Solih sworn in as Maldives president, replacing pro-China leader

Maldives Chief Justice Dr. Ahmed Abdulla Didi administers the oath of office to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. (AP)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Solih sworn in as Maldives president, replacing pro-China leader

  • Solih was sworn in with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi among those in attendance
  • The US and the EU had threatened sanctions if the vote had not been free and fair

COLOMBO: Ibrahim Mohammed Solih was inaugurated Saturday as the new president of the Maldives after the opposition united to dislodge pro-China strongman leader Abdulla Yameen in September elections.

Solih, 54, emerged as common opposition candidate as all key dissidents were either jailed or forced into exile by Yameen who took power following a controversial run-off in 2013.

At a special session of Parliament held at the National Football Stadium in the capital Male, Solih was sworn in with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi among those in attendance.

The Maldives Foreign Ministry said China’s Culture Minister Luo Shugang was also an invitee.

Modi’s presence was a reflection of the relief felt in India, which has long held sway in the archipelago, and in the West that Yameen was voted out.

The US and the EU had threatened sanctions if the vote had not been free and fair.

Both India and Western nations watched with concern as Yameen moved closer to Beijing which loaned the strategically placed archipelago millions of dollars for infrastructure.

“I am confident that my visit will herald a new era of even closer exchanges and cooperation between our two countries,” Modi said on Facebook, especially in “infrastructure, health care, connectivity and human resource development.”

Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has pledged to end what it called “China’s colonialism” and to resist a “land grab” in the country which straddles key East-West shipping routes.

MDP leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed has vowed his party would reduce reliance on China and renegotiate millions of dollars in loans taken from Beijing.

More than 80 percent of the Maldives foreign debt is owed to China, he said.

China has also loaned other countries around the Indian Ocean and beyond large amounts of money for infrastructure projects as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, alarming the West.

During a recent visit to Colombo in the middle of his election campaign, Solih said that he wanted to repair ties with Sri Lanka and India.

Yameen awarded major infrastructure projects to China while taking away a major airport development from India. 

He also relied on Beijing for diplomatic support as the Maldives faced international isolation over his dismal rights record.

Modi had canceled his first visit to the country in 2015 after Yameen detained Nasheed and eventually had him convicted on a terrorism charge and jailed for 13 years.


NZ leader Ardern vows to deny accused gunman notoriety he seeks

Updated 26 min 52 sec ago
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NZ leader Ardern vows to deny accused gunman notoriety he seeks

  • ‘You will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal.’
  • “He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” Ardern promised grieving Kiwis

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed Tuesday never to utter the name of the twin-mosque gunman as she opened a somber session of Parliament with an evocative “as salaam alaikum” message of peace to Muslims.

“He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” Ardern promised grieving Kiwis, while promising that she would deprive the man who slaughtered 50 people in Christchurch of the publicity he craved.

“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety,” she told assembled lawmakers of the 28-year-old Australian accused of the slaughter.

“That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”

“I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.”

Dressed in black, the 38-year-old leader opened her remarks in Parliament with the symbolism of the greeting uttered across the Islamic world.

“Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh” she said — ‘May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you too.’

She closed her address by noting that “on Friday, it will be a week since the attack, members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day. Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.”

Her comments came as dozens of relatives of the deceased began arriving from around the world ahead of expected funerals which have already been delayed far beyond the 24 hours after death usually observed under Islamic custom.

The slow process of identification and forensic documentation has so far made burials impossible, augmenting families’ grief.

Javed Dadabhai, who traveled from Auckland to help bury his cousin, said families and volunteers were told: “It is going to be a very slow process, a very thorough process.”

“Some families have been invited to have a look at their family members... the ones that are easiest to recognize, but we are talking about three or four.”

“The majority of people still have not had the opportunity to see their family members,” he told AFP.

In the wake of the mass shooting, Ardern has promised to reform New Zealand gun laws that allowed the gunman to legally purchase the weapons he used in the attack on two Christchurch mosques, including semi-automatic rifles.

New Zealanders have already begun answering government appeals to hand in their weapons, including John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton.

Hart said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted that “on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”

The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages to his Facebook account —  most apparently from the US, where the pro-gun lobby is powerful and vociferous.

Hart deleted the messages but posted online: “A warm kia ora to all my new American Facebook friends.”

“I’m not familiar with your local customs, but I assume ‘Cuck’ is a traditional greeting,” he said of the insult, short for “cuckold” frequently used by far-right pundits.

Police said they did not have data available on the number of weapons handed in since Friday.