Home minister claims 100,000 participated in independence parade

Home minister Umar Naseer has claimed that more than 100,000 students and teachers participated in a parade held yesterday to celebrate the upcoming golden jubilee of independence.

Naseer’s claim was met with skepticism on social media as the number of students in government, community and private schools in the Maldives is 86,799, according to official figures.

Thousands of students, teachers and parents across the country joined the parade on Saturday in what the home ministry said was the “biggest event” held so far with the participation of students.

Students from the atolls marched on the main street of their island while the parade took place on Majeedhee Magu and Ameenee Magu in Malé.

“We can say with a lot of certainty that over 100,000 students participated in the event,” said home ministry’s media coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samad.

Social media users have questioned the accuracy of the figure, with one user calling the claim a “joke.”

The parade in the capital started from the Maafannu stadium, went through the city’s main thoroughfare, and ended back at the stadium.

Home minister Naseer, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon, education minister Dr Aishath Shiham, and other high-ranking officials took part in the parade, wearing national colours.

The parade concluded with a skydiving event at the Maafanu stadium with the four foreign skydivers signing autographs and taking photos with participants.

The skydivers are due to conduct a training exercise for 15 locals for a skydiving event planned as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of independence on July 26.

Other events planned by the home ministry to mark the golden jubilee include 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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Tree falls on students during anniversary assembly

Six students in Thinadhoo’s Ghaafu Dhaalu Atoll Education Centre have been injured by a falling tree during a celebration assembly this morning, local media has reported.

“The trunk hit six children and three of them have been admitted. No one suffered serious injuries,” school Principal Zeema Abdulla told Sun Online.

“They were hurt, and x-rays were taken. The children are in shock. They are being treated for the trauma, but there were no serious injuries.”

The principal explained that the incident happened at around 8:40am this morning during the school’s 30 year celebrations. She explained that the tree was decayed, though she noted that the weather had been calm this morning.

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ACC orders re-evaluation of overseas student loan scheme

The Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) has ordered the Ministry of Education to reevaluate the vetting procedures for a tertiary student loan scheme.

The scheme was opened in August 2013 for students seeking higher education abroad for courses that are not available in the Maldives.

However, in awarding points, the ministry’s Department of Higher Education had failed to cross-check if courses listed in applications were indeed not available in the Maldives, the commission said. Some applicants were awarded extra points for courses that are in fact available in the Maldives.

Further, one applicant was allowed the opportunity to change their application during the vetting process, the commission said.

Of the 614 students who had applied for higher education abroad, the ministry had chosen 250. On the ACC’s orders, the loan awarding ceremony on December 15 was called off minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

In a statement published today, the ACC said one applicant had applied for funds to study abroad for a law degree and was initially given zero points as a law degree is available in the Maldives.

However, the same applicant was later given the opportunity to change their field of study to international law – a course not available in the country. When the final list was published, the applicant had been awarded 10 points. The same opportunity had not been given to other applicants, the commission noted.

The ACC will investigate the case further as it constitutes awarding undue advantage under the prevention of corruption regulation, the statement said.

If a field of study is not available in the Maldives, applicants were not required to clarify the specific course or the institute or the country in which they intended to study, allowing applicants opportunity to make up any course in the application, the ACC said.

In December, the ACC also found issues with government vetting procedures in applications for the Veshifahi Malé programme after an investigation revealed that officials had violated the programme’s publicised processes when grading applications.

The commission subsequently ordered the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure to invalidate applications for the programme.

In a recently released corruptions perception poll by local NGO Transparency Maldives, land services was revealed as the area in which most respondents had paid a bribe. In contrast, the education system was regarded as the least corrupt sector.

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Guraidhoo Island Council stops ballot boxes inside schools citing “too much black magic”

The Guraidhoo Island Council has passed a motion against keeping any ballot boxes inside schools on the island after islanders complained about “too much black magic”, the President of the Island Council Hussain Yameen Mohamed has said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Yameen said that the council have been receiving a lot of complaints from parents and local islanders regarding the issue.

“This time two parents and one man and a woman were affected by the black magic and had to be treated,’’ he said. “The islanders and parents are concerned that if the ballot boxes are kept inside the schools, the black magicians will target the schools and students will be affected.”

Yameen said that the council and the Elections Commission will discuss and decide upon a place to keep the ballot boxes for the second round of presidential election.

“Friday night there was unrest on this island where Maldivian Democratic Party [MDP] supporters confronted the police,’’ he said. “The MDP supporters thought that two spiritual healers on the island were casting spells on the island school and confronted them and police went to the area.”

He said that one person was arrested on charges of attacking a police officer at the scene but have been released now.

“The island council will try its best to make sure that the ballot boxes are not placed in any of the schools,” he added.

Voters on Guraidhoo were reported to have queued for over 17 hours in order to stand on the location of a black magic coconut, ensuring that all voters would choose the same candidate as the first in line.

Multiple reports of ‘fanditha’ (magic) have accompanied the election, ranging from cursed coconuts and witches to black magic dolls.

It was reported on social media today that police on Velidhoo Island, Noonu Atoll, were taking down MDP flags, alleging they had black magic symbols on them.

Minivan News has also learned of individuals in Male’ attempting to purchase conch shells – revered for their alleged magical properties – for large sums of money.

Spells and accusations cast

A MDP supporter on Guraidhoo, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, said that the spiritual healers on the island were supporters of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the MDP supporters went against him when they saw him spilling water around the island school.

“The MDP supporters tried to stop him and the police came and tried to stop the MDP supporters, and then there was a little confrontation between the police and MDP supporters,” he said.

He said that the spiritual healers had left the island the same night.

However, Yameen told Minivan News that the spiritual healers were on the island for a completely unrelated purpose.

“They were here to take pictures of some Quran books that were buried on the beach,” he said.

On September 4, Guraidhoo police station summoned a white magic practitioner to evaluate a young coconut believed to have been cursed by a black magic spell, after it was found near the Guraidhoo school, where the presidential election polling was set up.

In July this year, a Guraidhoo islander said parents of the island have been refusing – and raising their voices against – keeping ballot boxes inside island schools because black magicians were casting spells on the school for election and later it affects the students.

“After the local council election,  the school students started fainting inside the classrooms and this became a huge issue,” the islander told Minivan News at the time. “The parents knew this was related to something like this and called in a group of spiritual healers.’’

He said the spiritual healers forced the spirits to talk to them through the body of the possessed students, who told the healers that they were unable to leave the students as long as the products of sorcery remained inside the school grounds. The spirits reportedly told the healers the exact locations where the sorceress had placed the spells.

Last week, a police team were sent to search for black magic practitioners on Thakandhoo Island in Haa Alif Atoll after MDP supporters were accused of being responsible for the possession of four local children by evil spirits.

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Maldives government establishes emergency hotline for expatriate students in Egypt following Cairo violence

The Government of Maldives has expressed concern over the escalation of violence and loss of life in Egypt and has established an emergency hotline for the 84 Maldivian students, and accompanying family members, who currently reside 100 metres from the latest protest site.

Egyptian protesters who were previously gathered near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in east Cairo and dispersed by security forces are now gathering in Nasru City’s Masjidul Salaam mosque area, approximately 100 meters from where the Maldivian expatriates are living, State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed explained to Minivan News today (August 14).

“Earlier the demonstrations were quite far from the students, however the demonstrators have shifted to near the Masjidul Salaam mosque, which is one bus stop away, or about 100-150 meters, from where the students are located,” said Saeed.

Saeed confirmed that 84 students and their families are currently residing in Egypt.

“We have informed the students to be vigilant and not to stray from home unless necessary,” Saeed told local media.

Although no Maldivians have been harmed in the sectarian violence that has gripped Egypt, if the situation in Nasru City deteriorates causing shops to close, obtaining food and water may become difficult, Saeed explained.

The Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced today that, due to the current chaos in Egypt, any problems faced by Maldivian nationals should be reported via the emergency hotline.

The ministry will advise students and/or their family members how to respond to any difficulties they may face due to the ongoing political unrest.

Saeed also emphasised that the Maldives Embassy located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is continuously monitoring the situation and has also been in contact with the Vice President of the Maldivian Student Association in Egypt. The Embassy will provide support to the Maldivian expatriates in Egypt as necessary, he continued.

Saeed does not believe the situation Nasru City is dangerous at present, though based on tonight’s events the relevant Maldivian government authorities will re-evaluate.

Thus far no Maldivian nationals have requested evacuation and the Government of Maldives will not evacuate them from Egypt unless they request it, said Saeed.

“Sometimes the [Maldives’] government is very eager to evacuate, however when the situation returns to normal students may not have funds to return,” he explained.

“The ministry is making sure there are sufficient funds to send the students back, if they are evacuated,” he added.

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tonight, the department expressed its concern with the escalation of violence and loss of life in Egypt and has called on all parties to show maximum restraint and respect for the fundamental human rights of the Egyptian people.

The government has also urged all parties in Egypt to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and association as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 15/21.

“As an emerging democracy itself, the Maldives is familiar with the trials of democracy consolidation. A full and resilient democracy and a culture of respect for human rights can only be cultivated through denouncing of violence, and collaboration and consultation between all stakeholders, including the political opposition.

“The Maldives prays for an early resolution of the situation and for the return of peace and stability to Egypt, as it continues on its path to democracy consolidation,” reads the statement.

The Emergency Hotline number for Maldivians in Egypt who require assistance is +960-779-4601.

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School suspends session due to lingering smell from nearby garbage dump

An unpleasant smell originating from a garbage dump in Male’ caused a nearby school to suspend its session on Monday (March 18).

Ghiyasuddin School Principal Shirmeena Faheem told local media on Monday that the smell had lingered in the school’s premises from the beginning of the morning session.

Following concerns from the parents, the school’s session was suspended at 10am.

The principal stated that the condition had intensified due to the heavy rain from the previous night and the direction of the wind.

According to local media, a total of 800 students attend Ghiyasuddin School.

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Rubbish fire smoke engulfs school, 50 students forced to seek medical attention

Children from Imaduddin School in Male’ were given emergency treatment today after they reported dizziness and nausea caused by smoke rising from a nearby rubbish dump.

Local media reported that smoke began to rise around 10:30am today (March 6), causing 50 students to seek medical care. A teacher was also taken to hospital after her health suddenly deteriorated.

Imaduddin School Principal Ibrahim Asif Rasheed told local media that the school has to cancel certain lessons when the wind is strong and facing in a certain direction.

According to the principal, the school was engulfed by smoke in the morning and that parents had been requested to collect their children who were suffering from the smoke.

After contacting the meteorological centre to clarify weather conditions for the next few days, Rasheed told local media that lessons will commence tomorrow.

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Education Ministry withholding preliminary O’level result figures for 2012

Preliminary results for the 2012’s Cambridge O’Level examination have not been released due to “difficulties” in analysis, the Ministry of Education has said, despite claiming “one of the highest pass rates to date”.

O’Level exam results from 2012 show “the most progress to date”, Minister of Education Dr Asim Ahmed told local media during his speech at the University Education Fair opening ceremony on February 19.

“These are preliminary results right now. It could take a little while to get the final results, we are in the process of verifying, which could change the findings,” Asim told Minivan News.

“However, this should encourage a good increase in A’level enrollments, because more students will be eligible,” he added.

The claims were upheld by Ibrahim Shakeeb from the Education Ministry’s Department of Examinations (DPE), who told Minivan News that the results from 2012 had not yet been finalised.

“This year has one of the highest pass rates. We already know it’s one of the best results this year. Students will be celebrating.

“The preliminary results are out, however the recheck process is still ongoing and will not be completed until late March. However, there won’t be a major change in the findings. The final results will probably show a slight improvement, following the recheck process,” Shakeeb stated, but was unable to provide the preliminary figures.

Shakeeb explained that the DPE acts as a mediator by providing exams to students and sends them back-and-forth to Cambridge International Examinations. Thus, DPE receives the ‘raw’ data, while the Education Ministry’s Planning and Research section conducts the analysis and disaggregates the information.

“The Planning and Research Section may be having difficulties because Ahmed Shafeeu previously handled the analysis, however he became the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture under President Waheed’s government,” said Shakeeb.

Former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed said it was a change in Ministry of Education practice for preliminary O’Level results not to be publicly disclosed.

Preliminary Cambridge exam results arrive in January or February, with little difference between these and the final results, she explained. Additionally, information from the provinces and islands should also be available.

“By now they should have the real results. Analysis of these findings should only require three days,” Shifa stated.

“I’m waiting to receive the statistics as per my request. I can’t understand why they are holding the [result] information or why it’s taking such a long time to analyse.

“I do not think they have done the analysis. It seems the government is dragging on it because they’re scared to show the results, because they’re not sure if they’ve achieved the marked improvement they’re aiming for,” Shifa added.

Shifa said exam results should show some improvement this year given the previously implemented programs and reforms, but said this would have depended on whether these programs were continued by President Waheed’s new government in 2012.

“Under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government, we made it very transparent. We believe people ought to know how the budget is being spent and what kind of results the government is producing.

“I don’t think the public really knows the results these kids are producing. I think that [a current government] should actually make the people quite aware of major issues within the country,” Shifa stated.

Minivan News contacted Cambridge International Examinations, however they refused to provide statistics as well.

“This is the Education Ministry’s education policy. It is not for us to comment on the Ministry’s policy on their behalf,” a spokesperson said.

A source in the Ministry of Education told Minivan News that internally, the pass rate figure being passed around was 46 percent in 2012.

“I find very difficult to believe because that is a huge increase from 37 percent in 2011. It is very unlikely,” the source said.

“The pass rate was 35 percent in 2010 and 27 percent in 2009. Even with the numerous educational reforms implemented after [former President Mamuoon] Gayoom’s 30-year authoritarian rule ended, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government was unable to reach the nine percent increase per year needed to achieve their goal of 60 percent of students passing within five years,” the source said.

Meanwhile, students are reported to have received their O’Level exam results at the end of January.

Minivan News contacted numerous people within the Ministry of Education, who either would not release the O’Level pass rate statistics, or would otherwise not respond.

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MDP pickup seized by police

Police have seized a pickup truck used by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) during today’s protest, local media reported.

The pickup, which is used by the party to play pro-MDP music through a loudspeaker, was removed after it began to disturb students at a nearby school.

Police had given orders to protesters to leave the area, eventually pushing the crowd up towards the Roashanee Building on Sosun Magu, local media reported.

Resulting clashes between police and demonstrators saw multiple arrests.

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