Gang assault with machete in Billabong high school

An 18-year-old man has been arrested after entering Billabong International High School with a machete during a gang assault.

Billabong Executive Director Ahmed Adhly Rasheed explained that a gang attack outside the school caused one individual to run into the school while the gates were open as pupils left for the day.

Police confirmed they were informed of a disturbance near Billabong school at 3:08pm, with another man was taken to hospital for treatment to head injuries received during the attack.

A third man arrested at the scene was later released after it was found he had not been involved in the incident.

Eye witnesses told Haveeru that a group of three men entered the school, one of them with  a machete.

“Two of the men were captured by members of the public while the man with the machete was able to escape from the area,” said the eye witness.

As the timing of the gang violence coincided with the end of the school session, many students saw the attack up close.

The staff member explained that poor security has been a concern of the staff for a long period of time, noting that the neighbourhood was notorious for gangs and that anyone was free to walk into the school at any time.

The employee recalled an incident last year where a girl on her way to the school was injured after an assault by local gangs. The empty plot of land in front of the school is reported to be a regular meeting spot for gangsters.

Executive Director Rasheed, however, stated that the school has a strict security policy, with the gate closed and guarded throughout school hours.

“We have done what we can do to protect our children and staff from such incidences within our boundaries,” said Rasheed, who praised the school’s security measures for stopping the intruders.

“We have even reported the case of street violence each time in writing when a gang violence has occurred near the school even if it has nothing to do with the school.”

Gang violence has become one of the most prominent issues in the Maldives, with a 2012 study by the Asia foundation counting 20 to 30 gangs in the capital, each with 40 to 500 members.

Four recorded deaths have occurred as a result of gang violence so far in 2014, with one of them a case of mistaken identity.

Speaking in September, Home Minister Umar Naseer noted that he had identified around 50 gang leaders, and said that 13 of the 30 gangs in Malé could be considered “dangerous” criminal organisations.

Naseer linked the criminal activity strongly to gangs, saying “We cannot find a solution to the problem of stabbing and murders on the street without stopping drugs.”

*Article updated 24/11/14 to include responses from Billabong International High School

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PPM fought whole world to win the election: ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam

Resort owner and government-aligned politician Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam has said that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) won the presidential election by fighting the entire international community.

“We had to fight with the whole world to win the presidential election. The EU, made up of 30 countries, the Commonwealth, our neighbouring countries, and several organisations were against us,” Shiyam was quoted as saying by Sun Online – party of the MP’s Sun Media Group.

Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance formed an alliance with the PPM going into the repeatedly-delayed presidential polls, supporting the eventual winner Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

“Even the UN was working 24 hours to make sure that we lose the election,” Shiyam was quoted as telling a rally in Male’ yesterday evening.

The annulment of the first round of the presidential election – held on September 7 – was followed by further delays to the rescheduled poll, bringing strong criticism from international actors, whose observer missions had found no problems with the initial vote.

After conducting its own review of the a secret police intelligence report purported to demonstrate voting irregularities, the UN argued that there was no disenfranchisement and that the voter register had met with international standards.

Newly elected President Yameen, meanwhile, struck a more conciliatory tone yesterday, assuring the Indian Prime Minister of his administration’s desire for enhanced bilateral ties.

Writing to Manmohan Singh, the President’s Office website reported Yameen as emphasising that “diverse Indo-Maldives people-to-people contact offers avenues for further cooperation”.

Yameen also urged Singh to pay an official visit to the Maldives as soon as it was mutually convenient to do so.

The Maldives’ traditionally close ties with India came under increasing strain under the previous government – of which the PPM was a prominent partner. The cancellation of a deal to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport  in December 2012 was a particularly  contentious issue.

During a visit to India in June, former President and PPM leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told the Indian PM of his disappointment that the Maldives’ relationship with India had been impacted upon by the then-government’s decision to evict GMR from the country with seven days notice.

“This was a mistake. Had he consulted all political parties, the public would not have formed the impression that corruption had taken place,” Gayoom was reported as saying in the Hindu.

The cancellation of the project is currently being investigated in a Singapore court of arbitration, with the Indian infrastructure company seeking US$1.4 billion in compensation – more than the Maldives’ annual budget.

The government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor was quickly followed by a list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission in January this year.

The list included concerns such as discrimination against Indian expatriates and the confiscation of passports by Maldivian employers.

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Budgetary constraints temporarily halt efforts to bring in foreign experts for CoNI report review

Efforts to bring in two international legal experts to review the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report have been put on hold due to budgetary constraints, local media has reported.

The parliament’s Government Accountability Committee had attempted to seek the legal experts in order to look into the report of the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.

Parliament Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed was quoted as saying that there were no funds available to the committee in order to bring in the foreign experts.

The committee had earlier chosen a legal expert from Denmark’s Copenhagen university and two lawyers to review the report, who were scheduled to start on Friday and work for seven days, local media said.

Maldivian Democratic Party MP Ali Waheed said that the committee will make a decision and set a date based on “what is decided by the Parliament Speaker on the budgetary issues”.

Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid is currently abroad and is expected to return next week, according to local media.

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Escape from the Maldives: ‘This doesn’t look good, Mr President’

All hell was breaking loose down the street at the army headquarters, former advisor to ousted President Mohamed Nasheed, Paul Roberts, told MSN, recounting the last moments of Nasheed’s government.

“A couple of hundred supporters of former president Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives between 1978 and 2008, accompanied by a hundred or so police officers in full riot gear, were fighting with troops and trying to break into the HQ.

“I stood transfixed at the ongoing bedlam. A tear gas canister bounced past me down the street and dozens of young people started running towards me. I bolted into the President’s Office, behind the relative security of blast walls and armed guards.

“My colleagues who had made it into work were wandering around in a state of shock. I asked what was going on and people said there had been a police mutiny and hundreds of officers were no longer under state control. As the morning wore on, the situation became grimmer.

‘My colleague in army intelligence was looking increasingly worried. He reported that “all of the military police” and around 70 other soldiers had “switched sides” and joined the demonstrators. Most of the cabinet ministers were assembled in a second floor meeting room. There was no sign of President Nasheed.

‘The ministers were in disarray. Nobody knew what to do. My phone was going crazy, with calls from journalists and diplomats hungry for information.

“At around 11:30am, a friend at the state TV and radio broadcaster called and said police and protesters had raided the building. The journalists were locked in a room and the TV station had been taken off air. I went to the office balcony.

“A few of the President’s senior security advisers were making frantic calls to New Delhi, requesting Indian military intervention. I went up to my office and telephoned the British High Commission in Colombo, which handles Maldives’ affairs. I told them some of my colleagues were reporting that we were losing control of the country, and they were requesting foreign military intervention.”

“My phone kept ringing non-stop. One of the bodyguards was staring at me fiercely. I could see the bulge under his shirt by his hip, where I knew he kept his firearm. I slinked off to the toilet to answer my phone. It was a reporter from the New York Times. I told him the military had taken control of the President’s Office and I thought a coup was taking place. I came out of the loo and stood at the second floor balcony, near the President’s room.

“On the ground floor, the press office people were hurriedly taking a video camera into the press conference room. I saw Nasheed walking towards me, surrounded by a couple of aides and around seven people in combat fatigues.

“His eyes were bloodshot. He looked at me and smiled, as he always does. “So, Paul?” he said. I replied: “So this doesn’t look very good Mr President.”

“He slapped me on the back as he walked past into a meeting room. Within minutes, he hurriedly scribbled out a resignation letter and announced his decision on live TV. Two security people loyal to former president Gayoom, who had no role in the military or police at the time, flanked him.”

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Local photographer wins local competition, goes international

Abdulla Ameer has won the Alliance Francaise des Maldives photography competition, and been awarded the local price of a camera. The competition was open to photographers of all ages, except for professionals.

The exhibition “Planète Femmes/Women’s World” features 28 photographs from 14 participants, although four have been disqualified from the competition, reports Haveeru. The photographs portray female representation in Maldivian culture.

Ameer’s pictures will be sent to the Alliance Francaise’ international competition, from which the winning photo will be displayed in a Parisian art gallery and the winner awarded a one-week stay in Paris.

Some selected photos are also to be published in the magazine ‘Courrier International’, reports Haveeru.

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‘Market Harbour’ project amended, bids re-open

The Economic Development Ministry has announced that the ‘Market Harbour’ project, designed to develop island harbours, has been reopened bidding, Haveeru News reports.

The project was first announced on March 24, 2011. The Ministry has since amended the proposal to suit amendments proposed by island councils.

The ‘Market Harbour’ projects intends harbours to be developed along regional, atoll and local standards. The projects will take effect in Dhaal atoll Kuda Huvadhoo, Gaaf Dhaal atoll Gahdhoo, Thinadhoo and Ihavandhoo, Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhufushi, Haa Alif atoll Hoarafushi, Meemu atoll Mulah and Raa Dhuvaafaru.

Haveeru News reports that project bidding is open to local and international companies. The report adds that facilities such as warehouses, banks, and guesthouses will be available.


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Maldives withdraws from New7Wonders campaign after surprise US$500,000 bill

Tourism authorities in the Maldives have withdrawn the country from the New7Wonders campaign, after claiming the private company behind the competition began demanding increasingly high fees in order for the Maldives to compete meaningfully for the remainder of the competition.

The decision was made during Tuesday’s cabinet session after weeks of deliberation between the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and industry stakeholders.

State Minister for Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed announced at a press conference on Wednesday morning that the Maldives was withdrawing from the competition “because of the unexpected demands for large sums of money from the New7Wonders organisers. We no longer feel that continued participation is in the economic interests of the Maldives.”

The Maldives has only invested US$12,000 over the lifespan of the campaign, mostly significantly on banners and voting terminals at Male’ International Airport, Thoyyib said.

Minivan News understands that the company behind New7Wonders, the ‘New Open World Corporation’ (NOWC), initially levied a US$199 participation fee upon signing of the initial contract in early 2009.

However, once the Maldives was announced as a finalist, NOWC began soliciting additional fees and expenses not clearly articulated in the original contract, which tourism authorities estimate will cost the Maldives upwards of half a million dollars.

Requests have so fair included ‘sponsorship fees’ (‘platinum’ at US$350,000, or two ‘gold’ at US$210,000 each), and funding of a ‘World Tour’ event whereby the Maldives would pay for a delegation of people to visit the country, provide hot air balloon rides, press trips, flights, accommodation and communications.  According to tourism authorities,  these services would amount to a total cost to the country’s economy of over US$500,000.

Minivan News understands that NOWC also attempted to charge telecom provider Dhiraagu US$1 million for the right to participate in the New7Wonders campaign – approximately US$3 for every citizen in the Maldives – a fee that was dropped to half a million when the telco complained about the price.

When tourism authorities expressed concern about the skyrocketing cost of participating in the competition, billed as a global democratic selection of the new seven wonders, NOWC expressed sympathy for the Maldives’ economic situation and instructed it to solicit money from the resort industry.

“We require sponsorship if you are going to benefit from a full World Tour visit,” a company representative said in correspondence obtained by Minivan News. “We believe it is perfectly within the financial means of the leading resorts, when combined, to afford this sponsor fee (especially considering the extraordinary image, economic and marketing benefit it brings to the Maldives and therefore to their businesses).”

The correspondence reveals that should the Maldives be unable to provide the money demanded by NOWC, it would be offered an alternative “protocol visit to your capital city, lasting one day. This visit includes the presentation of a certificate to the appropriate authority and a short press conference. The N7W team arrives in the morning and leaves the same day.”

New7Wonders emphasised however that “during our first campaign (for the man-made wonders) all the seven winners had very strong and exciting World Tour visits.”

In the terms and conditions on the organisation’s website concerning participating candidates, NOWC “ultimately decides whether a nominee, candidate or wonder is able to participate and or retain its status in the New7Wonders campaigns.”

Vague terms such as ‘non-compliance’ “may result in the temporary suspension of the participating nominee, candidate or wonder from that country. Persistent or un-remedied non-compliance may result in the permanent elimination of a nominee, candidate or wonder.”

“Essentially we’re paying a license fee for the right to throw a party, at our own cost, for an unproven return,” a senior tourism official told Minivan News, suggesting that claims a billion people were voting in the competition did not add up, as the Maldives had fluctuated wildly between 19th and 2nd and the tally was not transparent.

Furthermore, “any media that drops its price 50 percent at the first complaint is totally unprofessional, and in a mature media market this is considered highly unusual and poor practice. It means they haven’t justified the original cost,” the source said.

Not alone

The Maldives is not the only country to have been stung by surprise demands for sponsorship cash, not clearly outlined in the contract. NOWC reportedly demanded US$10 million in licensing fees from tourism authorities in Indonesia, which had fielded the Komodo national park as a wonder, and required that it foot an estimated US$35 million bill to host the World Tour event.

In February this year, the Jakarta Post reported the country’s Tourism Minister Jero Wacik as stating that the Ministry had received a letter on December 29, 2010 claiming that NOWC would “suspend” Komodo from the list of finalists if it refused to pay the US$10 million license fee.

“It’s not fair and irrational,” Wacik said. “I refuse to be extorted by anyone, including this NGO. I thought these are about votes, if the world votes for it, then it will win, what does that have to do with hosting the event?”

N7W founder Bernard Weber, "filmmaker, aviator, adventurer".

In response, New7Wonders founder Bernard Weber, a Swiss-born Canadian who describes himself as a “filmmaker, aviator and adventurer”, accused the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism of “reacting with malicious misinformation, invented financial commitments and prejudicial action to cover up for an apparent lack of moral responsibility and duty. In my view, with this behaviour, the Ministry has also reduced the chances for Indonesia to host other major global events that create goodwill in the world, such as the Olympics or the World Cup.”

He then announced that New7Wonders was revoking Indonesia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism from its status as ‘Official Supporting Committee’ for Komodo, claiming that “last week strengthened the case for us to withdraw from Indonesia completely. If we depended on the Ministry, then today we would be forced to announce a complete pull-out.”

Although the New7Wonders site contains a link ‘United Nations Partnership’, the UN’s World Heritage body UNESCO in 2007 disavowed participation in the first New7Wonders campaign, claiming it was “a private initiative by Bernard Weber” with whom the organisation had decided “not to collaborate”.

“There is no comparison between Mr Weber’s mediatised campaign and the scientific and educational work resulting from the inscription of sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The list of the 7 New Wonders of the World will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the Internet and not the entire world. This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public,” UNESCO stated.

After the world’s sole remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Pyramids of Giza, failed to garner enough votes in Weber’s first New7Wonders campaign, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouq Hosni criticised the project as “absurd” and described its creator as “a man concerned primarily with self-promotion”. The pyramids were subsequently made an ‘honorary’ wonder of the world.

The fate of the money apparently now being paid to NOWC by tourism authorities all over the world is unclear, although New7Wonders claims on its site that funds from the first campaign “have been entirely used to fund the running and campaign costs. The mission is thus to create a surplus during the current New7Wonders of Nature campaign which ends in 2011.”

Funds beyond that, the site states, are used “to set up and run the global New7Wonders voting platform, to run the first campaign that chose the Official New 7 Wonders of the World, to run the current campaign electing the Official New7Wonders of Nature, to run the New7Wonders organisation, [and] to create a surplus for distribution.”

Fifty percent of its surplus net revenues, the site states, are pledged “ to the main New7Wonders Foundation cause: the promotion of Global Memory, specifically the documentation and 3D virtual recording of all New7Wonders.”

Minivan News confirmed that a ‘New7Wonders Foundation’ is registered in the Swiss canton of Zurich as a charitable foundation, however the New7Wonders own website describes it as “a major, global-scale proof of a business concept based on mass virtual online dynamics creating concrete economic positive outcomes in the real world”, and the contract signed with the Maldives gives NOWC’s address as a law firm in the Republic of Panama.

Responding to enquiries from Minivan News, New7Wonders Spokesperson Eamonn Fitzgerald said the Maldives remained in the competition despite the government’s decision.

“We accept the resignation of the Ministry [of Tourism] as Official Supporting Committee (OSC), and we plan in due course to replace them therefore with a new OSC,” he said.

“As we enter the final months of the campaign we clearly see the difference between those who are ready for the unique opportunity of participating in the New7Wonders of Nature — such as the people and workers of the Maldives, who remain strong and active supporters — and those who are not able to step up to the challenge for whatever reason. New7Wonders always listens to the people, the voters, first, and therefore I can confirm to all the fans of the Maldives from all over the world, who are actively campaigning and voting, that they will be able to continue doing so.”

Fitzgerald further denied New7Wonders had requested sponsorship from the Maldivian government.

“We have offered the opportunity for Maldivian companies to come on board as sponsors, in the same way as other global events and campaigns are sponsored,” he claimed.

Asked whether the organisation was a charitable foundation or a commercial enterprise, Fitzgerald claimed it was both.

“At the heart of New7Wonders is the officially Swiss-registered not-for-profit Foundation, the New7Wonders Foundation. As with other Foundations, who cannot themselves by statute operate commercially, New7Wonders has formally transferred the commercial operation to its licensing company, New Open World Corporation, which then runs the commercial aspects.”

Addendum: This story has been updated to include a response from NOWC, received subsequent to publication.

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