COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Mohamed Nasheed, who took the oath of office Tuesday as the Maldives' first democratically elected president, is looking for ways to protect his low-lying island nation from the threat of global warming.
Nasheed was sworn in to office at a private ceremony in the capital of Male following an election victory last week that ended 30 years of single-party rule. He now leads the flattest nation on Earth — with an average height of 7 feet above sea level — and one considered particularly vulnerable to the perils of global climate change and rising sea levels.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of significant rises in the sea level by the end of the century. Climate researchers say that many of the Maldives' 1,200 islands could disappear if the seas continue to rise.
Ibrahim Zacky, a leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, said Nasheed has proposed creating a fund so that its people could be relocated in case the nation of 350,000 people becomes submerged. He refused to give more details of the plan.
Gayoom, who was ousted as Asia's longest-serving ruler, did not take part in the swearing-in ceremony.
Gayoom oversaw the transformation of the Maldives from a poor fishing community into one of Asia's top luxury resort destinations but his critics accused him of ruling the country as a dictator. He had won six previous elections as the only name on the ballot, but obtained just 46 percent of the vote in last week's election.
Nasheed is a democracy activist who had been jailed by the prior regime. He promised to push through deeper democratic reforms after fighting for change in recent years as an exile in Britain and Sri Lanka.
Violent street protests in 2003 and resultant international pressure prompted Gayoom to start a lengthy reform program that led to his own ouster.