Independence Day celebrations kick off with fireworks

Celebrations for the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence kicked off on Friday night with a massive fireworks display at the newly renovated Republic Square.

Thousands watched in awe as the night sky over Malé lit up for more than half an hour with the largest display of fireworks the country has ever seen.

President Abdulla Yameen, first lady Fathimath Ibrahim, former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan oversaw the celebrations. Judges, cabinet ministers, heads of independent institutions and some diplomats were present as well.

Maldives will celebrate 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

A team of 23 individuals, including students, doctors, pilots and sportsmen cut the ribbons and officially opened the Republic Square before the fireworks display.

State owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company has built a new musical fountain at the main square. At the center of the fountain is a monument symbolizing unity. The fountain started sprouting water when a group of children carrying traditional water containers poured water inside it.


Photos courtesy of President’s Office

Housing minister Mohamed Muizz said millions had been spent to renovate the Republic Square. According to the Finance Ministry, a budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day celebrations.

All government buildings, streets, lampposts and hundreds of trees and walls in Malé city have been decked in blinking red, yellow and white neon lights.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will arrive at 12:45pm today for the official function to be held at the Usfasgandu area tomorrow morning. He is the only head of state to attend Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence.

Other dignitaries from China, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Japan, Bangladesh are expected to arrive throughout the day today.

The government is yet to disclose the full program of events for the weekend. The celebrations include a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks, official games at the national stadium and football tournaments.

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will receive an honorary shield at the official function tomorrow.

A three hour play, depicting different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present will take place at the national stadium on July 27.

Bollywood pop star Sanam Puri is to perform in Malé tonight.

The anti-corruption commission is investigating the home ministry’s use of the MVR150million budget.

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Three-hour play, skydiving among Independence day activities

A three-hour play with 2,000 students from across the country and a skydiving event are among activities planned to mark 50 years of independence.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and an atoll football tournament.

The government has not yet disclosed the full program for the day.

Deputy minister for home affairs Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem, who is in charge of the ‘Minivan 50′ (Independence 50) office organising the celebratory activities, told the press that the three-hour drill will take place at the national stadium from 9pm to 12pm on the night of July 27.

The play will show different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present and depict the sacrifices of national heroes to maintain the country’s independence, Saleem said.

The drill will also feature video projections. The Minivan 50 office has awarded a contract to a British company called The Projection Studio to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Some 15 Maldivians have meanwhile undergone a 15-day training session in Addu City for a skydiving event on the night on June 27.

The skydivers will land at the national stadium using special parachutes manufactured with the national flag.

The second part of the skydiving training is due to start in Malé tomorrow with Malaysian trainers.

Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Meanwhile, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the press earlier this week that more than a 1,000 people will attend the official function on July 26, including all Maldivian citizens born on July 26, 1965.

Shareef also dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the independence day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

The president’s office minister refused to disclose the total amount allocated for independence day, but finance minister Abdulla Jihad last week told Minivan News the budget was MVR150 million (US$9.7million).

 

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Plastic palms placed on Malé streets in rush to prepare for independence day

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

Plastic palm trees have been placed on Malé’s streets and several areas at Male’s waterfront have been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Grand celebrations are expected on July 26 as the Maldives marks the golden jubilee of independence from the British.

The plastic palm trees will be strung with lights, says the home ministry.

Several masked men, which the opposition claims are rogue policemen, in October last year chopped down all of Malé City’s Areca palms. Jailed ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim claimed during a trial on weapons smuggling charges that he was framed after the fallout with the police and tourism minister over the cutting down of palm trees.

The government later prevented the Malé City Council from replanting the palms.

The presidential jetty on Malé’s waterfront has been dismantled, and barges with cranes have been brought in as soldiers work around the clock to finish the jetty within two weeks. The government insists the jetty will be completed, but says dignitaries for the official independence day function will be received at the T-jetty in front of the local market area, and not at the presidential jetty.

The Republic Square has meanwhile been closed off for months for renovations and a brand new water fountain.

The official celebrations will not be held at the Republic Square, but at the Usfasgandu area on Malé’s southeast corner, the president’s office has said. The Usfasgandu is traditionally used by the opposition for its activities.

Renovations began this week at the Usfasgandu area. Cranes are at work leveling the area, while workers are putting up new walls.

“All of the planned renovations will be completed by July 26,” said Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s office spokesperson.

The government has not yet disclosed the program for the day. Officials have previously said that the government will hold an official function, soldiers and school students will hold a parade, and official games will be held at the national stadium.

Renovations are also underway at several parks and public monuments in the city. Malé’s streets and the smoke stacks at the power plant have been decked in green, red and white national flags.

An army spokesperson also said all renovation work is on schedule. If not, soldiers may be brought out to complete work. But there is no such indication yet, he said. The army is only in charge of the official jetty at present.

Mohamed ‘Mundu’ Hussein Shareef, the presidential affairs minister, last night dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the independence day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

He refused to disclose the total amount allocated for independence day, but finance minister Abdulla Jihad last week told Minivan News the budget was MVR150million (US$9.7million).

The Anti- Corruption Commission began a review last week after receiving complaints of lucrative projects being awarded to private companies without a bidding process.

The Minivan 50 office awarded a restaurant New Port with an MVR1million catering contract and a British company called The Projection Studio with a contract to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

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Councilor suspended over tweet

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has suspended a fourth councilor for refusing to participate in the government-organized celebrations to mark fifty years of independence from the British

The president of the Baa Atoll Thulhaadho council, Ahmed Abdul Raheem, was suspended for one month without pay over a tweet in which he opposed the education ministry’s plans to hold a parade for students on May 30.

In a tweet on May 29, Ahmed said the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will start a door-to-door campaign to discourage students from participating in the parade.

The LGA, headed by home minister Umar Naseer, sent a letter to the council within hours asking why Ahmed had called for students to avoid the parade. The letter also warned the LGA will penalize any councilors who obstruct the parade.

In reply, the council said it was not aware of such a tweet.

The LGA then sent a second letter last week ordering the council to withhold Ahmed’s salary.

“This is a ridiculous move by the government aimed at destroying the decentralization system and this decision was made by Umar Naseer and his special committee,” Ahmed said.

He vowed to contest Naseer’s letter at the court. He also said he had not participated in the door-to-door campaign and was not aware if such a campaign had taken place.

All Thulhadhoo councilors are MDP members.

LGA spokesperson Mohamed Azmeen declined to comment and said that “the decision to suspend councilors are made at the top.”

Naseer was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

On May 31, the LGA suspended three councilors of the Alif Alif atoll council over a resolution declaring that the council will not participate in the Independence Day activities. All six members of the atoll council belong to the MDP.

The Thulhadhoo council will meet on Wednesday to decide on Naseer’s letter, said vice president Ahmed Rasheed.

In late May, the LGA had asked the Thulhadhoo council to withhold pay of their councilor Ziyau Rasheed, who was suspended for 2 months following his arrest at the opposition’s mass anti-government protest on May 1.

The council had defied orders saying that the authority’s order was contrary to relevant laws and regulations. Unless a court of law rules otherwise, the Thulhaadhoo council said it would be following an “unconstitutional order” if it enforced the decision.

In a letter on June 1, the council told the LGA to stop threatening the council and said the only office authorized to penalize councilors were the police and the courts.

A total of seven councillors were suspended for two months without pay for participating in the May 1 protest. Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets of Malé on May Day demanding the release of Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

In early May, MDP island and atoll councillors in Noonu atoll decided to chip in to pay the salary of suspended Holhudhoo councillor Hussain Habeeb.

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Government to replicate legendary boat

The government is planning to replicate a boat used to liberate the Maldives from Portuguese rule in the sixteenth century, as part of the ongoing celebrations to mark fifty years of independence from the British.

Mohamed Thakurufaanu and his brothers from the northern island of Utheemu reportedly sailed the legendary Kalhuohffummi by night, infiltrated islands, killed sleeping Portuguese soldiers and sailed away by day break.

British author Roysten Ellis said the Kalhuohffummi was crucial in the eight-year long guerrilla war against the Portuguese, with the three brothers using the boat’s superior speed and maneuverability to outsmart Portuguese warships.

The home ministry today signed an agreement with the Maritime and Underwater Heritage Society to replicate the Kalhuoffummi for a professional fee of MVR 1.6 million (US$105,000).

Deputy Home Minister Ahmed Saleem unveiled the boat’s design today and said it was finalized after two months of research.

The heritage society’s Mohamed Haleem said the design is based on books by Hussein Salahudeen and Burahad Mohamed Fulhu.

“Our research shows the vessel is 51 foot and 4 inches. We are trying to construct the boat using traditional techniques used at the time to remain true to the original vessel,” he said.

The boat will be built on Baa Atoll Maalhos, transported to Malé and put on display at the Sultan Park.

“We will be able to finish the boat by August. We are currently trying to find the best timber for the boat. It has to be very specific coconut timber,” said deputy minister Saleem.

The Maldives’ independence day falls on July 26, and is celebrated to mark independence from British rule.

The Maldives celebrates Mohamed Thakurufaanu’s struggle every year on National Day, which falls on the first of Rabee-ul-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar. Thakurufaanu ruled for 16 years.

Other events planned by the home ministry to mark the golden jubilee of independence from the British include skydiving, a swimming competition, a sea sports festival, a world record attempt, float parades, an international football tournament, a police tournament, several music shows and the unveiling of the new currency design.

The government has also started decorating the streets of Malé with national flags and sacrificed 150 goats in a public ceremony in April.

The Independence Day celebrations have drawn criticism over the lack of transparency of expenses made out of the state budget. However, the ‘Independence 50′ office under the home ministry has said that most of the work is done by volunteers.

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