Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb has challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day, prompting renewed calls for dialogue from human rights groups.
“Even if its May 1, June 1 or that grand February 27, if you dare to confront us, come, this government stands ready,” Adeeb said in southern Addu City on Saturday.
The government and opposition are at loggerheads over the imprisonment of opposition leaders including former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.
Adeeb said the opposition is on a campaign to usurp control of the government, but said no amount of protesting “even if [protesters] wear out their slippers” would affect the government’s hold on power.
“I say, very loudly, we will not tolerate any bloodshed of or even a scrape on any young person, police officers or military officers,” he warned.
The opposition Maldivians Against Brutality coalition has meanwhile issued an ultimatum to the government to initiate talks by April 30, and has vowed to bring over 25,000 people on to the streets of Malé on May 1.
The coalition – made up of Maldivian Democratic Party, Adhaalath Party, members of Jumhooree Party, independent MPs and members of Nazim’s family – have been canvassing for support in the north and south of the country.
Speaking at a rally in Addu City on Friday, MDP chairperson Ali Waheed said: “We will not come out on the streets at 4pm, only to go home at 6pm. We will go home only when we see results. So everyone must go to Malé.”
Over 10,000 opposition supporters had staged a march in Malé on February 27 following Nasheed’s arrest, but the rally was unexpectedly called off at 6pm when the police threatened a crackdown.
Waheed in a separate speech on Thursday in Malé said President Abdulla Yameen cannot remain defiant on May Day and called on the police not to confront the “army of protesters.”
Yameen last week said he has no role in Nasheed and Nazim’s release, urging them to seek an appeal through the courts instead. But their lawyers say they have no hope of a fair trial due to the executive’s control of the judiciary.
Human rights NGOs today reiterated calls for dialogue, with the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) warning that May Day “now appears be the last day for a peaceful resolution.”
“It is already too late, negotiations should have taken place earlier. The government must heed the opposition’s calls, and both sides must refrain from any moves that may lead to conflict and confrontation,” MDN’s executive director Shahindha Ismail said.
She condemned what she called a gradual but increasing crackdown on protesters in recent weeks, noting hundreds have been arrested and now face charges, while the criminal court had unlawfully detained several protesters for weeks without charge when they refused a conditional release which would bar them from further protests.
Transparency Maldives also urged for calm and restraint, and appealed to the government to allow protesters to peacefully voice out their concerns.
“We are very concerned. These are political disputes, they must be solved through dialogue, not by jailing rival politicians,” TM’s Mohamed Thoriq Hamid said.