Saudi crown prince greeted with ceremonial welcome

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz arrived in the Maldives yesterday afternoon, being greeted at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport by President Abdulla Yameen.

After a brief meeting between the two in the airport’s VVIP lounge, the prince received a ceremonial welcome in Malé’s Republic Square, stated the President’s Office.

The Saudi Gazette has reported a joint statement after what it described as “extensive talks” with President Yameen, reiterating a determination to fight extremism and terrorism.

“The two countries also underscored the significance of boosting bilateral security cooperation in fighting piracy, drug trafficking and money laundering,” reported the Gazette.

Prince Salman, accompanied by the Saudi minister of defence and the deputy prime minister, received a seven-gun salute before being introduced to senior government officials.

The joint statement was said to highlight both countries’ basis on “moderate and tolerant principles of Islam,” with Yameen offering gratitude to King Abdullah for the support offered to the Maldives through the Saudi Development Fund.

“The leaders also discussed bilateral economic relations and ways to further strengthen them in a way serving the interests of the people of the two countries,” said the Gazette, which also reported that the prince had met with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The announcement last week of a US$100 million resort project by a Saudi real estate firm Best Choice was said to be unrelated to the royal family or the prince’s official visit.

Prince Salman’s arrival was preceded by global media interest in his reportedly lavish accommodation arrangements – said to encompass three resorts for nearly one month.

The visit – part of an Asian tour taking in India, Pakistan, and Japan – had been reported to include discussions regarding potential investments in energy, tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loan facility of US$300 million.

The visit comes amid growing ties between the Yameen administration and the Saudi kingdom. Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month, meeting with the Imaam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah.

The vice president stressed the importance the government placed on enhancing ties with the Arab world and in strengthening religious unity in the Maldives. Shortly after Jameel’s return, the government initiated its pledge to introduce Arabic lessons in schools as part of a drive to increase Islamic learning in the country.

Jameel’s trip followed the January visit of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, during which time an MoU was signed regarding the increase of air traffic between the Maldives and Saudi Arabia.

After being invited by the Maldives Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed in January, the Saudi Arabian Muslim Scholars Association agreed to provide a grant of MVR1.6 million to assist in the provision of Islamic education in the Maldives.