Hundreds of women marched across the Maldives’ capital Male’ in support of deposed President Mohamed Nasheed, before joining the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally near the tsunami monument in its call for early elections.
Meanwhile just several hundred metres up the road at the artificial beach, thousands more pro-government supporters showed up to demonstrate their support for President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.
Artificial Beach and Tsunami monument – both key venues for political gatherings – are situated on Boduthakurufaanu Magu [eastern coast of Male’].
Both rallies began at 4:00pm on Male’s and proceeded peacefully with speeches from key members, while the MDP women’s march, “Women’s rally for justice” kicked off from the Social Centre of the other side of the city at 4.30pm.
Minivan News observed many people walking between both rallies and taking pictures, as the sounds of both crowds overlapped. Only a few policemen were seen maintaining the traffic and security.
Though specific numbers on each side were difficult to ascertain, at its beginning the pro-government crowd waving national flags and banners seemed larger with around 5000 supporters – while the MDP rally slowly grew and eventually dominated as more marchers in yellow joined the rally, raising the numbers to perhaps 8,000 at the peak of the demonstrations.
At the time of press, both rallies continued.
“Maldivian women will bring down Tyrant Waheed”
Maldivian women of all ages, dressed mostly in yellow and waved yellow flags and banners bearing slogans including – “Where is my vote?”, “We demand Justice”, “Say no to Waheed”, “We demand a date for election” and “Let Democracy rule” – marched from main road, Majeedhee Magu and took couple of careful turns to reach the MDP rally without a confrontation with pro-government supporters near Artificial Beach.
In the front row, former MDP Chairperson Mariya Ahmed Didi, former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed and former Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa led the female Marchers that stretched nearly 20 meters.
Dozens of men also joined the march, while several others followed the march on motor bikes and cars, as eager onlookers watched and took pictures from the buildings.
Throughout the walk, the women chanted: “Tyrant Waheed, Resign” – a reference to the accusations that Waheed, then- Vice President was complicit in what MDP calls a bloodless coup to force his predecessor, Nasheed out of office.
Speaking to Minivan News, a 34 year old mother of three who came to Male’ from Addu to join the march said that “I did not vote for Waheed, I voted for Anni [Nasheed].”
“We, the women, will show Waheed that he can’t play with our country. Tyrant Waheed has no right to depose the president we voted for,” the woman added, holding a banner that said “We want an elected leader”.
As the female marchers arrived at the tsunami monument they were welcomed fervently by Nasheed and his supporters.
Addressing the crowd on the mounted podium, Mariya called out emphatically that “Maldivian women will bring down Tyrant Waheed”.
“The only woman who will stand with Waheed is Ilham [Waheed’s wife and first lady],” she further claimed.
Referring to the brutal crackdown of MDP’s peaceful March on February 8, where women and old were seen beaten by the police, Mariya warned : “Now come with your shields to beat us. But, remember, if you hit even one woman, that is represents a strike on all Maldivian women.”
Nasheed also made a brief speech in which he praised the strength of the women who joined the rally and called out, “Congratulations, Maldivian Women!”
Nasheed further stressed, “Maldivian people want an elected leader, people want early elections”.
At the protest at the artificial beach up the road, men and women were segregated and gathered to hear Dr Waheed give his first open air speech at a political demonstration as President.
Dr Waheed made an emphatic speech in which he claimed the “people inflicting chaos are real traitors and enemies of the nation”.
“We will not let anyone inflict unrest and violence. Anyone who loves this nation will not torch public property. We will defend this nation with the last drop of our blood. We are not scared to die for this cause,” Waheed said. “Be strong. We will not back down an inch.”
Reiterating that the change of power was not a coup, Waheed claimed, “Today this change has happened because it is the will of Allah to protect Islam and peace of this nation”.
He added that it was every government’s responsibility to provide education and housing for its people, and said he would fulfill those responsibilities.
Surprised observers noted that Dr Waheed, normally of a calm and softly spoken demeanor, spoke loudly and emphatically with a touch of anger.
Meanwhile,in an audio recording broadcast at the rally, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom pledged that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) would cooperate with Waheed, and congratulated the MDP for joining the all party talks.
“The day the Maldives embraced Islam is the most important day in the history of our country. History proves the introduction of any other religion in this nation could endanger our sovereignty,” Gayoom added.
Further, several speakers from various religious and political parties in Dr Waheed’s national unity government exhibited their support for coalition government and refusal to hold early elections. The crowds waving national flags and banners bearing slogans including “Maldivians in defense of Islam”, “Maldivians united against corruption”, “Support Dr Waheed for peace and Islam” and “No early elections” hailed “Long live Waheed”.
MDP women’s march: