President arrives in Saudi Arabia on second official visit

President arrives in Saudi Arabia on second official visit
October 04 04:02 2016

President Abdulla Yameen arrived Monday in Riyadh for discussions with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud on boosting ties in trade and infrastructure development, the president’s office said.

The president’s delegation includes Foreign Minister Dr. Mohamed Asim, Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed and Fisheries Minister Mohamed Shainee.

A spokesman declined to reveal further details.

It is not clear when the president is expected to return.

The trip to Riyadh is Yameen’s second official visit to Saudi Arabia, a country he had branded the Maldives’ “primary partner” following his first state visit in March 2015.

The president has made three other private visits to the kingdom since assuming office.

Yameen’s last visit there a year ago – to perform the Hajj pilgrimage – ended with an explosion on his speedboat as he arrived in Malé, triggering a political crisis that saw the arrest of his deputy.

In May, the Maldives severed ties with Iran, backing Saudi Arabia, which had cut off relations after Iranian protesters stormed its embassy in protest over the kingdom’s execution of a Shia’ cleric.

The Maldives is also among 34 countries that joined a Saudi-led Islamic military alliance formed to combat terrorist organisations.

The Saudis only rival China in the amount of development assistance provided to the Maldives.

Most recently, the Saudi Fund for Development loaned US$100million to finance the expansion of the country’s main airport, of which the new passenger terminal is to be built by the Saudi Binladin group at the cost of US$300million.

The Saudi government has pledged US$50million for a military housing project, while the SDF loaned US$80million to finance infrastructure development projects in the reclaimed artificial island of Hulhumalé.

In addition to a US$20 million grant for budget support in May 2015, the Saudi government also provided US$1million as grant aid to finance the feasibility study for a transhipment port in the Maldives’ northernmost atoll.

Cultural ties are growing, too: The Saudi cabinet in August authorised the Medina-based Islamic University to draft an agreement with the Islamic University of the Maldives. Earlier in the year, the Speaker of the Shura Council had donated US$100,000 to the IUM.

Annual scholarships to Saudi Arabia was also increased from 50 to 150 in 2015, while the Maldives’ quota for Hajj pilgrims was increased from 1000 to 2000 this year.

Saudi Arabia is meanwhile funding a new grand mosque project in Malé that is slated to accommodate 6,000 worshippers. Described as a gift from the Saudi King, it will be the largest mosque in the country.

The kingdom also came to First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim’s defence in July after she became embroiled in a “date-gate” controversy for distributing dates gifted by Saudi under the name of her charity organisation. The country’s embassy had issued a statement calling the first lady an “exemplary philanthropist”.

King Salman had visited the Maldives months before he was crowned king.