Opposition coalition to hold “national symposium” on February 24

The 23 December Coalition of religious NGOs and opposition political parties has decided to hold another mass gathering on February 24, calling the government to yield to the demands of the December 23 protest to “defend Islam”.

In press conference held today, coalition spokesperson Abdullah Mohamed clarified that the coalition is not organising a protest, while referring to the gathering as a “national symposium” to raise the voice of the people.

“We welcome people from all the islands to come and join the symposium on February 24,” Mohamed said.

The coalition representatives declined to give information to the press on the how the symposium would proceed, though Mohamed pointed out that the symposium will be organized according to the “pulse of the people”.

Hinting that “it will not be held under a roof”, Mohamed said only that “the symposium will be held in a location similar to where we held the previous rally”.

Five demands were previously addressed to the government: prohibit Israeli flights from operating in the Maldives, close all massage parlors “and such places where prostitution is practiced”, reverse the decision allowing the sale of alcohol in areas of inhabited islands declared ‘uninhabited’ – such as in Addu City and Fuvahmulah where the government plans to build city hotels – condemn UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay and apologise for her comments against flogging, and remove allegedly “idolatrous” SAARC monuments in Addu City.

The government subsequently addressed each point, most notably ordering that spa operations be shut down across the country and announcing that it would consider a ban on pork and alcohol in the interest of “respecting Islamic principles.”

The 2012 State Budget leans heavily on expected revenue from tourism.

Speaking at the press conference opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader ‘Mavota’ Ibrahim Shareef said that the symposium is among a “series of actions” to be organised by the coalition.

“This time we are calling to defend Islam and the nation”, he observed.

Shareef said a delegation from the coalition will visit Sri Lanka to explain the December 23 protest and demands to officials of embassies unspecified, as it claims the Maldivian government has spread “many lies” to defame the coalition.

The coalition also intends to meet with international press to give accurate information.

Furthermore, the coalition intends to mark a “special day to inform the demands to President Mohamed Nasheed”, Shareef said, adding that the President is deliberately “twisting the meanings to aggravate us”.