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Maldives Prez Yameen facing biggest threat

MALE, Feb 5: Maldives president Abdulla Yameen is facing the biggest threat since he wrested power in 2013 after the Supreme Court quashed charges against former president Mohamed Nasheed and nine more political dissidents this week.

The government of the Maldives will resist any attempt by the Supreme Court to impeach president Abdulla Yameen for disobeying its order last week to release jailed opposition leaders, the attorney general said on Sunday.

Following are details of the tussle between the court and the president, which is threatening to spark a constitutional crisis and undermine Yameen’s control of the Indian Ocean nation since he took power in 2013.

What is behind the tussle between the Supreme Court and president Yameen’s government?

The court on Thursday ordered the immediate release of former president Mohamed Nasheed and eight other opposition leaders and ordered they be tried again, saying the previous proceedings had violated the constitution and international law.

In its ruling ordering the release of Nasheed, the Supreme Court said it found that prosecutors and judges had been unduly influenced “to conduct politically motivated investigations” into the allegations levelled at Nasheed and others.

The nine had been jailed on charges ranging from terrorism to treason and corruption.

The court also ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen’s party for defecting last year, saying their removal was unconstitutional.

The reinstatement of the dozen legislators, who now belong to opposition parties, would cause Yameen’s party to lose its majority in the 85-member parliament.

Should the opposition reach a majority, they would be able to unseat the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, and pass no confidence motions against government officials.

What’s behind the rivalry between President Yameen and former President Nasheed?

Former President Nasheed won elections in 2008, but was forced to resign in 2012 after ordering the arrest of a top criminal court judge, Abdulla Mohamed, for alleged corruption.

Nasheed then lost the 2013 election to Yameen, and was sentenced to a 13-year jail term in 2015 for arresting judge Mohamed. Though Western countries have said Nasheed’s action against the judge was against the law, they also raised concerns over his trial, which they called unfair.

Nasheed is currently in Britain on medical grounds but is seeking to contest elections against Yameen due by October, posing a big threat to the current president.

Nasheed, a graduate of Britain’s Liverpool University, is well connected in the West and has been able to bring pressure against Yameen’s administration.

He even got the help of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, married to Hollywood actor George Clooney, to expose alleged human rights violation by Yameen’s administration.

What are Yameen’s options now?

So far, Yameen has ignored the order, although he has stopped short of saying he will not obey it. He fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court verdict last week, however, and continues to jail opposition members.

On Sunday, police raided the home of Hassan Saeed, the head of the judicial administration department, which the opposition said was considering a corruption investigation into Yameen. The Supreme Court later annulled the arrest warrant against Saeed.

Members of the ruling party have also sought to shut down an independent TV station accusing it of spreading “discord,” sparking a call from the US embassy in Columbo, Sri Lanka, for Yameen’s government to respect the freedom of the press.

But in terms of the order, Yameen has limited options. His administration can seek to arrest the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and other judges on corruption allegations, targeting them the same way he has gone after opposition members, according to Western diplomats who are closely following developments.

That would allow him to reverse the Supreme Court ruling, but at the risk of exacerbating a constitutional crisis. Close allies of Yameen say his main concern is that former President Nasheed and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb have said they can prove the current president engaged in past corrupt deals if they are released. Yameen has denied any corruption allegations.

But importantly, the army is supporting the president. On Sunday several police and soldiers said in a live broadcast they were ready to sacrifice their lives “in the defence of the lawful government”.

The combined opposition says they fear a military takeover of the islands to preserve Yameen’s grip on power.

What is the international reaction so far? What about domestically?

Yameen has ignored calls from the United States and India, among other nations, to heed the court decision on Nasheed. When the Commonwealth pressed Yameen to uphold the rule of law, his government voted for the Maldives to quit the Commonwealth.

He has also disregarded all international calls to solve the political crisis through dialogue.

China, which has boosted its investments in the Maldives, has so far been silent. But the country is expected to slow down any deals, given concerns about political stability.

Male, the capital of the Maldives, experienced some minor clashes between protesters and the police, but the streets were quiet over the weekend.

Yameen has sought in the past to suppress protests, and on Sunday the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said it would stop activities that “openly threaten the security and safety of the Maldives”.

India keeping a close watch as Maldives political crisis deepens

MALE, Feb 5: India is watching closely the turbulence in the Maldives where a political crisis deepened on Sunday as the government ordered soldiers to scuttle any move by the Supreme Court to arrest or impeach President Abdulla Yameen over his refusal to free imprisoned Opposition leaders.

New Delhi had asked its neighbour to follow the top court’s order on Thursday to release all political prisoners, including Yameen’s main rival and former president Mohamed Nasheed, who is in exile.

“In the spirit of democracy and rule of law, it is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court,” the Indian foreign ministry said.

“We are keeping a close watch on the situation,” added an official, who doesn’t want to be named.

But as of Sunday, no prisoners had been released while the Indian Ocean archipelago nation’s attorney general Mohamed Anil said the government has information the Supreme Court is preparing to unseat Yameen but law-enforcement authorities will resist such a move.

“We have received information that things might happen that will lead to a national security crisis,” he warned.

Nasheed, the nation’s first democratically elected president, responded angrily on Twitter, saying that Anil’s comments were “tantamount to a coup”. “Security services must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people,” he tweeted.

But the defiant government of the strategically located nation of about 400,000 people prepared for a crackdown and police detained two Opposition lawmakers on Sunday.

More than 100 riot police stood guard outside government offices in Male, including parliament, as well as at Republic Square, a site of protests by opposition activists, although the streets were quiet.

Soldiers guarded parliament and stopped an attempt by lawmakers of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to hold a meeting there. The authorities had shut parliament indefinitely on Saturday to prevent MDP members from gathering there.

President Yameen is facing the biggest threat since he wrested power in 2013 after the Supreme Court quashed charges against Nasheed and nine more political dissidents this week.

The court also ruled that 12 parliamentarians sacked for defecting from Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives should be reinstated. The return of the dozen lawmakers will put the Opposition in a majority in the 85-member parliament and have enough votes to remove the president. Under Maldivian law, a vote for impeachment removes a president from office.

Lawmakers loyal to former president Nasheed, whom Yameen had defeated in a controversy-marred election, feared a military takeover of the islands to preserve the president’s grip on power.

Yameen has stopped short of saying he will not obey the court order, but his government expressed concerns about releasing those convicted for “terrorism, corruption, embezzlement, and treason”. The president had been set to run for re-election this year virtually unopposed, but Nasheed said he would mount a fresh challenge for the presidency after the top court’s recent order.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted of the abduction charge under the Maldives’ anti-terror laws in a trial that was widely condemned by international rights groups. The conviction barred him contesting elections in the nation, known for its atolls and luxury resorts.

Maldives delay in freeing opposition leaders fuels domestic, international concern

NEW DELHI, Feb 3:As domestic and international pressure mounts, the Maldives has delayed complying with a Supreme Court order for the immediate release and new trials of nine opposition leaders, freeing them to contest presidential elections this year.

The Indian Ocean nation has been mired in political unrest since Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was ousted in 2012. He has been in exile on medical grounds from a 13-year jail sentence on terrorism charges.

The Supreme Court on Thursday said the trials of Mohamed Nasheed and eight others, many of whom had challenged President Abdulla Yameen, had violated the constitution and international law. It found that prosecutors and judges were unduly influenced “to conduct politically motivated investigations” against them.

On Friday, Attorney General Mohamed Anil said he had held discussions with Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed over the administration’s concerns about releasing individuals whose offences ranged from terrorism to corruption and treason.

“The prosecutor general is currently in the process of examining the cases to determine the best way to proceed with the implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling, and the prosecutor general will present recommendations at the earliest,” the government said in a statement.

The unexpected ruling frees opposition leaders to run against Yameen in the presidential poll expected to be completed by October. The terrorism convictions would normally bar them from competing unless they received presidential pardons after completing a third of their jail terms.

The joint opposition of the Maldives expressed concern over Yameen’s refusal to abide by the order.

“We are deeply fearful that the government’s refusal to implement the Supreme Court order could escalate to unrest and incite violence across the country,” it said in a statement.

Hundreds of opposition supporters chanted slogans such as “Enforce the Supreme Court ruling,” and “Defend the constitution,” in a Friday night rally outside the opposition MDP campaign centre in Male, the capital.

The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and India also urged Yameen’s government to follow the ruling.

In a statement, the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The Secretary-General reiterates his belief in finding a solution to the political stalemate in the Maldives through all-party talks, which the United Nations continues to stand ready to facilitate.”

“We understand the situation is extremely tense,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters on Friday.

The agency was “closely watching how the situation develops in the aftermath of Thursday’s decisions by the Supreme Court, and in particular, the reactions of the government, military and police,” he added.

The European Union urged the government to hold “inclusive dialogue with the leaders of all political parties that should pave the way for credible, transparent and inclusive elections”.

Nasheed, who has been in exile in Britain, had sought UN help to restore the political rights of which he was stripped after a trial denounced as hasty and unfair by the United Nations human rights chief.

Thursday’s decision also nullified a ruling in which 12 lawmakers lost their parliamentary seats for defecting last July from Yameen’s ruling party, costing him his majority in the 85-member legislature.

Indonesian Minister calls for deepening engagements with India

By Deepak Arora

JAKARTA, Feb 1: The 69th Republic Day of India Reception was held here on Wednesday where Indonesian Industries Minister Airlangga Hartarto called for deepening engagements with India.

The reception was hosted at the Four Seasons Hotel in Jakarta by Indian Ambassador to Indonesia Pradeep Kumar Rawat. Indonesian Industries Minister Airlangga Hartarto, who was the chief guest on the occasion, addressed the gathering.

The high profile gathering of over 300 guests at the reception included I Nyoman Nuarta, Padma Shri Awardee; Sofjan Wanandi, Advisor to Vice President of Indonesia, H.S. Dillon, former Advisor to President of Indonesia on Poverty Alleviation, I Made Andi Arsana and Ibu Shinta, members of India-Indonesia Eminent Persons Group; Suryo Bambang Sulisto, Chairman of Advisory Board of KADIN, captains of the business community, senior officials from various Ministries of the Indonesian government, representatives of think-tanks, academia, media, the Indian community and the diplomatic corps.

In his remarks, Minister Airlangga Hartarto said that there was great potential for improving trade and investment between two countries through better market access mechanisms. He welcomed Indian pharmaceutical companies participation in API Sector in Indonesia.

Earlier in his welcome address, Ambassador Pradeep Kumar Rawat highlighted that the pace of bilateral relations had picked up since the State visit of Indonesian President Joko Widodo to India in December 2016.

The Ambassador said these were complimented in last one year with four Ministerial level exchanges taking place in January 2018, which culminated in the visit of President Joko Widodo as Guest of Honour for the ASEAN India Commemorative Summit.

The Ambassador also felicitated well-known Indonesian artist and sculptor I Nyoman Nuarta who through his art form had made invaluable contribution to promoting the shared cultural heritage of India and Indonesia.

It may be noted that Government of India had announced conferment of Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian award to I Nyoman Nuarta on the occasion of the 69th Republic Day of India.

A photo exhibition chronicling India-Indonesia relation was also put on display at the venue of the Republic Day reception. There was also a cultural performance of Ramayana by dance troupe of Ibu Bulantrisna, a reputed proponent of Balinese dance, who had led the Ramayana troupe to India recently for the AICS.

‘China firm on upholding territorial integrity, values ties with India’

BEIJING, Feb 3: China is firm on upholding its sovereign interests and territorial integrity, but at the same time values friendship with India, the county’s foreign minister has said.

The Doklam (Donglang) standoff between the border troops of the two countries was handled with restraint by China, Wang Yi said, adding it reflected Beijing’s emphasis on bilateral ties.

Wang wrote on China’s foreign policy in the prestigious Chinese International Studies Journal last month, in which he touched upon the status of relations with India. The journal is published by China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank attached to the foreign ministry.

“We handled the Indian border troops trespass into China’s Dong Long area in our national interest, on just grounds and with restraint. Through diplomatic means, we engaged with the Indian side and it withdrew its equipment and personnel,” Wang said.

“This demonstrates not only the value and emphasis we put on relations with India but also our sincerity and sense of responsibility in maintaining regional peace and stability,” he said.

“We believe as we continue to engage in in-depth strategic communication and promptly dispel strategic misgivings, the strategic value of China-India cooperation will speak for itself and there will be a prospect of ‘the Dragon and Elephant dancing together’ and 1+1=11 effect as expected by the leaders,” Wang said.

“We are each other’s big neighbours and ancient civilisations,” he said, while adding that Beijing is firm on upholding its sovereign rights and territorial integrity.

During his visiting to New Delhi in December, Wang had said the two countries should “boost strategic communication and trust, and should properly handle problems left over by history and some specific issues in bilateral relations, without politicising and complicating them to hamper the development of the Sino-Indian relations.”

In a statement released by the Chinese foreign ministry, Wang said: “…in 2017, the relations between China and India have maintained their momentum of development as a whole. Both sides have made efforts in this regard. But they (the efforts) were not very satisfactory”.

The MFA statement quoting Wang’s interaction with Indian external affairs minister, Sushsma Swaraj was unusually blunt and it was released after the Chinese foreign minister met her in New Delhi.

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