President Abdulla Yameen vowed last night to send 142 pilgrims to Hajj this year on government expenses.
Speaking at a function with senior citizens, President Yameen said Saudi Arabia had increased the Hajj quota for the Maldives to 2,000 this year. The government is working to sponsor more Maldivians to perform the pilgrimage, he said.
In January, the president inaugurated state-owned Maldives Hajj Corporation with a budget of MVR110 million (US$7.1 million), with the aim of reducing the cost of performing the yearly pilgrimage.
However, part of the quota reserved for the Hajj Corporation has been filled up until 2017.
In his remarks last night, President Yameen said senior citizens were a high priority for his administration. The government has increased the old age pension from MVR2,500 to MVR5,000 and expanded the ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme to include cancer treatment and kidney transplants.
Referring to former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment on terrorism charges in March, Yameen said Maldivians prefer peace over violence.
“We included abducting people as part of terrorism because Maldivians believe in peace,” he said.
“There is no other way to get rid of such tyranny in the Maldives.”
Nasheed is serving 13 years in jail over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The 19-day terrorism trial was widely criticised and described as a “travesty of justice” by Amnesty International.
Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim are also facing terrorism charges for “encouraging violence towards President Yameen and other senior government officials” in their speeches at a 20,000-strong protest march on May 1.
Yameen meanwhile stressed the importance of protecting the Maldives’ sovereignty, independence, and Islamic identity, claiming that previous administrations involved other nations in making decisions on domestic affairs.
The European Union refused to extend duty-free status to Maldivian fish exports over the country’s stance on freedom of religion, Yameen claimed.
“A lot of foreign ambassadors have met with me recently. But my final word to them is that our democracy is run according to written laws alongside the justice system. So we will not go to gain permission from any state if we have to take actions against anyone who breaks the rules and regulations,” he said to loud cheers.