Major changes to traffic flow in central Malé, the uprooting of old trees at the Republic Square and the removal of a monument at the Sultan Park have fuelled speculation that the sudden changes were caused by President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged fear of black magic and sorcery.
The housing ministry has turned the area encompassing the main mosque, the Islamic Center, and the Sultan Park, into a pedestrian zone. The changes were announced on August 3 and put in place on August 6.
Sections of the thoroughfare Chaandhanee Magu and adjoining Lily Magu, a school zone, are now open to two-way traffic. Concrete dividers have been put in place on Chaandhanee Magu. Pavements have been removed, drains dug up and the walls of the national museum, the Sultan Park and the Kalhuvakaru mosque have been pushed back to enlarge Chaandhaanee Magu and Lily Magu.
Construction is still ongoing.
Two decade-old pine trees by the Republic Square were uprooted and the Republic Day monument installed in 1998 by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was also removed.
Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz said the changes were part of plans to allow some 25,000 people to pray en masse at the Islamic Center.
Malé’s taxi drivers are incensed by the move. One taxi driver said: “We have not been consulted at all. This is madness.” Chaandhanee Magu and Lily Magu have become congested and prone to traffic jams at rush hours.
Opposition politicians have claimed the changes were brought on by President Yameen’s paranoia that spells cast on trees and the Republic Square monument are responsible for his ill-health.
MP Ahmed Mahloof, formerly a member of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), said: “The city of Malé is having to pay for President Yameen’s obsession with black magic and sorcery. The changes to the area have nothing to do with expanding the Islamic center’s grounds.”
Belief in fanditha or magic is widespread in the Maldives.
Yameen is rumored to be fatally-ill. The opposition claims the president’s ill-health is the reason behind the sudden impeachment of Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and the appointment of tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb to the post in July. Meanwhile, a government official told newspaper Haveeru that all of Malé City’s Areca Palms were chopped down in October because Yameen feared the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were using the trees to curse him.
The cabinet prevented the opposition dominated Malé City Council from replanting palms.
Former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, now jailed on weapons smuggling charges, and former President Mohamed Nasheed, now under house arrest, have claimed the trees were cut down by police officers. No arrests or charges have been filed over the incident.
The government has meanwhile dismissed rumors over Yameen’s health.
MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy blamed the changes to traffic flow in Malé to a fight between Yameen and his half-brother Gayoom, who had installed the Repblic Monument.
“The fight between the two brothers is killing anything with life in this city,” he said.
Talk of President Yameen’s paranoia of black magic is all over town and on social media. Some speculate the national flag in the Republic Square and the old minaret at the Friday mosque may also be removed.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the spokesperson at the President’s Office, declined to comment on the speculation but said plans to beautify Malé City is coordinated through the president’s office. Detailed plans are drawn by the line ministries, he said.
A police spokesperson said the changes have led to congestion, but said he could only comment on the issue after all the construction and expansion of roads is completed.
The housing ministry was not responding to repeated inquiries at the time of going to press.
An official at the transport authority meanwhile said the housing ministry had not sought its advice on the recent changes.
Photo: The republic monument has been removed and the area paved.