On every November 3rd, the Maldives celebrate a public holiday called Victory Day to mark the defeat of an attempted coup against then-president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 1988.
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The coup was the third and final attempt to oust Gayoom, earlier attempts being made in 1983 and 1980. The group that staged the coup is considered by the Maldivian government to have been a terrorist organisation, and thus, it is an anti-terror as well as patriotic holiday.
The coup was a rebellion led by a local businessman named Abdullah Luthufi, who got most of his military support by hiring Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries. About 80 mercenaries sneaked into Male, the capital, ahead of the planned attack, and another 80 came just before the action commenced. They seized control of many important buildings in Male, but the president managed to escape and plead with India for assistance.
India indeed responded without delay, sending in 1,600 paratroopers, who travelled over 1,200 miles in nine hours to Male and then restored order within only three hours’ time. The Indian navy also arrived and captured some of the mercenaries who were trying to flee back to Sri Lanka on a stolen freighter ship. The action, called “Operation Cactus,” was 100 percent successful and has deepened friendly ties between the Maldives and India ever since.
The victory of Victory Day did come at a price, however, for 19 people died that day. Eight of them were insurgents, but 11 were innocent civilians, including two hostages who were executed. Thus, Victory Day is a time to remember the fallen as well as to celebrate the triumph.
Maldives is still one of the poorest countries in the world, but due to the explosive growth of its tourism industry, progress is being made. Many come from all around the world to these 2,000-plus tiny isles in the Indian Ocean to enjoy the tropical climate, the unbeatable deep sea fishing, the pristine beaches, and more.
Should you be among this throng of tourists to Maldives during Victory Day, some things to do include:
- Look for official Victory Day events in Male. The Maldives armed forces often march and parade ceremoniously to mark the occasion, and there will be special meetings where you can hear speeches by national leaders on the significance of the day.
- While in Male, tour the town for the full experience. There are many good shopping centres, and you should also see the imposing Male Friday Mosque and Muliaage presidential palace in the city’s historic center. Finally, be sure to stop by the National Museum in Sultan Park to learn more about Maldivian culture and history and to find time to relax on Villingili Beach on a small offshore isle considered part of Male.
- Maldives is a surfer’s paradise and has been frequented by surfers from around the globe since the 1970’s. Victory Day comes within the “surf monsoon” period, which lasts till the end of November. Expect reef breakers of up to 10 feet. Have fun, but be careful of the coral and bring your own equipment, since good surf equipment is hard to find in Maldives.
Victory Day is a perfect time to visit the Maldives and explore all it has to offer to tourists, as well as to learn a little about Maldivian history and patriotism.