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3 15 N, 73 00 E
26 July 1965
300 sq km


Government and politics

Politics in the Maldives takes place in the framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President is the head of government. The President heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet. The President is nominated to a five-year term by a secret ballot of the Majlis (parliament), a nomination which must be confirmed by national referendum.

The unicameral Majlis of the Maldives is composed of fifty members serving five-year terms. Two male members from each atoll are elected directly by universal suffrage. Eight are appointed by the president. The Maldivian Peoples Party has traditionally exercised exclusive control over the government; however, opposition parties were legalized in 2005 after the elections.

Ethnic groups

Homogeneous mixture of Sinhalese, Dravidian, Arab, Australasian, and African groups; also small group of Indian traders.

The History

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. But by the fourth century AD, Theravada Buddhism came from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and became the dominant religion of the people of Maldives. Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands".

In the mid-1980s, the Maldivian government allowed the noted explorer and expert on early marine navigation, Thor Heyerdahl, to excavate ancient sites. Heyerdahl studied the ancient mounds, called hawitta by the Maldivians, found on many of the atolls. Some of his archaeological discoveries of stone figures and carvings from pre-Islamic civilizations are today exhibited in a side room of the small National Museum on Malé.

Heyerdahl's research indicates that as early as 2000 BC, Maldives lay on the maritime trading routes of early Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus Valley civilizations. Heyerdahl believes that early sun-worshipping seafarers, called the Redin, first settled on the islands. This was evident then in many mosques facing the sun and not Mecca, lending credence to this theory. Because building space and materials were scarce, successive cultures constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings. Heyerdahl thus surmises that these sun-facing mosques were built on the ancient foundations of the Redin culture temples. Heyerdahl's early mosques have now in large part been converted to face Mecca, as Islam gained solidarity in Maldives, in the earlier half of the modern Republic.

According to Maldivian legend, a Sinhalese prince named Koimala was stranded with his bride — daughter of the king of Sri Lanka — in a Maldivian lagoon and stayed on to rule as the first sultan from the House of Theemuge. Prior to that Malé had belonged to a group of people today known as the Giravaaru who claim ancestry from ancient Tamils (Tamilas).

The Maldivians followed Buddhism before they converted to Islam and the conversion is explained in a controversial mythological story about the demon Rannamaari.

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean littorals. Mappila pirates from the Malabar Coast — present-day Kerala state in India — harassed the islands.

Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate for most of its history from 1153 to 1968, Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt to form a republic, but the sultanate was re-imposed. In 1959, objecting to Nasir's changes, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected a president, Abdulla Afeef Didi.

After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another three years. On November 11, 1968, it was abolished and replaced by a republic, and the country assumed its present name. Tourism and fishing are now being developed on the archipelago.

In November 1988, Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka invaded the Maldives. After an appeal by the Maldivian government for help, India launched a military campaign to throw the mercenaries out of Maldives. On the night of November 3, 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted a parachute battalion group from Agra and flew them non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi) to Maldives. The Indian paratroopers landed at Hulule and secured the airfield and restored the Government rule at Malé within hours. The brief, bloodless operation, labelled Operation Cactus, also involved the Indian Navy.

On 26 December 2004 the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The absence of land mass against which waves could be built up reduced the destructive impact, preventing the waves from reaching much more than 1.2 - 1.5 meters (4–5 ft) in height . Despite this, the archipelago's low lying nature (one of the lowest lying countries on Earth) meant that nearly all of the country was swamped. At least seventy-five people perished, including six foreigners.

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