Australia concerned over civil unrest following Nasheed’s arrest, trial

Australia has expressed concern over rising political tension in the Maldives following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest and subsequent trial on terrorism charges.

In a statement on Tuesday, Australia said High Commissioner Robyn Mudie had registered Australia’s interest with the Maldivian government and would “continue to monitor the developments closely.”

The Maldives Police Services arrested Nasheed on February 22, claiming he may abscond from a terrorism trial over the abduction of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. If convicted, the opposition leader faces a jail term or banishment between ten and 15 years.

Over 10,000 opposition supporters took to the streets on Friday calling for Nasheed and former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim’s release. Nazim is currently in police custody amidst a trial on importing and possessing illegal weapons.

Protesters also called for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation. Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) supporters have continued daily protests since February 10.

In its statement, Australia encouraged “all parties to exercise restraint, act in accordance with the rule of law, and resolve differences peacefully.”

“As members of the Commonwealth, Australia and Maldives share important democratic values, including free speech and the right of opposition groups to participate fully in the democratic process,” read the statement.

“As a fellow Indian Ocean country and Commonwealth member Australia has a keen interest in supporting peace, rule of law and democracy in the Maldives.”

Australia has warned its citizens in the Maldives to exercise a “high degree of caution” when visiting capital Malé.

The statement follows a meeting between a government delegation and Mudie in Colombo. The delegation included ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ (PPM) Parliamentary Group leader Ahmed Nihan, PPM Spokesperson and MP Ali Arif, Minister of Law and Gender Mohamed Anil and Minister of Presidential Affairs Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef.

According to Nihan, the delegation also briefed Russain Ambassador Alexander A. Karchava, British High Commissioner John Rankin, and Qatari Ambassador Rashid Shafie Saeed Al-Fahida Almerri.

The government maintains it has no influence over Nasheed and Nazim’s trials, arguing the charges were pressed by an independent Prosecutor General and tried through independent courts. The trials are important to uphold the rule of law, ruling party officials have said.

Meanwhile, responding to a question in the UK parliament on Monday, British State Minister of State, Foreign and Common Office Hugo Swire said he was concerned over the “continued detention of former President Nasheed.”

Swire said that it was important for “international confidence in the Maldives that Mr Nasheed, like all other citizens, is seen to be enjoying due legal process and respect for his fundamental rights.”

Canada, Commonwealth, EU and the UN have previously expressed concern over Nasheed’s arrest and trial after he was denied legal counsel at the first hearing. He appeared in court with his arm in a makeshift sling after police manhandled and dragged him into the court building when he attempted to speak with journalists.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon last week hit back at international expressions of concern, insisting the state was following due process in Nasheed’s arrest and prosecution.

“Those who prefer to issue public statements about an on-going legal case, or on a domestic political situation, are advised to do a basic fact check, before bandwagoning on to accusations made by a political party,” Dunya said in a statement.

“To criticize us in public statements with lies or biased with having only heard the oppositions point of view is not acceptable. The government will not accept these statemetns and will not pay attention to them.”

Speaking to the press on February 24, Dunya questioned the value of the Maldives remaining a member state of the Commonwealth, claiming the organisation had “wronged” the Maldives before by placing the country on a watch-list in the wake of the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.

However, UK High Commissioner to the Maldives John Rankin last week said that he does not believe asking the Maldives to abide by commitments under UN conventions amounted to “undue interference.”

In an interview with private broadcaster Raajje  Tv, Rankin said decisions on domestic  matters were up to the Maldives as a sovereign nation.

“But it is legitimate for one country to [remind] another country to abide by the undertakings which together we have signed up to,” he explained.

Photo of meeting between Australian High Commissioner and government delegation by MP Ahmed Nihan


Related to this story:

Nasheed denied right to appoint lawyer and appeal “arbitrary” arrest warrant, contend lawyers

Judges Didi and Yoosuf refuse to step down from Nasheed’s terrorism trial

EU, UN join international chorus of concern over Nasheed’s arrest, terrorism trial

Foreign Minister Dunya slams Canada, Commonwealth statements on Nasheed prosecution

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“President Yameen, the world is watching you”, warns Australian senator

Australian Senator James McGrath has warned President Abdulla Yameen that the eyes of the world are on the Maldives’ deteriorating human rights situation.

“Do not lead your country into the shadows of fear and hate and violence. Stamp on ISIS and the other agents of hate. Let the Maldives be free – President Yameen, the world is watching you,” McGrath told the Australian Senate yesterday (October 28).

The Queensland senator told the house of judicial corruption, political violence, media suppression, and religious extremism in the Indian Ocean nation.

He gave special attention the the ongoing Supreme Court case against the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan 82 days ago.

McGrath informed the assembly that he had worked with former President Mohamed Nasheed during his successful 2008 presidential election campaign, describing the transition to democracy as a “political fairy tale”.

The governing Progressive Party of Maldives last week accused Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of attempting to use the international community to influence the case against the HRCM, to “discredit Maldives reputation”, and to “impoverish the Maldivian people”.

Recent events in the Maldives, including consistent attacks and threats against opposition MPs and property, have prompted concern from the EU, Amnesty International, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the Canadian government.

McGrath – who described the suo moto proceedings used against both the HRCM and the Elections Commission earlier this year as “unusual” – said “a worrying trend has been for the supreme court to violate the separation of powers outlined in the 2008 constitution”.

Noting the likely abduction of 28-year-old journalist Rilwan had come after a series of attacks on the media in recent years, McGrath observed a “slide into authoritarianism and religious extremism” in the aftermath Nasheed’s departure from office in February 2012.

The senator’s comments regarding ISIS followed one week after UK Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Tobias Ellwood responded to a written question from Karen Lumley MP on the group’s potential activities in the Maldives.

“We are aware of the activity of ISIL sympathisers in the Maldives, and we will continue to engage with the Maldives government about the promotion of religious freedom and moderation,” Ellwood informed Lumley.

While up to four Maldivians are reported to have been killed fighting in the Syrian civil war this year, a family of four were reported to have migrated to ISIS held territory last week.

Up to 200 demonstrators marched through the capital Malé last month, brandishing the flag made famous by ISIS, calling for the full implementation of Shariah in the Indian-ocean archipalego.

McGrath yesterday expressed alarm at recent moves to subject the publication of poems and prose to government approval – a move he called “blatant censorship” – before concluding his speech.

“The world is watching you president Yameen. Be a true leader and let your people be free. Let them speak freely, let them be without fear of violence, let them have rights of association, let them talk right and join together as free peoples.”

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Maldives aims to boost Australian tourism with roadshow

The ‘Dive into Maldives’ roadshow kicked off yesterday (May 26) in Australia, with the objective of boosting Australian tourism in Maldives.

Organised by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), ten representative partners from the tourism industry of Maldives are participating in the roadshow together with the corporation.

According to an established resort manager, the Maldives is still a relatively unknown destination in Australia, due to little exposure from tourism operators.

“Many people [in Australia] still don’t know where it is. People are hearing about it, but there is limited public information,” the source told Minivan News.

“We have seen some growth,” the industry source continued, “they have a lot of their own islands, like Bali and Thailand that are cost effective, but now they’re looking for the next destination.”

According to the MMPRC, the roadshow offers a platform for the Maldives to establish direct contact with the Australian travel trade.

It is also an opportunity for the Australian travel trade to receive the latest updates regarding the Maldives, as well as the chance to directly meet the representatives of some of the Maldives’ most popular hotels, resorts, and travel agents who are participating in the roadshow.

An overwhelming response was received from the Australian travel trade for the Maldives roadshow participation, indicating their level of interest in the destination, according to a press release from the MMPRC.

Visits from Australian tourists made up 1.4 per cent of the visitors to the Maldives up to April of this year, and a total of 16,913 visitors from Australia visited Maldives last year – a growth of 38.1% compared to the previous year.

The roadshow will be held in three major cities – Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth – for three consecutive days, and will finish tomorrow (May 28).

Similar roadshows were held in China in 2012, following the explosion in Chinese tourist arrivals.

The main aims of the tour in China was to build confidence in the Maldives as a destination as well as to portray the country as an investment opportunity.

In 2011, China became the market leader in terms of visitors to the country, when the number of visitors from China surpassed those from Britain, reaching 198,000.

Since then, by individual market performances, China has remained the overall market leader to the Maldives, making up over 26% of shares by the end of April 2014.

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EC dismissals: Government calls on international partners to respect Maldivian constitution

The government has called on international partners to respect the Maldivian constitution and democratic processes following condemnation of the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of the Elections Commission (EC) chair and deputy chair.

The appeal was made in a statement released by the President’s Office last night welcoming parliament’s approval of a new EC member, which “enables the EC to function with the legally required quorum and hold the general elections scheduled for 22 March 2014.”

“Negative external reaction to judicial decisions of the Maldives challenges the domestic institutions and national processes, thereby undermining the constitution of the Maldives and hindering the ongoing process of democracy consolidation,” the statement read.

It added that strengthening of state institutions was “an ongoing process,” and noted that “high-profile” cases remained stalled at court.

“The government is always ready to work with interested external actors through a process of dialogue and cooperation based on mutual respect in working towards consolidating democracy in the Maldives.”

Since the adoption of the 2008 constitution that established a presidential system with separation of powers, the Maldives has “experienced a vibrant democratic process that has enabled the nascent system to flourish,” the President’s Office said.

The statement comes as the UK, India, and the Commonwealth joined the US, Canada, and the UN in expressing concern with the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the elections commissioners.

The President’s Office statement also echoed calls by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon earlier this month urging international partners not to “undermine our judicial system.”

The President’s Office also suggested that its submission to parliament of candidates to fill the vacancies in the commission demonstrated “the government’s unshakable commitment to the independence of the EC”.

“The government of Maldives is fully committed to ensuring the constitutionally guaranteed independence, professionalism, and integrity of the Elections Commission,” the statement read.

The President’s Office argued that parliament’s decision to approve Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem to the EC was “consistent with the Supreme Court verdict” dismissing the EC chair and deputy chair.

“In compliance with the verdict, the government proposed to the Majlis for consideration and to vote on the names of candidates to fill the remaining two vacant positions at the Elections Commission,” it added.

Despite parliament’s approval of Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem yesterday to replace former EC member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed – who resigned in October citing poor health – the opposition-majority independent institutions committee has declared that EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz remained EC members

The move followed a letter sent to President Abdulla Yameen, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, and Attorney General Mohamed Anil by Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid contending that the dismissals were unconstitutional.

The letter – based on legal advice provided by parliament’s Counsel General Fathmath Filza – stated that the pair were removed in violation of procedures specified in both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act for the appointment and dismissal of EC members.

Article 177 of the constitution states that an EC member could be removed from office if a parliamentary committee established “misconduct, incapacity or incompetence” and  “upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting.”

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Global concern as Maldivian court suspends presidential election

The international community has expressed alarm over the Maldives’ sudden suspension of the second round of presidential elections, initially scheduled for September 28.

The Supreme Court issued an interim order on Monday evening, signed by four of the seven-member bench, halting the election until the court rules on allegations of electoral impropriety filed by third-placed presidential candidate, Gasim Ibrahim.

Gasim is seeking annulment of the first round in which he received 24.07 percent of the vote, alleging that he received at least 20,000 more votes and declaring that “God Willing, Gasim will be President on November 11″.

The Elections Commission has dismissed the credibility of evidence submitted to the court, mostly speculation by anonymised witnesses, and noted that even if factual the claims were insufficient to impact the results of the first round. It has also pointed to unanimous positive assessments of the polling by international election observers.

The case is continuing today after the EC’s lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, was yesterday thrown out for ‘contempt of court’. Suood had argued that the injunction violated Article 111 of the constitution requiring a second round to be held a maximum of 21 days after the first.

India

India, whose observers monitored a third of the ballot boxes across the country, called upon all concerned in the Maldives “to address the current situation at the earliest so that the electoral process could be resumed in a manner that respects the will of the Maldivian people.”

“It is important that the second round of the Presidential elections is held as scheduled and the candidate elected by the people of Maldives assumes the Presidency on 11 November 2013 as mandated by the Constitution,” stated the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“India has consistently conveyed its support for the democratic process in Maldives. It was in this regard that India had called for free, fair and credible Presidential elections in meeting the aspirations of the people of Maldives. The first round of Presidential elections was held on 7 September 2013 in a transparent, organised and peaceful manner. This was acknowledged by domestic and international observers, including those from India,” the spokesperson stated.

“We have seen recent reports that the Supreme Court of Maldives has postponed the second round of Presidential elections scheduled to be held on 28 September 2013. This development has resulted in uncertainty concerning the second round, which may have an impact on peace, stability and security in the country,” the spokesperson noted.

Read the Indian statement

United Kingdom

UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said the country was “extremely concerned” at the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the second round of presidential elections.

“I recognise the right of the Maldivian courts to ensure legitimate allegations of electoral malpractice are investigated appropriately. However, it is vital to avoid any unnecessary disruptions to the national electoral process, and for representatives from all sides to be represented during any legal proceedings,” Burt stated.

“In light of the widely held judgment of both international and domestic observers that elections were free and fair, I hope that the second round of elections will go ahead without further delay. It is especially important that the second round of elections is held within the timescales specified in the Maldives constitution,” he added.

Read the UK’s statement

Canada

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird said Canada was “very concerned” over the delay in the run-off election, and indicated that it would push the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm to put the matter on its agenda..

“International election observers, including from the Commonwealth, as well as domestic election observers, all viewed the September 7 election as free and fair. This delay is troublesome and can only lead to more instability,” said Baird.

“We call on the people of the Maldives to work together in a calm and democratic fashion and on judicial authorities to not unduly delay the expression by Maldivians of their democratic will. We believe that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should discuss this issue at its Friday meeting in New York City,” he added.

Read the Canadian statement

United Nations

UN Secretary General Bai Ki-moon said he was concerned about the Supreme Court’s decision ordering the postponement of the second round, given that the first round was “widely recognised as a success by international and domestic election observers.”

“It is of the utmost importance that the will of the people be respected in deciding the future of the country. These are pivotal elections for reaffirming the democratic process in the Maldives,” read a statement from the UN Secretary General.

“The people of the Maldives have exhibited great patience and should have the opportunity, without undue delay, to exercise their vote. The Secretary-General urges all Maldivians to exercise restraint, renew their commitment to the Constitutions and work toward conducive conditions for peaceful, credible run-off polls to take place as soon as possible.”

Read the UN statement

European Union

The European Union has noted the temporary injunction issued by the court, but also recalled that the international community recognised the outcome of the first round as inclusive and credible, and considered that it reflected the will of the Maldivian people.”

“I call upon the responsible Maldivian authorities to ensure that the second round takes place without delay and in accordance with the constitution of the Maldives. I urge all Maldivians to work together to safeguard the integrity of the democratic process and ensure that the second round takes place in the same impartial and effective spirit as the first,” stated EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Read the EU’s statement

Australia

The Australian government said it had noted court’s postponement of the second round of presidential elections, despite the “positive findings of international observers, including the Commonwealth Observer Group, on the conduct of the recent first round”.

“These elections are an important step in entrenching democracy following the disputed transfer of power there in February 2012,” read a statement from the Australian High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“Australia hopes to see an early resumption of the electoral process, with the second round of elections conducted in a manner that is free, fair and transparent, in accordance with the rule of law, and gives free expression to the will of the people of the Maldives,” the statement read.

“We call on all parties to maintain calm and order and to work together peacefully and cooperatively while this situation is considered by the Supreme Court. It is important that the results of the democratic process are respected.

“The international community will continue to watch developments in the Maldives very closely.”

Read the Australian statement

United States

US Ambassador Michele J Sison visited Male on September 24-25 where she “urged Maldivian officials and political party leaders to resolve the issue of elections promptly.”

“International and domestic observers, including US government officials, all characterised the first round of Maldivian presidential elections as free and fair. The high turnout reflects the Maldivian people’s desire to elect democratically their own representatives,” read the US statement (also in Dhivehi).

“Holding the second round of elections in a timely fashion – as mandated by the Maldivian constitution – is central to the democratic process and a peaceful transition of power that reflects the will of the Maldivian people,” the statement read.

At the same time, the US Embassy in Colombo issued an alert to US citizens travelling in the Maldives recommending that they “exercise caution, avoid large crowds and monitor media coverage of local events.”

Read the US statement

Commonwealth

Commonwealth Special Envoy to the Maldives Sir Donald McKinnon said it was “deeply worrying to hear comments calling for the annulment of [the] election. No election anywhere is going to be absolutely perfect and there was no evidence or claim before the election that the voter register was manifestly so deficient as to so distort the outcome.”

He called for the Supreme Court to “deliver its judgment expeditiously in the case pending before it so that the second round can be held, and the verdict of the Maldivian people determined, without further delay.”

“The people of Maldives went to the polls in good faith on 7 September to elect a president. That election was found by national and international observers, notably by a high-level and experienced Commonwealth Observer Group, to be competitive and credible,” McKinnon said.

“As I have stated before, the Maldivian people must be the winners in this election – they are collectively more important than any one political leader. The people of Maldives worked hard to get a democratic constitution, they want it respected and it is their right that the elections deliver a result that reflects the wishes of the majority.”

Read the Commonwealth statement

Maldivian government condemns “irresponsible statements”

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who received 5.13 percent in the first round of presidential elections, has lashed out at “irresponsible statements by foreign governments and international organisations” which he declared are “not be helpful in consolidating democracy in the country.”

“Our statutory institutions, including the judiciary, have shown that they are capable of making sound and impartial decisions on some of the most complex issues of national importance,” read a statement from Waheed on the President’s Office website.

The comments appeared at odds with a report from UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, who in May 2013 presented a detailed report documenting a judicial system in crisis to the UN General Assembly.

The Special Rapporteur wrote that she was “concerned that the Supreme Court is perceived as not following due process in many of its decisions. It is also troublesome that some of the Supreme Court’s interventions are perceived as arbitrary and as serving the judges’ own personal interests.”

President Waheed meanwhile called “on foreign governments, the UN, and the Commonwealth to show responsibility and to refrain from issuing statements commenting on, and speculating about, the on-going court case.”

“Local and international observers did a commendable job in observing the elections. Yet, they do not decide on the cases filed by one or more candidates in an election. It is never done anywhere in the world,” Waheed stated.

Read President Waheed’s statement

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Maldivian bodyboarders shine in Australian competition

Maldivian bodyboarders who took part in the Jeff Wilcox Memorial 2013 competition held in Australia this weekend stood out as “some of the best in the event”, with 17 year-old bodyboarder Ali ‘Shaam’ Raafiu winning first place in the competition’s Junior Division.

The Jeff Wilcox Memorial is described as one of the longest running, most respected, prestigious, and independent bodyboarding competitions in Australia – having held 16 contests since 1990 – with some of the best riders in the sport participating.

The competition was revived, after a nine year hiatus, by the Forster Tuncurry Bodyboard Association (FTBA) and is being held on August 24-25 in the Great Lakes region of New South Wales, Australia, with over 100 bodyboarders participating.

Representing the Maldives, the Maldives Bodyboarding Association (MBBA) sent their top three bodyboarders – Ali ‘Kuda Ayya’ Khushruwan, Ali ‘Shaam’ Raafiu, and Ali ‘JD’ Javid – who took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places, respectively in the Burunu Shikaaru Bodyboarding Challenge held in Male’ this May. Team official and MBBA Vice President Mohamed Khushruwan Ahmed also attended the event.

The MBBA team “made their presence felt” early on, despite the challenging surf conditions on Saturday (August 24) that eventually opened up by the afternoon with four to five foot waves, the FTBA reported.

“The MBBA riders took a little time adjusting to the cooler climate, but when they did they found their groove and were amongst some of the best in the event,” Jeff Wilcox Memorial Event Director Aaron Dodds told Minivan News today (August 25).

After placing first in his heat during the opening round of the competition, Ali ‘Shaam’ Raafiu went on to win the Junior Men’s Division today.

“Shaam built his assault early, the music and great vibe keeping him in the mood. He continued with his clean consistent comp surfing, drawing tight lines for big aerials and quick whipping spins,” Dodds said of Ali ‘Shaam’ Raafiu’s winning performance.

“Shaam drives clean lines and [demonstrates] brilliant combo surfing by linking multiple maneuvers. His lightweight frame always helps,” Dodds added.

In addition to this being Shaam’s first international competition, this was also his first bodyboarding contest win.

“The competitors were tough and the wave conditions were small on the first day of the event, but the final day was pretty challenging with better, good sized waves,” Shaam told Minivan News today.

Shaam explained the keys to winning the competition were “staying sharp and wide eyed during the competition. Also, having the Maldives’ team here supporting me gave me a lot of confidence.”

“This is the first [competitive] invitation MBBA has received after forming the association [earlier this year]. Winning the Juniors title seems good for the youngsters in the Maldives,” he added.

While Shaam does not yet have a professional bodyboarding sponsor he is “looking forward to it”.

Meanwhile, during the first round of the Men’s Open Division, Khushruwan fought off tough opposition.

“Ali Khushruwan beat top seed IBA Australia Jones Russell in his first heat, securing Khushruwan as a potential favourite,” explained Event Director Aaron Dodds.

However, on the competition’s final day, four to five foot waves with “clean wedging bowls” allowed Russell to “shine and just notch out” Khushruwan from the Men’s Open Division quarter finals, Dodds continued.

While Khushruwan did not advance beyond the first round heat of the Drop Knee Division, he still established himself as a formidable competitor.

“Looking for an opportunity to show his skills, Khushruwan made the most of the challenging conditions and busted out some solid maneuvers,” the FTBA highlighted in their competition coverage ‘Visitors Dominate Day 1 at the Jeff Wilcox Memorial‘.

Although the Maldivian bodyboarders are no strangers to difficult wave conditions, the cold water posed an entirely new challenge.

“It’s totally different, we don’t wear wetsuits. We wear only board shorts and surf, so it’s really difficult for us,” Khushruwan told Australian media outlet NBN News.

Javid also competed in the Men’s Open Division, but was eliminated after the first round of competition, as only the top two bodyboarders from each heat advance to the next round.

In addition to the competition, the Jeff Wilcox Memorial 2013 also provided coaching sessions to the junior bodyboarders, as well as free surf awareness and CPR courses for competitors as “a lot of surfers are responsible for thousands of unsung rescues”.

Three coaching and development sessions that focused on nurturing younger riders’ skills were led by professional bodyboarding coach Haydon ‘Da Boogie Man’ Bunting.

“One of the major things that is missing from bodyboarding is mentoring at club level, these kids have great style and posture, it is a matter of building their confidence and the young riders understanding that it is more than catching waves,” said Bunting.

“Just observing others surfers, watching their techniques and having good understanding of the ocean is very important,” he added.

Photographs 1 & 2 provided by Shane Chalker Photography

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Commonwealth delegation departs, ahead of extraordinary CMAG meeting

The Commonwealth ministerial delegation sent to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sudden transfer of power in the Maldives on February 7 has departed.

The information collected by the delegation will be reviewed and presented to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) at an extraordinary meeting to be held in London this week.

The delegation, led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Communications of Trinidad and Tobago, Surujrattan Rambachan, gave a brief but vague statement to the media on their departure. He was accompanied by Dr Dipu Moni, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, and Dennis Richardson AO, Australian Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and former head of Australia’s secret intelligence agency, ASIO.

The objective, Rambachan said, was “to develop a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power in this country earlier this month, as well as to promote adherence to Commonwealth values and principles. We believe we are returning with the enhanced understanding of the situation that we came to seek.”

“We have held detailed discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including President Waheed, former President Nasheed, the Speaker of the Majlis, the Chief Justice, several political parties, independent institutions, relevant military and police personnel, as well as others. We have also consulted international partners and civil society,” Rambachan said, reading the delegation’s departure statement.

“The Maldives is a valued member of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth has had a long association with the democratic transition in this country. It will continue to support Maldives in every possible way as it seeks to find a way forward at this difficult time.”

Answering questions, the delegation resisted being drawn into discussion as to their preliminary findings, or their position on early elections, stating that the mission was non-judgemental and that much of the information received was still to reviewed before a report was compiled ahead of the CMAG meeting.

“We cannot pronounce at this stage whether something is illegal or legal, constitutional or unconstitutional,” said Dr Moni. “We have collected information and we really need to sit down and go through it. We came here with a very neutral mind. We will report our recommendations to CMAG.”

Whatever conclusion was arrived at “must be according to the interest of the Maldivian people,” noted Rambachan.

“We had discussions with political parties on the topic of a way forward. Early elections are something people are considering and we have asked for views and opinions. That will form part of our deliberations in London. The wishes of the Maldivian people must be taken into full consideration.”

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President backs Australia’s carbon tax

President Mohamed Nasheed has declared his support of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s carbon tax proposal, and recommended other countries follow her lead.

Speaking at the close of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth on Sunday, Nasheed said the summit had accepted key recommendations on combating climate change, reports online media outlet Nine MSN.

Gillard’s proposal has been called “highly controversial” and protested across Australia since 2010, losing her significant public support. Many have expressed their concerns over higher costs for families and businesses.

Nasheed, meanwhile, praised Australia’s “brave steps” towards the tax, and hoped other countries would follow the example.

CHOGM’s final communique called for concerted global action on climate change.

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Australian medics donate boards, advice in honor of Huraa victims

Two rescue boards have been donated by an Australian paremedic and shire council in memory of the four Hiriya students and their principal who drowned on a September 10 school fisheries science excursion.

The long boards were arranged by a Lotus Special Casualty Access Team paramedic in cooperation with the New South Wales Sutherland Shire council. A report from Australian publication The Leader indicates that the boards were flown into Male’ on Wednesday, October 20 to support safety management practices on local beaches.

Australia is known globally for its surfing culture. Attached to that reputation is a savvy sense for water rescue. Australia’s own Surfers’ Medical Association (SMA) reportedly flies doctors and paramedics to Maldive islands twice each year, providing health workshops and medical equipment.

When four female students and the principal of Hiriya school drowned while on a fisheries science snorkeling trip off of Huraa island, awareness of the lack of school safety procedures and equipment was raised at the local and government levels.

The students were snorkeling in waters used by for national defense training, which are known for having very strong currents.

Although police and MNDF forces were called immediately to the site of the incident, they were criticised for being unable to reach the island until long after the critical moments.

Instead, the bodies of ninth grade students Nash-ath Saeed, Mariyam Naza, Aishath Saniha, Mariyam Shaiha and principal Ali Nazim were brought to Male’ on a speedboat from nearby Four Season Kuda Hura resort.

SMA member Paul Featherstone told The Leader that Huraa island had no rescue boards at the time of the Hiriya drowning, and he hoped the donation would make a difference in the future.

The SMA team is expected to deliver water safety and education advice from Sutherland Shire beach operation manager Brad Whittacker, along with the long boards. Paramedic Harry Gatt added that a meeting with the education minister has been scheduled to discuss risk management procedures.

“We really need to help educate them about water safety,” Mr Gatt was quoted as saying. “The community is just devastated by what happened.”

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