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.


Housing ministry feeding pigeons in three areas

The housing ministry has said its staff have been feeding pigeons at three designated locations in Malé after a ban on feeding pigeons at the republic square sparked public outrage.

The ministry posted pictures on its Facebook page today of staff feeding pigeons at the artificial beach, the tsunami monument area, and a park near the southwestern harbour.

Executive coordinator Abdulla Shahid told the state broadcaster that the ministry imposed as a temporary measure while renovation work, including repairing a water fountain and replanting grass, was ongoing at the square.

The government is renovating public spaces in the capital in preparation for the upcoming golden jubilee of independence on July 26.

The ban drew strong criticism on social media after numerous pigeons died of apparent starvation. Hundreds of children and adults gather at the square in late afternoons to feed raw rice to the pigeons.


Ban on pigeon feeding sparks public outrage

A ban on feeding pigeons at the Republic Square has sparked public outrage after numerous birds died of apparent starvation.

Several people have expressed strong disapproval on social media of the housing ministry’s decision to impose the ban last Wednesday (April 15).

“Stop brutality against pigeons, Feed the pigeons,” tweeted one Maldivian.

Hundreds of children and adults gather at the square every afternoon to feed raw rice to the pigeons.

However, entry to the square has now been restricted by a fence and the housing ministry has erected boards prohibiting pigeon feeding.

The housing ministry says feeding the pigeons causes damage to the grass, newly planted for an upcoming celebrations to mark the golden jubilee of independence.

Nearby buildings also appeared dirty due to pigeon droppings, the ministry said.

Local media reported yesterday that several starved pigeons pecked at tourists and passers-by.

According to newspaper Haveeru, the pigeons are dependant on humans for food and some are now too weak to fly.

Hundreds of pigeons stood on the fence while several more were crushed by vehicles while trying to cross the road.

“Arrest me for feeding the pigeons,” tweeted former environment minister Mohamed Aslam.

Former footballer Ismail Zariyand also tweeted a picture of him feeding the pigeons in defiance of the ban.

The square now remains empty except for a few starved and dead pigeons lying in the park’s corners.

The ministry will provide “alternative/more ideal locations” for pigeon feeding, tweeted housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu on Thursday.

However, the ministry is yet to announce the new location.

The ban comes amid renovations of public spaces in the capital in preparation of the 50th anniversary celebrations, including repairing the water fountain at the square.


New footage of Feb 7 shows Yameen, Gasim inciting demonstrators, police

Private broadcaster Raajje TV on Friday aired previously unseen footage from February 7, 2012, before the controversial resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed claimed that he resigned “under duress” after elements of the police and army joined opposition protesters and attacked the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) headquarters following a police mutiny in Republic Square.

The new footage shows government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Yameen and Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim – both presidential hopefuls – address the protesting police, army officers and opposition supporters.

“The Indian government is with the Maldivian people,” Yameen announced to the assembled police and anti-government demonstrators. He was however cut short by police appealing for cooperation from the crowd.

After MNDF officers were pegged back and forced inside military headquarters following a confrontation with the mutinying police, the Republic Square – or the “green zone” where gatherings are prohibited – was overrun by opposition supporters and police officers.

The PPM parliamentary group leader reportedly arrived at the Republic Square after a meeting at the Indian High Commission.

Business tycoon and JP presidential candidate Gasim meanwhile praised mutinying police and army officers for their “sacrifice” and “jihad for the nation.”

In March 2012, Raajje TV aired video footage of political party leaders inside police headquarters before the resignation of President Nasheed. Upon receiving news of President Nasheed’s decision to resign, Gasim is heard to say that it was “fortunate that this ended without going to military rule.”

Gasim is a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which has appointed the three-member panel of judges overhearing Nasheed’s trial in the Hulhumale Magistrate Court.

Meanwhile, in the more recent footage televised by Raajje TV, a police officer announces that “ [state broadcaster] MNBC has been brought under control” and that the security forces were in the process of “arresting those we have to take into custody.”

Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim and Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz are also seen active in the area outside military headquarters, with one of the clips showing the latter carrying President Nasheed’s resignation letter.

Both ex-servicemen under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom were civilians at the time of the transfer of power.

In other videos that emerged at the time, Nazim is seen announcing to the mutinying police and army officers that President Nasheed had been told to resign “unconditionally”.

Nazim also announced that he was “in charge of the army” and would soon appoint senior officers.

One of the previously unseen videos aired by Raajje TV further showed President Nasheed exiting the military headquarters in a car surrounded by MNDF officers and being driven the short distance to the President’s Office.

Following Nazim’s appeal to those gathered to refrain from violence, former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mohamed Rishwan is also seen addressing the crowd atop a military vehicle and appealing for cooperation and nonviolence.

Rishwan had reportedly denied any involvement in the events of February 7, 2012.

Meanwhile, in an interview with government-aligned radio station DhiFM on February 8 this year, Defence Minister Nazim claimed that President Nasheed would have been mobbed and killed if he was not escorted to the President’s Office under military protection.

“I would say in truth, given the level of hatred from the public, President Nasheed would not be in this world today if we had not taken him out and to the President’s Office under our protection. [Former President] Mohamed Ameen comes to mind. The people would have mobbed [Nasheed] just like that,” Nazim was quoted as saying in local media.

He added that video clips from the day would show “the extreme level of hatred from the public”.

Similar remarks were made by PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer days after the transfer of power. Naseer claimed at a PPM rally that Nasheed’s only options were to either “resign after bloodshed or resign peacefully”.

On August 30, 2012, the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) formed by President Dr Mohamed Waheed however concluded that there was “no coup, no mutiny and no duress” in President Nasheed’s resignation.

February 8

Raajje TV has also aired a video clip from the day after the transfer of presidential power following a brutal police crackdown on a walk across Male’ by supporters of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

In the wake of the crackdown near the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building near Republic Square, President Nasheed along with MPs Mariya Ahmed Didi and ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik took refuge in a shop and were dragged out by riot police.

The new footage shows President Nasheed surrounded and manhandled by the Specialist Operations (SO) officers before he manages to wriggle free and run. According to media reports on February 8, Nasheed rejoined supporters at the area and was taken to safety.

MP Yameen addressing crowd

MP Gasim addressing crowd

“MNBC has been taken under control”

President Nasheed exits MNDF headquarters

President Nasheed walks to Muleeage after resignation

Riyaz carrying resignation letter

Mutinying police and army officers calling for president’s resignation

Nasheed escapes SO officers on February 8, 2012

Nasheed rejoins supporters

Nazim demands “unconditional resignation” of President Nasheed


President to mark 47th Independence Day with Republic Square address

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan will deliver an address this evening from Republic Square in Male’ to commemorate 47 years since the country became an independent nation.

According to the President’s Office, Dr Waheed will host a special Independence Day function, organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs, that will include a ceremonial hoisting of the national flag at the square.

Maldivian Independence Day commemorates the nation obtaining the right to self determination on July 26, 1965. The country had previously been a British protectorate since the late 19th century.

As part of Independence Day festivities held in the country this week, President Waheed and First Lady Ilham Hussain also hosted an official reception yesterday evening at the National Museum.

Foreign dignitaries, former presidents, Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid and serving MPs and cabinet members were said to be among invitees to the function, according to the President’s Office website.


Council discusses “nuisance and bother” of expatriates in Republic Square

Members of the Male’ City Council have offered solutions to “the nusiance and bother of expatriates [congregating] at the Republic Square” in the capital at a meeting last month.

According to minutes of a meeting on June 28 published on the council’s new website, Deputy Mayor Ahmed Samah Rasheed noted that the issue had been discussed before and suggested contacting the Bangladeshi High Commission.

However Maafanu West Councillor Ahmed Falah pointed out that it was “not only Bangladeshis who gather in these places.”

“[Mid-Henveiru Councillor] Lufshan [Shakeeb] noted that foreigners at the Republic Square were damaging the grass in a number of ways and said that the area should be walled off with a tin fence and cleaned,” reads the minutes.

Lufshan suggested working with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and police “to develop Republic Square.” Henveiru South Councillor “Rukuma” Mohamed Abdul Kareem backed the notion.

The discussion came under an agenda item titled “Making a decision on the nuisance and bother of Bangalhun [derogatory term for Bangladeshis] at the Republic Square and the problem of Bangalhun sleeping inside the old museum at Sultan Park.”

The agenda states that the discussion was prompted by a letter received by the council.

Machangoalhi South Councillor “Jambu” Hassan Afeef meanwhile claimed that expatriates were “committing indecent acts” behind the National Museum site and other open spaces in Sultan Park, recommending that the grounds be closed to the public.

Mayor “Sarangu” Adam Manik however said that “any measures taken should be democratic,” which led Falah to suggest putting up notice boards at the Republic Square in languages used by expatriates to inform them that the area was out of bounds.

The Mayor however favoured closing the square ahead of celebrations of Republic Day on November 11 instead of an abrupt closure and reopening with improved security to ensure there was no further loitering.

Manik also noted that expatriates congregated in other open spaces in Male’ such as the artificial beach area.

Following the discussions, the city council unanimously approved a motion to form a steering committee with officials from the army and police as well as the Tourism Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the Human Rights Commission.

Lufshan, Afeef and Kareem were chosen to represent the council on the committee. All seven councillors in attendance at the meeting belong to the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.

Large numbers of expatriates living in Male’ use the Republic Square as a park, particularly Bangladeshi labourers on weekends. According to official figures, 1,600 Maldivian companies and 2,000 individuals between them employ 70,000 expatriates in the Maldives – a third of the country’s population – not including an unknown number of illegal migrant workers.

Meanwhile, an ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik” was present at the meeting, instead of ‘Sarangu’ Adam Manik who was Mayor at the time. Ali Manik was absent from the meeting. Minivan News apologises for any confusion caused.