150 goats to be sacrificed in public ceremony

One hundred and fifty goats will be sacrificed in a public ceremony in Male’ this evening in a government-organised celebration of 50 years of independence.

However, the former Islamic minister and some other scholars have spoken out against the event, labelling it irreligious.

The ceremony is the first time the government is involved in goat sacrifice events, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. It comes ahead of Independence Day on July 26.

Locals in Male’ have been receiving calls from the campaign office of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) urging them to attend.

The goats will be slaughtered as alms to the attendees after Ishaa prayers and a special prayer of thanks. The event will begin at 6:45 pm at Maafannu stadium in the capital.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, a member of the event’s organising committee, told a press conference yesterday: “We would like to invite all citizens to this prayer and also suggest bringing children of praying age to this event.”

Muaz said events will be held for schoolchildren to sing religious songs in honour of the occasion, while a special song will be dedicated to the event of alms and prayer. The imam will be Dr. Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, the minister of Islamic affairs.

Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, former Islamic minister and now a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, criticised the sacrifice.

“Even though we don’t know who keeps calling people to attend a prayer which includes alms, be cautious to not to attend such irreligious activities,” he said.

Sheikh Imran Abdulla, president of the conservative religious Adhaalath party, tweeted: “Slaughtering goats. Is it religious or political?”

Muaz rejected the criticism, saying: “This is not irreligious as some may define it. I have not heard of any scholar officially saying so either, but defining it this way is very disappointing.”

No government money will be used for the event, said Muaz, as it is being run in collaboration with businesses and religious groups.

Ablution facilities will be available from the stadium, but Muaz advised people to come fully prepared to avoid the long queues.

An Islamic NGO began the trend of slaughtering imported goats for Eid al-Fitr in 2010, but this is the first time the government has taken on the project. The animals are not indigenous to Maldives.

The goat slaughter is one of a series of events to celebrate the anniversary of the Maldives becoming independent from Britain in 1965. It had previously been a British protectorate since 1887.

Some 2,000 people including the vice president and criminal court chief judge swam from Villingili to Male’ last week in celebration of independence.

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Islamic Ministry declares Thursday August 8 Eid-ul-Fitr

The Islamic Ministry has declared that Eid-ul-Fitr will take place tomorrow, Thursday August 8.

Eid-ul-Fitr is the celebration marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed will receive members of the public at Muleaage to exchange Eid greetings tomorrow morning from 9:30am, according to the President’s Office website, and then address the nation at 11:00am.

The event is open to members of foreign diplomatic missions and international organisations in Male, according to the President’s office.

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Maldives celebrates Eid-Al Adha

Government offices, schools and most private offices are to be closed on Thursday to celebrate greater Eid: Eid al Adha, with the Maldives joining other Muslims all over the world to honour the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to show his obedience to God.

Male’ City Council has announced that 15 mosques in Male’ including Hulhumale’ and Villingili will conduct the Eid prayer on Friday morning. The Eid prayer is a special prayer which requires reciting the Takbeer, and delivering of two sermons – one before the prayer and one after.

The Eid al-Adha prayer is performed any time after the sun completely rises up to just before the entering of Zuhr time, on the 10th of the Dhul Hijjah month.

In Islamic tradition, it is highly encouraged to wear the best dress possible when attending the Eid prayer, and the streets of Male’ are full of people shopping to buy new dresses to wear for the Eid prayer.

Unlike many of the islands far from Male’, few activities will be held in the capital other than TV programmes, as many people take advantage of the public holiday and depart the city.

However, the outer islands celebrate Eid the way it was celebrated by Maldivians ages ago. Cultural dances, local Boduberu, Maali and Vedhuma Dhiun are some of the activities that most of the islands will never miss.

The Transport Authority has decided that Male’ will be a traffic free zone between 4:00pm and 10:00pm on Eid ul-Adha to make it more comfortable for families going out.

The Male’ west harbour area is left with few little boats as the fishing vessels have shortened their trips to make sail to their to their own islands – as they always do during Eid, so that they can take part in the cultural and religious festivities that will be held on the local islands.

The Eid Al Adha is a major religious festival for it is related to the Hajj pilgrimage, the holy Zam Zam Well and the ‘Kaaba’. According to the Quran, Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail laid the foundation of the ‘Kaaba’ the ‘Cube or the ‘Primordial House’.

The story of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice Ismail

The story of how Ibrahim acted when he was asked to sacrifice his only son at the time Ismail is mentioned as follows:

“O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!” So We gave him the good news of a boy, possessing forbearance. And when (his son) was old enough to walk and work with him, (Ibrahim) said: O my dear son, I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice: Now see what is your view!” (The son) said: “O my father! Do what you are commanded; if Allah wills, you will find me one practising patience and steadfastness!” So when they both submitted and he threw him down upon his forehead, We called out to him saying: O Ibraheem! You have indeed fulfilled the vision; surely thus do We reward those who do good. Most surely this was a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And We perpetuated (praise) to him among the later generations. “Peace and salutation to Ibrahim!” Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. Surely he was one of Our believing servants.

As Ibrahim was preparing for his return journey back to Canaan, leaving his wife Hajar and little Ismail in the middle of a dry, rocky and uninhabited area, which is now Saudi Arabia, Hajar asked him, “Did Allah (God) order you to leave us here? Or are you leaving us here to die.” Ibrahim turned around to face his wife. He was so sad that he couldn’t say anything. He pointed to the sky showing that God commanded him to do so. Hajar then said, “Then Allah will not waste us; you can go”.

Ibrahim left a large quantity of food and water with Hajar and Ishmael, but the food quickly ran out, and after a few days the two began to feel the pangs of hunger and dehydration.

Hajar ran up and down between two hills called Al-Safa and Al-Marwah seven times, in her desperate quest for water. Exhausted, she finally collapsed beside her baby Ishmael and prayed to God for deliverance. A spring of water gushed forth from the earth at the feet of baby Ishmael. Other accounts have the angel Gabriel (Jibrail) striking the earth and causing the spring to flow in abundance. With this secure water supply, known as the Zam Zam Well, they were not only able to provide for their own needs, but were also able to trade water with passing nomads for food and supplies.

Years later, Ibrahim was instructed by God to return from Canaan to build a place of worship adjacent to Hagar’s well (the Zam Zam Well). Ibrahim and Ishmael constructed a stone and mortar structure —known as the Kaaba— which was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in God. As the years passed, Ishmael was blessed with Prophethood and gave the nomads of the desert his message of submission to God. After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving desert city and a major center for trade, thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zamzam.

One of the main trials of Ibrahim’s life was to face the command of God to devote his dearest possession, his only son. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to God’s will. During this preparation, Satan  tempted Ibrahim and his family by trying to dissuade them from carrying out God’s commandment, and Ibrahim drove Satan away by throwing pebbles at him. In commemoration of their rejection of Satan, stones are thrown at symbolic pillars signifying Satan during the Hajj rites.

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Comment: MDP decision revives hopes on Roadmap Talks

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has now called off the daily protest demonstrations in the capital city of Male’, demanding early presidential polls ahead of those due in July-October 2013.

This in a way has revived the hopes of early resumption of the All-Party Roadmap Talks, initiated by President Mohammed Waheed Hassan at the insistence of visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai in March.

More importantly, the agenda for the Roadmap Talks have elements that have the nation’s long-term interests in mind, and on which a certain unanimity has emerged, owing to national compulsions that are for real.

Independent of existing expectations, both within the party and outside, the MDP leadership has gone ahead with the protest rally in the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

However with the Eid festival season arriving with consequences for the local community, including trade and business, the MDP seems to have thought better of it. The party said that the decision to withdraw the protests should lead to the revival of the peace talks, in which the MDP’s demand for fast-tracking presidential polls is a part of the agenda.

Reacting positively to the MDP’s decision, the President’s Office said that it would help in the revival of the Talks. Following protests against Vice-President Waheed Deen in suburban Hulhulumale Island, off Male’, President Waheed has since clarified that harassment of government officials should stop before he would consider participating in the talks.

President Waheed said that he was in continuous touch with Ahmed Mujuthaba, moderator for the All-Party Talks. He has also been promised by all participant parties that either their leaders or a senior deputy (with decision-making authority) would be fielded when the talks resumed. Earlier rounds had failed to reach any decision owing to the diffused focus of the talks and also improper representation by the parties.

Interestingly, the influential former President and founder-leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had refused to return to the talks until his successor Mohamed Nasheed tendered an ‘unconditional apology’ for charging him with a plot behind the latter’s February 7 resignation, has not reacted yet to the protest-withdrawal by the MDP. He was not satisfied with the ‘qualified apology’ tendered by Nasheed’s aides, and has also said that despite the international probe that is now on, he would not accept the ‘coup theory’.

Intermediate confusion however crept in after the MDP interpreted the All-Party Talks being called by Vice-President Deen for resuming the stalled Parliament session, as one leading to early elections. The government has since clarified that the Vice-President’s talks flowed from Speaker Abdullah Shahid’s decision to indefinitely suspend the proceedings of the Majlis on July 31, following days of interruptions in the house. In a way, any decision on early resumption of Parliament session will help create the right environment for the revival of the Roadmap Talks, too.

Will the CoNI report come in handy?

Independent of the agenda-point on early presidential polls, the Roadmap Talks concerns national priorities that have been overtaken time and again by the political developments of the past years. On presidential polls, there is a general agreement that the international probe by the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) appointed by President Waheed, holds the key. The probe, with a retired Singaporean Judge on board, is expected to submit its report by the extended deadline of August 31.

Some government parties have since murmured their protests about the inclusion of an MDP nominee in the probe. Yet, they did not contest the nominations when the government – of which they were all a part – made its original nominations.

However, there is a greater realisation that any advancement of the presidential polls can be done only by Parliament amending the Constitution through a two-thirds majority, or by President Waheed quitting office, based on a public statement to the effect after the MDP flagged the ‘plot theory’ in the aftermath of President Nasheed’s resignation.

In the latter case, too, there is no constitutional guarantee to the effect, nor is the constitutional position clear. Under the law, the Vice-President steps into the shoes of the President, as Waheed did, and unless the former too quits, there be no case for early polls, it is argued. Under the Constitution, the Parliament Speaker takes over if the top two jobs become vacant, and has to conduct presidential polls within three months. Whether the CoNI report could lead to such a situation, or if the MDP would return to the streets, either way are questions for the future.

Commonality yes, consensus, not yet

On larger issues that have been flagged at the Roadmap Talks, there is some commonality of approach in individual parties, and across the board in many others. On the issue of early elections, for instance, the Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP), which is a partner in the government, has said that it would support the MDP position (without saying so) if the CoNI report endorsed the ‘plot theory’. With the DRP’s backing as the party-wise position in Parliament now stands, the MDP could hope to get the Constitution amended to facilitate early polls. But there are ifs and buts there too.

However, a consensus of sorts is required to emerge, at least among the major political players, if only to ensure stability of the polity and continuity of policies, independent of the party or leader elected to power. It would be more so considering the inherent inability of the Maldivian polity to throw up a strong president with a first round victory for self on his own and his party’s steam. Worse still would be the situation of the kind that haunted the Nasheed presidency, when the government party did not enjoy a parliamentary majority, required for amending laws, reflecting the political agenda and electoral manifesto of the president or of the parliamentary majority – whenever it cannot be both.

On governance issues, on which the MDP had quarrels with the rest of the nation’s polity even while President Nasheed was in office, the party may be tempted to have a relook at its position since. For instance, the Civil Court and the High Court have consistently come down on the Maldives Police Force for forcing the MDP cadres out of their Usfasgandu ‘camp site’ in Male. A legal row has emerged between the government and the MDP-controlled Male Municipal Council over the usage of the Usfasgandu property, taken out on lease by the latter.

The MDP thus may have to relook its position on institutional reforms. In the case of the judiciary, for instance, the party should wait till the seven-year deadline for empowerment and training ends. Having talked about institutional reforms much while President Nasheed was in office, the MDP should instead be working on a roadmap with specifics on training and legislation, possibly as a part of its promised poll manifesto.

On other issues of common concern outlined in the agenda for the Roadmap Talks, economic issues take a high place. Independent of what individual parties have to say in public, there is a general acceptance about the need for relooking at the budget and economic issues. If the Nasheed Government was vociferous in proceeding with economic reforms, subsidies-cut and increasing the tax revenue to the government, the successor Waheed government has proceeded on similar and at times stronger lines. Government leaders are not shy of talking about austerity measures, and government parties cannot change halfway through.

On the equally sensitive issue of allowing resorts on inhabited islands, which was among the charges levelled against the Nasheed Government, the Waheed presidency has since granted permission for allowing a third party to set up a resort on Thanburudh island training and recreation facility of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), the nation’s army.

While it may be a stand-alone case, compared to sanction for resorts in other inhabited islands, the question remains if that third-party could involve overseas investors or partners, in the context of the controversy still surrounding the ‘GMR contract’ for the airport project.

In this context that the Waheed Government’s current initiative for amending the Finance Act, to give the Executive freedom from parliamentary oversight and passage for selling public assets to private parties assumes significance, in political and economic terms.

As may be recalled, Parliament rushed to amend the Finance Act in 2010 after the Nahseed Government had entered into the Male airport modernisation contract with the Indian infrastructure giant, the GMR Group. It is another matter that the GMR contract did not involve the sale of any Maldivian Government assets, yet the otherwise divided opposition of the times, all of them now on the Treasury Bench, joined hands, among other things, to depict the modernisation contract as an ‘assets sale’.

Questions also remain about the wisdom of the present government entering into a joint venture with the MNDF, for the new company to enter into businesses and investments, to augment the budget for the nation’s defence forces. Experience elsewhere in South Asia too has proved that independent economic resources in the hands of the armed forces, if only after a long time, have made the services independent of the nation’s political and bureaucratic leadership in other ways, too.

Though not mentioned in the Roadmap Talks, such are also issues on which a national consensus needs to evolve, and clarity and consistency thrown into the operationalisation of whatever decision that is arrived at.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

The author is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

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Government announces August public holidays in lead up to Eid

The government has declared Wednesday August 22 and Thursday August 23 as public holidays in order to extend the weekend leading up to the Eid holidays.

The President’s Office said that the extended weekend would come in place of public holidays assigned for September 1 and September 15 this year. These two dates will instead be working days for government offices.

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Male’ quietens over Eid-ul-Adha

The pace of life in the normally bustling Maldivian capital has slowed as the country celebrates Eid-ul-Adha.

While many local residents travel abroad during the week-long holiday, this year many government and civil service workers have also travelled south to Addu to work on the SAARC Summit.

In his weekly radio address, President Mohamed Nasheed extended Eid greetings to the people of the Maldives, and all the Maldivian pilgrims in Mecca.

¨Eid-ul-Adha is an occasion to spread compassion and happiness. It is a day to help and care for people in need,” President Nasheed said.

The President also sent Eid greetings to the leaders of Islamic countries and to the Heads of Islamic Organisations.

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Addu grows roots with SAARC preparations

“This is the foundation of Addu’s development,” said Addu’s mayor Abdullah Sodiq, referring to the city’s SAARC preparations during a press conference held in Hithadhoo yesterday. He said the projects had been supported by “99 percent” of Addu residents.

Maldivian media was flown to Addu yesterday to observe preparations for the upcoming 17th annual SAARC Summit, scheduled for November 10-12. Festivities will be held in the area starting on the first of the month, in conjunction with the Muslim holiday of Eid.

“We are expecting a lot of traffic through here, and are confident that everything will be ready in time,” Sodiq said. “But this is only the beginning, and we have many more plans for development.”

Addu’s SAARC projects have been underway for six months, officials report. As the deadline approaches, construction teams are working round the clock to finish two harbors, a VVIP lounge, roads and the country’s largest convention center.

Sodiq said the harbors will renovate Addu’s commercial prospects, while the convention center provides new opportunities for locals, officials and foreigners alike.

Construction of Feydhoo harbor continues as the first deadline passes and another approaches.

“The harbor is a central place for Addu, there is demand for it even after SAARC and we have plans to generate more industry and shipping using these new resources,” said Sodiq.

New roads constructed around the convention center have made future road development less expensive for the council’s budget, he added.

Addu’s council also plans to use the Rf115 million convention center, a two-story building of glass, wood and marble with a capacity of 3000, to transform the atoll from a quiet place to a hub of business and tourism.

“We have some representatives talking to businesses in Singapore and Malaysia about hosting events here,” Sodiq told Minivan News. “We will be soliciting bids to find the right event manager to look after the convention center as well. I think there are people interested in what Addu has to offer, and I’m sure we can get a market for it.”

Officials and locals interviewed also hinted at hopes for musical events, theatrical performances, art exhibitions and holiday celebrations.

Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Assistant Director Ahmed Abeer Ismail said the centre’s origins were a sign of Addu’s potential. “That area began as a swamp, now it’s the biggest convention center in the country.” The swamp was heavily landscaped by MNDF and police forces, and now features a few scenic islands.

One of the Maldives’ most strategic atolls, Addu has been largely left to seed since the British withdrew its forces and influence in 1975. City councilor Ahmed Mirzad called SAARC the beginning of a new Addu.

“For 30 years we had Gayoom, and nothing was done in Addu. Then there was a new president, and unlike Gayoom he didn’t just look after Male’, he looked after the entire Maldives. For 30 years we didn’t even have one harbor that was working for Addu, but in the past six months, we have gotten everything,” said Mirzad.

Addu’s councilors were elected for the first time six months ago. Mirzad said the next three years will be a difficult but critical time for the council to prove itself to Addu’s people. Still, the timing is ideal.

“I don’t think, I know that this summit is the right starting point. Now, we will only keep going with our plans to grow,” he said.

Workers cross a newly-constructed road to continue landscaping across from the convention center.

One particular operation illustrates the grassroots motives behind the SAARC preparations. Selected from Maldives National University (MNU) Addu first-year students in hospitality, 24 Media Liaison Officers greeted Male’s press pack yesterday.

One young woman said the event was as much for the liaisons as for Male’ press.

“It’ll be challenging to handle foreigners and media personnel,” a group of students concurred. “But we are so happy to have this opportunity.”

“I was shocked to be asked to take part in SAARC, I never thought that I would get to work at something I’d heard so much about,” said another student. “And the certificate of reference that I’ll get afterwards will be really helpful for me when I’m looking for a job after graduation,” she added.

Liaisons have just completed a six-month management course and are attending seminars and briefings for SAARC. They will be divided into 11 teams of two to three officers and assigned to press pooles from different countries.

“The ministry was going to get people from Male’, but I suggested we use the local energy. They are good, they can do the job, and this is a key event, so why shouldn’t these students take part?” said Abeer.

Addu’s development isn’t only tailored to foreigners; Sodiq said part of the development plan is to bring Addu residents home.

“Unlike other islands, we have historical places to visit and our islands are connected, so tourists can actually see more than the sun, sand and sea. We will be constructing more lodgings as well, and our hospital and airport are going to be expanded. More business means more jobs, and part of the purpose of all this is to bring Addu citizens back after their migrations to Male’,” he said.

In Addu, infrastructure is a priority for community growth. Noting that education was key to development, Sodiq said that a Kangaroo school is scheduled to open next year, and a Billabong school is being considered.

For the moment, however, Addu’s mind is on SAARC.

With teams working around the clock to complete harbors in Gan and Feydhoo, and MNDF motorcades practicing their moves late into the night, Addu is a bustle of construction and security.

Both harbors were originally due for completion on October 25, yet concrete foundations have not yet been laid. However officials assure that they are 90 percent complete. When asked about setbacks, National Security Advisor Ameen Faisal said, “The weather. Due to heavy rains, many projects were delayed. It was unexpected and beyond our control, but we managed and we are on target.”

Inquiries of Addu’s appearance for SAARC yielded few details. “It’s a secret, we want it to be a surprise,” Faisal and Sodiq concurred.

Security, however, is highly detailed.

MNDF has delegated security teams to specific event components including media, medical, resort transport, and the airport. “Right now we are very confident in our security personnel and do not anticipate any problems during the SAARC summit,” said International Media Coordinator Ahmed Ibrahim.

Ibrahim added that “it will be helpful to have the extra security forces that other countries are providing because Addu is very big.” In addition to ground security, MNDF will be supported by the coast guard, which will establish multiple security layers around Addu’s marine perimeter, special task forces from Sri Lanka, and surveillance equipment from China, among others.

Summit guests include three of the world’s most controversial heads of state from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their reputations do not appear to cause anxiety to SAARC officials.

“They will not receive any special treatment, unless requested of course,” said MNDF Commander of SAARC Airport Security, Ahmed Shafeeq.

“There is no risk at all,” said Faisal. “We aren’t even bothered about it.”

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President extends Eid ul-Fitr greetings

President Mohamed Nasheed has extended greetings upon the arrival of Eid ul-Fitr.

Nasheed said he hoped that “all Maldivian citizens will embrace the spirit of devotion and sacrifice that the Eid ul-Fitr embodies and continue their efforts to achieve the unity of family ties and goodwill in a compassionate and selfless manner.”

Noting that Eid ul-Fitr was also an occasion to help people in need, the President highlighted that in this Eid ul-Fitr “we should remember the plight of the needy and show our generosity to them.”

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Concerned citizens protest 1800 percent increase in MP salaries since 2004

A group of concerned citizens, many of them also members of local non-government and civil society organisations, protested outside parliament today against the recently proposed increase in parliamentary committee members’ allowances, and lump sum back payments of Rf 140,000 (US$9100).

Leaflets scattered across parliament grounds highlighted that MPs were earning Rf 82,500 (US$5350) a month in 2011 compared to Rf 4500 (US$290) in 2004, an effective 18-fold increase.

“Parliament members already have a salary of Rf62,000, and to give them more money in this way is not necessary,” said NGO Transparency Maldives Project Coordinator, Aiman Rasheed. “We feel that giving this allowance for a whole year, and during months when Parliament isn’t even in session, is unacceptable.”

Police had blocked roads close to parliament this morning, and were waiting when protesters appeared at 1:15 pm. Approximately 25 citizens attended the protest, and were quickly penned into a side street away from the building.

Protesters waved poster boards and passed a megaphone for rally calls. However MPs avoided the protest by leaving the building through the back door.

Rasheed said Transparency had been told that if 39 of the 77 MPs refused  the allowance, the Public Accounts Committee, which proposed the raise, would submit a motion to reconsider the proposal.

“Most of the people we’ve spoken to have said they would not accept the motion,” said Rasheed.

Local NGOs and CSOs protested the raise near the tsunami memorial last Saturday, August 27. Assembling at 4:30 pm, representatives distributed fliers showing the steep rise in MP allowance rates.

“MPs do not need to be paid more money to do committee work!” read the flyer. “It is the duty of MPs. It is one of the most important responsibilities that has to be carried out by MPs.”

Saturday’s protest made use of Male’s nightly motorcycle circuit of the city to reach a large percentage of the population.

Today’s significantly smaller turnout may be a side effect of the end of Ramadan and the start of Eid, which begins tomorrow August 30. Reports say that many boats have already left Male for other islands.

The deadline for voting on the proposed allowance is 6 September. As of today, 17 MPs have said they would not accept it.

They include: Mohamed Gasam, Ibrahim Rasheed, Hamid Abdul Gafoor, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Mohamed Nazim, Illyas Labeeb, Mohamed Aslam, Ahmed Sameer, ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Hussein Waheed, Alhan Fahmy, ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and Eva Abdulla of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) along with Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed.

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