Maldives to begin oil exploration with assistance of research vessel

A research vessel with 25 scientists on board has arrived in the Maldives to conduct oil and gas exploration research.

The German research vessel ‘Sonne‘ which came to the Maldives for different research purposes has agreed to do the oil exploration research for free, the government has said.

The scientists are expected to begin research within two days.

Speaking to media after his visit to the vessel today, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee said the information obtained will be shared with the Maldives in the first quarter of 2015, adding that it would not be shared with any third party.

A local expert and a member of the Maldives National Defence Force will be present with the team during the survey, he said.

According to Dr Shainee it will be carried out in one of the three main areas in the country with properties indicating the presence of oil and gas – located 100 miles east of the region between Laamu and Thaa atoll.

The three dimensional seismic survey, carried out by sending sonic waves into the sea, will identify the presence of oil and gas in the region without any drilling, the minister said. It will be followed by further exploration involving drilling to confirm any positive findings, he explained.

The survey team’s own research will be about the changes in Maldives’ seas due to global warming, Haveeru has reported.

Speaking to the newspaper, the lead researcher from the University of Hamburg said a similar survey was done by the same vessel in 2007, but this new, more detailed one will complement it.

Oil exploration was an election pledge of President Abdulla Yameen and the government earlier this year said a foreign investor had already expressed interest in oil exploration.

The Maldives National Oil Company Ltd (MNOC), a subsidiary of the State Trading Organization (STO), said in February that they will soon begin advertising the country as a destination for oil exploration.

“We have contacted a Norwegian company and a German company to help us better understand the findings of the study. Based on this report, we’re hopeful of advertising the Maldives as a new destination of oil exploration,” said MNOC Managing Director Ahmed Muneez at the time.

French oil company Elf Aquitaine explored for oil and gas between 1968 and 1978, drilling three different sites. According to the MNOC, it was found at the time that the quantity available from the drilled site was insignificant and therefore uneconomical for production.

In 1991, Royal Dutch Shell initiated a second attempt at drilling an exploration well in the inner sea of the Ari Atoll.

Local environmental NGO Blue Peace has said oil drilling in the Maldives could cause environmental issues depending on the location of drilling , arguing that it “cannot coexist” with the country’s dominant tourism industry.

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Laamu Gan residents hold demonstrations over inadequate sewage system

Residents of  Laamu Gan demonstrated today over the island’s damaged sewage system which has remained unfixed for the past two months.

The system at fault is located in the new settlement of the tsunami-displaced population that moved to Gan from Mundoo and Kalhaidhoo islands in 2007.

It was funded and established by the International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC) as part of their tsunami recovery work before being handed over to the government of Maldives upon completion.

According to the council, no one has since taken ownership of the system and it has remained abandoned and without any maintenance. The Ministry of Housing has earlier said the damages to the system was caused by vandals.

The damaged system has been causing sewage waste to spill into the island,  particularly during wet weather. In June the council expressed concern over the issue, alerting authorities and the media.

“The pumps in the system are not working, and the [septic] tank is also damaged. So when sewage effluent gathers in the tank it overflows and spills out. But this has got worse with the rainy season, the waste is being carried across the island through the puddles,” Council President Ahmed Salah told Minivan News at the time.

“Sometimes it is overflowing from the toilets, leaving houses and rooms filled with waste.”

The council had proposed to join the system with a new MVR85 million sanitation facility being established in Gan for areas which previously did not have any such facilities. However, experts said it was not possible as the two systems are incompatible.

Gan council subsequently managed the situation by using a mobile tank, donated with the sewage system, to drain the waste into the sea. The process takes around 20-30 rounds to drain it to a usable level after each spill, explained the council at the time.

After repeated requests from the government and ministries, including a special visit to Malé to meet the heads of institutions, the Ministry of Environment and Energy awarded the operation and maintenance of the sewerage system to FENAKA Corporation Ltd on July 21.

The US$1.8 million project will be implemented under International Federation of Red cross and Red Crescent Societies loan, Minivan News was unable to contact FENAKA at the time of publication

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Maldivians to take Gaza fundraising efforts to new heights

Maldivian efforts to assist the people of Palestine will culminate in an unprecedented 33 hour telethon aired across multiple participating broadcasters.

Numerous media organisation have initiated a telethon titled ‘I will also help’ to raise funds for victims of the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza. It will air from 2:30pm on Friday (August 8).

The organisers will also assist in arranging a joining of hands across the capital Malé at 5pm on Saturday, while the fundraising – with over US$350,000 already in the Help Gaza Fund – is set to grow as both state and private companies urge staff to donate wages to the fund.

All TV channels and radio stations taking part in the telethon will air the same live program with content – produced by a joint content committee – on the current situation in Gaza to be broadcast through out the programme.

Live updates of donations and details of fundraising and solidarity events organised by councils and NGOs across the country will also feature.

Solidarity

This week Maldives Customs Service and Maldives Ports Limited jointly opened a joint fund where employees of both institutions agreed to donate one day’s basic salary. Faafu Atoll Hospital has also decided to join this campaign.

In addition to one day salaries of their employees, newspaper Haveeru has decided to donate the total revenue generated in advertisement on their online and print news this Thursday (August 7). The paper hopes that this will allow people to donate by placing advertisements on the paper as well.

The state owned State Trading Organization (STO) has announced it will donate a percentage of its two major shops’ sales on on August 8 and 9, five percent from STO Home Improvement, and two percent from STO Super Mart.

STO is also coordinating with the media telethon group for the joining of hands event during which people will stand holding hands across Boduthakurufaanu Magu in Malé starting from the tsunami monument.

Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, an organiser and President of the Maldives Journalism Association, requested everyone dresses in black for the event to show that “we are taking part in their sorrow”.

“Remember how we felt when the tsunami hit the Maldives and how we requested foreign aid? Now our brothers and sisters in a situation where they need our help. I request everyone to donate to the best of their ability for this cause,” he said.

The telethon group is also selling fifteen ‘Help Gaza’ t-shirts for MVR100,000 each. Two have already been booked – one by the STO for President Abdulla Yameen and another by Kooddoo Fisheries Maldives Limited for the first lady.4

Joining of funds

After the Adhaalath Party endorsed the telethon, both parties have agreed to join their funds, with the party’s Help Gaza Fund being pooled with the telethon collection from Friday.

The Help Gaza Fund has received over MVR5.48million (US$355,600), the party said today. Collection of funds is on halt for now and will begin again with the the telethon on Friday, explained an Adhaalath spokesperson.

The donations from the joint fund will be handed over to the Qatar Red Crescent Society (QRCS) – chosen because they have worked with Adhaalath in previous fund raising events such as the 2010 Pakistan Relief Fund to help flood victims and the 2009 Gaza Fund.

QRCS has assured that these fund will reach the people of Gaza in the form of food and medicine through their relief efforts in area.

Meanwhile, the Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC) are also raising funds in response to an emergency appeal for US$14.7 million by the Palestine Red Crescent Society on July 14. The MRC Palestine Relief Fund was established on July 20 will continue collecting until August 15.

Funds will be raised through MRC Emergency Relief Fund bank accounts, donation boxes and door-to-door collection across the country.

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Ebola health alert issued, minimal risk for Maldives

The Ministry of Health has issued a health alert regarding the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, although the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has said the risk is minimal for the Maldives.

“We have discussed this with the WHO as well, the risk is minimal for Maldives,” said Dr Aishath Aroona, an epidemiologist at the HPA.

” It is very unlikely as there are very few people going or coming from these three countries to Maldives, and infection control in the Maldives is very effective,” she said.

The health ministry has warned against travelling to the three countries in which the disease have been found – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The ministry requested anyone who has travelled to these countries to look for symptoms of the disease for 21 days and to seek medical assistance should any be recognised.

Meanwhile, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is working with the Department of Immigration and Emigration to identify people arriving in the Maldives from these countries.

These people will be checked at the airport’s health counter and released if the virus is not found. The HPA will keep track of those released, advising them to report immediately if any symptoms are found. In this event, the agency recommends people visit the major tertiary hospitals rather that health centers and clinics.

Additionally, the agency has sent infection control guidelines to to all health service providers around the country – including those at tourist resorts – to ensure the safety of patients and staff. Doctors are asked to take great care and proper measures to avoid infection, including the use of gloves and waterproof clothing.

Dr Aroona said that WHO is working in these countries to ensure no infected person travels abroad in order to minimise the risk of a global outbreak.

The disease

The health ministry alert referred to WHO warnings regarding the virus noting that, while it is currently known to be transmitted only through direct contact and bodily fluids of an infected person, the possibility of the virus being transmitted through other means is still under investigation.

The WHO has reported total of 1,603 cases and 887 deaths since March in the three afflicted West African countries. While Nigeria has reported three probable cases there is no outbreak in the country, with further information revealing that one of the three had come to the country from Liberia.

The incubation period between infection and the onset of symptoms can last from two to 21 days.

After this period the first symptoms of the disease which become visible include fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, and a sore throat. This is followed by diarrhoea and vomitting.

The disease can impair the functioning of organs such as the kidneys and liver and can results in internal and external bleeding. Currently there is no vaccine or cure for Ebola and past outbreaks have had fatality rates of up to 90 percent.

More information on the Ebola virus disease have been provided by the WHO here.

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Malé City to improve bus service based on new survey

Malé City Council has conducted a bus service survey to identify potential improvements to the capital’s public transport.

“From this survey, we found that many people are using the bus service, and many want to improve the service. Necessary improvements must be brought about as a top priority,” said Male’ Mayor Mohamed Shihab.

The survey was conducted after the council received a number of complaints regarding buses. It consisted of thirty questions posed to a randomly selected sample of 180 people.

The results showed that women make up the majority of passengers (52 percent) using the service which was introduced in 2011.

The percentage of people travelling by bus is low during weekends, particularly on Fridays, the survey revealed. It also indicated that most people (40 percent) use the bus in the morning compared to the afternoons (20 percent) and evenings (16 percent).

While only 31 percent reported being unhappy with the overall bus service in Malé, respondents reported several concerns.

Approximately half of respondents said they were unhappy with the bus fare – currently MVR5 per journey, while 58 percent said were unhappy with the hours of service. The bus currently runs from 6am until 1am.

Over a third of respondents did not approve of the current seating arrangements on the bus while another 32 percent complained about the condition of the vehicles. Twenty one percent said they were unhappy with behavior of bus conductors, while a similar number of people said they were bothered by the behavior of other passengers.

Respondents complained over punctuality of buses, with only 24 percent stating that buses arrived on time.

Even though buses are supposed to arrive at each stop every 15 minutes, 30 percent of respondents said they had to wait for over 20 minutes. Those who expressed discontentment with the bus stops (35 percent) said their main concerns was the lack of a shelter or a place to sit down.

A majority of respondents (61 percent) wanted more bus routes to be introduced.

Shihab said that, while the results of the survey indicated the sentiments of those who utilise the service, there would be many who were not taking the bus due to certain other issues.

He said that providing a bus service in Malé is very challenging due to the conditions of the city, including heavy traffic and construction work, but also due to failures of the service provider.

The service is provided by MVK Maldives Pvt Ltd, who are also facing criticism over failures in providing public ferry services.

The mayor noted that any reforms would be made in accordance with the agreement between MVK and the council.

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15 journalists receive death threats over gang reporting

Fifteen journalists received murder threats via text message on Sunday warning them against reporting on gangs in the wake of street violence which has seen at least one death and nine injured.

“[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media,” the message from an unlisted number said.

Journalists from Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), VTV, Sun Online, and Vaguthu received the death threat.

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) president and a long time journalist Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the threats have been brought to the attention of the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

“It is still unclear who are behind these texts, or how they are sending it. Regardless, we don’t take this as a simple matter. We have requested the police to look in to this,” he said.

A police spokesperson condemned the threats and said the case is under investigation.

An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field told Minivan News it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.

“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said

Serious threats

Haveeru journalist and recipient of Maldives’ journalist of the year Fazeena Ahmed said journalists have received similar threats in the past, specifically during the Supreme Court’s delay of presidential polls in 2013.

“I don’t think think this should be taken lightly. Especially considering that parliamentarians have received similar threats and that there is a lot of violence going on these days, I would say this is very serious,” she said.

Two more Haveeru journalists received the same text message.

Rajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, who nearly died from a fatal beating in February 2013, was among four Raajje TV reporters who received the text message.

“I still haven’t got justice for the life threatening attack against me, and here is a threat once again. I take this very seriously. It has been brought to the attention of the police, I hope they will investigate and provide necessary protection,” he said.

Meanwhile, private broadcaster DhiTV reported receiving threats via phone calls following a report on gangs on Friday.

“Last Friday after we aired a report on gang violence, our office received two threatening phone calls. This happens whenever media cover gang related news,” CEO and Chief Editor of the channel Midhath Adam told Minivan News today.

Diversion

Raajje TV reporter Ahmed Fairooz believes the threat may be a ‘political ploy’ possibly to divert attention.

“One reason I believe this is because I don’t cover crime at all, I work at the political desk. So there is no reason gangs should worry about me. And the fact that MP Eva Abdulla received a similar message with political references also shows that,” he said.

MP Eva Abdulla received threatening text messages today after she questioned the Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer in the Majlis. The texts were sent under Naseer’s name and number, and accused her of making false allegations against the minister

“National police are also with me. Through a single order from me to Special Op[erations] boys you tiny MP can be shredded into pieces,” read one message sent to the Galolhu North MP.

Fairooz said he had received threats in the past from political activists and more recently following a report on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.

Vaguthu journalist Maahil Mohamed also said these threats are likely to be sent for some other purpose than by actual gang members intending to attack journalists. But regardless of the reason behind it, Maahil said it would not keep him from covering such news.

History of threats

threat analysis report from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May revealed that thirty percent of broadcast journalists are reluctant to report gang activity.

The report found a staggering 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis. The report also identified gangs, politicians, and religious extremists as threats to media freedom, and claimed approximately 43 percent of journalists do not  report threats to authorities.

In addition to threats, Raajje TV offices were destroyed in an arson attack in October. The station has accused the police of negligence in preventing the torching of their headquarters and the attack on journalist Asward.

DhiTV’s Midhath also noted that coverage of the Armenian drug traffickers the Artur bothers was followed by threats. The brothers were alleged portrayed in some outlets as having connections to Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb.

In 2010, staff members of DhiTV and Haveeru were attacked following the coverage of the release of a convicted gang leader in 2010. A Haveeru employee was stabbed with a knife in the incident.

On Saturday, six MP s from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), including three female MPs received murder threats via text message.

The first text stating MPs will be killed if they “behave inappropriately.” The second one said, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”

Former MP and moderate Islamic Scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali was brutally murdered at his own home in October 2012, while MPAlhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months following a stabbing in February.

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Government “indifference” to Addu ferry services discriminatory, says Meedhoo MP Rozaina

The government’s “indifference” to providing regular ferry services in Addu City has been described as discrimination towards smaller islands by Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam.

“If a ferry service in Malé is interrupted, the government rushes to reestablish it. But if it is the islands they it is allowed to go on for long periods. This is a huge discrimination,” she said.

There have been no regular ferries in Addu City for the past two years and the service is frequently on complete halt at times, said Addu City Mayor Mayor Abdulla ‘Soabe’ Sodiq.

Many are forced to take expensive private boats, while in medical emergencies people usually hire a speed boat for approximately MVR 2500 – double that rate at night.

Hulhumeedhoo, with an estimated population of over six thousand, is disconnected from the rest of the inhabited islands of the city which are joined by the 14km Addu Link Road causeway.

The Hulhumeedhoo-Feydhoo public ferry system had been established in 2009 as part of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government’s campaign to connect the Maldives through a public transport network.

The service is provided by MVK Maldives Pvt Ltd under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract. Many inhabitants of Hulhumeedhoo travel to Feydhoo for work and to visit Hithadhoo Regional Hospital.

Rozaina Adam also expressed concern that inconsistent services were damaging both the health and the finances of locals.

“It is very hard for them, sometimes appointments at the Hithadhoo hospital get cancelled because the ferry does not show up without any prior notice,” she said.

On 26 July, Rozaina held a press conference expressing concern over the failure to provide a sea ambulance for the area. She accused Minister of Health Mariyam Shakeela of reneging on a promise made before the Majlis to provide the service.

The Addu Meedhoo MP has described the speedboat allocated for Addu as unfit, noting that the cover is ripped, the floor cracked, and that the vessel is without GPS, and a compass, among other equipment.

Standstill

Mayor Sodig noted that the government had awarded MVK the Dhoogas Guest House in Gan as an incentive for providing the ferry service.The guest house “which was functioning well when handed over”, said the mayor, is now mostly vacant and ignored.

“It was utilised to some extent during the SAARC Summit, but they are not running the place at all,” he said.

The handing of Dhoogas to MVK was investigated by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2010 which found the guest house was awarded in contravention of relevant laws and regulations. The then-MDP government denied these allegations.

Management of the guest house, with approximately fifty rooms, was in handed over to former MP Abdulla Jabir’s ‘J Hotels’ in February this year, and was renamed ‘J Palace’.

While the city council is tasked with monitoring the service, mayor Sodig said today that they were unable to contact MVK to discuss the issues.

Addu council have been discussing the issue with the government since 2012 with no action being taken, the mayor said.

“We have brought this issue to the attention of all past transport ministers. And the Dhoogas guest house is given to MVK to provide public transport service here, but we are seeing that they are unable to do so,” he said.

MP Rozaina also said attempts to communicate the issue with the government have been in vain, mainly due to confusions regarding the institution responsible following the recent abolition of the Ministry of Transport.

“They told me I should contact home ministry, but they told the council to contact economic ministry. The parliament was not informed of these changes in the ministry, so it will be very difficult for MPs to inquire,” said Rozaina.

Minivan News was also unable to reach MVK, or the Ministry of Economic Development regarding the issue. The listed official numbers of MVK were out of service.

While the Addu city council is still working on resolving the issue, Rozaina has pledged to raise the issue in the Majlis if a solution is not found within a week.

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Five injured in spate of street violence in Malé

Four men and a woman sustained serious injuries in four separate incidents of violence in Malé City on Monday and Tuesday, the Maldives Police Services have said.

The first incident took place near the Eid Mosque in Maafannu ward around 7:40pm. Muggers attacked a pedestrian from the back and demanded he hand over his mobile phone. The man was hit on the back of his head, police said.

Minutes later at 7:45pm, two men were attacked in Malé’s suburb Hulhumalé Island near Flat no. 60. One of the men was stabbed in the shoulder and the other was stabbed in his head, the police said.

At 8pm, two masked men on motorbikes stabbed a 23-year-old woman in the back in front of a known gang hangout at the junction of Kalhuhuraa Magu and Husnuheena Magu in Malé. The ADK Hospital in Malé said the woman had suffered serious injuries.

An 18-year-old was also stabbed in the back in Heinveiru ward of Malé at 8:40pm on Monday.

All five have been hospitalised.

Police said they do not know if the attacks were connected and declined to reveal further details.

According to the police no arrests have been made yet. However, police have confiscated a motorbike in connection with the attack on two men in Hulhumalé.

Police statistics reveal 95 incidents of assault reported in July alone. The number brings up the total number of assault cases to 697 this year. Approximately 1500 cases of assault are reported annually in the Maldives, of which a majority occur in Malé.

A 2009 study by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has identified a weak criminal justice system to be the root cause of high crime rates in the Maldives. The HRCM said delays in court processes, failure by law enforcement agencies to implement sentences and failure to prosecute drug traffickers also contribute to growing crime rates.

The study also highlighted social factors such as a housing crisis, lack of employment opportunities, and lack of entertainment facilities for young people as a driver of crime.

Approximately 43 percent of respondents in the HRCM survey said they did not feel safe in their Malé homes, while 63 percent said they do not feel safe walking alone on the streets of Malé during daylight hours.

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President has reduced home minister’s powers, claims Haveeru

President Abdulla Yameen has reduced the powers of Home Minister, local news agency Haveeru has claimed.

Citing an unnamed senior government official, Haveeru said Yameen’s decision comes in response to Home Minister Umar Naseer’s order on low ranking police officers to investigate Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb for alleged unlawful activity.

In a separate report, Haveeru has also claimed Naseer in a January 26 confidential letter requested the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) to provide an armed military bodyguard or a pistol to defend himself.

Naseer declined to comment on both allegations today. Meanwhile, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali also refused to comment on the issue and said all cabinet ministers are authorized with the necessary powers to carry out their responsibilities.

Speaking to Haveeru earlier, Muaz denied the reduction of the Home Minister’s powers and  said there have been no changes in the Home Minister’s mandate or powers.

Powers

According to Haveeru, Yameen limited the Home Minister’s powers because Naseer had given direct orders to low ranking police officers without consulting the president. The investigation order came in the second week of July after the commissioner of police delayed investigations into the alleged wrongdoing, Haveeru reported.

Adeeb co-chairs the cabinet’s economic council along with Yameen and is the deputy leader of Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Article 16 of the Police Act allows the home minister to command individual police officers of any rank, and gives him powers equal to that of top level police officials. However, the same article also states the president may limit these powers.

Referring to a police mutiny which unseated former President Mohamed Nasheed in February 2012, Haveeru’s source claimed Yameen may have reduced the home minister’s powers to prevent another ‘February 7’. Police officers had demanded Nasheed’s resignation claiming the former president had issued unlawful orders.

Naseer had also allegedly ordered a probe into the controversial arrest and expulsion of Russian national Roman Valerevich Seleznyov earlier this month, Haveeru said.

Speaking on state broadcaster Television Maldives last week, Naseer had said the Maldivian government would have “acted differently” if the Home Ministry had been aware that an alleged hacker expelled on July 5 was the son of a Russian lawmaker.

Haveeru also claims to have received a copy of a confidential letter Naseer had sent to Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim on January 26. In the letter, Naseer allegedly wrote, “Maldives Police Service intelligence has received information of a plot to attack me. In this regard, if I was attacked with a sword, my securities can not control that.”

But the MNDF have refused to comply with the minister’s request and security for Naseer continues to be provided by an unarmed police officer and a personal bodyguard, Haveeru reported.

Tension with Yameen

Naseer has previously accused Yameen of illicit connections with local gangs and drug cartels. Naseer’s comments came after Yameen beat him in the PPM’s presidential primaries in 2013. Naseer has also suggested Yameen’s involvement in the murder of PPM MP and Islamic scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali.

Naseer was then expelled from PPM and went on to back Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Gasim Ibrahim. The JP placed third and endorsed Yameen in the second round of polls on the condition that the two parties form a coalition government.

After appointed as home minister, Naseer has said his allegations against Yameen were untrue and were mere ‘political rhetoric.’

The coalition was dissolved in May on a dispute over the parliamentary speakership. Two of the four JP ministers have signed on to PPM, and the third was dismissed. Naseer is the only remaining minister on a JP slot.

He is being prosecuted for ‘disobedience to orders’ regarding a January 2012 incident in which he called on anti-government protesters to storm the military headquarters with 50 ladders.

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office is charging Naseer with violating Article 8 (a) of the General Laws Act of 1968, which prohibits speech or writing contravening Islamic tenets.

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