Maldives, a tourist destination in peril
February 09 2018 11:53 PM
In this file photo, local village official Mohamed Usman points to a boat anchored off shore where the beach had stood a few months earlier before rapid coastal erosion at the north-central island village of Thulhaadhoo in the Maldives.


Famed as an upmarket tourist destination of white beaches and turquoise waters, the island nation of the Maldives is troubled by political turmoil and rising sea levels.
The country is a collection of 26 atolls made up of 1,192 tiny islands scattered 800km (550 miles) across the equator.
Only 200 islands are inhabited with the country’s population put at 340,000 in the last census but estimated at around 417,000 in 2016 by the World Bank.
Its 298sq km (115 square miles) are home to about 3% of the world’s coral reefs.
Tourism is the principal income earner, providing 41% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 and nearly 20% of jobs, the World Travel and Tourism Council says. 
The archipelago’s beauty drew around 1.28mn tourists in 2016, a 4% rise over the previous year, according to UN’s World Tourism Organisation data.
It is a destination especially prized among honeymooners, such as Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes who visited in 2006. 
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled with an iron fist for 30 years until 2008, when he lost the first multi-party polls to human rights activist Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed was forced to resign in 2012 after a police mutiny and demonstrations that he said were part of a coup plot.
In disputed elections the following year, he was defeated by Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen, the current president. 
In 2015 Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terrorism charge widely criticised as politically motivated.
In 2016 he was granted prison leave for medical treatment in London, where he secured political asylum with the help of high-profile human rights 
lawyer Amal Clooney.
While Nasheed continues to push for change from exile, Yameen declared a state of emergency on February 6 after judges ordered the release of his opponents.
Eighty percent of the Maldives is less than a metre above sea level, making it one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels linked to climate warming.
In 2009 Nasheed held a cabinet meeting underwater to raise awareness of the risk, also warning his people could become 
climate refugees.
Situated along Indian Ocean trading routes and about 650km southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives has been colonised several times. 
Portuguese explorers occupied the main island of Mahe in the 16th century. The territory then became protectorates of the Dutch and the British before complete independence on 1965. 
The Maldives left the Commonwealth in 2016 in a row over criticism of its rights record.
There are fears of radicalisation with the arrival of preachers and via radical websites.
Nearly 60 Maldivians are known to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with foreign jihadists, and some are believed to have returned.
In travel advice issued this year, the United States urged increased caution due to the 
possibility of a terror attack.

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