Opposition calls mass May Day rally

The opposition has called for a mass rally on May Day in the hopes of forcing President Abdulla Yameen to negotiate over the imprisonment of political rivals.

But the president’s office today said that Yameen cannot meet the opposition’s demands, reiterating the claim that he has no power over the judiciary.

The opposition Maldivians Against Brutality coalition has been protesting daily for nine weeks over the arrest and imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Protesters also accuse the government of targeting opposition businesses after Jumhooree Party leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim was slapped with a US$100 million fine that may bankrupt his Villa Group.

“We will make our voices heard, we will not remain silent. President Yameen will have to come to the peace table on May 1,” the president of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party said at an opposition rally on Thursday night.

Sheikh Imran Abdulla urged Maldivians from the atolls to join protests in Malé on May 1, similar to a mass rally that was held on February 27. Over 10,000 people attended that march, but it ended unexpectedly after just two hours on Gasim’s orders.

In response to the call for talks, president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said that President Yameen had no influence over the criminal court’s sentencing of Nasheed and Nazim.

“There is no seat for the president at a table for unconstitutional demands,” Muaz said.

Nazim was found guilty of smuggling weapons and sentenced to 11 years in prison last month, while Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the arrest of a judge during his term in office.

“We have a system of separated powers. Therefore making demands that he cannot meet is forcing him to violate the constitution. The president has very clearly stated he will not interfere in the other branches of the state,” Muaz told newspaper Haveeru.

Muaz said Imran had already held discussions with President Yameen in March shortly before the Adhaalath Party’s split from the ruling coalition. At those talks, the president made similar comments about being unable to influence state bodies, said Muaz.

However, the United Nations, Amnesty International and several countries have been critical of Nasheed’s trial and suggested it was politically motivated.

In recent weeks, police have gradually clamped down on opposition protests, first banning protests and the use of loudspeakers beyond 12 am. The opposition last week was ordered to seek prior permission for protests, although it subsequently held a demonstration on Friday that police did not appear to block.

The Elections Commission has meanwhile sought to fine the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and Adhaalath Party with thousands of dollars over the protests, but the parties have so far refused to pay.

Muaz claimed the protests were aimed at diverting attention from the government’s development agenda, and said Nasheed and Nazim could appeal their sentences through the courts.

“There is no single day for the president to listen to the people. Everyday is a day he listens to those concerns,” he said.


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