Maldives’ president-elect Mohamed Muizzu (C) arrives with his wife Sajidha Mohamed (R) to attend his inauguration ceremony in Male on November 17, 2023. President Mohamed Muizzu of the Maldives vowed on November 17 to expel Indian troops deployed in the strategically located archipelago, in his first speech to the nation after being sworn into power. (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)
(AFP) – Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu suspended three deputy ministers on Sunday for making “derogatory remarks” against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government said.
Muizzu, who won September elections on promises that included removing a small contingent of Indian troops operating maritime aircraft from his archipelago, banned the ministers from work pending an investigation.
One deputy minister, Mariyam Shiuna, had called Modi a “clown” following the prime minister’s visit to the Indian territory of Lakshadweep, a cluster of atolls just north of the Maldives.
The three suspended ministers — Malsha Shareef, Abdulla Mahzoon and Shiuna — are all from the youth ministry. They criticised Modi on social media, officials said.
“The government of Maldives is aware of derogatory remarks on social media platforms against foreign leaders and high ranking individuals,” the government said in a statement.
“These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the government of Maldives.”
A senior administrative official told AFP that Muizzu had suspended the trio and ordered an investigation.
He said Male was concerned about repercussions as Indians were the largest group of foreign visitors to the Maldives, where tourism accounts for almost one-third of the economy.
Modi on January 4 posted on social media praising the “pristine beaches” of India‘s Lakshadweep islands, which lie about 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of the Maldives at their closest point.
He posted photographs of himself snorkelling, and suggested the islands should be on the must-visit list of any adventure-seeking tourist.
Known as an expensive holiday destination with secluded resorts, the Maldives has also become a geopolitical hotspot.
Global east-west shipping lanes pass the nation’s chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands, stretching around 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.
Muizzu, who was seen in elections as a proxy of the pro-China former leader Abdulla Yameen, announced in December that India had agreed to withdraw its troops.
But after coming to power, Muizzu toned down his anti-Indian rhetoric and said he would not upend the regional balance by replacing Indian forces with Chinese troops.
© Agence France-Presse