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Maldives leader seeks India’s help

Ahmed Naseem, former Maldives Foreign Minister, at a press conference in New Delhi on Monday. | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

Counselling India not to be “fooled” by assurances from the Maldivian government that it would safeguard New Delhi’s interests, Ahmed Naseem, a leader of the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has said that if President Abdulla Yameen returns to power, he will allow a full “takeover” of the islands by China.

“I know that Maldivian officials are telling India that they will look out for its security interests if President Yameen is allowed to return to power [after elections in September]. Don’t be fooled. This regime can never normalise relations with India because their paymasters won’t allow it,” Mr Naseem said at a press conference here on Monday.

Mr Naseem, who was Foreign Minister when Mohammad Nasheed was President, appealed for India’s help in ensuring fair elections in the island nation, given that all Opposition leaders were either “in jail or in exile”.

Of the two most prominent Opposition leaders, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is in prison serving a 19-month sentence pending appeals, while Mr Nasheed, who was earlier in prison, is now in exile. MDP leaders have complained that they are unable to hold their party conventions and campaign rallies because of the restrictions imposed by the government.

Mr Naseem is one of the most senior MDP leaders to visit India after Mr Nasheed travelled here in February. New Delhi and Male have been at loggerheads since then over a number of issues, including the Maldives’ squeeze on work permits for Indians and the Yameen government’s insistence on Delhi taking back two helicopters by the month-end.

Food export curbs

On Monday, the External Affairs Ministry sought to clarify its stand after it emerged that the government had “rationalised” or reduced food quotas on a number of items exported to the Maldives.

“The requirements of [the Maldives] are calculated based on actual utilisation in recent past and is consistent with the mechanism of the trade agreement signed between India and Maldives in 1981. India remains firmly committed to strong people-to-people ties between the two countries and will ensure that the people of the Maldives do not have to endure any hardships,” said spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, terming reports that India had reduced its food exports as a retaliatory measures “misleading”.

Special request

Mr Naseem too said that the issue of food imports was an ongoing negotiation between the two countries, but he expected to meet External Affairs Ministry officials during his visit to Delhi to discuss their expectations from India, and make a special request for an Indian delegation to visit the Maldives to oversee elections there.

“If President Yameen is allowed to steal the election, he will complete this journey from democracy to dictatorship. He has only been able to do this because he has been backed to the hilt by Beijing,” Mr Naseem alleged, adding that the MDP now believes at least 16 of the 26 main atolls that form the Maldives currently see investments and control by Chinese companies.

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