The government has claimed it had “absolutely no role” in the decision made by police on Thursday evening to take senior opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leaders into custody.
DRP Vice presidents Ali Waheed and Umar Naseer, and MPs Ahmed Ilham and Ahmed Mahlouf were among those taken to the nearby prison island, Dhoonidhoo, after being escorted from DRP headquarters at 10:30pm on Thursday night by riot police. They were released at 3am early the next morning.
An MDP gathering taking place at the artificial beach was disrupted when DRP supporters in the party’s nearby headquarters began playing loud music, with tension between the supporters of both sides turning violent when some began to throw chairs, rocks and water bottles.
“Police tried to control the area using teargas but some people would still not obey police orders, and we were forced to take 19 people into police custody,” said Sub Inspector Ahmed Shiyam with the Maldives Police Service.
“The intention was to remove them from Male’ until the city was brought under control, then release them,” he said. “Anybody who was there would understand how difficult the situation was to control. Police felt [detaining the leaders] was the easiest way to control the situation.”
Shiyam called on those organising the demonstrations to “show some responsibility” and ensure they were able to control the gathering and obey police rules and regulations.
However running protests by the various parties continued to erupt sporadically across Male’ yesterday afternoon, with supporters for various parties clashing outside the homes of Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Home Minister Mohamed Shihab, and Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
Last night crowds gathered again at the artificial beach during a DRP meeting, which turned violent after a group of people crashed into the party’s gathering and took the microphone away from somebody who was speaking.
MDP and DRP supporters threw stones at one another, which led to the arrival of team of police who requested the crowd disperse as it was disturbing the peace. DRP Vice President Umar Naseer continued using the loud speaker in the party’s office to announce that the demonstrations would not stop until President Mohamed Nasheed resigned.
Police then announced they would be using tear gas, and deployed two grenades into the crowd before arresting 31 people. At 12:30am Naseer called on the remaining demonstrators to gather again at 9pm tonight.
Shiyam said there had been reports of many civilian injuries during the two nights of violent clashes, although nothing serious. Six police officers had also sustained injuries, he said.
Vice president response
Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said in a press conference this morning that the political demonstrations were regrettable while more than 90 diplomats and senior government officials from some 40 countries were visiting for the donor conference.
Waheed also said he regretted last week’s brawl in parliament, over a no-confidence motion against the Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem.
”As the vice president of the country I regret these things and as a Maldivian I am embarrassed,” he said, calling on Maldivians “not to take part in such activities” for the benefit of the country.
“Countries do not provide aid for a certain party or for a certain government, but the country as a whole,” he said.
Waheed said almost all the countries which provided aid to the country would attend the conference, which starts tomorrow at Bandos Island Resort, and appealed to the major political parties not to hold meetings and rallies in a manner that might affect the conference.
“Political issues are not solved on the streets, they should be solved through discussions,” he said.
DRP Spokesperson and Vice President Ibrahim Shareef told Minivan News the party had no intention of disrupting the donor conference and harming the country’s national interest, and said he did not blame police “who are doing a very professional job under the circumstances.”
Instead, he accused the MDP of using “criminals and hired thugs” to attack DRP supporters, saying that the crowd that attacked DRP’s headquarters last night were armed with batons and iron bars.
“We saw some very well known MDP activists in the crowd,” he said. “Some people were very badly injured and taken to hospital with broken arms.”
“We are a very peaceful party and the leaders are very moderate, and DRP has many people experienced in political leadership,” he said. “But when people are injured and attacked they will react, and if mobs are forming it is only out of self-defence.”
He said he “did not know” why the MDP would be provoking DRP supporters ahead of the donor conference.
“The government pays lip-service to democracy while being totally dependent on hand outs,” Shareef said. “the international community has a role to play because the government must listen to it.”
He warned that unless the government “does its job properly” and ensured political stability, “the consequences will be beyond anyone’s control. The government must stop using thugs to attack our supporters,” Shareef said.
“Two of my shops have been attacked, this is very unhealthy,” he noted. “Now I hear some people are coming to Male’ from the islands. If the violence spreads to the islands it will be become uncontrollable. We are trying to calm and control things.”
He explained that it was sometimes necessary for DRP leaders to work with the sentiment of the crowd to cool the situation and stay in control.
Government’s call for calm
Spokesperson for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair accused the DRP of “just trying to oppose for the sake of opposition”, and said that if Umar Naseer’s calls for continued protests eventuated, “that will be a very undesirable message for international donors, who expect stability.”
The government was aiming for US$40 million in short-term funding to alleviate the current budget crisis, and seeking US$150 million per year over the next three years in longer term funding, he said.
Protests had “progressed from one thing to another” Zuhair claimed, beginning with efforts to oust the Auditor General, harass MDP functions and now disrupt the donor conference.
“The DRP accuses Naeem for using his corporate credit card to buy a tie and $400 on personal transportation. The DRP obviously think that if they are able to oust the AG, all his reports about the corruption of the last 30 years can be dismissed as not credible,” Zuhair said.
Police had an intelligience group monitoring the conference and were ready to make an appearance if necessary, he said.
Zuhair also noted that as an elected political representative, “there is no need for Mr Umar Naseer to jump over the president’s gate.”
“There is proper protocol and he need not go to that length if he wants to see inside Muleeage. He is welcome to see that there is no bar inside, as he has previously suggested.”