The Maldives, a honeymoon haven in peril | Page 3 | Daily News

The Maldives, a honeymoon haven in peril

Famed as an upmarket tourist destination of white beaches and turquoise waters, the island nation of the Maldives is troubled by political turmoil and rising sea levels.

The country is a collection of 26 atolls made up of 1,192 tiny islands scattered 800 kilometres (550 miles) across the equator.

Only 200 islands are inhabited with the country’s population put at 340,000 in the last census but estimated at around 417,000 in 2016 by the World Bank.

Its 298 square kilometres (115 square miles) are home to about three percent of the world’s coral reefs.

Tourism is the principal income earner, providing 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 and nearly 20 percent of jobs, the World Travel and Tourism Council says.

The archipelago’s beauty drew around 1.28 million tourists in 2016, a four-percent rise over the previous year, according to UN’s World Tourism Organization data.

It is a destination especially prized among honeymooners, such as Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes who visited in 2006.

Human rights activist Mohamed Nasheed

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled with an iron fist for 30 years until 2008, when he lost the first multi-party polls to human rights activist Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed was forced to resign in 2012 after a police mutiny and demonstrations that he said were part of a coup plot.

In disputed elections the following year, he was defeated by Gayoom’s half brother, Abdulla Yameen, the current president.

In 2015 Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terrorism charge widely criticised as politically motivated.

In 2016 he was granted prison leave for medical treatment in London, where he secured political asylum with the help of high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

While Nasheed continues to push for change from exile, Yameen declared a state of emergency on February 6 after judges ordered the release of his opponents.

Eighty percent of the Maldives is less than a metre above sea level, making it one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels linked to climate warming.

In 2009 Nasheed held a cabinet meeting underwater to raise awareness of the risk, also warning his people could become climate refugees.

Situated along Indian Ocean trading routes and about 650 kilometres southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives has been colonised several times.

Once a Buddhist kingdom, it converted to Islam around the 12th century.

Portuguese explorers occupied the main island of Mahe in the 16th century. The territory then became protectorates of the Dutch and the British before complete independence on 1965.

Sunni Islam today remains the state religion, all other religions being banned.

The Maldives follows a moderate version of Islam while banning alcohol, except in tourist hotels, and homosexuality.

It also flogs women found guilty of “fornication”, says Amnesty International, which is critical of the human rights situation that it says includes restrictions on peaceful protests and expression.

The Maldives left the Commonwealth in 2016 in a row over criticism of its rights record.

There are fears of radicalisation with the arrival of Middle East preachers and via radical websites.

Nearly 60 Maldivians are known to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with foreign Jihadists, and some are believed to have returned.

In travel advice issued this year, the United States urged increased caution due to the possibility of a terror attack.

The Maldives on Tuesday sought to reassure tourists they would be safe as governments warned their citizens to steer clear of the troubled honeymoon islands amid a spiralling political crisis.

India and China advised their holidaymakers against visiting the tropical archipelago after a state of emergency was declared by the regime of President Abdulla Yameen.

Tourism is a key earner for the Maldives but a dramatic confrontation between Yameen and the security forces against the Supreme Court has further eroded its reputation as an idyllic atoll nation.

Government spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab said no curfew had been declared and the safety of tourists in the upmarket holiday paradise was assured.

The government would “facilitate calm at a time of national difficulty”, he added.

But China -- the number-one source of tourists for the Maldives -- has urged its citizens against visiting the Indian Ocean nation.

The warning from China’s foreign ministry comes ahead of the “Spring Festival” -- the peak period for Chinese tourists to visit the Maldives.

“Given the security situation there, we advise the Chinese tourists who are now in the Maldives to closely follow the security situation and enhance self-protection,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular briefing.

“In the meanwhile, Chinese citizens are advised to avoid going to the Maldives until the situation on the ground is stabilised.”

India and France and other European nations also advised its citizens against non-essential travel.

The United States advised caution, warning of further protests in coming days across the capital Male “in response to emerging political developments”.

“You should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations,” the US embassy in Colombo said in its updated travel advice on Tuesday.

Supreme Court

In the latest escalation of the crisis, police clashed with opposition supporters outside the Supreme Court as troops stormed the building to arrest the chief justice and another judge at dawn Tuesday.

Hours earlier, they had arrested the country’s former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom after accusing him of orchestrating attempts to topple his estranged half brother Yameen.

President Yameen has refused to comply with a court order to release political prisoners, despite growing international pressure and concern.

Political turbulence under Yameen -- who was elected in a controversial run-off in 2013 -- has dented the Maldives’ image as an island paradise, but most tourists are insulated from the turmoil in Male.

The airport is a short boat journey from the capital and many visitors are whisked away to resorts on remote, serene islands spread 800 kilometres (550 miles) across the equator.

Nearly 1.4 million foreigners visiting the Maldives last year, up from 1.28 million the previous year. - AFP

 


 

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