New Maldives president to be sworn in

New Maldives president to be sworn in

A former political prisoner who unseated Asia's longest-serving leader as president of the Maldives will be sworn into office Tuesday, taking charge of a nation he fears could soon disappear.

Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed, 41, the winner of the the Indian Ocean atoll nation's first multi-party presidential elections, has come up with a novel plan to save islanders from global warming.

A one metre (3.3 feet) rise in sea levels would almost totally submerge the country's 1,192 coral islands scattered off the southern tip of India. According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a rise of at least 18 centimetres (7.2 inches) is likely by the end of the century.

"I don't want Maldivians to end up as environmental refugees in some camp," Nasheed told reporters after his October 28 election win.

"We are talking about taking insurance -- if the islands are sinking we must find highland some place close by. We should do that before we sink."

Nasheed told Britain's Guardian newspaper that he had already broached the subject of finding a new homeland for Maldivians with several countries and found them to be "receptive".

India and Sri Lanka are targets because they had similar cultures and climates, while vast Australia was also an option.

Aside from global warming, Nasheed faces a host of other challenges as he begins his five-year term.

There is a danger of civil unrest after decades of one-party rule under ousted president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a need to release political prisoners, and push through a series of promised reforms in the new democracy.

"There should be no political prisoners in the Maldives," Nasheed said. "That is clear and we will very quickly look into the cases of those who are being held."

The new president will also have to steer the economy through some difficulties, with crucial tourism earnings -- driven by well-heeled visitors to island resorts offering white-sand beaches and crystal clear water -- set to slow down because of the global financial crisis.

Nasheed told AFP that he was seeking about 300 million dollars in emergency international aid to restore economic stability in the nation of 300,000 Sunni Muslims.

Although the islands are best known as a luxury holiday destination, about 40 percent of the population earn less than a dollar a day and are clamouring for a greater share of tourist revenues.

The country also faces a serious drug problem, with one out of three youngsters in the country affected.

Nasheed has promised to improve healthcare and communication to remote islands, to privatise state enterprises and to turn the presidential palace into the country's first university.

While ex-president Gayoom was accused of living like a king, average families often cram into a single room in Male, one of the world's most congested cities with 90,000 people living in a one square-mile (2.5 square kilometre) area.

"The biggest challenge for the new president is managing expectations," said Mohamed Latheef, a senior leader of Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party.

"People expect a lot. They want to see a change very quickly. It won't be easy to move quickly."

Source: AFP

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