A fourth night of protests in the capital city of Male’ ended shortly after midnight with the arrest of 30 demonstrators, including former deputy leader of the opposition, Umar Naseer.
Protesters gathered at the artificial beach area made to march towards the intersection of Male’s main street Majeedee Magu and the tourist strip Chaandhanee Magu, the focal point of the protests so far, but were blocked by police.
Thirty people were taken into custody with most later released, including two men delivering a pizza and the former Deputy Leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer.
“Umar Naseer was trying to make the situation worse and was not obeying police orders,” Shiyam said, adding that the former deputy leader was released later in the evening.
Naseer was dismissed from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) last year by the party’s disciplinary committee, for organising protests without the authorisation of the party’s Council.
His dismissal from the party led to an acrimonious factional split, after the Elections Commission upheld the DRP’s decision to strike Naseer from the party’s membership register.
Last Thursday the ‘Z-DRP’ faction – named after the former president and ‘honorary leader’ Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, announced it was “commencing work”. The party has maintained that the four nights of violent protests since then are ‘youth-led’ demonstrations against the rising cost of living.
After being blocked by police, protesters – fewer than previous protests this week – split into groups and began gathering in areas across the city demanding Naseer be released.
Police did not use much force until a group of protesters came near the Chaandhanee Magu intersection and attempted to gather in the area.
Minivan News observed police aggressively dispersing protesters in the intersection with violent force. Well-known comedian Yousuf Rafeeu ‘Yousay’ was among the protesters and was reportedly injured and admitted to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), after a group of unknown assailants attacked him while he was attempting to run away from police.
Unlike previous protests this week, Minivan News did not observe a large gathering of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters attempting to clash with anti-government demonstrators.
Police continued to arrest small groups of protesters until 2:30am, using cable ties to restrain them and removing them from the scene.
Police also confiscated a pickup truck carrying speaker equipment they said was being used disruptively. It was later returned to its owner.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said shop owners around the intersection had begun complaining to police that the protests were adversely affecting their businesses. have been gathering – the intersection of Male’s main road Majeedeee Magu and the tourist strip on Majeedee Magu.
“The area has among the most expensive rents in Male’ and shop owners are complaining to us that they have been unable to profit every night of the riots, which are taking place during their peak trading hours,” Shiyam said. “They are taking huge financial loses.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police had Mohamed Rishwan yesterday announced that protests would be restricted to the open artificial beach and the tsunami monument areas in Male’, unless prior permission was given by police or Male’ City Council.
The week of protests has attracted international coverage. Spokesperon for former President Gayoom, Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef told Associated Press that the protesters had done nothing unlawful in trying to demonstrate in the intersection, as the constitution permitted protests at any place without notice.
The opposition has announced a large-scale demonstration on Friday, with reports that supporters from islands are being brought to Male’ for the protest.
The government has said it “welcomes peaceful protests and respects the right to freedom of assembly”, and acknowledged concerns about the economy, yesterday halving import tariffs on diesel.
However President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, accused former President Gayoom “of taking advantage of economic situation to cause violence in the streets. These protests are more to do with Gayoom trying to shore up his position in the opposition, than the state of the economy.”
“It is unclear what Mr Gayoom hopes to achieve through violent protest. His faction says it wants ‘the price of things’ to fall. Perhaps Mr Gayoom could explain how throwing bricks, smashing windows and torching motorcycles helps reduce the cost of living,” Zuhair said.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong yesterday became the first state to issue a travel advisory for the Maldives, raising the country to ‘amber’.
China’s Xinhua news agency reported a government spokesperson as saying that “Those who plan to visit the Maldives or are already there should monitor the situation and exercise caution.”
The threat indicator now ranks the Maldives alongside Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Russia and Pakistan.