Anti-government crowds disrupted a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Japanese tsunami in Male’ on Sunday night.
The ceremony was held at Nasandhura Palace Hotel. A member of the Japanese embassy’s diplomatic staff said that 100 guests were expected, adding that it would have been more were it not for the current “security” concerns in the country.
The capital has seen nightly protests since the end of last year. This period of unrest has seen marches, police brutality, and a controversial change of President.
The ceremony began with the Maldivian and the Japanese national anthems followed by a minute’s silence, before the Japanese ambassador to the Maldives, Ambassador Nobuhito, gave a brief speech.
Nobuhito cited the reasons for the ceremony as being condolences for those lost, gratitude for the help received and to give reassurance of Japan’s recovery from the tsunami’s destruction. Following the tsunami, the Maldives donated 86,400 tins of tuna to Japan, which has been one of the country’s major aid partners.
Outside, hundreds of anti-government demonstrators gathered at the gates of the Nasandhura Palace Hotel.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla, spoke about how the 2004 tsunami had brought the people of the Maldives together.
“Gayoom removed some charges against detained opposition members to unite the country,” Dr Samad claimed.
Many in the room seemed distracted, turning their attention towards the raised voices that could now be heard outside.
Dr Samad rounded off his speech by suggesting that it was more than just adversity that united the Maldivian and Japanese nations, it was a mutual commitment to human rights, to the rule of law, and to democracy.
Outside, this commitment was being questioned. Riot police rounded on the crowd, visors down, shields at the ready. Some people in the crowd shouted “baaghee (traitor) Waheed”.
Refreshments were barely touched before an announcement was made that the reception was now ending.
Leaving the hotel and walking a little way down the road towards the crowd, Minivan News asked a passing soldier why the people were there. The soldier smiled and said simply, “They think the government is not the government.”
A young man on the other side of the police barricade grinned and said, with similar poignancy, “Nice Maldives, huh?”
Once the more prominent guests had safely left the area, the security forces began to recede back towards their headquarters.
Simultaneously, the MDP camp by the Tsunami monument was silent as former President Mohamed Nasheed fielded questions from the Women’s Wing, or ‘Women’s Spirit’ of the party.
The atmosphere here was one of stark contrast to the disorder and tension outside the Nasandhura Palace Hotel.
The scene at Raalhugandu resembled that of a traditional conference. Rows of seated women faced Nasheed, whose head table contained a panel of the MDPs prominent female members.
The discussions were observed by thousands of MDP loyalists who listened in near silence as the women’s concerns were aired.
MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the event was an attempt at a new “creative form of direct action.”
Japan is also providing 250 million yen (US$3million) as foreign aid to the Maldives government to purchase industrial products produced in the affected areas of Japan, to accelerate the economic progress of those areas.
The agreement was signed between the two countries today at the Maldives Foreign Ministry.
According to a statement released by the ministry, the purchased equipments will be utilised in the health, education sectors and at the Maldives Polytechnic and Male’ Health Corporation.