The first couple inaugurated the revamped Sultan Park in the capital on Monday night with a ceremony featuring fireworks and performances from school children.
Dubbed ‘Rasrani Bageecha,’ the new park includes a glass tree-house built 12-feet above ground, classrooms with modern facilities, conference rooms, an art-deck with a view of the whole park, a two-storey water fountain, a green tunnel, a vertical garden, and children’s play corners. A historical ‘Mariyaadhuge’ with traditional hammocks and benches for senior citizens are also located on the park grounds.
“Maldives will experience winter in December this year in the same way that Europe experiences winter at the end of every year,” President Abdulla Yameen said at the opening ceremony.
According to the housing ministry, a ‘winter corner’ with artificial snow and an ice skating rink for children will be completed in November.
Stressing the importance of celebrating the country’s cultural heritage, Yameen noted that the Sultan Park site is one of the most ancient grounds in Malé as it was used by the kings and queens who ruled the Maldives for more than 800 years.
“The Rasrani Bageecha will be one of the most culturally significant landmarks in the country,” he said.
The park was developed by the housing ministry with labour provided by soldiers from the Maldives National Defence Force. The popular tourist destination has been fenced off for the past six months.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz assured the public that no trees were uprooted during the redevelopment.
Some 18,000 trees are currently standing in the park grounds, he said.
The park, which was initially planned to open for Independence Day last year, has 24-hour security monitoring by the Maldives Police Service. Smoking and consumption of energy drinks are also prohibited.
The Sultan Park was opened on the former grounds of the royal palace after the monarchy was abolished in November 1968.
The government’s decision to charge an entrance fee for expatriates meanwhile sparked outrage on social media. The park will be open to locals free-of-charge from 02:00 pm to 11:00 pm Fridays and 06:00 am to 12:00 am on weekdays.
“Unbelievably racist, xenophobic and backward policy by the government. We could be better than this,” tweeted Shauna Aminath, the former president of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s youth wing.
“In Malé, migrant workers live in extremely poor conditions. Now government sets policy to prevent them from from enjoying public space… Disgusting”.
In a Facebook post, Ahmed Tholal, a senior project coordinator at NGO Transparency Maldives, called to “boycott this travesty of charging foreigners” and “say no to discrimination against migrant workers”.