MDP vows to continue protests until demands are met

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has vowed to continue protests until the opposition’s demands to release “political prisoners” are met after police cracked down on last night’s sit-in protest.

Some 12 protesters, including former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof and Adhaalath Party deputy secretary general Ahmed Shareef, were arrested from the protest. The MDP had said the sit-in on Malé main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu could last three days.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz told Minivan News today that the party organised the protest because President Abdulla Yameen’s administration was not heeding the opposition’s demands despite two previous mass protests.

“We will continue protesting till our demands are heard by the government. The purpose of our protest was to call to end to government tyranny. So we will protest till our purpose has been achieved,” he said.

Riot police dispersed the crowd of around 2,000 protesters after 12:00am last night. The police had declared the protest was not peaceful after organisers refused to stop using loudspeakers after 11:00pm.

Specialist Operations (SO) police officers chased protesters into side streets and cleared Majeedhee Magu, but protesters regrouped and continued protesting after 3:00am.

The protest ended after MP Mahloof and several others were arrested.

Meanwhile, home minister Umar Naseer said last night that the low turnout was a “clear indication that people prefer peace and stability.”

“Official estimates of less than 2000 [people] took part in the latest [demonstration]. A clear message to the opposition that their lies have failed them,” tweeted housing Dr Mohamed Muiz.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed announced that a fireworks display will take place tonight to celebrate the “MDP’s weakening” and the opening of two futsal pitches in Thaa atoll.

The government also held a fireworks display to celebrate the “failure” of the May Day mass anti-government demonstration.

PPM MP Nihan meanwhile suggested that opposition supporters from other islands had accepted Riyaz’s advice and decided not to travel to the capital for the June 12 protest. Riyaz’s tweets about not allowing “islanders” to come and protest in Malé stirred controversy last month.

“Assault on democracy”

The June 12 demonstration was the third mass protest calling for the release of imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrests in February triggered the ongoing political crisis.

The turnout at last night’s protest was significantly lower than the mass protests on February 27 and May 1. Some 20,000 people took to the streets on May Day and nearly 200 protesters were arrested in a police crackdown after protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square.

The opposition is also demanding the withdrawal of terrorism charges against Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy Ameen Ibrahim, and JP council member Sobah Rasheed. All three were arrested after the May Day protest and accused of inciting violence.

Meanwhile, despite JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s tweets last night distancing the party from the sit-in protest, Shifaz said that the JP’s level of support and cooperation for the opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ campaign remains unchanged.

JP MP Ali Hussain and some senior members participated in last night’s protest.

Gasim has been out of the country since late April while Ameen and Sobah left shortly after their release from remand detention. In a video message this week, Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

President Yameen had called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties after the May Day protest, but ruled out negotiations over the release of Nasheed and Nazim.

Talks with the JP began last week while the government rejected Nasheed and Imran, respectively, as the MDP and AP’s representatives.

The MDP meanwhile said in statement today that the jailing and prosecution of opposition leaders represented a “continuing and sustained assault on the Maldives’ democracy.”

“Many opposition politicians, including most of the JP leadership, have fled abroad to avoid arrest and the likelihood of a biased and politically-motived trial,” the statement added.

Ameen posted a video message on YouTube last night declaring solidarity with the opposition protesters.

“Rule of law has been abandoned in Maldives and we are now governed by rule by law,” MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said in the statement.


Sino-Maldives relations at ‘an all-time high,’ says President Yameen

Sin-Maldives bilateral relations are at an “all-time high” with the establishment of a cooperative partnership between the countries last year, President Abdulla Yameen has said.

President Xi Jinping in his historic state visit in September invited the Maldives to “journey with China on the high-speed bullet train to progress and prosperity,” President Yameen said in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 10th China-South Asia Business Forum yesterday.

“This was an invitation that my people accepted wholeheartedly. We needed no second invitation,” he said.

“With our first class tickets, we have taken our seats in the Maldives’ cabin. We are belted up and awaiting the station master’s signal.”

A ‘Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation’ was established following the leadership visits in 2014, Yameen noted, and many agreements were signed on tourism, maritime cooperation, defence, and “a number of ambitious infrastructure development programmes.”

Yameen said China’s role in the Maldives’ economic development is “unmistakable” with Chinese visitors accounting for a third of annual tourism arrivals.

“It is also among the highest value and fastest growing markets, with a staggering 92 percent of visitors coming to our serene shores for the first time,” he added.

The Maldives has also become one of the first partners in the Chinese ‘Maritime Silk Route’ initiative and a founding member of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Yameen continued.

“I have always believed that economics and not politics present us with the pragmatic solutions needed to overcome our current development challenges,” he said.

Yameen said he was elected with a “clear mandate to transform the country’s economic fortunes” by creating jobs for youth, restoring macroeconomic stability, and inspiring investor confidence.

China has meanwhile presented to the Maldives and other South Asian countries a “golden opportunity of infrastructure development” through the Silk Road initiative, the AIIB, and joint economic commissions, he said.

The 21st century is the “Century of Asia,” Yameen said, and no Asian country showcases the industry and potential of Asians more than China.

“Transcending from the outdated geopolitics of suspicion and imperialism, China has presented to the world a clear vision of ‘win-win’ cooperation, based on trust, sincerity and support,” he suggested.

“The initiative to jointly build the Belt and Road, embracing the trend toward a multipolar world, economic globalisation, cultural diversity and greater IT application, is designed to uphold the global free trade regime and the open world economy in the spirit of regional cooperation.”

The Maldives and other South Asian countries can be beneficiaries of the the initiative and “can look forward to all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks, and the realisation of diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development.”

Development projects

Many of the government’s planned ‘mega projects’ are benefiting from Chinese support and assistance, Yameen said, adding that civil works on the construction of a bridge connecting Malé and its suburb Hulhumalé – to be called the “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” – will begin at the end of the year.

He added that “a major portion of the airport development will also bear the hallmark of Chinese cooperation.”

During his ongoing visit, President Yameen met Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao on Thursday and signed an agreement on carrying out the feasibility survey for the bridge project with Chinese grant aid.

Other development projects, such as a link road in Laamu atoll and a social housing programme, are also being carried out by “Chinese contractors with Chinese funding.”

“The outlook is bright for the Maldives. Investor confidence in the country is today at an unprecedented and previously unattained level,” he said.

“We are implementing a number of strategic measures to entice major investors to the Maldives, including some of China’s largest overseas contractors and investors. We have recently passed a Special Economic Zones Act, which gives new incentives for large-scale investment projects.”

An investor forum is due to take place later this year in Beijing, Yameen noted, and the government hopes to promote its future development projects “while tapping into the vast trade and investment potential offered to South Asia by the Chinese government.”

“Furthermore, the ongoing dialogue to establish a Free Trade Area with China and expanding the trade benefits that we enjoy with India through the SAFTA mechanism of SAARC will further enhance the investment potential of the Maldives, especially in the trading and shipping sectors,” he said.