Saudi king pushes back Maldives visit over swine flu risk

King Salman of Saudi Arabia (R) greets President Yameen during his visit to the Maldives as the Saudi crown prince. PHOTO/PRESIDENT'S OFFICE

King Salman of Saudi Arabia (R) greets President Yameen during his visit to the Maldives as the Saudi crown prince. PHOTO/PRESIDENT’S OFFICE

King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia has postponed his official visit to the Maldives originally scheduled for Saturday.

In a statement at the President’s Office, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Asim on Friday announced that the royal visit has been delayed due to the swine flu epidemic spreading across the archipelago. The minister added that the authorities will announce the new date of the postponed visit in time.

Preparations for the visit had been in full swing in capital Male over the past few days. The government had decorated the presidential Izzudheen Jetty and the Republic Square to receive the Saudi monarch, while security forces were deployed to the area three days prior. Moreover, two resorts had been booked to accommodate King Salman and his delegation while huge amounts of goods were imported for their stay.

The visit has been delayed at a time when talks of the government allegedly planning to sell off parts of Faafu atoll to the Saudi royal family are even more heated due to a leaked audio file of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)’s parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan. The audio was leaked late Thursday on social media and featured the lawmaker of Villimale constituency telling an unknown group that the royal family of Saudi Arabia wish to keep the mega project of Faafu atoll under wraps and that they are looking to own parts of the atoll.

However, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had earlier refuted rumours of selling Faafu atoll and stated that the Saudi government will conduct a mega project of MVR 10 billion in the atoll instead.

Meanwhile, main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) welcomed the news of the Saudi king delaying his visit, stating that now is not the best time for King Salman to visit the Maldives amidst the high tension regarding Faafu atoll and MP Nihan’s leaked audio file. MDP also called on the Saudi government and royal family to withdraw the mega project they plan to carry out in Faafu atoll, declaring that selling off the lands to external forces will compromise the security and sovereignty of the Maldives.

King Salman’s now delayed visit to the Maldives is part of his five nation tour across Asia to strengthen diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Asian nations. So far, the king has visited Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and China on his tour.

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