Editorial: What we saw and heard on May Day

Approximately 20,000 people took to the streets on May Day in the largest anti-government protest in a decade. But protesters failed to seek the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed or force the government to negotiate. Instead, scores were arrested and injured in violent clashes.

What happened? Who attacked first, protesters or police? Did the security forces use disproportionate force? Minivan News recounts what we saw and heard on the streets of Malé.

Revolutionary fervour was in the air when protesters set off at 4:45pm on a march through Malé’s thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu. The de facto leader, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, started the march saying the opposition would “emerge victorious.”

May Day rally begins

From the start, the opposition Maldivians against tyranny coalition’s plans were unclear to protesters. Many expected leaders to announce plans at the end of the march. Protesters were geared up for a crackdown, some wore swimming goggles and surgical masks and had fashioned home made masks out of plastic bottles. Many carried bottles of coca cola to reduce effects of pepper spray and tear gas.


The Qur’an was blaring over static from a lorry at the frontline, while music was playing on lorries stationed in the middle and at the end. Protesters marched at a brisk pace as onlookers applauded and waved. Several megaphones, set up on balconies at private residences, were broadcasting opposition-aligned Raajje TV and 97 Minivan radio’s live coverage of the march.

At the western edge of Majeedhee Magu, opposition leaders stopped to speak to the crowds. A nervous energy hung in the air. Speakers said Muslims were obligated to stand up against tyranny and injustice. The Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed said he would only go home after securing Nasheed’s release.

Protesters in the middle and at the tail end could not hear the speeches. The crowd was agitated. Some attempted unsuccessfully to get protesters to sit down on the street. When Sheikh Imran took the stage, protesters faced the setting sun and put up their hands in prayer. Many were crying when Imran tearfully prayed for courage to remain steadfast and for mercy from the security forces.

Then came the announcement that protesters were to go and perform dusk prayers at the Islamic Center located next to the city’s main Republic square and the police and military headquarters.

The crowd broke off chanting Allah Akbar, with groups of thousands taking various routes. Police in riot gear had blocked off all the roads leading to the Islamic center. Clashes broke out as protesters attempted to break through police lines. Security forces indiscriminately used pepper spray and beat protesters with batons.

The air was thick with tear gas, pepper spray, anger and fear.


At the fish market, blocks away from the republic square, Minivan News journalists saw Sheikh Imran and Ali Waheed turn back as others urged on protesters to march through police lines. But when the leaders turned back, protesters fell back. MP Ahmed Mahloof, however, attempted to lead the crowd, but the ranks were nervous and disorganised, falling back to police’s use of pepper spray.

Police officers were visibly tense.

In narrow lanes surrounding the square, police in riot gear pushed protesters back. Some took refuge in mosques and were pepper sprayed inside. Stun grenades were thrown. A standoff ensued at the fish market until a protest lorry drove through police lines knocking some officers to the ground, but protesters were unable to follow the lorry into the square.

Dhahaau Pics-1-4

Police cracked down. The crowd threw bottles and pavement bricks. Pitched battles ensued. Police had already arrested scores. Some detainees were frothing at the mouth and hyperventilating from the effects of pepper spray.


At 7pm, the protest was in disarray. Many had already gone home.

Confusion reigned. Messages began circulating, urging protesters to regroup, first at the Social Center at the western edge, then at Artificial Beach at the eastern edge, and finally on Chaandhanee Magu, the central road leading to the square.

The streets were littered with bottles, flags, placards and discarded shoes.

Opposition leaders, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim, and MDP MPs urged protesters to regroup on Chaandhanee Magu. “We are here with you, we did not hide,” they said.

Ibu Ameen MayDay

But protesters fell back when police fired thunder flashes and periodically charged into the crowd with batons. Lorries carrying dozens of police officers drove at high speed into the crowds.


Confrontations ensued with protesters throwing glass and plastic bottles. A policemen was severely beaten and was rescued by former MDP MP Ahmed Easa.

Irate police officers once again charged into the crowd, and trapped dozens of protesters in narrow blocked-off lanes and made indiscriminate arrests.

May Day

Hundreds of angry protesters remained in pockets, rallying around opposition leaders periodically, but dispersing when groups of police officers charged into the crowd. A Raajje TV cameraman was injured.


Some protesters took refuge in private homes. But police officers forcefully entered homes and indiscriminately pepper sprayed residents. Security forces and protesters hurled profanities at each other. A dozen officers also entered a building on Majeedhee Magu and took down a pair of megaphones.

Police stepped up arrests at 9pm, picking up people at random, packing them onto lorries and driving off at high speed. Easa who had helped the fallen police officer was arrested and taken onto a police lorry. He was surrounded by Specialist Operations officers and Minivan News journalists heard him scream repeatedly in pain.


At 11pm came the news that Sheikh Imran had been arrested from Ali Waheed’s apartment. Small scale confrontations continued on the streets, but the crowds dwindled as police continued indiscriminate arrests. Many who were arrested were driven to a different location in the city and released with warnings.

By 1am, the crowds had largely dispersed, but police presence remained high. By 2pm, the roads were nearly empty. Ali Waheed and JP’s Ameen Ibrahim were arrested by 3pm.

Photos by Shaari, Dhahau Naseem and Ahmed ‘Anju’ Azim.


Between the lines on Chaandhanee Magu – Maldives protests continue into seventh day

Chaandhanee Magu is normally one of the busiest streets of Male’, the tourism hub of one of the world’s smallest and most congested capital cities.

Yet at 11:30pm on the night of Saturday July 14, an eerie silence fell on the street, save for the distant, tinny, looped sounds of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protest anthem “Chis Chis Kolliyas”, and the synchronised thumping of police shields hitting tarmac.

The protests, or “MDP mayhem” as they have been reported in some local media outlets, reflect seven consecutive days of anti-government demonstrations by opposition party supporters.

Amidst widespread allegations in both local and international media of police brutality, attacks by protesters on police and reporters, and numerous arrests – as midnight approached yesterday, the demonstrations – much like the country’s wider political landscape – were at a stand-off.

Police reports

According to provisional police reports, nine people were arrested during the night’s protests.  Two of those arrested have already been released. Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that one officer had sustained a minor injury during clashes, but insisted that there had been no use of hoses or rubber bullets. Demonstrators have meanwhile complained of the arbitrary use of pepper spray and mistreatment of female protesters by security services.

Front lines

For the anti-government protesters and police gathered at either end of Chaandhanee Magu last night, the street represents the current front line of political dissatisfaction that has followed the controversial transfer of power in February.

Chaandhanee Magu, usually a gauntlet of brightly coloured souvenir shops for tourist and resort visitors to traverse, was last night lined by members of the press and photographers, all waiting for an escalation in clashes between the two sides.

For a brief period leading up to midnight, almost a dozen or so police officers stood back from the barriers in an apparently restrained and hands-off approach. Meanwhile, anti-government figures standing behind the temporary barricades tried themselves to bring a sense of order to the mocking chants and heckling of the country’s security forces.

Despite the ongoing tension and traces of pepper spray in the air, the atmosphere verged between noisy and almost playful to sudden bouts of cat and mouse baiting of police by anti-government figures in the crowd.

Later that evening, when the semblance of self-enforced order broke down into the sporadic confrontations that have been the hallmark of the week’s protests, a handful of protesters were quick to have their say to foreign-looking media as they made their way past barriers set up by police.

“They are a coup government. This is a coup police,” said an animated middle-aged man making his way down towards police stationed at the junction of Republican Square down from Chaandhanee Magu.   “We are completely unarmed here.”

Unarmed in a conventional way, perhaps. Throughout the evening Minivan News observed  isolated cases of small bottles filled with water and shoes being thrown from the crowd at officers.  On one occasion, a sandal narrowly missed several journalists clustered behind the barriers.


Either in playful defiance, or an attempt at provocation, some protesters in between chanting and singing were seen kicking over and hauling away temporary barriers, before security forces responded by entering the crowd to return the symbolic if ineffective structures.

The occasional charges by police into the crowd lead to chaos, with demonstrators screaming and photographers sometimes being caught in the fray as officers sought to breach the protest lines. During one such charge, a handful of protesters were taken behind police lines, the barriers were replaced, and the songs and chanting then continued as if nothing had happened.

Despite a willingness among some protesters to remove the barriers, other figures in the crowd appealed for caution, calling for order on the opposition’s front lines.

A local man dressed as an “alternative” police chief, decked out in his own bespoke yellow uniform, issued orders to the crowd over a megaphone, mocking police whilst chastising one protester for attempting to kick over a barrier.

Among the throng of younger and middle-aged protesters is Naeema, a mature yet highly-animated protester in her sixties wearing a cowboy hat, who surged past the barricades brandishing an MDP flag and shouting at police, to the mirth of the gathered crowd.

Several figures from the former government at points arrived to survey the scene, but the biggest reception at the barricades is for the country’s former President Mohamed Nasheed – now leader of the political opposition.

At the stroke of midnight Nasheed, who was reportedly pepper sprayed earlier in the evening after police attempted to drive back the gathered crowds, returned to the protest, creating a swell of excitement and applause from his supporters.

In an act of either statesmanly defiance – or perhaps awareness of calls from senior government politicians for his arrest – the former president stood silently just behind the barriers set up by police, as supporters attempt to incite a response.

“You can see how he energises the crowd I think,” observed a a young woman upon Nasheed’s arrival at the barriers.

As the “excitement” led to temporary barriers again pushed away back into the crowd, protesters began to push forward down Chaandhanee Magu towards the gathered police forces further down the road.

Nasheed nonetheless remained behind the metaphorical police banner, aware of the potential for arrest – a line, politically, he seems unwilling to cross.

With Republican Square part of a so-called “Green Zone” due to its close proximity to politically sensitive areas of the capital – including the President’s Office and military headquarters – stationed officers carried plastic shields that were used to push the gathered crowd back down Chaandhanee Magu.

As the crows increased, the dozen or so police on duty bolstered their numbers in order to drive back and split protesters at the junction.  At the same time, military forces were seen preparing a water hose to disperse protesters – a measure not used that night.

With more riot police, the crowd was forced back along Chaandhanee Magu, Fareedhee Magu and Medhuziyaaraiy Magu by shield-carrying officers to a cacophony of howls and screams.

Government condemnation

The government today released a statement condemning “acts of violence carried out by opposition activists”.

According to the President’s Office, party activists led by former President Nasheed were charged with continuing to “harass” government officials and law enforcement officers.

“Similarly in the early hours of July 12 2012, MDP activists torched a newly built police station in Noonu Atoll Holhudhoo. A number of journalists have been injured by activists, including a television presenter from private broadcaster DhiTV,” the statement read.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan said that efforts were underway to restore “restore peace and calm” to the Maldives.

“Those responsible for these cowardly acts will be brought to justice. We urge the leadership of the MDP to call an end to these violent acts being carried out by their activists and participate in resolving disagreements through the correct mechanisms,” the President said.

“Targeted intimidation”

The MDP meanwhile moved to condemn what it alleged was the “targeted intimidation of women protesters” by the government, amidst what it claimed were “five months of ongoing peaceful protests”.

The party, issuing an official statement, pointed to a number of arrests of prominent female party activists, including the MDP Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna this weekend, as proof of efforts by the government to deny the rights of protesters in the country.

“The MDP have previously highlighted and expressed concern over the current regime’s steps to narrow constitutional rights through their representatives in the legislature, and through collusion with a judiciary which is far from independent,” the party claimed in a statement.

MDP MP and spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the authorities practised a skewed justice.

“Not one single police officer has been charged or prosecuted in connection with the widespread police brutality in the country since Feb 7 [this year],” he said. “Over 700 protesters have been arbitrarily detained, and many of them tortured and sexually abused.”

As allegation and counter allegations continue to pass between the country’s two opposing forces, by 3:00pm this afternoon barricades were again being set up by security forces across the “Green Zone”.

Traffic meanwhile continued to pass by Chaandhanee Magu. Come tonight, the barriers will no doubt be back, as will the songs and chanting – all as if nothing has happened.