The Maldivian constitutional assembly has passed an amendment stating that “none, except Muslims can be Maldivian citizens”.
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According to the Barnabas Fund, an organisation that supports the persecuted Church, the implementation of this amendment to the constitution means that a number of Maldivians will lose their citizenship and become stateless. In the Maldives it is illegal to practise any other religion than Islam.
While there are a few Christians in the country among the expatriates, there are also some Maldivian Christians, converts from Islam, who would lose their citizenship. Although the current constitution does not specifically mention this, any person who follows, preaches or simply reads texts of other religions is punished until he or she turns to Islam.
Under President Gayoom, whose autocratic regime has recently come under attack, militant Islamism has become more widespread. After a bomb explosion earlier this year, which injured a number of tourists and was attributed to an Islamic militant group, the president promised to take measures to combat Islamic extremism. This seems to contradict this latest amendment to the constitution.
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Somali pirates are able to operate with relative impunity off the volatile Horn of AfricaÂ
A tense standoff has developed off the Somali coast between US warships and pirates who have hijacked a tanker packed with explosive chemicals.
Somali pirates are able to operate with relative impunity off the volatile Horn of Africa.
Under seige from the US navy, the pirates have now threatened to kill all 22 crew members of the Japanese Golden Nori unless a $1 million ransom is paid.
The tanker, carrying up to 40,000 tons of inflammable benzene, was captured as it was sailing from Singapore to Israel.
Two US Navy ships picked up the ship’s distress calls and fired on the pirates’ speedboats, sinking two.
The warships followed the kidnapped tanker into Somali coastal waters and trapped it close to the Somali port of Bossaso, preventing supplies from getting to the ship.
However they are afraid to launch an assault on the ship for fear of detonating its cargo.
Negotiations have been under way to free the vessel, currently anchored off north-east Somalia, with crew members from Burma (also known as Myanmar), the Philippines and South Korea on board.
A spokesman for the ship’s Japanese owner, Dorval Kaiun KK, said it was hoping to win the crew members’ safe release by the year’s end, “hopefully before Christmas”.
Authorities on the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland, who are negotiating with the pirates, have sent militia to Bosaso harbour, a few nautical miles from where the vessel was held.
In a statement, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Puntland authorities were asking the pirates to surrender peacefully to the Puntland coast.
But Andrew Mwangura, the head of the Kenya-based East Africa Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said the presence of the US vessels was complicating matters.
“What we are saying is that the US ships should keep a distance because their presence is complicating issues there,” he said.
The escape of a South Korean sailor from the vessel shortly after the freighter was captured had also complicated talks with the pirates, Mr Mwangura added.
He said the pirates had opted for a high ransom because of the cost, type and ownership of the cargo, the value and nationality of the ship, as well as the nationality of the crew.
The Golden Nori is the last vessel remaining under the control of pirates off the Somali coast, after the Comoran-flagged cargo MV Al Marjan was released a fortnight ago.
Somali pirates, usually trained fighters with sophisticated arms and equipment, are able to operate with relative impunity off the volatile Horn of Africa.
At least 26 attacks have occurred this year off Somalia’s 2,300 mile coastline, prompting the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to advise sailors not to come closer than 200 nautical miles from the coastline.
The country has not had a functional government since the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. Now the weak transitional government and its Ethiopian allies are battling an Iraq-style Islamic insurgency.