Thousands of protesters gathered in the open area near the tsunami monument in Male’ this afternoon, demonstrating against what they contend is the illegitimate government of Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
Numbers were difficult to ascertain as demonstrators spilled out of the open area into side streets and along Boduthakurufaanu Magu in both directions, but may have approached 10,000 at the height of the demonstrations this afternoon.
The afternoon protest had a decidedly carnival atmosphere to it. Maldivians of all ages waved yellow flags and banners, the colour of Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), while MDP supporters handed out biscuits and water to the crowd.
Many protesters had come from the islands. Fishing boats bedecked in yellow flags moored off shore, while the occupant of a canoe paddled out and waved a banner. A surfer could be seen wearing a yellow rash vest.
All the former ministers were at the front of the crowd near the stage, including Nasheed, who did not speak this afternoon but was wildly received by the crowd on raising his hand.
The visible police presence was minimal, with uniformed officers only stationed in side streets away from the square. Officers present were taunted by demonstrators yelling “Laari laari yes sir”, in reference to allegations that some officers accepted money to side with the opposition on February 7.
After prayers, the protests continued into the evening from 8:00pm, with the tone of the speakers rising in anger and frustration.
Nasheed’s MDP have refused to recognise a government with Dr Mohamed Waheed at the helm, and have called for an interim government under the Speaker of Parliament with elections to be held in two months.
There were mixed reports about whether calls for early elections had been accepted on Thursday, following mediation. Rumours trickled out of the MDP all day that elections had been agreed during mediation sessions conducted by India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
Mathai claimed that the MDP had “reconsidered” its need to rally on Friday after suggestions that elections would be held, and put forward Dr Waheed’s ‘roadmap’ requesting the MDP’s cooperation in a National Unity Government, which would “work towards the conditions that will permit such elections to take place including the necessary constitutional amendments.”
Dr Waheed appeared less committal towards early elections in a press conference held yesterday for foreign media: “I believe the conditions have to be right. We have to have a calm atmoshpere, we have to address some of the deep rifts that we have in the political situation in the country, and then move towards free and fair election,” he claimed.
Halting street clashes, he said, was “not the only factor”.
“There is an economic factor here – our financial situation is not great and it hasn’t been for the last couple of years. We need to have guarantees that we are going to respect the rule of law, that we are going to uphold the Constitution and our judiciary is going to be independent – that it is going to be in such a way that anyone who fears justice deserves justice. If you don’t have justice, how can you go ahead?” Dr Waheed said.
Nasheed resigned on Tuesday February 7 under what he later claimed was duress. Earlier that morning, opposition protesters, aided by elements of the police and military, assaulted the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) headquarters and took over the state broadcaster.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rallied its supporters the following afternoon. A police crackdown on the protesters followed, leading to other protests across the country, and subsequent retaliations for the destruction of police property.