Around 5000 supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) marched down the main thoroughfare of Male’ yesterday in continued protests against the current government.
The party estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 people marched round Male’ yesterday, Interim Chairperson MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik claimed a further 7000 took part in similar protests around the country.
The Male’ demonstration began at Usfasgandu at around 5:00pm and proceeded in a loop around the south of the island, heading up Boduthakurufaanu Magu and along Majeedhee Magu, past the social centre, before heading back to the MDP protesters’ current base of operations behind the Dharubaaruge conference centre.
An increased police presence was observed around the government buildings in the security zone on the island’s North, although the marchers did not pass near this area.
Former Education Minister during the MDP administration, Shifa Mohamed, said that yesterday’s protest focused solely on calls for early elections.
Shifa said that people gathered at Usfasgandu without being prompted via SMS, as in previous weeks. She said people turned up as the Friday protests have become a regular event, adding that the party intended to protest ever yday for the next two weeks and had a number of different events in mind.
Yesterday’s march passed the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) base at Kalhuthukkalaa Koshi, at which point, according to local media, security forces emerged with shields.
“We were very surprised,” reported Shifa, who said that this had not happened during the demonstrations of previous weeks which have taken in the same route. No physical confrontations were reported.
Shifa was accompanied at the head of the march by two people dressed as crows. The bird has recently come to represent the MDP’s disdain for the current government, and a cage filled with the birds has appeared at the Usfasgandu camp in the past week.
Male’ City Council (MCC), who lease the Usfasgandu area to the MDP, were informed by the government over one month ago that such activities meant that the land was to be reclaimed by the government.
Male’ City Mayor Ali Manik was informed on May 9 that the government’s security forces would arrive to dismantle the MDP’s latest protest site on May 14. The protesters have been on alert throughout the week after the proposed date came and went without incident.
Unrest near mosque
After the march had returned to Usfasgandu, MDP protesters are reported to have been involved in an incident outside a mosque on Majeedhee Magu.
Both Shifa and Moosa said they were unaware of this incident.
Clashes between the protesters and some of those inside the mosque led to the arrest of five people, reported Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef.
The unrest is said by an eyewitness to have begun when MDP supporters attempted to disrupt a sermon which the MCC has said was unauthorised.
A source from the council said that a request was sent to police requesting that the meeting be stopped at around 9:00pm yesterday. Sub-inspector Haneef stated that the arrests took place between 7:30 and 8:00pm.
“They didn’t get permission – if they are giving this kind of sermon, they need this,” said the council source. “We asked the police but they said they couldn’t stop it.”
Haneef confirmed that the police had received this request from the MCC.
Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali was unavailable for comment at the time of press.
The eyewitness said that attendees of the sermon emerged from the mosque to clash with the MDP protesters before handing them over to the police.