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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
Profile: President Maumoon Gayoom
Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is Asia's longest-serving leader.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Gayoom defends his country's brand of limited democracy

But few have heard of him outside the sleepy Indian Ocean archipelago he has governed for 25 years.

His supporters say this is because he is a popular president who has quietly got on with the business of making the Maldives more attractive, and more affluent.

To his critics, however, his anonymity is a sign of something more sinister. President Gayoom, they say, silenced domestic dissent to steer the Maldives along a course of his own choosing.

Exclusive destination

The president defends the curbs on democracy in the Maldives by pointing to the booming economy.

Since 1978, his economic policies have transformed a cluster of desert islands ringed by coral reefs into South Asia's most exclusive holiday destination.

With a per capita income of $2,280, the Maldives' population of 250,000 Sunni Muslims is now one of the wealthiest in the region.

Entire islands have been given over to luxury hotel developments and tourism has become the engine of the Maldivian economy.

Yet the reliance on Western tourism has made President's Gayoom's government sensitive to Western criticism.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have accused the government of imprisoning and torturing its opponents, allegations the government says are baseless.

Although the Maldives does not have a party system, a 1998 constitution gave citizens the right to contest the vote for the presidency in parliament.

Before then it had been a criminal offence to offer oneself as a candidate.

Rising tides

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was born in the Maldivian capital, Male, in 1937, and studied in Sri Lanka and Egypt.

He has brushed aside three coup attempts and appears to have mastered the art of staying in office.

But the islands he governs could do with some staying power of their own.

If sea levels continue to rise at recent rates, the low-lying Maldives are set to vanish beneath the waves within the next few decades.

The threat of going under has cast President Gayoom in the role of an environmentalist advocating curbs on global warming.




SEE ALSO:
Maldives leader set for new term
25 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Amnesty attacks Maldives 'abuse'
24 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Maldives 'had second jail riot'
23 Sep 03  |  South Asia
'Arrests' after Maldives riots
22 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Maldives capital tense after riot
21 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Country profile: The Maldives
05 Sep 03  |  Country profiles


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