MDP denies involvement in Hulhumale’ demonstration against VP, pledges commitment to talks

The Maldvian Democratic Party (MDP) said it remains committed to ceasing street demonstrations in order to facilitate talks with government-aligned parties, playing down fears that protests by a number of “individuals” against the vice-president on Thursday could derail negotiations.

MDP spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed today that the party had not been behind demonstrations held Thursday (August 9) on the island of Hulhumale’ during a visit by Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen. Ghafoor added that there had been no official communication from the government so far following these demonstrations with regard to stopping talks between the country’s political leaders.

Since the controversial transfer of power that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan into office on February 7, former President Mohamed Nasheed has alleged he was removed from office in a “coup d’etat”. The allegations have lead to months of political uncertainty across the nation, resulting last month in the indefinite suspension of parliament.

Less then 24 hours after welcoming the MDP’s decision to suspend ongoing street protests against the government to “facilitate meaningful political dialogue” with the coalition government, the President’s Office yesterday told local media it might reconsider participation in talks following demonstrations held Thursday (August 9) in Hulhumale’.

President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was quoted by the Sun Online news service as saying that the government’s decision to participate in fresh talks had “to be reconsidered”, alleging the MDP had been directly involved in the protests that reportedly saw offensive language used against the vice president.

Both Abbas and President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad were not responding at time of press.

Thursday’s demonstrations were directly targeted at a visit by Vice President Deen, who was in Hulhumale’ to attend the opening ceremony of the State Trading Organisation (STO)’s new futsal field.

Police spokesman Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today that eight people had been arrested in relation to the incident, with seven having been released at the time of press. Haneef said that the suspect’s had been arrested over charges including blocking the vice-president’s car, and “disobeying and disturbing” police as they performed their legal duties.

However, MDP MP Ghafoor claimed that the party had not been involved in organising demonstrations against the vice president, contending that the reaction of Abbas in local media had been a “knee-jerk response to a minor incident”.

“I have read comments about this in the media, but we have not heard anything official from the government on [stopping talks],” he said. “It appears that a sporadic incident has been used as an excuse by some to criticise us because of a couple of angry activists. We have stopped our street demonstrations as we promised, but individuals will still get upset in the current political environment.”

Ghafoor added that he believed it was unlikely that the actions of independent demonstrators would set back wider-efforts to attempt to find a resolution the present impasse between the MDP and government-aligned parties.

“This is not a culture we have had before 2008, but people are now free to come out and speak their mind about concerns they have,” he said. “This just appears to be people being over-sensitive regarding minor incidents.”

Demonstration concerns

The unity government’s insistence on an end to the MDP’s continued demonstrations before discussions could resume had been outlined in the agenda of the all-party roadmap talks. Of a six point agenda agreed upon by participants, public order and stability were one of the first points to be addressed.

However, during the most recent round of all-party talks in June, the list of demands presented to the MDP by government-aligned groups were claimed to be lacking in seriousness. The 30-point list presented to the opposition party included demands to desist from using “black magic” and “erotic tools” as well as walking in groups of more than ten.

Since that time, the MDP has continued regular demonstrations, particularly in the capital Male’, where consecutive nights of protests in July resulted in violent clashes between protesters, security forces and journalists.

The immediate aim of inter-party discussions, however, would be to agree upon an arrangement which might allow the reopening of the People’s Majlis, which was suspended last month after angry confrontations between opposing MPs and the Speaker of the House.

The Speaker Abdulla Shahid invoked his authority to suspend sessions indefinitely if he felt dialogue between party leaders was necessary to restore calm to proceedings. Government-aligned parties have been critical of the role they allege MDP MPs played in stymieing the work of the People’s Majlis.


Police confirm rubber bullet use as violence rocks Male’

Police officials today confirmed the use of less-lethal weapons including pepper spray, tear gas and, in one confirmed case, rubber bullets during violent clashes with civilians in Male’.

However, the country’s security forces insisted they had employed a policy of “minimum force” against anti-government protesters.

Despite international calls for calm, and pledges to conduct peaceful anti-government protests, images of violence were the one constant across all Maldivian media as President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan was finally able to give his state of the nation address.

The president still required several attempts, having to shout over loud heckling and protests by several Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters to get the job done.

Chaotic scenes – more often that not of a violent nature – took place both inside and out of the country’s parliament as bitter political divide stemming from allegations that Waheed replaced Mohamed Nasheed as the country’s president in a coup d’etat, appeared to escalate.

Rubber bullets

A spokesperson for the Maldives’ Police Service told Minivan News that amidst the day’s violence, there was one confirmed case of rubber bullets being used during the afternoon in order to stop an individual accused of taking a police vehicle from near the now-demolished MDP protest camp.

The spokesperson added that the exact details of whether or not the suspect hit by the projectile was an anti-government protester had not been confirmed at the time of going to press.

When contacted by Minivan News, Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem added that he was not aware of any incidents of military officers using rubber bullets against civilians during the day. However, he did stress that as a so-called less-lethal weapon, rubber or plastic bullets were options the military were authorised to use as a means to restore order.

Majlis trouble

With President Waheed facing calls from international bodies such as the European Union and the Commonwealth, as well as the opposition MDP to hold fresh elections over the controversial transfer of power that brought him into office, a mixture of violence and heckling erupted in parliament.

Several international observers were reported to have been looking on from the public galleries, according to a source present during the session.

Some media outlets reported that several MDP MPs were injured during minor scuffles that broke out in the Majlis chamber as protesters faced expulsion for continuing to block Waheed.  MDP party members alleged that it was the MNDF that was responsible, a claim refuted by military officials.

An MDP member claimed that at one point around 20 MNDF soldiers entered parliament, attacking MDP members, including Baarashu Dhaaira MP Shifaz.

Shifaz was alleged to have been beaten unconscious before being removed from parliament by MNDF officers with a broken leg.

After several attempts by the President to complete his speech, a task frequently interrupted as Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid’s was forced to fulfil his constitutional duty to remove disruptive MPs from the Majlis, Waheed was able to continue only by shouting over his dissenters.

Waheed had been prevented from delivering his speech at the previously scheduled opening of parliament of March 1.

Once the Majlis session was concluded, Maldivian Democratic Party spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy said the party did not take pride in obstructing parliament, but had felt forced to do so due to its dissatisfaction with the nature of Waheed’s accession to the Presidency.

Fahmy claimed the party would now work both inside and outside of parliament to achieve early elections. Waheed later issued a statement claiming he would work with all political parties to ensure early elections if such a thing was “required”.

A spokesperson for the President was unable to clarify exactly what sort of requirement he was referring to when contacted by Minivan News.

“This is the time for all of us to work together in one spirit, the time to bring political differences to the discussion table in order to formulate solutions,” stated Waheed. “I fully assure you that I will not order anyone to act against the constitution or laws of this country”.

In the streets

Any hopes for more orderly demonstrations at protests outside of parliament were also dashed as violent chaos ensued in the streets.
Groups of anti-government protesters left the MDP camp by the Tsunami memorial just before 9.30am and were firmly entrenched at two of the police’s many barricades by 10am with all routes to the Majlis blocked.

While those to the east of the Majlis building demonstrated peacefully with a sit-down, the far larger group advancing on the blockade to the south appeared more confrontational in their approach.

The activities of this group eventually prompted the use of tear gas by police, which drove the group away from the police lines.

This tactic then brought the group into direct confrontation with soldiers who were protecting the studios of Villa Television (VTV).

In the meantime, fire fighters struggled to control a blaze at Neelan Fihaara on the other side of town situated next to a police garage. The cause of this fire is not yet known, though both the MDP and pro-government supporters blamed each other for deliberately starting the blaze.

As demonstrators on Sosun Magu were forced back, some vented their frustrations on the VTV building, using bricks from outside the adjacent hospital to attack the troops and the TV station.  Extensive damage was reportedly caused to VTV and its property, with the station briefly being brought off air – an act claimed by the station’s owner to be tantamount to “terrorism”.

Local media bodies also criticised protesters for allegedly threatening journalists and media personnel covering the clashes.

MNDF reinforcements and, according to some witnesses, rubber bullets were used by police to successfully disperse the rioters on Sosun Magu.

Minivan News witnessed the use of some form of weapon, but could not confirm what sort of projectiles were fired from it. By this point, police had claimed one civilian and eight police officers were injured.

President Waheed used his Twitter account to lay the blame for the street battles solely at the foot of former President Nasheed – despite his non-appearance on the day.

“Anni must take responsibility for the chaos as he is directing the chaos in Male’,” he said.

The clashes along Sosun Magu between security forces and their aggressors continued into the afternoon until demonstrators began to make their way to the MDP protest camp near the Tsunami Memorial at about 3pm.

Less than an hour later, police told Minivan News that the violent confrontations with protesters appeared to have been brought under control.

Rising tensions

However, tempers soon flared again as large numbers of police arrived to begin clearing the surf point area of the capital that has been home to the MDP protest camp since former President Nasheed’s controversial resignation in February.

A police spokesperson told Minivan News that a court order to dismantle the camp had been obtained by the security forces in response to the violence that engulfed the city during the morning. The MDP have disputed the existence if any such warrant.

“All of the unlawful acts that are taking place across the city have been planned in this place [the MDP camp],” the spokesperson claimed.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor later told local press that the Tsunami Memorial area itself belonged to the MNDF, at least according to certain laws which would suggest Male’ City Council’s decision to provide the MDP with the land until later this year was invalid.

“The old days are back”

However, MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy responded with claims that the move reflected a continued reversal of human rights under the new government.

“The old days are back. They are violating freedoms of expression and association,” he told Minivan News. “They are now committing atrocities in daylight to intimidate the public.”

Fahmy claimed he was not surprised that the security forces had been granted a court warrant to remove the camp, “The courts function as they want.”

As protesters gathered around the police blockade surrounding the perimeter of the camp area, tear gas and water cannons were used by security officials to pushprotesters back towards Dharubaaruge.

With the camp eventually dismantled, both the Haveeru and Sun Online news agencies reported the police’s discovery of beer cans and a large quantity of a substance believed to smell like home-brewed alcohol, both prohibited under Maldivian law – though this discovery has not been confirmed by Minivan News.

Despite crowds continuing to gather to jeer and shout at police past sunset, the day’s violence appeared to once again have died down by 8PM.

Correction: The original opening paragraph to this article implied MNDF officials had also confirmed the use of rubber bullets, which was not the case.  Minivan News apologises for the grammatical error.