MDP denies involvement in Hulhumale’ demonstration against VP, pledges commitment to talks

The Maldvian Democratic Party (MDP) said it remains committed to ceasing street demonstrations in order to facilitate talks with government-aligned parties, playing down fears that protests by a number of “individuals” against the vice-president on Thursday could derail negotiations.

MDP spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed today that the party had not been behind demonstrations held Thursday (August 9) on the island of Hulhumale’ during a visit by Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen. Ghafoor added that there had been no official communication from the government so far following these demonstrations with regard to stopping talks between the country’s political leaders.

Since the controversial transfer of power that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan into office on February 7, former President Mohamed Nasheed has alleged he was removed from office in a “coup d’etat”. The allegations have lead to months of political uncertainty across the nation, resulting last month in the indefinite suspension of parliament.

Less then 24 hours after welcoming the MDP’s decision to suspend ongoing street protests against the government to “facilitate meaningful political dialogue” with the coalition government, the President’s Office yesterday told local media it might reconsider participation in talks following demonstrations held Thursday (August 9) in Hulhumale’.

President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was quoted by the Sun Online news service as saying that the government’s decision to participate in fresh talks had “to be reconsidered”, alleging the MDP had been directly involved in the protests that reportedly saw offensive language used against the vice president.

Both Abbas and President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad were not responding at time of press.

Thursday’s demonstrations were directly targeted at a visit by Vice President Deen, who was in Hulhumale’ to attend the opening ceremony of the State Trading Organisation (STO)’s new futsal field.

Police spokesman Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today that eight people had been arrested in relation to the incident, with seven having been released at the time of press. Haneef said that the suspect’s had been arrested over charges including blocking the vice-president’s car, and “disobeying and disturbing” police as they performed their legal duties.

However, MDP MP Ghafoor claimed that the party had not been involved in organising demonstrations against the vice president, contending that the reaction of Abbas in local media had been a “knee-jerk response to a minor incident”.

“I have read comments about this in the media, but we have not heard anything official from the government on [stopping talks],” he said. “It appears that a sporadic incident has been used as an excuse by some to criticise us because of a couple of angry activists. We have stopped our street demonstrations as we promised, but individuals will still get upset in the current political environment.”

Ghafoor added that he believed it was unlikely that the actions of independent demonstrators would set back wider-efforts to attempt to find a resolution the present impasse between the MDP and government-aligned parties.

“This is not a culture we have had before 2008, but people are now free to come out and speak their mind about concerns they have,” he said. “This just appears to be people being over-sensitive regarding minor incidents.”

Demonstration concerns

The unity government’s insistence on an end to the MDP’s continued demonstrations before discussions could resume had been outlined in the agenda of the all-party roadmap talks. Of a six point agenda agreed upon by participants, public order and stability were one of the first points to be addressed.

However, during the most recent round of all-party talks in June, the list of demands presented to the MDP by government-aligned groups were claimed to be lacking in seriousness. The 30-point list presented to the opposition party included demands to desist from using “black magic” and “erotic tools” as well as walking in groups of more than ten.

Since that time, the MDP has continued regular demonstrations, particularly in the capital Male’, where consecutive nights of protests in July resulted in violent clashes between protesters, security forces and journalists.

The immediate aim of inter-party discussions, however, would be to agree upon an arrangement which might allow the reopening of the People’s Majlis, which was suspended last month after angry confrontations between opposing MPs and the Speaker of the House.

The Speaker Abdulla Shahid invoked his authority to suspend sessions indefinitely if he felt dialogue between party leaders was necessary to restore calm to proceedings. Government-aligned parties have been critical of the role they allege MDP MPs played in stymieing the work of the People’s Majlis.


MDP women’s wing protest in Male’ as party awaits CMAG outcome

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed that the momentum behind an ongoing series of protests against the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan remains undiminished as its supporters await the outcome of increased Commonwealth pressure on the new administration.

In the latest round of protests yesterday, the party estimates that 6,000 people took part in a peaceful march around the capital passing several major streets and landmarks such as Majeedhee Magu, Sosun Magu, the People’s Majlis and Fareedhee Magu before returning to the party’s protest area. Police confirmed to Minivan News that no major disturbances or arrests were made by its officers during the march, which began yesterday afternoon at 4.00pm.

The government has responded that yesterday’s demonstration was not an official protest called by the MDP and instead represented followers of former President Mohamed Nasheed – who is affiliated with the party. The government said that the demonstration was not therefore seen as a “major issue”.

Since the controversial transfer of power in February that saw President Waheed succeed Mohamed Nasheed in office, MDP supporters have been linked with both peaceful protest action and violent clashes against police over claims security forces had been part of an alleged “coup d’etat” to remove Nasheed from office.

MDP Women’s Wing spokesperson Aishath Aniya told Miniva News that yesterday’s march, which began from the Usfangandu area, was devised to call on the government to take heed of the Commonwealth’s calls for early elections this year. The demonstration’s organisers have said that protesters also called on the president to consider the ramifications of potential expulsion from the Commonwealth unless a more “credible” and “impartial” commission is established to review the circumstances that brought the government to power earlier this year.

“While we can’t say what exact economic impacts there will be. We will lose participation in many scholarships, art and development projects if the Commonwealth removes us,” she said. “We have been in the Commonwealth for over 29 years and have been offered many opportunities internationally such as participation in the Commonwealth Games.”

While the number of participants attending yesterday’s march was reportedly down from those taking part in a similar protest held in the capital last week, Aniya said she believed that the number of anti-government protesters had remained consistent.

“I don’t see the numbers of protesters decreasing, though [turnout] does depend on the time and place of demonstrations,” she said. “We would obviously get a lot less protesters during school hours.”

Aniya claimed that from her experience, during instances where former President Mohamed Nasheed was in attendance, larger numbers of people had been found to attend demonstrations.

The Women’s Wing spokesperson added that there was “tremendous pressure” among its members at the moment to mobilise demonstrations at various events attended by the new president around the capital and the wider country.

“We are informed that our members often wish to be there to protest and shout Baghee Waheed [at the president],” she said.

Aniya said she was unable at present though to disclose any future dates or plans for protests of which a “huge number” of people were wanting to take part.

“ We have to be careful though as many people are sitting their A-level examinations right now, we don’t want to be encouraging large amounts of noise that may disturb them. We also do not want people getting arrested or injured by police,” she claimed. “We have two weeks left before the next Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) review. I’m sure there will be more protests before this, but we don’t want to disclose the frequency of them.”

After several demonstrations have been conducted in the capital during the last two weeks, Police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that there had been “no problems” regarding disturbances or arrests during yesterday’s demonstrations.

Despite recent allegations of violent provocation by both police and civilians against each other, Aniya claimed that the MDP has always been a proponent for peaceful protesting and demonstrations.

“One thing you will see is that the MDP do not provoke police,” she said.

Aniya added that the party continued to allege that police had abused their powers in certain cases over the last few months in regards to the treatment of anti-government protesters.  However, she believed increased international pressure on the government had appeared to ensure demonstrations were conducted much more peacefully.

“We protest as peacefully as we can, mostly by trying to stay away from police as much as possible. The High Court has also outlined where we cant assemble, so we walk around these areas instead,” she said.

Aniya alleged that previous reports of anti-government protesters violently attacking police and throwing projectiles had been the result of government aligned parties using young people to infiltrate MDP’s protests.  It was these infiltrators, she claimed, that were often responsible for violent acts that provoked police to use force against them.

Aniya accepted that police officers in the present political environment were often put in a “very difficult” situation due to allegations that some key figures in the service had involvement in deposing former President Nasheed in the run up to his controversial “resignation”.

President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News that from a government perspective, recent demonstrations like yesterday’s march were not a serious issue for President Waheed as they did not officially represent the wider views of the now opposition MDP.

“The protests were themselves called by former President Nasheed and are not an issue for us. Any MDP protests should be called from the party’s national council representation,” he said.

Minivan News also questioned the President’s Office on the reportedly peaceful nature of the recent demonstrations.  Abbas responded that the lack of clashes with police appeared to show that the party had begun to move away from “violent factions” in its organisation that he claimed were linked to the former president.


Day of protests ends with pepper spraying of Umar Naseer

An opposition protest held last night near the artificial beach was dispersed by police after the group tried to make its way towards the intersection of Majeedhee Magu and Chandanee Magu, the focal point of last week’s violent demonstrations.

Earlier this week police had announced they were restricting protests to the artificial beach and tsunami monument areas, and have since quickly dispersed those conducted elsewhere.

Demonstrators at the artificial beach last night carried placards written in English reading “Remove sex offenders/drug addicts from government”, and “Resign now”.

As the demonstration took place, five rows of police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) personnel armed with heavy wooden batons stood between the 300-400 demonstrators and the route down Majeedhee Magu.

At around 11:30pm demonstrators, attempted to reach the intersection and were forced to split up by groups of police with interlocked arms.

Police eventually used pepper spray to subdue several protesters who attempted to force their way into the intersection, including dismissed Deputy Leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Umar Naseer.

Placards at the artificial beach

“Five or six people who tried to force their way through our shield line were arrested and taken to police headquarters, and then released,” Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said.

Minivan News observed a light police presence all over the city, with larger squads of riot police stationed near key locations such as the President’s Office and the Chandanee Magu intersection. Several MNDF troop trucks stood ready outside the MNDF headquarters, but the military presence appeared minimal.

Besides the opposition protest and groups of young men hanging around the intersection heckling police, Male’ was unusually quiet for late evening. Entire city blocks in the north-east of the city were closed off and Republican Square was deserted.

An opposition protest in the square that morning involving several hundred people was quickly dispersed by riot police, and covered by foreign media including Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. The protest was subsequently rescheduled for the evening.

Later in the afternoon, a somewhat carnival atmosphere descended over the city as the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) staged a flag-waving counter-protest of several thousand people near the tsunami monument, alongside a concert stage and a police road safety campaign consisting of upturned cars and burned motorcycles.

Five lines of police blocked off Majeedee Magu.

“Anti-government protesters claim the uprising is inspired by the Arab revolution, that people power is rising up,” reported Al-Jazeera. “But here on the other side of town are thousands of voicing pointing out that the revolution has already happened.”

In an interview with the news network, President Nasheed accused the opposition of trying to reinstate authoritarian rule.

“I don’t think these are spontaneous demonstrations. If you look at the events and incidents [this week] it is very easy to understand this is very well stage-managed and fairly well played,” he said.

Al-Jazeera observed that “while leading opposition figures are clearly at the forefront of these demonstrations, they deny this,” and interviewed DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

“It is not attempt overthrow or change the government, it’s just raising voices,” Thasmeen told Al-Jazeera.

Note: Maldives coverage begins at 0:50


Government to Continue Fight against Corruption: President Nasheed

“Many people were ready for direct action to show the level of their disapproval of corruption,” said President Nasheed today in his weekly radio address. “Government, therefore, is forced to take swift measures, and do whatever possible to find a solution for corruption.”

The President was commenting on the recent political turmoil in Male where senior opposition figures in the Majlis were charged with bribery and treason, and then released by Supreme Court judges. A Criminal Court judge suspended the police prosecutors.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Maldivian Democratic Party, of which Presdient Nasheed is a leading member, staged demonstrations in the capital calling for an end to corruption, and condemning the decisions of the judges.


Released MPs continue protests while Vice President claims situation “is embarrassing”

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 response

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.”