Nasheed vindicated but faces tricky run-off: Times of India

Nasheed accused Gayoom of engineering the coup with help of mutinous police and military officers. He had accused tourism tycoons like Ibrahim, angry over his policies like increase of taxes, for bankrolling it, writes Sameer Arshad for the Times of India.

The international community recognised his removal as legitimate power transfer in the Maldives, where stability is crucial for India’s interests as it overlaps the Indian Ocean’s major sea lanes through which 97 percent Indian trade by volume and 75 percent by value pass.

But the first round results have made it clear the Maldivians did not agree. They have voted against the removal of the country’s first democratically-elected president, who earned Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience title for his campaign against Gayoom’s rule.

The Maldivians were fed up with the instability, which followed his ouster and adversely impacted the mainstay of the country’s economy – tourism.

The anxieties over the country’s dented image as a high-end holiday paradise were reflected in Nasheed’s performance on resort islands. Workers chose to vote for him even on the islands that his opponents own.

Nasheed’s proactive approach towards issues like climate change, which poses existential threat to countries like Maldives, along with his social programmes, had earned him a lot of popularity.

These factors contributed to his emphatic comeback despite his arrest twice and questions over his candidacy.

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India says Maldives must rein in quarters harming bilateral ties: Times of India

“Amid a diplomatic row over cancellation of the GMR contract, India on Friday asked Maldives to control any quarters which may be trying to harm bilateral relations saying the issue should not put a ‘question mark’ on the ties between the two sides, “ according to the Times of India newspaper.

“If they have to take a decision in interest of their society and country and if that decision is taken properly as per laws there, what objections can anyone have there. We would want that whatever is the decision, it should not put any question marks on our friendly relations,” external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said.  The minister was asked to comment on the developments in the GMR issue outside Parliament house complex.

“If any quarters there (in Maldives) want that our relations should be harmed, then they should be controlled. I think Maldives and its people know this thing properly and I am sure that they will do the same thing,” Khurshid said.

Asked if the Indian Government would ‘intervene’ in the issue, the minister said: ‘For commercial enterprises no one intervenes, but we have been assured about the security and safety of our citizens and interests there.

To that extent, it is our right and we have also told them about this right.’ ‘On the commercial discussions, we don’t have the right and there is no justification for it. Try to understand the issue in right context and I think there is nothing to worry about,’ he said.”

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President Waheed appeals for Indian tourism, investment, financial support

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s visit to India continues to garner international media attention today. During the last 24 hours, Dr Waheed has given interviews to NDTV, CNN-IBN, Times Now, New York Radio, Times of India, Hindustan Times, and UK’s The Daily Telegraph, according to the President’s Office.

Waheed has already met with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the President Pratibha Patil, and the Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna. He is reported to be meeting with Indian business leaders before the end of his visit tomorrow.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph led with the headline “Maldives president reneges on deal for early elections.” The article states that President Waheed had agreed to open discussions on early elections upon taking office, on the proviso that peace return to the islands after the unrest of February 8, and that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stop its protests.

All-party talks, albeit unsuccessful ones, have been continuing in the face of general recalcitrance from government and opposition parties alike. These talks were given initial impetus by Dr Waheed’s all party roadmap document, compiled with Indian diplomatic assistance.

Meanwhile, the MDP has continued its protests which have been largely peaceful after more violence flared during the opening of the people’s Majlis on March 19.

Waheed has repeatedly stated that bringing the presidential elections forward any further than the three months mandated in the constitution is beyond his remit. A constitutional amendment must be passed in the Majlis, with a two thirds majority needed, to avoid two elections within 18 months.

Waheed suggested to the Daily Telegraph that two elections would be prohibitively expensive given the country’s current financial situation.

The Hindustan Times spoke with Waheed about his economic aims during the visit, highlighting the Maldives’ US$2 billion deficit.

Waheed told the publication that the Indian PM had been “generous” and that he was “optimistic about technical and financial support.”

Business Line discussed investment in greater detail with the President, who is set to meet with Mukesh Ambani of India’s largest private sector conglomerate, Reliance Industries.

Waheed talked of the possibility of leasing islands to IT companies along the same lines as they are currently leased for tourism. He also mentioned the need for more Indian based tourism in the Maldives.

“Not enough Indian tourists are coming to the Maldives and that is a matter of concern for us. I am sure it is also a matter of concern for India, particularly when you realise that there are so many Chinese tourists who are coming to the Maldives now,” said Waheed.

Waheed also told Business Line that he would be meeting with the Tata group to discuss its plans for housing projects in the Maldives, saying: “We want these projects to proceed as quickly as possible”.

Reports in the Thai media earlier this month suggested that the real estate company involved in the urban development of Hulhumale’, the Maldives largest such project, was withdrawing from the project owing to financial losses incurred.

The Times of India also led with an economic angle after interviewing Waheed, running with the headline: “Maldives president Waheed looks to India to repair floundering economy”.

“I have requested cooperation to help us craft better economic policies. I have also asked for support for Maldives’ tight budgetary situation and I have been assured by PM Manmohan Singh that Maldives will receive this support,” Waheed told the newspaper.

The issue of the GMR airport deal was raised after the government actions regarding the deal appear to contradict its words regarding the safety of Indian investment in the Maldives.

The UK’s Daily Mail focused on the relationship between the former President Mohamed Nasheed and his successor.

Waheed told the UK paper, “We are not pursuing politics of revenge. I want economic diplomacy to override all concerns surrounding us.”

Continuing on this economic theme, Waheed said: ”Big business will bring jobs, keep the youth engage and silence critics. Indians must head towards Maldives.”

He added that India’s growing presence could only be facilitated by direct flight between Male’ and New Delhi.

The Indian Express reported Waheed’s confidence/hope that the Indian government would not be unduly influenced by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed who undertook his own media offensive in India last month.

“India is not crazy… somebody making demands just because he is popular is not going to find response. India’s response is calculated. It is well informed and therefore, there is nothing for me to be worried about,” Waheed told the Press Trust of India.

These remarks were said to have come in response to the Express’s questions over the comments of State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon, given to the PTI on the eve of the trip.

Dunya, who has travelled as part of the Maldivian delegation, said: “I believe that India would respect our sovereignty and really does not play a role in the internal politics of the country”. She is the daughter of former President Maumoon Gayoom.

The remainder of the Indian Express interview concerned a rebuttal of Naheed’s allegations that former President Gayoom was behind the recent political upheavals.

“He (Nasheed) has been making all kinds of allegation, some outrageous also, even relating to India officials. I think, he is out of his mind too frequently.”

The Gayoom issue also appeared during the interview with the Times of India, prompting the following response:

“I don’t have to rely on President Gayoom. I am grateful that his party supports me. His party is one among six other parties and they have a proportional place in the cabinet. Together, our coalition has the majority in parliament, but we are different parties with competing agendas. We are together because circumstances require us to work together to stabilize the situation in Maldives and move towards elections next year.”

Senior figures from within the Nasheed administration recently went on record for the Indian media, questioning the role played by the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay in February’s controversial handover of power.

Nasheed himself was careful not to go on record regarding the role of the Indian High Commissioner, deferring instead to the interim chairman of the MDP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik.

The comments Nasheed made during his visit concerning the issue of radical islam in the Maldives continued to persist: “This issue kept coming up in my meetings in India,” he told the Times of India.

Waheed told the Daily Mail that, although the country was not immune from such problems: “We practise a moderate form of Islam.”


India’s response to coup “cold”, Ibra tells Times of India

India should come down hard on the present regime in the Maldives and ask President Mohammed Waheed Hassan to call for general election this year, senior Maldivian senior statesman Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, has told the Times of India.

Ibra said India’s response to the coup in Maldives was cold and that the largest democracy in the world had shut its eyes on the human rights violations that were going on in his country.

“The protests against the military rule are on the rise. In the last 40 days, more than 650 people have been arrested compared to the 10-15 detained for hooliganism in the last three years of democratic rule,” he said.

Ibra, who led the first pro-democracy mass protest in 2004, which led to the formation of the first democratically-elected government in Maldives, admitted they didn’t see the coup coming until it was too late. “We should have been careful as the elements of dictatorship don’t go away too easily.”

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Maldives holds regional record as malaria-free zone

The Maldives holds South-East Asia’s record for being malaria-free. Meanwhile, the region is falling behind as one-third of affected countries show signs of eliminating the vector-borne disease over the next ten years.

Dr Robert Newman, director of the Global Malaria Program of World Health Organisation (WHO) said malaria control has improved significantly. “The world has made remarkable progress with malaria control. Better diagnostic testing and surveillance has shown that there are countries eliminating malaria in all endemic regions of the world.”

Malaria affects 40 percent of the world population. While the Maldives had a volatile track record in the 1970s, peaking at 1100 cases in 1976, virtually no cases of local origins have been reported since 1984.

Director General of Health Services Dr. Ibrahim Yasir said the only malaria cases have involved foreigners or Maldivians who have traveled to regions where the disease is endemic.

“A few times a year a foreigner might come who has been infected elsewhere, or in a recent case a Maldivian boat capsized near Africa and those on board contracted malaria and were treated here,” he said.

Yasir noted that the interiors of transport vehicles coming from malaria-infected locations are sprayed with a disinfectant to prevent accidental importing of the bug.

Certain countries that share regular traffic with the Maldives are showing worrisome resistance to malaria elimination.

According to an article published by Times of India today, Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM)’s latest report says that high rates in India, Indonesia and Myanmar have kept South East Asia’s malaria report rate stable while other regions see a declining report rate.

RBM’s report compares 5,200,000 probable and confirmed cases of malaria in 2000 in India against 5,000,000 in 2010. A WHO fact sheet, however, notes that 2 million fewer cases of death due to malaria were reported for the same time period.

Sri Lanka and Korea are in the pre-elimination phase.

Malaria elimination – the deliberate prevention of mosquito-borne malaria transmission resulting in zero incidence of infection in a defined geographical area – was first attempted at large scale during the Global Malaria Eradication Program from 1955 to 1972.

WHO certified 20 countries as malaria-free during this time, however in the 30 years that followed efforts to control the disease deteriorated and only four countries were certified.

During the 1970s, the Maldives successfully eliminated the malaria-carrying mosquito. It continues to combat the dengue-carrying mosquito, however, and several outbreaks have claimed 11 lives this year, making 2011 the worst year on record for dengue fatalities.

Among the factors that prevent the elimination of malaria, dengue and other viral diseases is the over-use of antibiotics. At the 64th meeting of the Regional Committee for South-East Asia in September, members suggested that overuse of antibiotics was making diseases harder to treat.

In 2010, WHO introduced a program combatting the reflexive practice of prescribing anti-malarials to any child with a fever. “Anti-malarial treatment without diagnostic confirmation means poor care for patients. It masks other deadly childhood illnesses, wastes precious medicines, hastens the inevitable emergence of drug-resistant parasites and makes it impossible to know the actual burden of malaria.”

In a previous interview with Minivan News, ADK Chief Operating Officer Ahmed Jamsheed called antibiotics “the most misused drug in the Maldives,” and warned that the trend could put Maldivians more at risk for dengue fever and chikungunya, as well as viral diseases.


China’s expanding footprint in Maldives alarming: Times of India

Alarm bells are ringing afresh in the Indian security establishment over renewed efforts by China to expand its footprint in Maldives, writes Rajat Pandit for the Times of India.

“With China poised to establish a full-fledged embassy at Maldives, strategically located southwest of India astride major sea lanes in IOR, officials say Beijing has stepped up its ‘lobbying’ to bag a couple or more crucial development projects in the 1,190-island archipelago.

China, in particular, seems interested in developing Ihavandhoo and Maarandhoo Islands, with transhipment ports among other things, as well as grabbing a piece of action in the development of the country’s second international airport at Hanimaadhoo.

China’s efforts to make further inroads into Maldives have gained momentum after the visit of Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the standing committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, to Male’ in May.

China has for long being building maritime and other linkages with eastern Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia, among others. Pakistan has been a more-than-willing partner in all this, with the Gwadar deep-sea port being built with Chinese help in Baluchistan.

China’s main aim is to ensure the security of its sea lanes facilitating its critically-needed energy imports. But there is no getting away from the fact that it also amounts to a virtual encircling of India, in what is called the “string-of-pearls” construct.

India, too, has been taking steps to counter China’s strategic moves by stepping up its defence engagement with countries like Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. After defence minister A K Antony’s visit to Male in August 2009, for instance, Indian warships and Dornier reconnaissance aircraft are helping Maldives in maritime patrol and surveillance. New Delhi is also assisting Male to set up a network of ground radars in all its 26 atolls and link them with the Indian military surveillance systems.”

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