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Major European airlines may suspend flights to Maldives this summer

NEW DELHI: Major European airlines may suspend flights to the Maldives this summer, as the international community piles on pressure on the island country for president Abdulla Yameen’s increasingly authoritarian ways.

Joern Rohde, German ambassador to Sri Lanka, concurrently accredited to the Maldives, tweeted on Friday, “we hear big airline carriers from Europe will suspend their Maldives flight for the summer season.” The reason for this, he continued, was that despite the apparent lifting of emergency by the Yameen government, “democratic rights remain curtailed as MPs remain jailed on politically motivated prosecutions. The economy and thus the people suffer since tourists continue to stay away.” Cautioning the Yameen government, Rohde concluded his tweet by saying “Solution: Only a return to Democracy will bring back stability and the positive image of the wonderful Maldives now tarnished by the ongoing undermining of democratic rights.”

While Europe remains the biggest source of tourists to the Maldives, the number of Indian tourists visiting the island country has been rising steadily with India accounting for over 6 percent of the total figure. However, after Yameen announced the emergency in early February, tour and resort operators reported that China and India recorded the highest number of cancellations. The German ambassador’s tweet would indicate that European countries’ travel advisories to their citizens may be resulting in tourists going elsewhere.

The latest action is part of the international pressure on Yameen to release political prisoners including a couple of judges and hold democratic elections. A fortnight ago, Yameen trotted out his senior ministers in a press conference to answer questions on his actions and plans. The tourism minister admitted at the press conference that the economy had been impacted due to tourist cancellations. At this point though, Yameen intends to go ahead with the elections, where he will be effectively the only candidate.

In recent weeks, Maldives sent a trade delegation to Pakistan to explore the option of importing pharmaceuticals etc from the country and reduce their dependence on India. Another education delegation from Maldives university also visited Pakistan and much has been made of a $5million grant to Maldives education by Pakistan. Saudi Arabia is another benefactor, which has been funding mosque and other development in the Maldives. Riyadh treats Yameen delicately, not wanting to destabilise a fellow Sunni country.

Meanwhile, Yameen has kept the red carpet open for China. Last week, the Maldives envoy to China, Mohamed Faisal said China should increase their investment in the Maldives. “I must say Chinese businesses have been very slow coming to the Maldives,” the envoy said in an interview to South China Morning Post. “Right now, it’s only seven islands that Chinese have invested in, in the tourism sector. For a country with such capacity as China, I think it is a very low number – it should be more than that.” This would be the first time the Maldives has detailed the number of islands China is investing in.

People familiar with developments said Yameen was concentrating on “making “win-win” deals with Chinese companies involving an unprecedented level of state-sponsored corruption to serve Chinese strategic interests.” For the Indian government, this has rung alarm bells, because it makes Maldives’ dependence on China greater than even Sri Lanka, and therefore a growing security concern.

Maldives’ tourism industry accounts for over 30 percent of the country’s GDP, touching $3.5 billion in 2017. Almost 1.4 million tourists from across the world visited the Maldives in 2017, according to government statistics.

Source URL: Bing News :

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