Monday 19 August 2019

Maldives state of emergency 'should not concern tourists'

Cancellations expected

The Maldives
The Maldives

Natalie Paris

Tourists visiting the Maldives have been told that a state of emergency, declared this morning by the country’s president, should not affect their holiday.

President Abdulla Yameen today imposed a 30-day state of emergency across the whole country limiting the constitutional freedoms of locals to meet and travel, and increasing powers of arrest.

The British Foreign Office has told British travellers, however, that there will be no restrictions on tourist movements and that holiday resorts are “unlikely to be significantly affected.”

Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs is advising travellers to "exercise caution", although it has yet to specifically reference the state of emergency on its website.

Yameen's announcement follows the arrest of the country’s vice president on October 24 and allegations of an assassination plot against the president. An explosion aboard Yameen's speedboat on September 28 wounded his wife and two others.

The Maldivian National Defence Force also said this week that it had found and defused a remote-controlled bomb near the president's official residence.

Tourists, who generally pass their time in an isolated bubble in on one of the country's numerous island resorts, reached by seaplane from the country’s capital Male, are not being advised to change their travel plans.

But the move may put some off visiting and further tarnish the country’s reputation as a peaceful honeymoon destination.

Captain Ali Ihusaan speaks to the media after an explosive device was discovered near the president's official residence. (AP)
Captain Ali Ihusaan speaks to the media after an explosive device was discovered near the president's official residence. (AP)

"This hasn’t happened for a very long time and details about the state of emergency are very sketchy,” said a representative from the campaign group Ethical Maldives, who asked to remain anonymous. “But visitors should be warned that there is a large protest planned.

“There is also lots of police activity taking place in Male, with people’s homes being raided. I’m concerned because tourists tend to spend a lot of money during Christmas and New Year.

"I spoke to a local hotelier who said the industry could be at breaking point if they don’t hit 55 – 60 per cent occupancy, which they need during this period.

“The people who will be put off the most will be the Chinese as they always cancel bookings after a big protest.”

Despite the recent political unrest, tourism – the archipelago's mainstay – has up until now remained robust, with more than one million visitors arriving a year.

There a signs though that President Yameen, who came to power in November 2013 following a controversial election, faces international censure over his crackdown on opponents of his regime.

In March, opposition leader Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, was jailed as the result of a rushed trial which the UN said was seriously flawed.

A rally is planned by the MDP in Male in the hope of pressuring Yameen to release Nasheed, whose incarceration has been severely criticised by the UN and international rights groups.

The Foreign Office warns that demonstrations have led to violence and arrests. “You should take appropriate security precautions,” it states, “comply with local security requirements and avoid large gatherings, protests and rallies.”

It also reminds travellers that there is no British Embassy or Consulate in Maldives and that those needing consular assistance should contact the British High Commission in Sri Lanka.

Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, this year shelved plans to visit the Maldives, a move seen as a rebuke to Yameen.

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