President Abdulla Yameen has called upon the SAARC nations to “walk the talk” and make their voice heard on the international stage.
“As a region, SAARC has the right, and surely has the might, to make it one of the most powerful regions in the world. Yet we continue to be led, rather than lead,” Yameen told the inaugural session of the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu.
“This region accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population, yet as a region we hold limited sway, have limited say and we have not been heard enough, in the power rooms of the world.”
Despite the association’s charter calling for meetings at least once a year, the two-day summit is the first to be convened since 2011, when the Maldives hosted the event in Addu City.
Since assuming office, Modi has actively pursued regional cooperation, with his ‘neighbourhood first’ policy being applauded by President Yameen today.
“We are inspired, Excellency, by your various initiatives, in this short period of time, towards strengthening regional relationships including the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy. These are steps in the right direction, a signal of the renewed activism with which India is facing SAARC,” said Yameen.
Other initiatives of the Modi government have included a firmer commitment to improving ties within Asia – dubbed the ‘Look East’ policy.
At home, President Yameen has also recently declared a foreign policy shift to the East after accusing “Western colonial powers” of attempting to interfere with the sovereignty of the Maldives.
During the same speech on Republic Day (November 11) Yameen noted that the rapidly growing ties with China did not involve “any such compulsion”.
China’s increased involvement in the region appears to have invoked the concern of India, who reacted firmly to rebut suggestions made by the Maldives’ foreign minister this month that India had discussed joining China’s New Silk Road project.
India was also reported to have rebuffed suggestions from Pakistan during this week’s summit to promote China from its current observer status within SAARC.
“As far as we are concerned, we need to first deepen cooperation among Saarc (members) before we try and move horizontally,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told media.
Continuing his speech this morning, President Yameen repeated his view that trade and commerce were the key to peace and prosperity within the region.
“SAARC must attune itself to the realities of the day and seize the opportunities that are presented to us. We must not be left behind.”
Yameen also stated that, despite being one of the regions to be worst affected by climate change, “we continue to be complacent in taking action as a group”.
“I ask you, should we not demand for what we want? Should we not stand up for what we believe? Dare we not speak up for what is right for our people? Is it not time, Excellencies, that we stand up to receive our share, raise our voice, in the international arena?”
Trade and commerce is the “magic wand” for achieving the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) goals of mutually beneficial cooperation, President Abdulla Yameen suggested this morning at the inauguration of the 35th session of the SAARC council of ministers.
In his speech at the council of foreign ministers hosted by the Maldives at Bandos Island Resort, President Yameen said that poverty, malnourishment, gender inequities, and access to safe drinking water and food were among some of the “collective challenges” faced by South Asian countries.
“If there is a magic wand to enable SAARC to achieve these goals, it is trade and commerce. Commerce unlocks the doors to each other’s countries, and cultivates closer ties of mutual understanding. Business transactions foster good neighbourly relations through the sharing of goods and values,” Yameen said.
“Trade and investment derive mutual benefits and improves the collective resilience of the region. Indeed, trade is the master key to turn poverty into prosperity.”
Yameen observed that the volume of trade within the region “remains at an abysmal low”.
“It is sad but true that SAARC member states often import from third countries goods produced in other SAARC countries. Barriers to entry and transaction costs are high,” he explained.
While the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) was drawn up as “a grand scheme” to enhance regional trade, Yameen argued that SAFTA has in many cases created “even more barriers”.
In the 27 months since the Maldives assumed chairmanship of SAARC, Yameen noted that progress has been made in “key areas of cooperation” such as trade, commerce and finance.
Despite being home to one-quarter of the world’s population, Yameen observed that the regional bloc held “limited power” in the international arena.
“We command limited attention and we demand limited engagement. Despite our share of the global population, we carry no collective voice,” he said.
South Asian countries should “stand up for each other, protect each other, and fight the cause for each other,” he said, calling on member states to “show the world the solidarity of SAARC”.
If a member state is “subjected to unfair treatment,” Yameen urged other South Asian countries to “stand up and demand justice.”
“It is time that the member states of SAARC forge common positions on critical issues of importance to our region and the rest of the world. Individually, we might only have limited impact or little strength, but collectively we can move mountains,” he said.
He added that the Maldives, despite being the smallest state in the association, had “a disproportionate stake in ensuring ensuring that regional cooperation succeeds in South Asia”.
On the need for reforms, recognised since 1997, Yameen noted that member states agreed during the summit held in Addu City in November 2011 to conduct “a comprehensive review of SAARC processes and institutions”.
The SAARC secretariat conducted a study to “streamline, rationalise, restructure, and strengthen SAARC mechanisms and processes,” which was being deliberated by foreign secretaries in order to implement its recommendations.
As the current meeting of foreign ministers was the last before Secretary General Ahmed Saleem – former chair of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives – hands over the rotating post to Nepal, Yameen expressed “deep appreciation for his major contribution to strengthen the association through his dedication and astuteness”.
Following consideration of the secretariat’s study, President Yameen said the Maldives would stress further cooperation in identified areas, using SAARC for building regional resilience, and “increasing the association’s international relevance”.
Concluding his address, President Yameen called on member states to “give meaning to the lofty goals set out in the charter” and “return to its original idea of promoting the quality of life of the peoples of South Asia”.
“Because, it certainly is the time for SAARC to help the peoples of our region in their march towards their manifest destiny,” he said.
Among the issues on the agenda for the council of foreign ministers today – the highest level meeting since November 2011 – were strengthening relations with observers, reviewing the secretariat’s study, and enhancing regional connectivity.
A decision on the inclusion of Turkey as a SAARC observer state is also up for discussion.
The 17th summit concluded with the signing of the ‘Addu Declaration,’ which contained key agreements affecting the region, including a commitment to establish the passenger and cargo ferry service.
Other agreements included the strengthening of the SAARC Secretariat, the establishment of a South Asian Postal Union, and intensification of efforts to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade and reduce the sensitive lists, which include items excluded from tariff concessions.
Pakistan’s Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Asif Sandila arrived in the Maldives yesterday (October 9) at the invitation of Maldives Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam.
President Mohamed Waheed awarded the Admiral with the ‘Nishaan Muleege Sharafge Izzaiy’ (‘Order of Distinguished Rule of Muleege’) – one of the highest ranking honors conferred by the state – in recognition of his dedicated efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. The award was previously established in honour of Al-Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddeen.
When the tsunami hit the Maldives on December 26, 2004, Admiral Sandila was the Mission Commander of two Pakistani Naval Ships, P.N.S Tariq and P.N.S Nasr, which were on a goodwill visit to the country.
As the initial responders to the “critical situation” the Pakistani naval ships took “prompt action” conducting search and rescue operations, evacuating citizens and tourists from affected islands, conducting the initial damage assessment, and providing critical food and relief supplies to devastated islands in the aftermath tsunami, said the President’s Office.
“At the time of the worst ever natural disaster in the recent history of Maldives, Admiral Sandila proved above and beyond the call of duty to be a source of exemplary service and dedication which was symbolic of the long standing fraternal relation between the Maldives and Pakistan,” said President Waheed during this morning’s (October 10) award ceremony.
Admiral Sandila is also scheduled to meet with Minister of Defence and National Security Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim during his two day official visit and will depart from the Maldives tonight, according to local media.
The monument, which featured engraved symbols of Pakistan’s ancient civilisation and a bust of the country’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah, had been removed by the Addu City Council the previous week but was replaced back on its plinth with a cover ahead of the unveiling ceremony.
A member of the Pakistani delegation at the unveiling ceremony explained to Minivan News that the monument represented artifacts of the ancient Indus Valley civilisation and were not specifically religious symbols.
Following the first attempt to vandalise the monument, a second member of the Pakistani delegation told Minivan News that they approached the Maldives’ Foreign Ministry over the incident but was informed by an official that it had not occurred, and was a rumour spread by the opposition.
The Auditor General’s report on government expenses for the 17th SAARC Summit held in Addu City and Fuvahmulah in 2010 has revealed several financial discrepancies including an overspend of more than MVR 430 million (US$27.9 million) on the event’s allocated budget.
According to the report (Dhivehi), former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government spent MVR 667,874,870.84 (US$ 43.3 million), on the summit – 188.82 percent more than the MVR 231,240,000 (US$14.99 million) budget passed by parliament.
The report was compiled through audits of expenditure by the Ministry of Housing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the President’s Office and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).
The report also made several recommendations including the recovery of money spent, as well as action against those found responsible for the expenses.
The release of the report comes at a time when former President Nasheed – who headed the Maldivian delegation at the summit – is campaigning for a second term in the upcoming 2013 election as the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate.
More than a year after the summit, Nasheed was ousted from government in what his party described as a “bloodless coup d’état”, amid a mutiny by sections of the police and military. His controversial resignation followed weeks of anti-government protests that began in January 2012 after the detention of the Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed over allegations he posed a threat to national security.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom condemned the financial discrepancies highlighted in the report, prior to its release.
“Until the end of March 2013, excluding the grant aid and projects, a sum of MVR 667,874,870.84 (US$43.3 million) was spent. This figure is MVR 436,634,870 (US$ 28.5 million) or 188.82 percent more than the budget passed by the parliament to conduct the SAARC summit. The figure that was passed by parliament was MVR 231,240,000. No parliamentary consent as required by Article 96(c) of the constitution was obtained in spending the sum,” read the Auditor General’s report.
Other discrepancies pointed out in the report included an additional MVR 61.8 million (US$4 million) being paid for the construction of the Equatorial Convention Centre built for the summit.
The report stated that the initial cost of the project proposed by the contractor Ameen Construction Private Limited stood at MVR 210.4 million (US$13.7 million). However, after negotiations and changes to the materials being used and the overall design of the structure, a figure of MVR 150 million (US$9.7 million) was agreed between the contractor and the Ministry of Housing and Environment.
“However, due to changes brought to the plan by the government, the cost of completing the convention centre stood at MVR 211,852,834.84 (US$13.8 million). [This was] MVR 61,852,834.84 (US$4 million) or 41 percent excess of the amount that was agreed,” the report claimed.
The report noted the cost, which was more than the initial proposition from contractor, resulted from failure in properly planning the project and frequent changes brought to the agreed design in a non ad-hoc manner.
Apart from the costs, due to a delay in depositing the advance guarantee, the government claimed that the SAARC Convention centre needed to be built as quickly as possible, an advance payment of MVR 30 million (US$ 1.9 million) was paid to the contractor. The report added that the advance guarantee, which included both the advance payment and performance guarantee, had not been deposited.
The advance payment of MVR 30 million was given by the government after converting the retention money taken from the same contractor on a different government contract as the payment guarantee of the convention centre project.
This conversion, the report said, could be perceived as an attempt by the government to financially support a specific party contravening existing laws, since other companies who had proposed their bid did not have any retention money owed by the government and could not therefore enjoy the same privileges.
The Auditor General’s findings said that the advance MVR 30 million payment was made in contrast to section 8.23 of Public Finance Regulation, which states that any such advance payment should not exceed 15 percent of total costs. The MVR 30 million advance stands at around 20 percent of the cost, the report added.
Other discrepancies highlighted in the report included financial losses incurred by the government, violations of Public Finance Act and Public Finance Regulation and wasteful spending.
Former ruling party MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor described the report as “naive” and “misguided political posturing”, while challenging its credibility.
“What we are saying is that after an audit report is released, the litigation based on the findings must begin as soon as possible. The longer time between the release of the report and start of litigation means such reports are open for political manipulation,” he said.
Ghafoor claimed that MDP came out to reform the country, which included fighting against corruption.
“It is not possible for the MDP-led government to be involved in blatant corruption. Because we came with a plan and strategy for reforms,” Ghafoor contended.
He also said that the public will judge the audit reports and will know how politically motivated the report is.
“Looking at perspective of development and progress, we see this report as just ‘petty accusations’. The report lacked due procedure, impartiality and transparency. It may have been possibly influenced by the political vibe in the country,” Ghafoor alleged.
Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim meanwhile disputed in local media that the timing of the audit report before the election was political, stating that information contained in such reports was necessary for people to make informed decisions.
Handfuls of sand are sprinkled are carefully onto glass, and a single finger pokes the grains to magically morph them into a moving painting as an animation unfolds telling important narratives about the survival of a nation, against the soundtrack of haunting music.
The form of an old man takes shape, holding a cane in his hand. All around him a street scene of buildingsis developed under the sleight of a single hand sprinkling sand, asthe other creates perfectly drawn images. Behind the old man is a wall of people, and one of them is brandishing a Maldivian flag. Suddenly the music tempo changes. On the other side of the road a brace of helmeted police officers appear all brandishing riot shields and shaking their batons at the old man and the people. Suddenly, these images of the people are “wiped out” and in their place, a single menacing bulbous face appears.
All these scenes capture the moment that the Maldives was changed forever.
They were created by an enigmatic artist called Afzal Shaafiu Hasan, also known as Afu. He has decided to use his unique talent of drawing with sand to describe what he calls Baton Day, the day after the coup which destabilised the country and toppled the first democratically elected president the Maldives had seen in 30 years.
Afu learned his craft by watching you tube videos. In a short space of time, he had perfected it enough to perform a moving sand art play to a delegation of eight nations at the SAARC Summit in Addu. Later it was performed at an audience of thousands at Raalhugandu area earlier this year as part of an artists’ drive for democracy. Later his recorded performance went viral on Maldivian social media,
“Being noticed is a blessing, but it can bring pressures as well,” he said.
But how did he learn this incredible talent?
“About three years back I saw some videos of sand art by Ksenia Simonova and it was simply amazing. I wanted to try it,” said Afu. “So I taught myself how to do it through hours of experimentation and practice.
“Then just when I got the hang of it, I was given the opportunity to perform for the Heads of States of eight Asian countries, who all met for the SAARC Summit.
“The first performance I did after that was watched live by almost 8,000 people. That’s incredible for Male’.”
Of course practice makes perfect and it takes a lot of pre-planning to get right, just as any animation does. “It is important to get the story right and fit it into the least number of key frames and transitions, while keeping the emotion at all times,” he said.
“Since it is live I don’t have a second chance to get it right.”
To draw the images he uses his hand, and he has grown a long fingernail especially for the purpose of fine tuning details. He refers to this as his “paintbrush”.
Afu’s Sand Art has the air of the theatrical to it. Perhaps that is not so surprising as he counts the great performance artist and choreographer Mohamed Munthasir, known as Munco, among his friends from school.
In fact it was Munco who drew his attention to the very opportunity to perform at the SAARC Summit.
“Sand Art combines drawing, creative story-telling, skill and performance” said Afu.
“As soon as I started doing it, I fell in love with the medium, it expresses emotion on so many levels.”
He is also a classmate of the famous Dinba music creator Ishaantay Ishan. Music is a vital ingredient to Afu’s sand art performances. He often uses Hamy on the keyboard or piano and Shambe on the guitar to build up the drama and tension as Afu’s incredible artistic fingers work their unique magic.
Afu also sometimes performs sand art exhibitions to entertain tourists in resorts.
“Sand art is extremely versatile, it can be a pure art form as well as a commercial opportunity for tourism in resorts, but we still have a lot of work to do to develop this art in the Maldives,” he added.
“So far I am the only sand artist in the country. If people are interested in learning it, I would be more than willing guide them.
There is also a connection between Afu’s sand art and Maldivian tradition. Sand is used as a medium to teach children the alphabet and shapes. It is put in a large shallow container and the teacher uses their fingers or a little twig to write on it.
He currently has an exhibition in the National Art Gallery entitled ‘Breathing Atolls,” which features a video of “a sand animation based upon a traditional Maldivian fisherman’s life, called A Maldivian Tale.”
Afu believes that the Maldives is undergoing an artistic renaissance which is helping to enrich the culture of this island nation.
So what motivates Afu?
“The chaos of course, I feel it necessary to say something about it as an artist. That alone pushes me to do something – not just in my sand art, but in my paintings as well.”
And so, Afu’s artwork is constantly pushing boundaries. He is an enigma who seems to be constantly innovating and experimenting with any art form which takes his fancy. He has mastered everything from stamp design, to oil painting and now as his self -taught sand art proves, his talents to innovate know no bounds.
As well as politics, Afu’s oil paintings and sand art also showcase the simple lifestyle of Maldivians in the past.
He is also interested in the environment. One of his sand art animations called “Forever”, which was performed live at Thudufushi Resort in January 2012 shows how human interference and rubbish is causing the coral reefs to die.
He has a talent for showing the fragility and beauty of a moment, something which defines him as a truly great artist.
“Chaos. I feel it necessary to say something about it as an artist. That alone pushes me to do something -not just in my sand art, but in my paintings as well.”
Afu has painted since childhood, but surprisingly has had no classical training.
Asked how he learned of his talent, he said. “I was born with it, I guess. I was good at art at school so when I finished formal education, I joined the Post Office and drew stamps. This is the point I started taking art as a serious profession.”
During the 13-years he worked at the Post Office, he was responsible for creating almost a hundred stamp designs.
Later he was accepted to study a three-year diploma course in graphic design and multimedia in Malaysia.
“I did this, and then I developed my fine art side as a hobby with paintings, performing arts and sculptures. It is mainly all self-taught.”
He says he was encouraged from a young age by his father to be creative, although none of his siblings went into art.
“Dad was a man of many talents – carpentry, calligraphy, poetry and so on, and he inspired me to develop my artistic talent,” he said.
Afu says his inspiration includes local artists Maizan Hassan Maniku and Hassan of Pink Coral as well as more traditional muses such as Van Gough and Picasso.
Painting has always been one of his great loves. Over the years he has created many works of art, and many have been exhibited in the National Gallery.
However during some periods, some of his paintings have also been banned for being too evocative, especially during the Maumoon administration.
A series of paintings Afu did during this time was called the Man-Wall series, which saw man as the people, and wall as the Government. It deals with feelings such as hope, fear and freedom – themes which have returned since the events of 07/02/12.
“One particular painting was removed from the exhibition ‘Maldives Contemporary’ because the Government felt it was not appropriate. At that time there were a series of people going missing, in jails or just randomly disappearing. The wrapping says police line do not cross. The tree was our future and the zebra crossing was the point where our people will have to cross to reach that future,” he said.
“Religion is killing art”
Afu counts himself among part of a “new wave” of artists and craftsmen in Male’, who inspired by the political changes have been promoting innovative artforms and paintings.
All are facing challenges from the establishment, political and religious figures who believe creative arts are sinful.
“They have destroyed the ancient artefacts and they preach art as hara’am,” said Afu. “They have even preached against drawing human beings with eyes as this is supposedly directly ‘challenging God’.”
“In a country where the idea of art is limited to drawing it’s dangerous going beyond that limitation. Art has been off mainstream for a very long time, from the point we converted to Islam back in 1153 AD. That’s my opinion and there’s evidence to back it up too,” said Afu.
Art only very recently entered the mainstream – around 15 years ago due to religious restrictions. Psychedelic art in particular is growing fast, especially digital and doodle art, which is flooding social media right now.
Another artist, who goes by the name of K.D, acts as Afu’s agent. He was also the project coordinator for the SAARC Summit where the sand art was first displayed.
“The situation is as simple as this – religion is killing art,” said KD who is also a painter. “That’s my open view on it.”
He revealed how recently religious scholars in the Maldives had banned drawing human figures with eyes and noses, which they believe go against god. The exhibition was created by an artist known as Siru Arts who held an exhibition of political art without these features.
Afu said: “This exhibition was an asset to the current regime because it has a twisted narrative to the events of the coup.
“Some follow blindly because it’s about religion. It’s sad, but it’s happening all over the world, why not here?
“Here everything that happens reaches to every individual. It matters here more than countries with millions of people where only a little portion of it the population is directly affected.
“This can be dangerous because we’re a nation of just 350,000 people. Here everything is magnified.”
In the modern Maldives the art world is growing, but at the same time, due to religious restrictions, artists have gone in hiding and dare not express their opinions.
“The government needs to keep artists like Afu and others safe and secured away from all these dangerous people,” said KD, who classes Afu as his mentor.
“In my own personal opinion I believe that artists should be more open in their views because the more we stay hidden, the more damage will be done,” he added.
Education, KD believes, is the key to challenging these ideologies.
“This place is filled with talent but no proper guidance or guidelines are implemented. In the current situation we can see how art is growing.”
Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government actively supported the arts, introducing venues and practice rooms, intellectual rights for the artist and open forums, the artists say.
Many people in the country have talent, but they have not learned the fundamentals.
Each artist is self taught and as yet no National Art School exists and for the moment art is off the mainstream curriculum. There was an art school called Salaam school, which collapsed following the tragic death of its founder in 2011, Aminath Arif ‘Anthu’.
As an event manager KD has worked with many painters, musicians and performance artists. His main concern is to encourage the government to invest in art in the mainstream education system.
“I believe if art is involved more in the current education system, Maldivian art will grow,” said KD.
Overall, Afu has taken Maldivian art in a new direction.
“My utopian view as a Maldivian is that I live in one of the most beautiful places. My community is small and loving and live a simple life. We are happy.
“But my view on the political chaos is different. I believe what we are going through is healthy and necessary for our country’s future.
“Change shall come, but at a cost. We will be the generation who has to deal with it.”
His beautiful images are crafted out of the very sand which makes up the dazzling beaches that so many tourists frequent.
This in itself is quite symbolic.
The medium makes a statement as much as the art. An image or scene can be wiped out in an instant to make way for a new image.
As the Maldives approaches crucial elections, this also says something about the state of the nation and the events of the last 18 months.
Sand is also strong and fragile at the same time. Can the sand beneath their feet holds the country together or will the single grains just blow away in the wind?
A group of people in Hithadhoo, Addu City, have set fire to the allegedly “idolatrous” Pakistani monument erected for the SAARC summit in the early hours of the morning.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that the incident occurred before dawn today, and the perpetrators escaped before police arrived at the scene.
It is believed that the group threw objects lit with petrol and burnt one side of the monument, Shiyam explained, adding that no arrests have been made yet and police are investigating the act of arson.
According to an eyewitness in the Hithadhoo Power Park restaurant last night, which is located next to the monument, a group of people first attempted to torch the monument using petrol around 11pm.
However, their attempts were unsuccessful and the fires were quickly put out by Hithadhoo residents at the area.
Meanwhile, two young men who toppled the monument during an earlier protest led by members of opposition parties last Wednesday remain in custody, facing charges of damage to private property.
The protesters contended that the monument featured “idols and objects of worship” and demanded it be taken down.
The monument, which features engraved symbols of ancient civilisation of Pakistan and a bust of the country’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah, had been removed by the Addu City Council last Tuesday night but was replace back on its plinth with a cover ahead of Thursday’s unveiling ceremony.
Monuments representing the eight SAARC nations were erected across Addu City and unveiled by heads of state and government during the summit.
A large crowd of Hithadhoo residents gathered for the official unveiling by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, after which they took photographs in front of the monument.
A member of the Pakistani delegation at the unveiling ceremony explained to Minivan News that the monument represented artifacts of the ancient Indus Valley civilisation and were not specifically religious symbols.
Following the first attempt to vandalise the monument, a second member of the Pakistani delegation told Minivan News that they approached the Foreign Ministry over the incident but was informed by an official that it had not occurred, and was a rumour spread by the opposition.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said yesterday that the delegation had not expressed concern to the Foreign Ministry, and noted that besides prosecuting those responsible for the damage, there was “little we can do.”
The attacks on the monument, said Naseem, had been instigated by people with “strange ideas”. He observed that there were statues of Buddhas in the National Museum in Male’. “Some people are not happy, but I’m not too excited about it,” he said.
Hithadhoo Councillor Hussein Hilmy explained that the monument was “designed and built by Pakistan”, and that the City Council had helped erect the monument.
Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari was not responding at time of press and officials at the ministry did not respond to inquiries today. Bari however told local media last week that the monument was “illegal” as it “represented objects of worship of other religions.”
Bari said he had discussed the matter with the Pakistani High Commission and requested it be taken down at the end of the summit.
Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla told Minivan News today that the monument “should not be kept on Maldivian soil for a single day” and “should be removed immediately.”
“We believe it conflicts with the constitution of the Maldives, the Religious Unity Act of 1994 and the regulations under the Act,” he said.
The monument was “illegal” because it depicted “objects of worship” that “denied the oneness of God,” he explained.
Imran contended that the engravings on the monument represented objects of worship for “a lot of other religions.”
The religious conservative party has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office today to take legal action, he revealed.
In a statement condemning the “idolatrous” monument, the Adhaalath Party’s Hithadhoo branch claimed that “no Maldivian of sound mind” would allow idols or iconography of other religions to be erected in the country.
The Pakistani monument was “part of efforts by adversaries of Islam to turn the faith that Maldivians embraced 900 years ago upside down,” the statement reads.
The party noted that under section six of the religious unity regulations, public displays of “symbols or slogans belonging to a religion other than Islam” were illegal, and called on those responsible for erecting the monuments to be “brought before the law protecting religious unity.”
A group of protesters on Wednesday night knocked over the SAARC monument designed by Pakistan, during a demonstration over that “idolatrous” carvings engraved on the monument.
The monument, which was erected at Hithadhoo in Addu City ahead of the SAARC Summit and features pagan symbols of ancient civilisation of Pakistan and a bust of the country’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah, was removed by the Addu City Council on Tuesday night but placed back with a cover the next day ahead of today’s unveiling ceremony.
An eyewitness to Wednesday night’s incident told Minivan News that two men from the protesting group ran up to the monument near the Power Park in Hithadhoo and knocked it over.
One of the men was reportedly taken into custody. A police media official in Addu City however could not confirm the arrest but said the incident was being investigated.
The eyewitness claimed the group was led by an opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) member, who tried to restrain the protesters.
The group was protesting the engravings of pagan symbols, he explained, which they contended could be considered objects of worship and demanded its immediate removal.
He added that there were two police officers stationed at the monument when it was knocked over, who were later reinforced by riot police. The monument was placed back and covered shortly after the incident.
Opposition parties, including the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, have condemned the government for over the incident and accused the current administration of pursuing an agenda to introduce freedom of religion in the Maldives.
Meanwhile, two opposition MPs were arrested last night at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport while attempting to take down SAARC banners featuring allegedly Christian imagery.
The monument, designed and approved by the Pakistani government, was officially unveiled by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at 6pm today. A sizable crowd of Hithadhoo residents gathered at the area with Maldivians and Pakistani flags and took photographs after the event.
Monuments representing the culture and religion of the eight SAARC nations have been placed across Addu City for the summit, which were unveiled by the heads of state and government over the past two days.