New Maldives President vows to keep his country 'free' from foreign military presence

New Maldives President vows to keep his country 'free' from foreign military presence

Male, Nov 17 (PTI) Newly sworn-in Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu on Friday asserted that he was firmly committed to ensuring that the strategically-located archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean remains 'free' of any foreign military presence to preserve its independence and sovereignty.

Muizzu’s remarks soon after he was sworn in as the eighth President, assume significance as the 45-year-old structural engineer-turned-politician had maintained his election promise of evicting Indian military personnel from the Maldives.

The Maldives is one of India's key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and the overall bilateral ties including in areas of defence and security have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years.

Muizzu, a close associate of former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen who forged close ties with China during his Presidency from 2013 to 2018, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September.

At the swearing-in ceremony, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju represented India.

'An honour and a privilege to represent #India at the inauguration ceremony of President H.E. Dr. Mohamed Muizzu @MMuizzu and Vice-President H.E. Hussain Mohamed Latheef @HucenSembe at iconic Republic Square in Male, Maldives,' Rijiju posted on X.

Special Envoy of the President of China and State Councillor Shen Yiqin too was present here. It was well attended by a multitude of dignitaries from across the world.

Vouching for preserving its independence and sovereignty, Muizzu made a firm commitment to ensure that the Maldives remains “free of any foreign military presence.” Highlighting Maldives’ “independence,” Muizzu said he would make Maldives a country that is free from all outside cultural influence. “The Maldivian people come first on the list! The very top!” Muizzu elaborated on his vision for the Maldives’ foreign policy, emphasising the preservation of amicable relations with neighbouring and distant countries.

A master plan for national development for the next 20 years, ensuring the judicial system is free from even the slightest influence of the government, a development plan to establish two integrated development zones, and prioritising the tourism industry, one of the strongest pillars of the nation's economy, were among the focus points of his speech.

Muizzu noted that the state's total debt when he assumed office was MVR 119 billion, the biggest in the Maldives' financial history and said that Maldives remains strong enough “to overcome the economic fallout.” He also mentioned completing the long-pending Velana International Airport project.

“President Dr Muizzu highlighted that the Maldives would reciprocate the respect for independence and sovereignty that it expects from other nations,” a statement from the President’s office said.

The President underscored that the foundation of a free society or nation is built upon the principles and norms that “we uphold and believe in” and praised the crucial role of Maldivian society in fostering goodness and rectifying wrongs, thereby highlighting the community's collective responsibility.

“We want to ensure the independence of the powers of the Maldivian state. And especially to ensure the judicial system is free from even the slightest influence of the government,” the newspaper Sun said, quoting him.

“This does not mean the government will turn a blind eye to individuals who betray Maldivian citizens and the state and commit crimes. On the contrary, it means the government influencing the judiciary is brought to an immediate end from here on,” he added.

The statement from the President’s Office further said that Muizzu emphasised the importance of political empowerment and modern technology to foster connections with the global community. “I believe it would enable us to conduct business and bring our innovative ideas and products to the forefront,” he said.

President Muizzu also stated that striking a balance between structural and human development will be one of the fundamental policies of this starting presidential term.

The President also declared that his administration will highly prioritise the tourism industry, which he said “is one of the strongest pillars of the nation's economy.” Emphasising medium and long-term objectives, he added that the goal is to “construct a master plan for national development for the next 20 years” and come up with a development plan, which includes establishing two integrated development zones in the northern and southernmost parts of the country.

'Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region and occupies a special place in the prime minister's vision of 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the 'Neighbourhood First Policy',' the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement earlier this week while announcing Minister of Earth Sciences Rijiju's visit to the Maldives to represent India at the inaugural ceremony of the presidency.

The MEA said the high-level ministerial representation from India at the inaugural ceremony underscores India's commitment to further deepen the substantive cooperation and robust people-to-people ties between the two countries. PTI NPK AKJ NPK NPK

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