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October 18, 2009

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Cabinet in underwater protest

THE Maldivian president and ministers held the world's first underwater cabinet meeting yesterday in a symbolic cry for help over rising sea levels that threaten the tropical archipelago's existence.

Aiming for another attention-grabbing event to bring the risks of climate change into relief before a landmark UN climate change meeting in December, President Mohamed Nasheed's cabinet headed to the bottom of a turquoise lagoon.

Clad in black diving suits and masks, Nasheed, 11 ministers, the vice president and cabinet secretary dove 3.8 meters to gather at tables under the crystalline waters that draw thousands of tourists to US$1,000-a-night luxury resorts.

As black-and-white striped Humbug Damselfish darted around a backdrop of white coral, Nasheed gestured with his hands to start the 30-minute meeting, state TV showed.

"We are trying to send our message to let the world know what is happening and what will happen to the Maldives if climate change isn't checked," a dripping Nasheed told reporters as soon as he re-emerged from the water.

The archipelago nation off the tip of India, best known for luxury tropical hideaways and unspoiled beaches, is among the most threatened by rising seas. If UN predictions are correct, most of the low-lying Maldives will be submerged by 2100.

Nasheed and the ministers used a white plastic slate and waterproof pencils to sign an "SOS" message from the Maldives during the 30-minute meeting.

"We must unite in a world war effort to halt further temperature rises," the message said. "Climate change is happening and it threatens the rights and security of everyone on Earth."

World leaders will meet in Copenhagen to hammer out a successor agreement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and industrialized nations want all countries to impose sharp emissions cuts.

"We have to have a better deal. We should be able to come out with an amicable understanding that everyone survives. If Maldives can't be saved today, we do not feel there is much chance for the rest of the world," he said.

The developing world wants rich countries to shoulder most of the burden, on the basis they contributed most to the problem.

Nasheed and the cabinet trained for two weeks and were assisted by professional divers to pull off his latest eye-catching move related to climate change.

Nasheed, barely a month after taking office last year, said he would establish a sovereign fund to relocate his country's 350,000 people if sea levels rise.


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