He says about 60 percent of the company’s current customers save money on their electric bills right away, and the company pledges that all will save money over the 10-year span of their leases.

“We’re trying to demonstrate that we’ve got a solution, and that has been my view of what the social movements have to do now,” says Kennedy.

The Maldives presidential residence is the longest-distance installation that Sungevity has engineered, and Kennedy hopes to join Nasheed on the roof of the Mulee Aage to install the final panels and switch the system on Thursday. In the face of global inaction on a climate treaty, Nasheed—a former political activist who was imprisoned several times by the former governmental regime before he won election in 2008—said he is just taking the kind of step that’s needed.

“What we have to do, we have to do by direct action,” he said. “Now as a president, it’s very difficult for me to be talking like this. But whatever I have been able to do, I have done it against odds. This has to involve an amount of direct action on the streets.”


Maldivian president climbs roof to set up solar panels

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed climbed onto the roof of his official residence and installed solar electricity panels Thursday as part of a nationwide green drive, his office said.

Nasheed, 43, known as a stunt man in the fight against climate change, clambered onto the roof in the capital Male to install the solar panels.

It is the latest move by the president to highlight the Maldives' vulnerability to rising sea levels.

In October last year he took his cabinet to the bottom of the Indian Ocean and staged the first underwater cabinet meeting.

He insists that he wants the country to be a showcase for renewable and clean energy and has vowed to make the tiny atoll nation of 1,192 low-lying coral islands carbon neutral by 2020.

"Solar power helps combat climate change, reduces our dependency on imported oil and most importantly cuts out electricity costs," Nasheed's office quoted him as saying after installing the solar panels.

The Maldives, an upmarket tourist destination, is one of the most vulnerable countries to the rising sea levels anticipated as a result of global warming.

Source: AFP

World of corals at Maldives

By Preeti Verma Lal

On the sun-kissed sugary white beach, amid the crackle of the palm fronds and the murmur of the white waves, I first noticed his crown, edgy, spiky, decked in a luminous reddish-purple. He looked a tad tubby and awfully rugged. I had heard stories about his voracious appetite and his love for solitude. Yet, he mesmerized me.

That monsoon morning I was ready to forgive all his flaws. Faraway in the Vabbinfaru island of Maldives, I was falling in love with the enemy. A predator. A deadly predator.

Yellow Soft Coral underwater

"He is the biggest enemy; he is a ruthless killer". In the thatched Banyan Tree Marine Lab, marine biologist Dr Steven P. Newman's voice was getting drowned in the roar of the thrashing waves. In the emerald waters, the coral reefs looked resplendent and by the brown wooden jetty, the sting rays were gamboling.

The dhoni (traditional fishing boat) was waiting to take me on a fishing expedition, but in the world's lowest lying country it was the enemy that had me captivated. In the Marine Lab, all around lay corals, soft, pearly white corals that could serve as dainty curtains for a gnome home, red coral with symmetrical slits, stony coral, finger coral the size of fries, rubbly limestone made of petrified coral...

And there he was, the handsome predator for whom my heart was pounding, the crown-of-thorns starfish. I was aghast that something so gorgeous could be so treacherous, it can wolf down 65sq ft of coral annually!

Yes, the crown-of-thorns starfish that borrows its name from the venomous thorn-like spine is the nemesis of the coral, for it feeds on coral polyps and destroys the coral reefs that act as natural barriers for waves and beach erosion. In Maldives, a chain of 1,199 coral islands that sit smug in the Indian Ocean, the coral reefs can be deemed survival kits.

Male, capital city of Maldives

The highest point in Maldives is less than 1.5 metres above sea level and in the past 15 years the temperature and water levels have been rising menacingly and the nation is sinking helplessly.

Naysayers predict that by the turn of the century, Maldives would vanish off the map, buried in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The 1998 El Nino mass coral bleaching disaster aggravated the woes of the nation that was first settled in 5th century BC by fishermen of Tamil lineage.

The thought of the beautiful nation meeting its watery grave perturbed me and I forgot all about snorkeling and fishing for barracudas; in Maldives, I was game for a coral lesson in the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru Marine Lab that was established in 2004 for reef restoration.

"Want to plant a coral garden?" Holding a block of wet cement in hand, Dr Newman threw a question. A coral garden? And I thought only lilac, lilies, lavender, and laburnum and the like grew in gardens. Ah! I'm so ignorant. Yes, baby coral fragments can be planted on cement blocks, that can grow into burly reefs within years in tepid waters.

Pink Soft Coral underwater

"Or, one could plant electric reefs," Dr Newman was stumping me with jargon. Put simply, electric reefs are metal framework connected to a low voltage current that help in mineral accretion.

Coral use calcium to build their rock skeletons and they certainly grow faster on these 'electric' reefs. The barnacle and necklace reefs looked attractive...but all coral lessons were getting addled in my head.

World of corals at Maldives

All that stayed etched was the fact that due to the Banyan Tree initiative, the reefs around Vabbinfaru and Ihuru islands on North Male Atoll have attained 45% recovery since El Nino, a feat unheard of befoew in the island nation.

Coral had so taken over my mind space that in the downpour, I was ready to wriggle into my wellingtons, hop into a speed boat and head to the capital Male, pronounced Maa-lay, not like the opposite of female. Improbably the world's second most populated island, Male is miniature-sque, barely 2.5 sq. km. So tiny is Male that it could well be a mannequin, but the physical stats were the least of my worries.

Giant Clam mantle, Maldives

I plodded through puddles in narrow lanes to see the nation's oldest coral mosque in which neither an inch of wood nor an ounce of iron is used. Amazingly, it is made of handcrafted coral, blocks tidily stacked over each other. Built by Sultan Ibrahim Iskander in 1658, the mosque is replete with tombs of the royal family, a sun dial and the imperial insignia chiseled in black coral.

I stood by the staircase (women are not allowed inside), covered my head, closed my eyes and muttered a prayer. Not for myself, but appropriately for the coral reefs that are so essential for the survival of Maldives. Thus beseeched in coral, can He ignore my plea?

Cluster of tiny green sea Anenome's in Maldives

That, however, was not the end of my tryst with Male, for turtles were waiting at the Velavaru Island in South Nilandhe Atoll, a 40-minute seaplane ride from the Male airport.

Roughly 10,000 ft up in the sky, I could not spot the Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles that nest near Angsana Velavaru; from close to the heavens, all I could see was the islands looking like squiggles painted carelessly by a neophyte painter.

Sea turtle in Maldives

In the luxurious Angsana Velavaru where villas stand on stilts in the middle of the Indian Ocean and where food is so sumptuous that even gods can order a take-away, marine biologist Mirta Moraitis taught me all that I ever needed to know about green sea turtles.

Endangered because of over-harvesting (only 1% baby turtles reach adulthood), Angsana Marine Lab initiated a Head Start programme for baby turtles, they are cared for in the pen for the first two years of their life and then tagged and released.

A starfish

Suddenly, I was distracted. I saw the handsome predator again. My heart pounded again. Moraitis knows that the predator deserves a horrid fate, it is killed with a knife and its remains buried. Burial is important because the nocturnal starfish can regenerate out of dismembered remnants.

I closed my eyes; I cannot watch anything getting killed. Not even an enemy. But in Maldives, I took a vow, never to fall in love with an enemy. Never with a predator. Coral, I will love you now...


Can luxury and greenery mix after all?

When you arrive at Soneva Fushi, one of the world’s most exclusive – and expensive – resorts, they take away your shoes: you are expected to go barefoot throughout your stay on this beautiful, wild island in the Maldives. When you leave, you get your loafers back, but are charged extra to cover your holiday’s carbon footprint.

Guests pay two per cent on top of their already hefty bills – room rates normally range from $1,000 to $8,000 a night – in a carbon tax believed to be the only one of its kind in the world. It is highly and explicitly visible on the account, but no-one has ever objected to stumping up. That’s a surprise – for although they can well afford the levy, the super rich can be notoriously tight-fisted.

Maybe it's because the money – $1.7 million raised so far from this and two similar Soneva resorts in the Maldives and Thailand – is used transparently to reduce carbon emissions. It funds a community project – which originated in the Somerset village of Chew Magna – to replace coal-fired power stations with wind turbines in southern India.

But perhaps, too, it is because the philosophy of the resort – which aims to take people "luxuriously back to nature" by creating "innovative and enriching experiences in a sustainable environment" – seeps into visitors as they collect their suntans. It is part of a growing move to reconcile luxury with greenery – a sharp counterpoint to the hair-shirt environmentalism promoted by some of the (at times wealthy) founders of the green movement.

Just three weeks ago, Paris staged a four-day Ethical Fashion Show with top designers parading skirts of recycled bottletops, dresses made from old photo negatives and gowns made of cast-off shirts. In Italy, Giorgio Armani has begun working with recycled polyester, and Fendi has produced a line of bags made from reused tyres.
Louis Vuitton has scrapped plastic wrapping for deliveries. The hybrid Toyota Prius quickly became the wheels of choice for high-rolling Hollywood stars. And this summer, Alistair Callender, a young British designer, unveiled plans for a guilt-free gin palace – a £40 million, 58 foot super-yacht powered by solar energy – at boat shows in Monaco and Abu Dhabi.

"Luxury and sustainable development are compatible", says Sylvie Bernard, head of environment at the LVMH group whose brands include Mo√ęt Hennessy and Dior. Sonu Shivdasani – who created Fushi Soneva with his wife Eva – not only concurs, but is this weekend hosting a conference at the resort addressed by leading environmentalist and tourism experts – including Jonathon Porritt and Prof Geoffrey Lipman, a former President of the World Travel and Tourism Council – in the hope of persuading other top hoteliers to go green.
The growing movement is in direct conflict with the many environmentalists who have long insisted that people in developed countries must lower their standards of living for the sake of the planet. But Shivdasani – a contemporary of David Cameron at Eton and Oxford – believes this is both unrealistic and wrongheaded.
"People are not just going to give things up", he says. "Instead we must help change habits while delivering the same luxury in a sustainable way, demonstrating an intelligent alternative."

His remote resort, beloved by celebrities such as Madonna and Paul McCartney seeking a place not to be seen, naturally – in both senses of the word – provides top-flight hospitality, while eschewing carbon-soaked conspicuous consumption. Guests are provided with ancient bikes with which to negotiate the resort's dirt tracks. Floors in public areas are sand, buildings are thatched in local materials, and the vegetables come from the organic garden.

Plastics are banned, waste is recycled at a special facility on site, and no bottled water can be brought in: the hotel desalinates its own, charges for it and gives the profits to charities, so far providing clean water for more than 250,000 people. Some celebrities have apparently objected that they only drink a particular brand, but accepted when told they cannot have it. A solar power station is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent next year – on the way to the resort becoming zero carbon.

It seems to work for Shivdasani: half his customers return and his business, Six Senses, is growing fast and constantly opening new resorts. He now wants to spread the word: anyone could adopt his eco-friendly practices, he says, not least because they are cheaper than the conventional alternatives.
But he'll need to try again. Only one other company is attending the conference – following some late cancellations. What a shame the potential barefoot hoteliers got cold feet.


Eco Symposium: Maldives president says 'travel hurts us but we can't live without it'

Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed appealed to travel agents to package the Maldives as a low-carbon destination as it moves to be carbon-neutral by 2020. He cited host resort Soneva Fushi, set to be carbon-neutral in 2012, as a choice customers could make over more carbon-intensive destinations.

But speaking to TTG at the Eco Symposium 2010, he admitted he had no answer to the problem of travel’s economic contribution to the Maldives versus its climate impact on the region. “It’s bad, travel is going to hurt us, but we can’t live without it. We’ve fashioned an economy out of travel and leisure.

“The only alternative we would be able to offer is no carbon emissions once you come here - so increase the length of your stay to minimise impact.

“This is where I concede I don’t have a good answer.”

In a passionate speech to delegates, Nasheed made clear the stark realities of the crisis his country is facing.

“The signs are clear – there is no doubt,” he said. “This is a very present challenge, not an issue for the future. We have already had to relocate people from 16 islands and we have water problems on 70 islands, pressure on fish stock and food security issues.”

He said the prospect of relocation was very difficult to talk about or consider for him and his people. “We have been here 5,000 years, we have a written history 1,000 years old. I recently visited an island where eight homes were being evacuated. Everyone was crying. A woman said to me: ‘I can move but where will the butterflies go? Where will the sounds and colours go?’

“It is not easy to talk about but the bottom line is dry land.”

When asked how to get the US to tackle climate change, the president called on young people in the country to replicate the street protests of the 1960s in a bid to persuade politicians to take action.

He said: “To move the US we must have direct action. The battle must be fought on the street. Politicians do not do anything unless told to do so by the people.

“In the US it must be possible to galvanise the people. I believe it is possible and mass direct action must happen. I don’t know when it will happen, but I think we will see another 1960s when everybody is out on the streets.”

Nasheed said his government had tabled a new national building code this month as part of the move to carbon neutrality, and other moves included a recent ban on shark fishing, with a payout of $30 million to compensate families whose livelihoods were affected by the ban.


Does spending two weeks surrounded by blondes sound like heaven? Think again

A Lithuanian travel agency (and who, when planning a dream holiday, would look for anything else?) has announced plans for a resort in the Maldives staffed entirely by blondes.

Reception staff, waitresses, hotel managers: all will be fair-haired women, reached by special charter flights with blonde cabin crew and, if they can find enough of them, blonde lady pilots.

It sounds TERRIFYING. All very comical on paper, but imagine actually being there. Ever since I read about the Lithuanian plan, I have been singing (to the tune of the old Stealers Wheel classic): "Blondes to the left of me, blondes to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with roots."

None of them will have dyed hair since the reason for the resort, the planners claim, is to "disprove the idea that blondes are less competent". Oh yes, that's the reason…

There must be no peroxide fakes if they want their story to hold up. So you have to assume everyone will be white, too. Everywhere you look: Identikit pale, yellow-haired, grinning people in uniforms. Spine-chilling. It's a vision of how Europe would look if Hitler had won. If not Nazi it is, at least, rather Midwich Cuckoos. Even if your conscious brain finds the idea of Blonde Island sexy, your subconscious would know something was wrong. You would feel unsettled, gripped by a sense of indefinable weirdness like the hour before food poisoning kicks in.

Does your conscious brain find it sexy? We have to assume that's the real motivation behind the scheme. These are business people, not scientists. You couldn't actually test the relevance of hair colour to efficient croissant delivery unless you ran an identical resort next door staffed by brunettes. And a third staffed by redheads; that one, I suppose, would have to be a little shadier.

Since my column about cheerleading for children, I am nervous to write anything about female stereotypes. My website, my Twitter feed and the Observer desk have been swamped by furious cheerleaders explaining that they do not operate in a "supporting" role (I apologise for the misunderstanding; should they perhaps consider changing their name?), plus men and women who think I despise anyone good-looking or that I'm radically opposed to femininity. ("Vicky Coren is likely to be envious of their youth and glamour," wrote one kindly gentleman on my blog.)

Let me say, then, that I have nothing against Lithuanian travel agents opening a novelty blonde resort. It will grab coverage in men's magazines during a recession; not a bad idea. And if anyone thinks they would enjoy a holiday where all the staff look the same, good luck to them; I expect they'd run screaming for the airport after a week, but it might make one interesting Sunday.

Forgive me, though, for being amused by the idea that men still grade women according to hair colour. I bet they don't. The average man who's old enough to book his holidays on a credit card has, I'm sure, enough experience of the world to know that nobody is so easily categorised. Yet the culture persists in trying to sell men "blondes" and "brunettes" as though they were different in any way other than how quickly you'd notice stray hairs in the bath. On the plus side, it's all very adoring. Anyone sounds gorgeous when described simply as a blonde, a brunette or a redhead. With only those nouns to go on, you imagine a line-up of Veronica Lake, Jayne Mansfield and Rita Hayworth. I don't know why, but your brain doesn't throw you Angela Merkel, Monica Lewinsky and Nicholas Witchell.

Women's magazines, meanwhile, divide men into far gloomier and more complicated stereotypes. Our theoretical lovers, when grouped, have more narrative attached. It's not about hair colour, it's about character type and potential misery. In a holiday resort, of course, this makes the activities far easier to organise.

Here is a list of the islands I am planning to open for business: ladies, let me know which you'd visit so I know where first to make my fortune.


Blonde island resort plans spark media maelstrom

A Lithunian company's plans to create a resort island in the Maldives staffed entirely by beautiful blonde women has created an international media sensation as it draws harsh criticism for being discriminatory.

The Lithuania-based "Olialia" has already built a business empire, with dozens of products advertised by beautiful, scantily-clad blonde models dressed up as scientists and businesswomen.

Their latest plan to create a resort island staffed wholly by blondes (even the pilots and flight attendents on the plane there would be blonde), has now drawn the attention of major news outlets in nearly every European country.

The company claims that their products help to shatter stereotypes of blonde women. Critics, however, argue that the use of beautiful, half-naked blondes to advertise their products only further objectifies women.

In an English-language press release, the company acknowledged the media attention, but downplayed plans to build a resort.

"„Olialia“ team received lots of attention from foreign media consurning (sic) THE TOTALLY BLOND ISLAND IN MALDIVES... While the Maldives project is still in the pipelines we can discuss other 75 already living and breathing „Olialia“ projects, such as „Olialia Cola“, „Olialia Models“ and so on," the English-language press release said.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

CWG critics failed to judge new India: Nasheed

Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who witnessed opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, on Monday hailed the arrangements for the sporting event and dismissed the criticism that preceded it as creation of "old and established" media which failed to judge "new" India. He said it was not fair
to project the image of entire CWG through one dirty "toilet" as some hitches are bound to be there in preparations for any mega event.

"They (critics) wanted to judge India, may be through the image of India (as was) in 80s or previous generation's idea of India. It is different India," Nasheed said.

"It is difficult for some of the people especially media, old and established, to judge India....I think it is their difficulty to understand how India has evolved," he said, adding some people have to "certainly understand that new India is different. They are also going through a learning curve."

Nasheed specifically came here to witness the opening ceremony of the Games at the Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium last night.

"It was very spectacular and very beautiful", said the extremely impressed Maldivian President, whose country is among 71 participants in the mega sporting event.

He expressed confidence that the Games will be as "perfect and as good" as they would have been at any other place in the world.

On widespread criticism in international media over the preparations for the Games, Nasheed said there must be reasons for perception that the CWG will not be "efficient" but to "generally highlight the whole image of the Games with one toilet is ludicrous. I don't think, it was responsible or clever either."

The international media had severely criticised and raised question over India's capability to host such an event.

"The Games will be good, of course it is going to have some hitches here, a broken spring there and so on but by and large I am sure the Games are going to as perfect as any games anywhere else," the visiting President said.


Woman's body found washed up on Maldives beach

Police are investigating the death of a British woman whose body was discovered washed up on a beach in the Maldives.

Sharon Duval, 42, from Kidlington, Oxfordshire, is believed to have been on her honeymoon with husband Nick when the death happened.

A Maldives Police Service spokesman said the body was found on a beach at the LH. Kuredhu Resort at 0030 local time on Saturday.

The Foreign office said it was "urgently investigating" the death.

A spokeswoman added: "We stand ready to provide consular assistance."

The Serious and Organised Crime Department of Maldives Police Service is also conducting an investigation into the death.


Blonde-Only Resort Island Coming to the Maldives?

A Lithuanian company is hoping to set up a resort island in the beautiful Maldives that is exclusively run by blondes. Let the dumb blonde jokes begin!

The company, Olialia, is completely run by blondes and they want to extend their business model into the field of holiday making. Olialia wants to build a resort that is entirely run by a blonde staff, and would even offer special flights to the island with an all-blonde flight crew.

The business plan has faced heavy criticism, with objectors calling the idea both sexist and racist. But Giedre Pukiene, Olialia's managing director, denies that her company discriminates when hiring, adding that "when women with dark hair work here, they are surrounded by all these beautiful blondes, so eventually they end up going blonde too."

Whether or not you are offended by the company's strategy and even if the resort never actually comes to fruition, Olialia seems to be doing something right. The company expects to double its net profits to $10 million and is recognizable to the majority of Lithuanians.


Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh meets New Zealand governor general, Maldives president

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday met with visiting Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed and New Zealand Governor General Anand Satyanand, both of who witnessed the spectacular opening ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games here.

The first Indian-origin governor-general, Satyanand, met with Manmohan Singh in the morning, and discussed issues related to bilateral interests, as well as regional and multilateral issues. The governor-general is the representative of the British Queen, who is the head of state in New Zealand.

Satyanand had earlier met with members of the New Zealand sports delegation. He was also present at the welcoming ceremony for the team at the Games Village last week.

Later, the prime minister had a meeting with the Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed, who was very appreciative of the Games opening ceremony.

'It was very spectacular and very beautiful,' Nasheed told reporters.

He said the critics in the run-up to the Games had failed to understand that there was a 'new India' and they were judging the problems as per the standards of the 'old India' of decades earlier.

National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Principal Secretary to the prime minister T.K.A. Nair were also present at the meeting.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

UK opposes Maldives continental shelf claim

The United Kingdom has opposed the Maldives claim for the extended continental shelf off its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), The Guardian newspaper reported.

The border between the south of Maldives and British overseas territory Diego Garcia was not marked when the Maldives claimed for 168,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean seabed on July 26.

The paper reported that the UK filed its formal opposition at the United Nations aimed at protecting [UK’s] national interests in the Chagos Islands as the area claimed by the Maldives may encroach upon British overseas territory. The native population of Chagos Islands was expelled 40 years ago to establish a US airbase on the largest atoll of the archipelago, Diego Garcia.

The Guardian quoted the letter sent to the UN on August 9 as saying that the submission of the Republic of the Maldives does not take full account of the 200 nautical miles Fisheries and Environment Zones of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The UK promises to formalise these boundaries [with the Maldives] at the earliest opportunity.

On the other hand, leaders of the exiled Chagossians contrast the rapidity with which the UK Foreign Office defended its interests with the protracted refusal to permit them to return to the islands, the newspaper said. agencies


GMR, Axis Bank Discuss $360 Million Loan for Maldives Airport Development

GMR Infrastructure Ltd., controlled by Indian billionaire G.M. Rao, is in talks with Axis Bank Ltd. on a loan of about $360 million to fund an airport project in the Maldives.

GMR’s Maldives venture may sign the 12-year loan by the end of this month, Sidharath Kapur, chief financial officer for airports, said in a telephone interview yesterday from New Delhi. The debt may be syndicated to overseas lenders and multilateral agencies, he said, without providing a timeframe.

The Bangalore-based airport operator and partner Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd. in June won a bid to modernize and expand Male International Airport as they seek to benefit from rising tourism in the Maldives, a nation comprising 1,190 coral islands in the Indian Ocean. Indian companies such as GMR have expanded overseas as bureaucracy and land disputes slow infrastructure projects at home.

“For a company like GMR to grow, this is the way it has to be,” said Jagannadham Thunuguntla, chief strategist at SMC Global Securities Ltd., which manages $100 million in assets, in New Delhi. “Indian infrastructure projects can face bottlenecks and execution problems.”

A spokesman for Axis Bank, India’s fourth biggest by market value, said he wasn’t able to immediately comment.

Maldives Growth

GMR Maldives International Airport Ltd. will spend about $510 million on the Male terminal, which will have a capacity to handle 5 million users a year, Kapur said. The airport currently handles about 2.5 million passengers a year, he said.

“The government of the Maldives is taking steps to attract tourism from India and Southeast Asia,” he said. “That will drive growth.”

GMR Maldives, 77 percent owned by the Indian company and 23 percent by Malaysia Airports, will build and operate the terminal for 25 years. The facility will be ready by 2014.

GMR and partners also run airports in Istanbul, Turkey, India’s capital New Delhi and Hyderabad in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The Maldives attracted 683,000 tourists in 2008, growing at an average 12 percent annual pace since 1980, compared with the world average growth of 5 percent, the government said on its website.

GMR got about 33 percent of revenue from airport operations in the year ended in March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company also builds highways and operates power projects.

In July, GMR’s new terminal in New Delhi started international flights. The facility, run by a group also backed by state-run Airports Authority of India Ltd., Frankfurt-based Fraport AG and Malaysia Airports, cost about $2.7 billion to develop, along with other renovations.


Inner Maldives Holidays today announced the launch of the first Holiday Catalogue in Maldives, a free quarterly magazine that includes holiday packages to India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Australia, Africa, Medical packages, Honeymoon packages, Bollywood Tours, Disney Hong Kong packages, Visa & Migration services and many other exciting destinations & places.

A press run of 4,000 copies has already started to be distributed throughout Maldives. The magazine is designed to inspire the would-be voyager to take the travel plunge and explore new dimensions.

The first issue contains 14-pages, and upcoming editions will add more spice and new direction for travel, the company reports.

"We thrilled to be able to once again expand our services by offering something unique and a new way to stay on top of the travel news and outbound tourism," the company's Deputy Managing Director said.

Inner Maldives wants to serve as a one-stop solution provider for all travel and holiday needs, whether be it for a family getaway or medical checkup or business travel, the company want to create a platform that serves for all travel needs under one roof.

Inner Maldives already sells over 600 packages a month for local and expatriate travelers and the company hopes that this new add-on will help boost and open doors to educate the community on what best offers are available in the market and also educate them about exciting places around the world to visit and discover.

The company also hopes this catalogue will be an eye opener and pave ways for new and innovative travel in Maldives and looks forward to see how the public reacts and accepts this.

For more information call (960) 300 6886 or visit G. Bucha Hiya, Koimala Higun, Male'