MDP calls for nationwide protest against judiciary

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has held an emergency meeting and called for a nationwide protest against the country’s judiciary, starting at 3:30pm.

The party contends that the courts have been  prioritising cases filed against MDP members and delaying cases involving opposition figures. The protest coincides with the Supreme Court’s scheduled delivery of a verdict in a case filed against MDP MP Mohamed Musthafa, requesting his candidacy as an MP be invalidated.

The case against him was filed in July 2009 by then leader of the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) Umar Naseer, shortly after Musthafa won the election for Thimarafushi constituency against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s son, Gassan Maumoon. Umar Naseer contended that Musthafa had a decreed debt dating back to 1997 that was not paid in accordance with a court ruling.

Today’s protest was proposed to the party’s National Council by MDP MP Mariya Ahmed, the party’s former chairperson.

MP and spokesperson for the party’s Parliamentary Group, Mohamed Shifaz, told Minivan News that the protest would start at the MDP’s Head Office and assemble near properties belonging to the judicial system.

Shifaz said there had been cases filed against opposition figures “held up in the courts for years.”

”Hearings in the corruption case against People’s Alliance MP and Deputy Speaker of parliament Ahmed Nazim were closed to journalists and the public, and the court has delaying the trial,” he claimed. ”But if this was a case against an MDP member they would hasten their work to conclude the case and sentence him.”

Shifaz said one of the most important thing MDP members “have always wanted was justice.”

”The judges are still trapped under the influence of [former President] Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his half-brother Abdulla Yameen and the like,” Shifaz said, adding that there were cases against Gayoom and Yameen filed in the court by the Presidential Commission that had never come to trial.

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog body charged with overseeing the judiciary, in May this year abolished its Complaints Committee citing “efficiency”, with complaints against judges subsequently forwarded for review by the legal section and Commission head Adam Mohamed, a Supreme Court Judge.

Last year the JSC received 143 complaints concerning the conduct of judges. By its own statistics none were tabled in the commission, and only five were ever replied to. Chair of the former complaints commission, Aishath Velezinee, was meanwhile stabbed in the street in January this year.

The JSC also failed to table or even acknowledge receipt of a report on the judiciary produced by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which questioned whether the JSC’s possessed the technical ability and knowledge to investigate complaints and hold the judiciary accountable, as well as its independence.

Shifaz today alleged that judges had been “blackmailed by the opposition”, and said that all the MDP MPs and senior officials, along with many supporters and citizens, would join the protest today.

”We have not really decided when to stop the protest. Members of the council have suggested continuing it until we achieve justice,” he said.

Former member of the Special Majlis Drafting Committee for the new Constitution, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, recently filed a defamation case against the Supreme Court after it reprimanded him for calling on the public to “rise up and sort out the judges”.

In response to Ibra’s calls, the Supreme Court and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) demanded authorities investigate the former MP, claiming that “making such statements in a free, democratic society under lawful governance goes against the principles of civilisation”.

The Supreme Court subsequently issued a writ of prohibition and took over the case against it over from the Civil Court, and as a result, Ibra said, “I now have to go before the Supreme Court and say to them ‘You have defamed me, now please decide in my favour.’”

Speaking to Minivan News today, Ibra speculated that one possible reason for the Supreme Court’s decision to suddenly pursue the case against MP Mustafa “is because Gayoom’s new Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) wants to win the seat in a by-election.”

“Mustafa contested the seat against Gassan Maumoon, Gayoom’s son, and won by just a few votes,” Ibra noted. “They have high hopes for the seat.”

He also speculated that the Supreme Court’s actions could be an effort to divert attention from the public forum on judicial issues being held at the Social Centre in Male’ tonight at 8:30pm, “a red herring to divert public focus. [The forum] is where things will really happen.”

Regardless of its motivation, Ibra said, the Supreme Court’s behaviour “is all but an admission that they are operating on a political platform.”

Asked whether he was participating in the protest planned by the MDP against the judiciary, Ibra said he had “no idea what they’re up to. I surmise they are showing support for MP Mustafa. I am deliberately staying away from the political players on this issue. I want the civil community to come out on this, but I suspect senior political figures will now want to start making an appearance on the judicial issue.”

DRP Deputy Leader Ahmed Mohamed today told Minivan News that protesting against the courts and the judicial system was “unacceptable”.

”It should not be done. In the past MDP has done similiar things – once they locked the Supreme Court and Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and established a court of their own,” Mohamed contended. ”These kind of actions are clearly against the constitution.”


Four students and principal drown on school excursion

Almost two-thirds of Male’ attended the funeral on Friday for the principal of Hiriya School and four female students, who drowned off Huraa in Kaafu Atoll during a school fisheries science trip.

The bodies of grade nine students Nash-ath Saeed, Mariyam Naza, Aishath Saniha, Mariyam Shaiha and Hiriya Principal Ali Nazim were brought to Male’ in the afternoon.

The group of students left Hiriya School at 5:45am on Friday morning for a fisheries science field trip. A component of the trip involved snorkelling in an area used regularly by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) for training exercises.

Students entered the sea around 9:30am, accompanied by the school principal.

Haveeru reported sources as saying that Nazim died trying to single-handedly rescue the students, who were allegedly unable to swim when they were caught in eight feet of water in a lagoon north-east of Huraa. The area is known for having very strong currents.

Sun Online reported that Nazim attempted to rescue eight students who found themselves in trouble, and was able to save four before he died.

Sources at the funeral told Minivan News that the panicked students grabbed the principal when he reached them and he was unable to rescue the remaining children.

Relatives who attended the funeral said that the students were not asked whether they knew how to swim, and blamed the school management. No life jackets were taken on the trip, one source claimed, although this was unverified.

Haveeru reported that eight teachers accompanied the school trip of 32 to Huraa, and staff had the necessary first aid requirements.

The bodies were brought to Male’ in a speedboat around 10:40 from nearby Four Seasons resort. Meanwhile, the rest of the students returned yesterday afternoon and parents were summoned to attend the school.

The bodies were first brought to Aasahara cemetery in Galolhu, but due to the large number of mourners attending the funeral, their bodies were moved to the Islamic Centre.

The bodies were scheduled to be laid to rest after Isha prayer at 7:30pm, but of the large numbers the faces of the deceased were only covered at 10:30pm.

Hiriya school principal Ali Nazim

News of the tragedy quickly spread around Male’ and had a profound impact on the city, with reports of many parents ringing their children and begging them not to go in the water.

President Mohamed Nasheed telephoned the families of the deceased, and later announced that the national flag would be flown at half mast for three days.

Education Minister Shifa Mohamed is returning early from her trip to Australia and is expected to arrive in Male’ tomorrow.

Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh said a joint investigation into the incident had been launched by the police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).


No MP wants Rf20,000 committee allowance, claims MDP MP Musthafa

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa has claimed that no MP really wanted to take the Rf20,000 committee allowance, or had so far received it, despite DRP MP’s Ahmed Mahlouf’s resolution to cut the allowance being dismissed yesterday.

Out of the 58 MPs present during the vote yesterday, 17 MPs voted to accept Mahlouf’s resolution and cut the committee allowance (+) while 20 voted in favor of keeping it (-).

16 MPs abstained from voting. 19 were absent, a quarter of the chamber.

Breakdown of the vote, by MP

Musthafa said that his intention was to throw the matter out of parliament, despite voting against the resolution to dismiss it.

‘’This resolution was not really presented to the parliament because they care about the citizens,’’ said Musthafa. ‘’There is no MP that wants the committee allowance, and so far nobody has even received the committee allowance.’’

Musthafa said he voted in favour of the committee allowance ‘’just to close the whole chapter for good.’’

‘’I don’t even touch my monthly salary, I give it all to my constituency,’’ he told Minivan News. ‘’I don’t think there is any MP that depends on their salary.’’

Musthafa also claimed that MPs did not work for their salary, but by working for the rights and needs of the people.

MP Musthafa was the only MP out of 10 contacted by Minivan News who commented on the matter, which has raised public ire and concern over the prevalence of MPs giving their salaries to constituents who approach them with medical and educational expenses.

MPs on both sides of the political fence have previously acknowledged to Minivan News that the expectation from the public is that MPs will hand out this money, particularly in response to demands for foreign medical treatment, “and it is hard to say no.”

Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said earlier this year that the government “does not believe that MPs should spend their salary on welfare for their constituents – they are paid principally so they have a dependable source of income and are therefore less susceptible to corruption – but many instances of assistance being provided in this manner are in fact acts of corruption. Some MPs have not grasped that – they are not supposed to be giving charity.”

The committee allowances are derived from a new pay structure formulated by parliament under Article 102, which does not require Presidential ratification.

President Mohamed Nasheed in January refused to ratify the controversial MP Privileges Bill, which included additional financial benefits for MPs including health insurance for life, pensions after a single term of five years’ service, and concessions such as freedom from paying duty on imported cars.


China’s top legislator visits parliament, President

China’s top legislator Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Wu Bangguo met today with his Maldivian counterpart, Speaker of the Majlis and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Abdulla Shahid.

Wu is the highest ranking Chinese diplomat to visit the Maldives, and major streets in Male’ were lined with Maldivian and Chinese flags to mark his arrival.

During a meeting held inside the parliament, Shahid thanked Wu for the aid the Chinese government has offered to the Maldives over the past years, and spoke about strengthening diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Wu used the occasion to announce a doubling of Chinese aid to the Maldives to 100 million yuan (US$15.4 million), and said China would be opening an embassy in the country.

He also announced that China would offer 11 scholarships to Maldivian students in 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, Chinese flights would begin operating directly to the Maldives from different parts of China.

During his visit to the Majlis, Wu’s delegation presented parliament with 77 laptops (one for each MP), 50 cameras, and two 55-inch plasma TVs.

Wu also met President Mohamed Nasheed and signed an agreement on economic and technical cooperation between China and the Maldives.

Foreign Policy Advisor and former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed observed to Minivan News that the visit of such a senior Chinese dignitary represented a major development in the diplomatic and economic relationship between the two countries.

“The main interests China has in the Maldives are our support of the One China policy, and greater collaboration on climate change,” Dr Shaheed said, noting that next year would be the 40th year of Chinese engagement with the Maldives.

Chinese tourism arrivals in the Maldives last year exceeded those of the country’s traditional European market. Dr Shaheed explained that the Chinese government’s endorsement of the Maldives was integral to growing the market.

“It’s very important to have official approval – we had to ask and obtain permission to accept large groups [of Chinese tourists] to the Maldives,” Dr Shaheed said. “Even beyond tourism, China is a huge market and is increasingly visible in our region.”

He disputed that the Maldives had to balance its engagement with China with its diplomatic relationship with India.

“I don’t think we have to walk a tight-rope. We are firstly a SAARC member country, and China’s friendship is about broader global interest rather than regional,” he explained.

“The Maldives has been very active on the international stage in areas that are relevant to China, such as climate change and human rights, and China may see us as an important country to engage.”

While China had not lobbied the Maldives on issues relating to human rights, Dr Shaheed observed that Maldives last year declined to accept Chinese Guantanamo Bay detainees due to concerns expressed by China. Instead, the Maldives had switched its consideration to Palestinian detainees.

China has been very active in Sri Lanka, recently establishing a naval facility following the country’s defeat of Tamil separtists. Dr Shaheed said he did not believe the Maldives would follow suit.

“I do not think we are on the radar for a base,” he said. “We’ve made our position clear that we have longstanding policy not to host foreign troops in the Maldives. Sri Lanka has only recently been exposed to many other countries, whereas we have broader options.”

While Chinese involvement in the Maldives was unlikely to reach Sri Lankan levels, Dr Shaheed predicted that the doubling of Chinese aid would make its presence “much more visible.”

China’s aid specialities, he noted, were infrastructure projects such as roads and housing projects, which would likely increase with the country’s doubled commitment.

China has already donated the Foreign Ministry and the recently-opened Maldives National Museum – one of the biggest buildings in Male’.


Ali Waheed resigns from DRP, while MDP plans signing ceremony

Deputy Leader and MP of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ali Waheed has submitted his resignation letter to the DRP Office this morning, amid rumors that he is about to join ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Relevant sources have confirmed to Minivan News that Waheed submitted his resignation to the DRP Office this morning, and that the MDP will hold a special ceremony tomorrow night where Waheed will sign with the MDP.

Ali Waheed has not been responding to calls from any media since rumours of his decision began to circulate last weekend. He has so far only said that if he makes a political decision, he will make it publicly to the media and the people.

A senior MDP official speaking on condition of anonymity told Minivan News that Waheed will join MDP tomorrow night, “along with two other DRP MPs.”

He also claimed that the MPs were not joining the MDP for money, as claimed by the opposition’s Gayoom faction MP Ahmed Nihan earlier this week.

”They decided to join the MDP because of the internal conflict in their party,” the source said. “The MPs feel worried and insecure, so they are moving towards a direction where they have a future,” he said. ”Due to this internal conflict in the party the MPs on the side of DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali in particular are very concerned. Those MPs did not shift sides for cash, they are very loyal to Thasmeen.”

He said that Thasmeen and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will try and hold the remaining MPs in the party, but said that the MPs were “very concerned and worried about their future.”

”If Gayoom wants to run for the presidency during the next elections, he will have to do it right, according to the party’s charter,” the source said.

DRP Deputy Leader and Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef recently told Minivan News that rumours of Waheed’s impending departure were “propaganda to try to discredit some of us in the party.”

“Ali Waheed is a rising star with widespread support, and it would be a great blow to the party if he were to leave,” Shareef acknowledged.

Thasmeen meanwhile told Minivan News that he would not believe Waheed had joined MDP until he saw it actually happen.

Changing political landscape

The recent election of another former opposition MP – Alhan Fahmy – to the deputy leadership of the ruling party may be a key factor in luring ambitious MPs from the troubled opposition. However if rumours of money changing hands proved true, several MDP members have privately expressed concern that this risked unsettling grassroots members loyal to the ruling party from the beginning. Further discontent is likely on the islands among those constituents who voted for a party, rather than the MP.

The MDP also risks importing potential skeletons into the party along with the MP, such as the case with former Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Hassan Adhil who is currently under house arrest and facing charges of child molestation.

Furthermore, the departure of MPs loyal to Thasmeen’s faction will place further pressure on the more prosaic side of the opposition, limiting its ability to resist the leadership ambitions of Gayoom’s far less compromising ‘Z-Faction’ and risks greater destabilisation of the opposition.

The MDP has however struggled to pass legislation in the opposition-majority parliament, and is fervently seeking to tip the balance in its favour and gain control of the legislature to push through difficult bills such as the revised penal code, evidence bill, and income tax for people earning over Rf30,000.

Control of parliament would also give the MDP levers with which to address the challenges facing the judiciary and independent institutions in the country.


DRP MP Ali Waheed to join ruling MDP, claims senior party member

A senior member of  the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)’s Z-DRP faction has confirmed to Minivan News that the party’s Deputy Leader and Council Member Ali Waheed is shortly to join the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Head of the DRP’s sports wing, Hassan Shujau, will also join the ruling party along with Waheed, the source said.

The opposition figure confirmed that the pair were shifting sides “after receiving offers that, if they accept, will allow them to live the rest of their lives without doing any work.”

Rumours of Waheed’s possible jump to the MDP began circulating in the media over the weekend.

MDP Parliamentary Group’s former spokesperson, MP Ahmed Shifaz, told Minivan News that Ali Waheed was “99 percent likely to join MDP.”

”Ali Waheed is very, very close to joining MDP,” said Shifaz. ”But I do not have any information that he has joined as of yet.”

Recently MDP Deputy Leader and MP Alhan Fahmy was quoted in local newspaper Haveeru as saying ”the next time I step foot on this land it will be with Ali Waheed.”

Alhan, himself a former opposition MP and now the deputy leader of the ruling party, was speaking at an MDP rally held in Waheed’s North Ari Atoll constituency of Thoddu.

Waheed kept media silence amidst the spread of the rumours that he was intending to shift parties.

Leader of the DRP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said that he could not believe Waheed would join MDP “unless I see him join.”

”I don’t believe that he will join MDP after getting elected to the parliament on DRP ticket,” Thasmeen said, refusing to speculate on what Waheed’s departure would mean for the party.

DRP Deputy Leader and Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef said that Waheed had not signed, “and still remains a deputy leader of the DRP. This is propaganda to try to discredit some of us in the party.”

However, “Ali Waheed is a rising star with widespread support, and it would be a great blow to the party if he were to leave,” Shareef acknowledged.

Waheed’s decision comes at a time when the opposition is torn by factional strife, between leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and the ‘Z-DRP’ faction organised around former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who remains the ‘Honorary Leader’ of the party he founded since announcing his political retirement in February 2010.

The DRP’s internal troubles were “not a matter of factions – this is something much deeper,” said Shareef.
The DRP deputy leader suggested that the split was linked to the ideological difference of overthrowing the government through violence rather than electoral victory.
“When we have criticised the government for bad policy, many times they have listened to us. Street action and protests should be the last resort, and even then it should be peaceful protest and not violent disruption of ordinary peoples’ lives. We do not want to polarise this country further,” Shaeef said.

“It is very sad that our Honorary Leader believes that the opposition can under no circumstances support the policies of the government, even if they are good. This is a government elected by the people, and we must honour their decision, and accept it.”

Shareef also expressed concern at criticism leveled at Thasmeen by former President Gayoom, on his arrival to Male’ on the weekend.
“It is very sad, especially given that our honorary leader, who has served for the past 30 years, should now put his own interests before those of the country,” Shareef said.
“They are of the opinion that it is the duty of the opposition to violently overthrow the government. For us, it is not- our objective is to regain power, not by overthrowing the democratically-elected government but by putting forward policy, showing what the government is doing wrong, and reflecting the aspirations of the people. We want this country to prosper. If a policy is good we should support it.”

Local sports star reported injured in police standoff during fifth night of Male’ protests

A well-known local football star has been sent to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after suffering serious injuries during a fifth night of protests in the Maldivian capital.

Media reported that Ahmed Assad ‘Adubarey’ was injured when he was caught and crushed between police riot shields.

Police had restricted protesters to the open area around the tsunami monument and the artificial beach area in the capital Male’ after complaints from business owners and residents around the Majeedhee Magu and Chandanee Magu intersection, a two-lane road the demonstrators have dubbed the Maldives’ “Tahrir Square.”

Protesters split up to try and reach the area, with 10 people including Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf arrested by police and released later in the evening.

Those that reached the intersection were immediately dispersed by police, with several injuries reported.

It is thought that 14 demonstrators arrested during the week’s protests currently remain in custody after the Criminal Court issued warrants extending their detention.

A pickup truck with loudspeakers used by the opposition was damaged and looted by a group of seven young men near the Heniveru police station, in front of 600 demonstrators.

‘’We are residents of this area and you have caused much disturbance to us,” one of the men said, facing down the protesters. “You cannot move even a step forward. If you have the guts, take one step forward and you will see what happens,’’ he said, as 600 people stood silent.

Police are trying to locate the driver of the pickup.

‘’We had a report that a pick-up used by the protesters was destroyed by a group of people and we are now investigating the case,’’ said Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam.”So far no one has been arrested in connection to the incident.’’

The opposition has maintained that the protests are ‘youth-led’ over concerns at the rising cost of living, despite the active leadership of MPs loyal to the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the opposition.

Certain activists said to belong to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are also said to have been involved in the protests, along with other political parties.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has told a press conference in Colombo that the budget deficit was the Maldives’ most pressing issue, and the at the opposition was obliged to assist in resolving the matter.

“The government has laid out a series of steps with the advice of the International Monetary Fund,” Reuters reported Blake as saying. “If the opposition opposes those steps, then it’s incumbent on them to divulge what their own plan would be and then to engage in good-faith negotiations with the government.”

President Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said in a statement that the country “should unite for the common good.”

“If the opposition Z-DRP faction does not like the government’s economic policies, we call on it to set out an alternative, credible economic plan to reduce the budget deficit.”

Tourism insiders also alleged yesterday that growing international coverage of the protests has negatively impacted tourist interest from certain travel markets at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

“Travel operators in Taiwan have said they are postponing and cancelling group bookings because of negative perceptions [of safety] in the Maldives,” a tourism source attending the expo told Minivan News yesterday.

“We just had another two confirmed bookings cancelled today because of reports of riots and instability. We worked hard to get these bookings and the potential domino effect is really worrying – people panic.”

In addition to these claims, the National Council of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) yesterday announced that it had approved a resolution to conduct “direct action to defend the government, the constitution of the Republic of the Maldives, the President of the Maldives and senior government officials” against an opposition-led protest planned for Friday afternoon.

The group claimed at the time that it was responding to threats by opposition figures to “torture and kill” the president and other ministers at Republic Square.


Umar Naseer among 30 arrested in fourth night of ‘cost of living’ protests

A fourth night of protests in the capital city of Male’ ended shortly after midnight with the arrest of 30 demonstrators, including former deputy leader of the opposition, Umar Naseer.

Protesters gathered at the artificial beach area made to march towards the intersection of Male’s main street Majeedee Magu and the tourist strip Chaandhanee Magu, the focal point of the protests so far, but were blocked by police.

Thirty people were taken into custody with most later released, including two men delivering a pizza and the former Deputy Leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer.

“Umar Naseer was trying to make the situation worse and was not obeying police orders,” Shiyam said, adding that the former deputy leader was released later in the evening.

Naseer was dismissed from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) last year by the party’s disciplinary committee, for organising protests without the authorisation of the party’s Council.

His dismissal from the party led to an acrimonious factional split, after the Elections Commission upheld the DRP’s decision to strike Naseer from the party’s membership register.

Last Thursday the ‘Z-DRP’ faction – named after the former president and ‘honorary leader’ Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, announced it was “commencing work”. The party has maintained that the four nights of violent protests since then are ‘youth-led’ demonstrations against the rising cost of living.

After being blocked by police, protesters – fewer than previous protests this week – split into groups and began gathering in areas across the city demanding Naseer be released.

Police did not use much force until a group of protesters came near the Chaandhanee Magu intersection and attempted to gather in the area.

Minivan News observed police aggressively dispersing protesters in the intersection with violent force. Well-known comedian Yousuf Rafeeu ‘Yousay’ was among the protesters and was reportedly injured and admitted to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), after a group of unknown assailants attacked him while he was attempting to run away from police.

Unlike previous protests this week, Minivan News did not observe a large gathering of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters attempting to clash with anti-government demonstrators.

Police continued to arrest small groups of protesters until 2:30am, using cable ties to restrain them and removing them from the scene.

Police also confiscated a pickup truck carrying speaker equipment they said was being used disruptively. It was later returned to its owner.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said shop owners around the intersection had begun complaining to police that the protests were adversely affecting their businesses. have been gathering – the intersection of Male’s main road Majeedeee Magu and the tourist strip on Majeedee Magu.

“The area has among the most expensive rents in Male’ and shop owners are complaining to us that they have been unable to profit every night of the riots, which are taking place during their peak trading hours,” Shiyam said. “They are taking huge financial loses.”

Deputy Commissioner of Police had Mohamed Rishwan yesterday announced that protests would be restricted to the open artificial beach and the tsunami monument areas in Male’, unless prior permission was given by police or Male’ City Council.

The week of protests has attracted international coverage. Spokesperon for former President Gayoom, Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef told Associated Press that the protesters had done nothing unlawful in trying to demonstrate in the intersection, as the constitution permitted protests at any place without notice.

The opposition has announced a large-scale demonstration on Friday, with reports that supporters from islands are being brought to Male’ for the protest.

The government has said it “welcomes peaceful protests and respects the right to freedom of assembly”, and acknowledged concerns about the economy, yesterday halving import tariffs on diesel.

However President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, accused former President Gayoom “of taking advantage of economic situation to cause violence in the streets. These protests are more to do with Gayoom trying to shore up his position in the opposition, than the state of the economy.”

“It is unclear what Mr Gayoom hopes to achieve through violent protest. His faction says it wants ‘the price of things’ to fall. Perhaps Mr Gayoom could explain how throwing bricks, smashing windows and torching motorcycles helps reduce the cost of living,” Zuhair said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong yesterday became the first state to issue a travel advisory for the Maldives, raising the country to ‘amber’.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported a government spokesperson as saying that “Those who plan to visit the Maldives or are already there should monitor the situation and exercise caution.”

The threat indicator now ranks the Maldives alongside Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Russia and Pakistan.


Shops vandalised, police station damaged in third night of violent protests

A third night of violent protests in Male’ ended around 4:00am this morning after the windowpanes of a police station were smashed, shops vandalised and fires started across the city.

Police used tear gas to disperse a crowd gathered at the intersection of Male’s main street Majeedee Magu and the tourist strip Chaandhanee Magu, the focal point of the protests so far, after a group of MDP activists arrived and clashed with opposition protesters and young people around 11:30pm.

The two sides were separated by police but continued attacking each other with bricks and bottles. Police appealed for people to leave the area and eventually dispersed the crowd at 12am using tear gas.

“Police dispersed the two crowds using tear gas to minimise the amount of force that would need to be applied,” Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News.

Police, he said, had noticed that “once the criminal activity starts most people leave the protest.”

A group of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists then gathered outside the house of the former President’s half brother, Abdulla Yameen, before being moved on by police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters gathered outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building.

“The opposition [demonstrators] gathered in the area for 1-2 hours and started several fires in the road before they were dispersed with teargas,” Shiyam said. “ Later they attacked a police building in Maafaanu and a police vehicle, vandalised the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) headquarters and set several more fires. They also smashed the window of the STO Home Improvement store. The opposition MPs who had gathered at the MMA building left when vandalism began.”

The remaining crowd kept moving, Shiyam said. “Most of those involved were people known by police to be involved in criminal activities.”

More than 30 people were eventually arrested. Some police officers were injured and police property was also damaged.

“We saw some protesters [hurt] but we received no reports of serious injuries,” Shiyam said.

Of the 52 people arrested for violence the previous evening, whom police claimed were connected to various gangs in Male’, most were subsequently released by the Criminal Court while “12-15” remain in police custody.

The opposition has maintained that the demonstrations against the government’s decision to implement a managed float of the rufiya are led by youth unhappy with rising commodity prices, despite the active involvement of dismissed opposition Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, and MPs Ilham Ahmed, Ahmed Mahlouf, Ali Waheed, and Ahmed Nihan.

The government has meanwhile accused former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the opposition of instigating and organising the protests.

“The government understands that many people are concerned about the economy and recent price rises and we are doing everything possible to ease the situation,” the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said in a statement.

“Peaceful protest is legal and welcome in the Maldives’ new democracy. But former President Gayoom is taking advantage of economic situation to cause violence in the streets. These protests are more to do with Gayoom trying to shore up his position in the opposition, than the state of the economy,” he claimed.

“In the Middle East, you have democrats on the streets bringing down dictatorships. Ironically, in the Maldives, the remnants of the former dictatorship are trying to bring down democracy.”

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) meanwhile issued a press release urging people not to misuse the right to protest “and obstruct the media.”

The commission said that protesting late at night in densely populated areas “violates the right of many others.”

”We call on the police not to disperse the protests by using methods that harm the protesters and civilians,” HRCM said.

At a press conference today, Deputy Commissioner of Police Mohamed Rishwan said protests would be restricted to the artificial beach and the tsunami monument areas in Male’, unless prior permission was given by police or Male’ City Council.

The government meanwhile defended its decision to float the currency within 20 percent of the pegged rate of Rf12.85 “as part of a package of measures introduced on the advice of the central bank, International Monetary Fund and other multi lateral organisations, in order to reduce the country’s budget deficit and stabilise the economy.

“According to the World Bank, in late 2008 the Maldives was in the worst economic situation of any country undergoing democratic reforms since 1950s. The budget deficit stood at 31 percent of GDP, inflation stood at 12 percent and the economy was reeling from a massive fiscal expansion which saw the government wage bill increase by almost 400 percent between 2004 and 2009.

“Since coming into office, the Nasheed administration has reduced the budget deficit from 31 percent to 16 percent of GDP, helped ease the chronic dollar shortage through a managed float of the Ruffiya and brought the economy from recession to 4 percent growth this year,” the President’s Office said in a statement.

The IMF has pressured the government to cut back on its disproportionate public sector wage bill, however austerity measures attempted last year ended up in a political stalemate and the government instead embarked on a program of corporatisation, allowing it to hire and fire while circumventing what it claimed was the opposition-driven machinations of the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

Opposition spokesman Ibrahim Shareef has accused the MDP of financial mismanagement and recklessly increasing spending, without investing “in productive resources that ensure future revenue for the country, and reducing expenditure in areas that do not affect the people – such as foreign missions.”

“They need not reduce the civil service, because these are the lowest paid government employees and reducing their numbers would have not tangible effect. But the top players in government – the political positions – and positions in the paper companies created by the government are many areas [that can be reduced],” Shareef claimed.

The government recently announced an incentive programme to encourage public sector employees as young as 18 to leave the civil service, offering lump sum payments of between Rf 150,000 – Rf 200,000, which was positively received by the CSC.