Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, March 16, 2012
At a press conference in London this week, Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Gafoor, the new minister for tourism, said the situation in the country – including the capital Malé, where protests continue to take place – was stable.
Last week the Foreign Office removed its warning against all but essential travel to Malé, although it says that further demonstrations are “likely” and advises travellers to avoid large gatherings. While it is generally accepted that holidaymakers are unlikely to be caught up in any unrest, as most resorts are found on isolated, otherwise uninhabited islands, the moral implications of visiting the Maldives have been called into question following the downfall of Mr Nasheed.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accused the new government of ordering police to violently suppress demonstrations. It has also been suggested that the overthrow of Mr Nasheed, the islands’ first democratically-elected leader, was orchestrated by the same politicians and businessmen who held sway under the autocratic 30-year rule of Maumoon Adbul Gayoom, who was voted out in 2008. Several ministers who were in power under Gayoom have been appointed to senior posts in the new government.
Outside the hotel where the press conference took place, protestors handed out leaflets to reporters, claiming that democracy was being undermined by the new government.
Mr Gafoor, the minister for tourism, said: “We take these claims [of police brutality] very seriously and have opened it up for investigation - it is too soon to jump to conclusions. The fact that there are leaflets being handed to you outside shows how open we are.”
He also criticised calls for travellers to avoid a number of the islands’ holiday resorts, whose owners it is claimed played a role in the downfall of Mr Nasheed, and accused them of undermining islanders’ livelihoods.
Last month Friends of Maldives, a pro-democracy group based in London, issued a travel advisory ( maldivestraveladvisory.com ) urging holidaymakers to avoid selected resorts whose owners it claims backed the coup.
Its website currently lists 11 resorts and businesses, but David Hardingham, the group’s founder said more may be added in the coming weeks.
He said the purpose of the campaign was not to undermine the country’s economy, but to prevent holidaymakers from contributing to human rights abuses. He said that the businesses listed in the advisory represented just a small fraction of those available to visitors.
Mr Gafoor said he “would not recognise” the Friends of Maldives’ campaign and was bullish about the impact that recent negative publicity would have on visitor numbers. He said that a record one million holidaymakers were expected to visit the Maldives this year, including around 100,000 Britons. He also told reported about plans to increase tourism by making the opening up the Maldives to new markets in China, and developing eco- and community-based tourism.
He also sought to reassure visitors that the islands’ spas – briefly threatened with closure under President Nasheed, following pressure from Islamist groups – would remain open, and said that no moves to restrict the sale of alcohol in holiday resorts would be considered.