Independence Day celebrations kick off with fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photos courtesy of President’s Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Public outrage after two children suffer burns in fireworks display

Two children and an adult suffered burns during a government organized fireworks display at the Raalhugandu area in Malé last night, sparking public outrage.

Local media reported that a father, his child and another child were burned from falling gunpowder. The father and child were treated at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, while the other child was taken to the Senahiya military hospital for treatment.

Pictures of the burn victims circulated on social media last night, showing that all three of the injured suffered burns on the hands.

Only the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) is allowed to operate fireworks in the country, with all profit from the fireworks going to the military welfare company the Sifainge Corporative (SifCo).

Speaking to Minivan News , MNDF spokesperson Major Adnan Ahmed said the military operates fireworks with stringent safety precautions, and is investigating the incident from last night.

“We cordon off the area during fireworks. Spectators are only allowed to stay at 300 feet distance from the fireworks operating area,” said Adnan.

Adnan said the three who were injured last night were standing outside of the cordoned area when they got burned, but refused to comment further on the incident. Meanwhile, minister of defence Moosa Ali Jaleel expressed his condolences to the victims in a tweet last night.

However, several social media users have slammed the government over the mishap, with one questioning as to why the government was holding children’s day fireworks six days after the actual date.

Fireworks displays have become commonplace in the Maldives during the past year, with the government and ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) using such displays to celebrate “victories.”

Most recently, the PPM used fireworks on May 2 to celebrate the government’s “victory” over the May Day protesters the previous day.

Nearly 200 individuals were arrested at a mass anti-government rally on May 1, including opposition Maldivian Democratic Party chairperson Ali waheed, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim.

The government also used a fireworks display to celebrate President Abdulla Yameen delivering his presidential address at the parliament, amidst protests from opposition MPs over the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed has since been sentenced for 13 years of imprisonment over terrorism chargers for the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in 2012.


Government celebrates ‘protest failure’ with fireworks

The government held a firework display in Malé tonight after declaring the opposition’s mass antigovernment protest a failure.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets yesterday over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, but police cracked down on protesters when they attempted to enter the city’s main square and dispersed the protest.

Hundreds including opposition leaders were arrested and injured in the crackdown, and two police officers suffered serious injuries in the clashes.

Announcing the fireworks event at a press conference this afternoon, MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) labeled the protest a coup attempt.

“A president is elected for five years. It’s very clear how [the state] must act towards those who come out to oust the government before that. Those people are attempting a coup. That is an unlawful protest,” MP Riyaz Rasheed said.

“You cannot change a government without us. I’m saying very clearly that cannot be done. The people with those capabilities are with the PPM,” he added.

The PPM in alliance with the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party (JP) had led a campaign in 2012 to oust former president Nasheed. He resigned on February 7, 2012, after a police and military mutiny.

Accusing President Abdulla Yameen of authoritarianism, the Adhaalath Party and the JP split from the ruling coalition in March and February, respectively, and allied with Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“The protest failed, Imran went to jail and President Yameen will go forward with the nation,” MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said.

Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, MDP chairperson Ali Waheed and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested in a late night crackdown last night.

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan dismissed the opposition’s claims that 35,000 people had taken to the streets. He said only 13,000 had come out, but only to celebrate labor day and take selfies.

He described the protesters as unemployed young people who continue to depend on their parents for money to buy a cup of coffee.

“The 60 percent of people there do not support any political ideology, but since its May Day, labor day, they powdered their faces and came out to take photos for social media,” he said.

Many families are calling ruling party MPs requesting the release of family members who were arrested at protests, but “there is nothing we can do,” Nihan said.

Nihan says the government must dismiss civil servants and employees of state owned companies who were encouraging violence against police on social media.

“The parliamentary group requests the government to identify these people and give them notice as soon as possible and dismiss them. Open up opportunities for the young people who do not participate in such acts,” he said.

Praising the police for breaking up the protest, Nihan said the PPM parliamentary group will consider increasing financial and human resources for the police force.

MP Riyaz meanwhile warned the opposition the government stands ready to confront protesters: “we will not hide when they come out to beat us. We will hit back if we are beaten. We will not step back.

“This parliamentary group will do everything necessary to defend the government. We have a majority in all committees. We are telling the security forces and the independent commissions, you must carry out your responsibilities. Otherwise, the Majlis will take the required action,” he said.


MNDF marks ‘Victory Day’ with special ceremony, unveiling of memorial monument

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) marked ‘Victory Day’ with a special ceremony, a parade, the unveiling of a new monument and a silent drill on Friday (November 2).

The special ceremony commemorated the events of November 3, 1988 – when an attempted coup by Sri Lankan mercenaries led by a group of Maldivians was foiled with Indian military assistance .

As part of the event, a memorial monument at the southwestern side of Bandaara Koshi, the main military headquarters, was unveiled by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

The southwestern corner of the military headquarters was blown up during the attack in the early hours of November 3, 1988.

The ceremony meanwhile included the screening of an animated video showing the attack on the military headquarters, a seven-gun salute, 30 seconds of silence in memorial of the fallen, a performance by the military’s ‘Pipe’ band and the launching of a book about the 1988 coup.

Military officers performed a silent drill after the ceremony.

In his address at the ceremony, Chief of Defence Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam said that although the Maldives might not come under military attack in modern times, the “effects of ideological attacks to poison the minds of our youth and destroy our nationhood are evident all around us.”

A parade meanwhile took place across the capital this morning following dawn prayers in a large congregation of military officers.

MNDF Captain Hussain Ali told newspaper Haveeru on Thursday that an event at the Republic Square including fireworks that had originally been planned for tonight was now postponed until after November 12 due to adverse weather.