Maldives Cabinet Holds Underwater Meeting

(AFP) October 18, 2009 – MALE – Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, who staged the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting at the weekend, is emerging as the global stuntman in the battle against climate change.

Nasheed, 42, dived with his cabinet to the sea bottom Saturday in an effort to press December’s UN summit in Copenhagen to cap carbon

emissions that cause global warming, threatening low-lying nations such as the Maldives.

“We should come out of Copenhagen with a deal that will ensure that everyone will survive,” said the president as he bobbed in the shimmering Indian Ocean after the meeting.

A presidential aide said the event, to highlight the threat facing the resort paradise — which scientists warn could be submerged by rising sea levels by the century’s end, was Nasheed’s idea.

He said a New York-based environmental group had wanted the president to hold a banner underwater to push for cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions.

But Nasheed, the youngest leader in South Asia, went one better, with the 30-minute meeting intended to highlight a potentially watery future for the 1,192 coral islands that make up the Maldives.

It was only the latest in a series of eye-catching public relations moves by Nasheed, a former journalist, to focus the spotlight on climate change and how it could affect the archipelago, known as an idyllic getaway for the rich.

The president stunned the world last year when he announced he wanted to buy a new homeland to relocate the population of the Maldives in the event that damage from rising sea levels became too great.

The announcement had a major impact in India, Sri Lanka and Australia — all potential destinations cited by Nasheed for what could be some of the world’s first environmental refugees.

Nasheed has also been photographed at a submerged desk off the sandy white beaches of the Maldives.

The environmental activism of Nasheed, who came to power last year, follows efforts by his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, to highlight the nation’s predicament.

“Gayoom had been a very vocal campaigner so there is a political compulsion for Nasheed to keep the Maldives at the forefront of the global warming issue,” said Ibrahim Ismail, for many years an independent member of parliament.

Gayoom, described by opponents as autocratic, ruled the islands unchallenged between 1978 and 2008 and repeatedly threw Nasheed in jail over a period of six years.

As a political activist, Nasheed was at one point an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

Educated in Sri Lanka and Britain, the president, a father of two young daughters and holder of a degree in maritime engineering, built a pro-democracy movement with local and foreign support, winning the country’s first multi-party elections a year ago.

His latest dive in scuba gear was preceded by interviews to foreign television networks to talk about what he called his “sinking feeling.”

Ismail said Nasheed’s underwater cabinet meeting had little impact locally in a country whose 300,000 Sunni Muslim population was more preoccupied with immediate bread and butter issues.

“I think this is a good action as far as publicity is concerned. Not locally, but internationally,” Ismail said.

Nasheed announced last month the Maldives had no money to pay for him to attend the Copenhagen summit, but Denmark has said it will fund him as his participation is considered essential.

Source: AFP

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