Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008
Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Eu
A passport is required. All travelers entering or exiting Albania must have six months or more validity on their passport. Customs officers strictly enforce this law. U.S. citizens do not require a visa prior to entering Albania, but those traveling without a visa will be charged a fee for an entry stamp at the point of entry, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. This fee is currently 10 Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Travelers without a visa who intend to stay in Albania for more than 90 days should be aware that Albanian law allows a traveler without a visa to remain in Albania for 90 days only within a specific 180-day period. That 180-day period is defined from the first day of entry. For example, a traveler entering without a visa on January 1 may remain in Albania for 90 days total during the period of time between January 1 and June 28. Departing Albania during this time period does not "restart the clock." Travelers attempting to reenter Albania without a visa and within 180 days of a previous entry and after an aggregate stay of 90 days may be denied entry. For stays exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period, those interested must apply for a Residency Permit at the police station with jurisdiction over the city of residence. Information on how to apply for a residency permit is available on the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/. There is also a departure fee of ten Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Visit the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/consular.html#visa for the most current visa information. Dual Nationality: The Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. If such persons are found guilty of draft evasion in Albania, they are subject to prosecution by the Albanian court. Those who might be affected should inquire at an Albanian Embassy or Consulate outside Albania regarding their status before traveling. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Although the overall security situation in Albania has improved in recent years, organized criminal activity continues to operate in all regions, and corruption is pervasive. US Government employees need permission to travel to the northern administrative districts of Shkoder, Malesi E Madhe and Tropoje (with the exception of the route along the national road to Montenegro and the city of Shkoder) and to the southern town of Lazarat, with such travel restricted to secure vehicles with escort. Travel restrictions for U.S. Government employees have been lifted for overnight stays in the city of Shkoder. In most cases, police assistance and protection is limited. A high level of security awareness should be maintained at all times. Photographing anything that authorities regard as being of military or security interest may cause travelers problems. All gatherings of large crowds should be avoided, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
In the latest State Department assessment, Albania’s crime rating is “medium.” Crime against foreigners is rare in Albania, as targeting foreigners is often viewed as too risky. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Caution should be exercised in bars in Tirana where violent incidents, some involving the use of firearms, have occurred in the past, particularly in the early morning hours. Within the last years there have been fewer cases of carjacking compared with previous years. Anyone who is carjacked should surrender the vehicle without resistance. Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crime is fairly common in Albania, particularly at night. Criminals do not seem to deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but do seek targets of opportunity, and select those who appear to have anything of value. Vehicle theft is still one of the biggest problems in Albania. Pick-pocketing is widespread; U.S. citizens have reported the theft of their passports by pick-pockets. INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line is 129, though coverage is inconsistent at best. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION
Medical facilities and capabilities in Albania are limited beyond rudimentary first aid treatment. Emergency and major medical care requiring surgery and hospital care is inadequate due to lack of specialists, diagnostic aids, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physicians before travel. As prescription drugs may be unavailable locally, travelers may also wish to bring extra supplies of required medications. Recent electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country, which can affect food storage capabilities of restaurants and shops. While some restaurants and food stores have generators to properly store food, travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Water in Albania is not potable. Visitors should plan to purchase bottled water or drinks while in country. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Albania. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Albania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Major roads in Albania are often in very poor condition. Traveling by road throughout Albania is the most dangerous activity for locals and tourists. Vehicle accidents are the major cause of death, according to police statistics. Electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country that can happen any hour of the day or night. Such outages affect traffic signals and street lights, making driving increasingly treacherous at any time of day. Travel at night outside the main urban areas is dangerous and should be avoided due to deplorable road conditions. During the winter months, travelers may encounter dangerous snow and icy conditions on the roads throughout mountainous regions in northern Albania. Buses travel between most major cities almost exclusively during the day, but they are often unreliable and uncomfortable. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Please note that many of these privately owned vans may not have official permission to operate a bus service and may not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards. Persons wishing to use privately owned vans should exercise caution. There are no commercial domestic flights and few rail connections. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.albaniantourism.com.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Albania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Albania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Albania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Albania of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Albania in Washington, D.C. or one of Albania's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. As noted previously, the Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. See our information pertaining to dual nationality. Albania is a cash economy. Credit cards and travelers checks are not generally accepted, except at the major new hotels in Tirana and some international airline offices. Travelers' checks can be changed at banks in larger towns. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in most cities. Please see our Customs Information CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Albania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Albania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties. Under Albanian law, police can detain any individual for up to 10 hours without filing formal charges. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to show proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION
Americans living or traveling in Albania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Albania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Tirana, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - The military has been deployed in northern Albania to help hundreds of people trapped by floods following heavy rainfall, authorities said on Friday. More than 9,230 hectares (22,800 acres) of agricultural land is underwater in the Shkodra region, including villages where the only means of transport is by boat, the defence ministry said.
Army personnel are evacuating residents and securing food supplies in the affected areas, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, Tirana. The torrential rain in recent days has caused landslides damaging dozens of homes and flooding roads, said the transport ministry. The rain has also forced the Albanian authorities to release excess water from a hydroelectric plant, which has added to the flooding in northern areas of the country. Weather forecasters say the rain is likely to ease from Saturday.
Tirana, Dec 3, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in Albania to rescue stranded residents after heavy rainfall triggered major flooding, and caused the death of a utility worker, officials and the power company said Sunday. The victim, Sabri Vlinga, died while he was working on a electricity pole at Roskovec in the flooded south of the country, the power company said in statement. Two other people were injured in similar accidents. it added. Some 6,400 police and soldiers have been sent to help rescue people stranded by the floods, Prime MInister Edi Rama said Saturday, calling the situation "very critical".
Around 1,500 people in the affected areas have been rescued, while several thousand homes were without electricity as many utility poles have been swept away by mudslides, said Shemsi Prenci, head of civil protection. More than 7,874 hectares (19,450 acres) of farm land as well as 3,193 homes are under water and several roads in the south remained impassable.
Army forces have built a temporary bridge at Darezeze, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the capital Tirana, to come to the aid of 2,000 residents stranded by the floods, the defence ministry said. In neighbouring Macedonia, the heavy rains have also caused flooding as several rivers include the main Vardar river have burst their banks, the MIA news agency reported.
By Briseida MEMA
Tirana, Feb 6, 2017 (AFP) - Emira Sela covers her face with her hand to hide a disfiguring abscess, the traumatic result of unregulated cosmetic treatments now rampant across Albania. The 31-year-old began to worry when wrinkles appeared on her face. Sela's hairdresser told her that a simple injection, costing around 60 euros ($65), would banish the signs of ageing. "She assured me that I would not risk anything. She even listed well-known names" of women who had undergone such treatment, said Sela. "I did not think twice, I trusted her without asking questions," said the blonde woman with green eyes, her voice trembling.
Albanian hair and beauty salons lacking expertise and medical supervision are offering such cosmetic treatments, unregulated in a legal vacuum, much to the alarm of qualified doctors. A single injection of a product whose content and dosage Sela knew nothing about was enough to ruin her life in late August. Despite antibiotics she has permanent pain, fever and nausea, while the abscess on her right cheek forces her eye to half-close and her face is nearly paralysed. "I am so disfigured that I tried to commit suicide," said Sela, who lost her job in a bank. Her only hope now is corrective surgery at an Italian hospital, scheduled for this month.
- Desiring Kardashian look -
"There are more and more impostors with syringes," said Panajot Papa, a plastic surgeon at a private clinic in Tirana. "The problem is also the products... Forbidden in Europe, they enter illegally from Turkey or China." Eriona Shehu, a dermatologist at Tirana's university hospital, said these unregulated synthetic products, such as injected liquid silicone and acrylamide, were being offered at temptingly low prices.
"Cosmetic interventions have become a lucrative industry. The patient is only a customer, exposed to a number of risks." Shehu said the desire to look like voluptuous US reality television star Kim Kardashian was "destroying the lives of young Albanian girls looking for beauty". Albanian doctors say the typical age of clients for such procedures is between 16 and 28. In the country of about three million people, the demand for cosmetic interventions rose more than 50 percent in 2015, according to a study published by Albania's economic magazine Monitor.
Promotional offers can be seen everywhere, such as a beauty salon advertising 20 percent reductions for three people coming together for treatment during the holiday season. Papa says he has treated a dozen young women aged between 20 and 27 who suffered complications after having their lips and cheekbones swollen with injected liquid silicone for 40 to 50 euros. The product has been banned for cosmetic use in countries such as Italy and France for more than 15 years. Papa said such botched interventions left these women prone to particularly bad swellings during their menstrual period, requiring further treatment -- and he warned they may suffer such symptoms for life.
- Closing legal gap -
Albanian doctors are worried about foreign practitioners who come from Italy, Turkey and Greece to work just for a weekend. "They may not have a diploma, qualification or licence for these kind of interventions or for assuming the responsibility of a patient's medical follow-up," said Besim Boci, head of the otolaryngology department at Tirana's university hospital. Due to legal loopholes, the judiciary cannot step in. A spokesman at Tirana's tribunal, Alba Nikolla, admits that it is currently impossible to "open investigations and prosecute based only on complaints" against practitioners.
But authorities are set to tackle this with a draft law to control cosmetic products and beauty salons, which is due to be introduced in parliament in the next few months. The law complies with the requirements of the European Union, which Albania aspires to join, and will enable authorities to shut down rogue establishments using synthetic products. When health is adversely affected, practitioners could be imprisoned for three to 10 years. Such regulations could go some way to easing the trauma of women like Elisa Lura, a 22-year-old economics student. She underwent a laser treatment to restore her natural look after paying 50 euros to a neighbourhood salon for permanent eyebrow tattoos, which went wrong. But the laser made things much worse. "Everything is spoiled!" she said of her face now covered with painful scars.
By Briseida MEMA
Tirana, Albania, Jan 13, 2016 (AFP) - With her sick daughter in the arms, Mira Lela pushes her way through the hallway of the doctor's clinic, crowded with patients ailing from heavy pollution in Albania's capital. "This is an emergency, she has difficulty breathing," said the tearful woman, forcing open the door to the office of Bardhyl Vaqari, who has worked in the specialist Tirana clinic for more than 20 years. "An acute asthma attack," said the doctor on seeing the child. "The number of people with respiratory allergies and cardiovascular problems has greatly increased," he told AFP, adding that the number of patients on the clinic's books has more than doubled to 8,000 in the last four years.
On the noisy and congested streets outside, clapped-out bangers and Hummer trucks cross paths with Mercedes, BMWs and overloaded buses that leave a trail of black smoke and heavy odour. Having been cut off from the world under a strict communist regime until 1991, the Western Balkan city had just a few hundred cars on its roads in the 1990s.
But today, through a mixture of pride, luxury-seeking and necessity, given the lack of public transport, there are more than 190,000 cars circulating in a city of about one million people. "Albanians take the car even when going to buy bread in a nearby store. That's why the traffic is overloaded all day and this increases pollution levels," said Altin Duka, a despairing 65-year-old shopkeeper.
The average age of vehicles on Tirana's roads is around 16 years, twice the European average, according to Gani Cupi, deputy manager of Albania's Road Transport Services. Many of the vehicles do not meet the standards of the European Union, which Albania hopes to join. "The traffic load, the age of vehicles, their technical condition but also the poor quality of fuel are all factors contributing to the capital's pollution," said Cupi.
- Taxing dilemmas -
In a bid to clean up the air, Albanian authorities considered doubling taxes on ageing vehicles but then dropped such plans. Analysts suggested the cost would weigh too heavily on citizens in one of the poorest countries in Europe. New cars are already exempt from paying annual tax for the first three years, but authorities in 2012 lifted a levy on the import of old vehicles as the EU considered it a "fiscal discrimination".
Tirana's Mayor Erion Veliaj has pledged to battle against the fumes by increasing the number of green spaces, introducing hybrid buses and improving infrastructure in the city, which is crammed with mostly illegal constructions. "The number of vehicles does not stop growing," he told AFP, pointing out that about 500 people die in the city each year "because of respiratory or cardiovascular problems related to pollution".
A report this year from the European Environment Agency noted a 20 to 30 percent decrease in Tirana's concentration levels of PM10 and PM2.5 -- damaging particulate matter -- according to data assessment from 2011 to 2013. But Laureta Dibra, head of the air and climate change department at Albania's Environment Ministry, told AFP that PM10 levels had actually been rising in areas of heavy traffic in recent years. Tirana remains "among the most polluted cities in Europe", added the director of the National Environment Agency, Julian Beqiri. "The level of the population's exposure to pollutants is still a problem," he said.
- On your bikes -
In an effort to improve air quality in the capital and educate residents, Tirana organised two car-free days in 2015, when the air was said to be at least four times less polluted than usual. Worried activists are campaigning to promote the bicycle as a means of transport and a way of life. Ecovolis, a bike sharing system, rents out at least 200 bicycles from different tations around Tirana, at 60 leke (44 euro cents, $0.47) per bike per hour -- but many people still prefer getting behind the wheel.
Although Albania's energy minister claims that 95 percent of fuel meets the required standards, even Prime Minister Edi Rama attacked its quality in May last year. "It is so bad that even a strong car like a Mercedes ends up being bad for Albanians' lungs," he said, calling for urgent measures to improve fuel controls. The government says restrictions have since been tightened, but those at the frontline of the fumes remain unhappy. "I come home in the evening with a completely dry throat and a bitter taste my mouth," said Bequir Veseli, 37, a traffic policeman who spends eight hours a day at the centre of a chaotic roundabout. "I have trouble breathing but what can I do? The next day I have to go back to my post".
The Republic of Maldives is a series of over 1190 islands which are situated southwest of Sri Lanka. Frequently Irish tourists will combine these two destinations in a single holiday and enjoy the
straying away from these more built up regions will require advance approval. The climate is tropical with fairly consistent rainfall and temperatures throughout the year. The more northern islands are most commonly affected by cyclones and the rainfall in the southern regions tends to be between November to March. Temperatures are usually fairly consistently above 20C.
MALDIVES TOURIST BOARD WEB PAGE
The web site http://www.visitmaldives.com/intro.html gives a potential visitor an excellent insight into the Islands and the range of facilities which they have to offer.
Safety and Security:
Crime rate on the Maldives is low although tourists should be aware that they should take care of personal belongings at all times. It is wise to use the hotel safe deposit boxes on the island resorts.
The medical facilities within the Maldives is limited to the main resorts. There are two hospitals on the main island (Male) and the cost of treatment can be high. Having personal health insurance is a wise precaution.
Transport within the Islands:
The main means of transport between the islands tends to be by boat or seaplane. Only very few of the islands have cars but this is not generally a problem for tourists. In the main capital of Male the traffic moves on the left side of the road and there are taxis if required. Water taxis called ‘Dhonis’ are available between the airport and the capital and also to some of the outlying islands. The Air Taxi service stops one hour before sunset.
Food & Water Facilities:
The tourist resorts have a high level of hygiene and the risk of significant illness among those who follow sensible food and water hygiene is small. Avoiding all bivalve shellfish is usually a wise precaution and this includes oysters, mussels and clams. The water in the main resorts will be chlorinated but check this on arrival. If unsure it will always be wiser to use sealed bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Malaria & Rabies Risk:
There is no malaria or rabies transmission on the Maldives though avoidance of both mosquitoes and animals is always a wise precaution.
Water Sport Facilities:
Those undertaking water sport activities and scuba diving should be aware that rescue facilities are not always easily available in all regions. There are decompression facilities available but these may be located at some distance from where the incident occurs. Make sure that you always choose to use one of the better maintained providers. If you are unhappy about their apparent level of expertise and care for their clients, change to a different provider but don’t take risks.
The level of direct sunlight throughout the islands is high and visitors should take special care with regard to the possibility of sun exposure and dehydration. Sea swimming should be in the company of others and take care to listen to local advice.
Local Laws & Customs:
Throughout the Maldives their practice Islam and the overt public observance of any other religion is not permitted. In the past few years a number of non-Maldivian families have been expelled for religious activities. Tourists are permitted to carry personal religious texts (Bible etc) without difficulty. There are no cash dispensing machines and travellers cheques are used infrequently. The island resorts tend to be expensive and visitors should carry sufficient funds. Dress is usually informal but topless bathing is prohibited.
Vaccinations for the Maldives:
Unless you are flying from tropical Africa there are no essential vaccines for entry or exit. However for your own personal health it is recommended that travellers are covered against the following diseases;
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those considering a longer or more rural trip over vaccines may be considered including Hepatitis B.
Most Irish travellers to the Maldives will enjoy a splendid relaxing holiday in this beautiful series of islands. Nevertheless, commonsense and care are essential with some predeparture planning to ensure that all your travel plans run smoothly.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Colombo, Jan 22, 2019 (AFP) - Five tourists including a honeymooning couple have drowned in a single week in the Maldives, officials said, prompting a nationwide safety warning to holiday resorts in the pristine islands. Tourism officials said all resort operators in the paradise archipelago were urged Monday to keep a close eye on their clients after the spate of deaths.
Strong currents caused by a north-east monsoon were blamed for the slew of drownings in the idyllic atoll nation, where such accidents are usually few and far between. Around 1.4 million tourists visit the Maldives every year but the latest government data shows just 31 people drowned in 2017.
On January 13, two Filipino newlyweds were swept to their deaths by a powerful undertow. The man got into trouble and his wife went to his aid, but both perished. Their bodies were recovered and repatriated to the Philippines, officials said. An 84-year-old Czech tourist and a 66-year-old South Korean woman died within two days of each other at a resort near the capital Male while snorkelling. A Russian woman on a dive trip was the latest casualty on Sunday.
A Pakistani holidaymaker came close to death but was plucked to safety and taken to hospital. The tourism ministry was in the process of identifying safe zones for ocean swimming and diving after the spike in drownings, officials said. The Maldives relies on tourism and visitors come for the turquoise waters and white sand beaches of the islands scattered some 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.
Colombo, Sept 24, 2018 (AFP) - The Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives is famed as an upmarket tourist destination of white beaches and turquoise waters but is threatened by rising sea levels and endured stifling political control. After the surprise election win of opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in weekend elections, here is some background about the Muslim nation.
- Indian Ocean paradise -
The country is a collection of 1,192 tiny islands scattered 800 kilometres (550 miles) across the equator. Only 200 islands are inhabited with the country's population put at 340,000 in the last census in 2014. Tourism is the principal income earner, providing 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 and nearly 20 percent of jobs, the World Travel and Tourism Council says. The archipelago's beauty drew nearly 1.4 million foreign visitors in 2017, with the destination especially prized among honeymooners.
- Politically tense -
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled with an iron fist for 30 years until 2008 when he lost the first-ever multi-party poll to human rights activist Mohamed Nasheed. Nasheed was forced to resign in 2012 after a police mutiny and demonstrations that he said were part of a coup plot.
In disputed elections the following year, he was defeated by Gayoom's half brother, Abdulla Yameen, a strongman president who was defeated in elections Sunday. Yameen, whose regime has been bankrolled by China in a departure from the country's traditional alliance with India, imprisoned or forced into exile all his main rivals while curtailing press freedom and social networks. Nasheed, who became an opposition leader, was jailed in 2015 on a terrorism charge widely criticised as politically motivated.
The following year he was granted prison leave for medical treatment in London, where he secured political asylum with the help of high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. In February this year judges ordered the release of jailed opponents of Yameen, who hit back with a 45-day state of emergency, suspending the constitution and arresting the Chief Justice and another judge of the Supreme Court. His aged half-brother Gayoom was also jailed for allegedly conspiring with the Supreme Court to topple him.
- Threatened by rising seas -
Eighty percent of the Maldives is less than a metre above sea level, making it one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels linked to climate warming. In 2009 Nasheed held a cabinet meeting underwater to raise awareness of the risk, also warning his people could become climate refugees.
- Buddhist turned Muslim -
Situated along Indian Ocean trading routes and about 650 kilometres southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives has been colonised several times. Once a Buddhist kingdom, it converted to Islam around the 12th century. Portuguese explorers occupied the main island of Mahe in the 16th century. The territory then became protectorates of the Dutch and the British before complete independence in 1965. Sunni Islam today remains the state religion, all other religions being
The Maldives follows a moderate version of Islam while banning alcohol, except in tourist hotels, and homosexuality. It also flogs women found guilty of "fornication", says Amnesty International, which is critical of a human rights situation that it says includes restrictions on peaceful protests and expression. The Maldives left the Commonwealth in 2016 in a row over criticism of its rights record. There are fears of radicalisation with the arrival of Middle East preachers and via radical websites.
Colombo, July 19, 2018 (AFP) - Foreigners are flocking to the Maldives in ever-greater numbers despite an outcry abroad over the strongman president's crackdown on political dissent and the locking up of opponents, official figures showed. The number of tourists visiting the white-sanded Indian Ocean archipelago soared 10 percent year-on-year to 726,515 in the first half of 2018, according to tourism ministry data released Wednesday.
President Abdulla Yameen imposed a 45-day state of emergency in February to fend off impeachment after the top court ruled that nine rebel MPs sacked by Yameen be reinstated. The chief justice and another Supreme Court judge were then arrested along with Yameen's half-brother, a former strongman leader who ruled for 30 years until 2008. Elections are set for September 23. Washington and others have expressed deep concern and the European Union warned on Monday that it could impose sanctions on key figures if the situation does not improve. With its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, tourism is the mainstay of the Maldives economy, accounting for a quarter of the country's output.
Nearly 1.39 million tourists visited the Maldives, a nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scatted across the equator, last year, up eight percent compared to 2016. Official figures show that tourists spent $2.73 billion in 2016, up from $2.56 billion in the previous year. There were no immediate figures since 2016. The main political opposition said arrivals increased partly because of lower prices offered by mid-range guest houses while occupancy in high-end resorts had suffered. "Luxury resorts are not doing well, but guest houses are attracting visitors thanks to their affordable prices," Maldivian Democratic Party spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told AFP.
World Travel News Headlines
Kinshasa, March 21, 2019 (AFP) - A six-month-old baby in the eastern DR Congo city of Bunia has died of Ebola, becoming the first fatality of the disease in a provincial capital, the heath ministry said Thursday. Bunia, which has a population of 300,000, is the capital of Ituri province, which along with neighbouring North Kivu province has been battling an epidemic of Ebola since last August.
The baby is among 610 fatalities out of 980 recorded cases, the ministry said in a statement. "The parents are apparently in good health," it said. "Extensive investigations are underway and will include, among other things, analysis of the maternal milk to identify the source of contamination." The ministry added that it had also registered 97 new cases in the previous three weeks. This increase "was expected" given the impact of an attack on two Ebola treatment centres by armed groups in the troubled region, it said.
Blantyre, Malawi, March 21, 2019 (AFP) - Heavy rains could cause a dam in southern Malawi to give way if there is no let-up, authorities said Thursday, urging local residents to take shelter. The warning came after cyclone Idai battered neighbouring Mozambique last Friday killing 242 people Hurricane-force winds and rains have also ravaged hit eastern Zimbabwe where over 100 have died.
In Malawi, the storm has affected nearly a million people with over 80,000 displaced, according to the WHO. The Chagwa dam "has had one of its major embankments eroded due to heavy rains," the interior security ministry said in a statement. "(It) is likely to burst in the event of heavy and incessant rains." The statement advised local residents in the southern African country to evacuate "in case of an emergency".
By Abhaya SRIVASTAVA
New Delhi, March 21, 2019 (AFP) - Walls draped in lush vertical gardens and air filtered through purifiers insulate diners at a swanky New Delhi food court from the choking haze outside in one of the most polluted places on earth. But these eco-eateries, offering cleaner air as well as modern menus to the well heeled are beyond reach for the poor, who have little means of escaping the deadly smog which coats the city for much of the year. Air pollution kills more than one million Indians every year, according to a study by Lancet Planetary Health, and Delhi is ranked one of the most toxic urban centres to live, regularly exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) limits.
But for Ramavtar Singh there is no escape: like many of the city's poorest, he eats, sleeps, and works outside. "I work for six to eight hours every day and my children eat and sleep outside most times of the year," the father of five tells AFP at a roadside food stall, gulping down a 50-cent dish of rice and lentils. Singh earns a living by cycling passengers and cargo around Delhi on his rickshaw, a strenuous activity that means he's inhaling dangerous concentrations of tiny pollutants deep into his lungs. At best, he can wrap a rag over his mouth on smoggy days, a low-cost approach taken by labourers and rickshaw drivers that does little to prevent the most dangerous particles entering the bloodstream. Delhi's smog peaks from October to February, routinely exceeding WHO recommendations for PM2.5 -- tiny and harmful airborne particles -- and some days registers levels more than 20 times safe limits. Experts warn the long term health consequences of living enveloped in pollution are disastrous, often causing chronic sickness and in some cases early death.
- ' A quick oxygen shot' -
Across town, Abhimanyu Mawatwal is settling down for lunch at a food court in Worldmark Aerocity, a grand commercial centre boasting purified air. A meal here could cost twice Singh's monthly salary, but it is a price Mawatwal is willing to pay because outside the smog is at hazardous levels. "I love to come here for my meals. It is like getting a quick oxygen shot," the office worker says, surrounded by creeper vines and a faux stream as he breathed lungfuls of filtered air circulating through expensive filters. "We need to bring greenery to concrete jungles and create places where everybody can come for a breath of fresh air," insists S. K. Sayal, CEO of Bharti Realty which owns Worldmark Aerocity. Delhi's affluent, who are often better informed about the dangers of pollution, increasingly expect the same safety measures they have in place at home, to be available when they are out.
High-end eateries, bars and cinemas are tapping into that demand -- installing electronic air purifiers and creating dedicated areas of rich vegetation to help filter airborne toxins. But for Singh, and the one in five Indians living on less than $2 a day, visiting such places is nothing more than a fantasy. "What will I do if I spend all the money on one meal? How will I feed my family?" said the rickshaw cyclist, who earns about 1,200 rupees ($17) a month. He cannot dream of buying the foreign-made air purifiers to protect his family at home -- machines favoured by Delhi's elite, expat communities and office workers -- that easily cost Singh's annual wage. "The rich and the poor have to breathe the same poisonous air. But the poor are more exposed to pollution," explains Sunil Dahiya, a campaigner for Greenpeace India. He adds: "Most of the time, they don't even know the effects the toxic air is having on their health. Poor communities are definitely at the losing end."
Geneva, March 21, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people in Zimbabwe affected by a devastating cyclone and flooding has jumped to 200,000, with most of the damage occurring near the Mozambique border, the UN said Thursday. The initial estimate of those hit in Zimbabwe was 15,000 but World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Herve Verhoosel told reporters in Geneva that the numbers had surged following an overnight assessment.
By Vishal MANVE
Mumbai, March 20, 2019 (AFP) - India's Jet Airways was fighting multiple crises Wednesday after grounding six planes, leaving it with only a third of its fleet flying, while pilots have threatened to walk out and a major shareholder is reportedly looking to offload its huge stake. The problems at India's number-two carrier come as other airlines struggle to turn a profit despite the sector rapidly expanding in the country over recent years. Jet, which employs more than 20,000 people, is gasping under debts of more than $1 billion and has now been forced to ground a total of 78 of its 119 aircraft after failing to pay lenders and aircraft lessors. In a statement late Tuesday announcing its latest grounding, the firm it said it was "actively engaging" with lenders to secure fresh liquidity and wanted to "minimise disruption".
But with hundreds of customers left stranded, Jet's social media accounts have been flooded with often suddenly stranded passengers demanding information, new flight tickets and refunds. "@jetairways We book our flights in advance so that we save on travel cost and you are sending cancellation (message) now?", read one irate tweet on Wednesday. "I have sent a DM (direct message) regarding my ticket details. Please respond!", said Sachin Deshpande, according to his Twitter profile a design engineer. Another, Ankit Maloo, wrote: "Received an email for all together cancellation of flight days before departure without any prior intimation or communication over phone!" The firm is also facing pressure from its many pilots who have not been paid on time, with unions threatening they will walk off the job if salaries do not arrive soon.
- Alarm bells -
"Pilots will stop flying jet planes from 1st April 2019 if the company does not disburse due salaries and take concrete decisions," a spokesperson for the National Aviator's Guild, a pilots union, told AFP. India's aviation regulator on Tuesday warned Jet Airways to ensure that staffers facing stress are not forced to operate flights. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates has offered to sell its 24 percent stake in Jet to State Bank of India (SBI). A collapse would deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pragmatic pro-business reputation ahead of elections starting on April 11. India's passenger numbers have rocketed six-fold over the past decade with its middle-class taking advantage of better connectivity and cheaper flights. The country's aviation sector is projected to become the world's third-largest by 2025.
But like other carries, Mumbai-based Jet has been badly hit by fluctuating global crude prices, a weak rupee and fierce competition from budget rivals. Alarm bells for Jet first rang in August when it failed to report its quarterly earnings or pay its staff, including pilots, on time. It then later reported a loss of $85 million. In February, it secured a $1.19 billion bailout from lenders including SBI to bridge a funding gap, but the crisis has since deepened. "Jet Airways is rapidly reaching a point of no return and running out of assets to keep itself afloat," Devesh Agarwal, editor of the Bangalore Aviation website, told AFP. "The only solution is equity expansion by diluting its stakes but Jet is just trying to cut losses and running out of options," Agarwal said. Shares in Jet Airways were down more than five percent on Wednesday.