Foreign Ministry criticises opposition media “manipulation”

The Maldives Foreign Ministry has accused some opposition parties of acting irresponsibly by “misleading” international media over details of protests held this week in Male’, which it alleges have begun to impact interest in the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

Facing members of the local media today, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem rejected Minivan News’ use of the term “unrest” to describe demonstrations that have taken place over five nights this week in Male’ concerning the cost of living in the country, claiming that the government was “open to negotiation” on the issue and welcomed alternative political solutions from opposition.

Naseem’s claims were rejected by Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, head of the country’s largest political opposition party, who claimed to have not been consulted by the government on resolving the issues of living costs, as well as adding that it would be difficult to control the output of international news media.

The protesters, who are expected to take part in a sixth consecutive demonstration tonight, have demanded the government lower the cost of living and called on President Mohamed Nasheed to resign, claiming people were increasingly unable to afford basic commodities following the government’s effective devaluation of the rufiya.

Parliamentarians including some members of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the Zaeem-DRP (Z-DRP), an off-shoot of the main opposition party and its coalition partner the People’s Alliance (PA) party activists have been involved in the protests, yet have insisted that the street portests were instigated as part of a non-partisan “youth movement”.

As the protests have been covered by international news media, leading to concerns about the potential impact on the country’s tourism industry, Naseem said he did not believe terms such as “unrest” were appropriate to describe events he believed had been orchestrated by opposition politicians in the DRP and Z-DRP to offset their own internal struggles.

“With regards to what is happening in Male’ I think these are orchestrated events. I have a strong feeling the DRP is trying to find out who their leader is and that is the reason for the actions seen in Male’. We do these things [appointing leaders] through elections and by-elections. They [the DRP] do it through street walks and demonstrations and whatever else you can call it. You said unrest? I don’t think there is unrest,” he said.

The foreign minister added that he believed that there was a small number of people organising the protests looking to create deep unrest in the country and that they should be held responsible for their actions.

“People who organise such events [the protests] should take full responsibility for the images and disruption and damage to property caused,” he said. “I think everyone whose property has been damaged should file cases against the people who are organising these events.”

Reacting to the comments, DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said he was “utterly surprised” that a member of the current government, which has vocally supported freedom of speech and democratic reforms, would find protests “unreasonable” on the basis of protecting tourism.

“We have seen them try to stifle protest through using excessive police force,” he claimed. “We are peaceful protestors and are not impacting tourism in Male’.”

Thasmeen added that he believed the government had not made attempts to initiate a dialogue on the issue of living costs, although the opposition said they were willing to negotiate on the matter even though they did not agree to the current devaluation strategy being pursued.

“Obviously there are a lot of protesters here, but the government does not want to listen,” he said. “Lots of people are suffering.”

Thasmeen said that accusations that the country’s political opposition had been “misleading” international media was an “oversimplification” of the issues behind the protests.

“The international media are professionals, many of who will already know the facts of the protests, I don’t see it will be possible to manipulate them,” he said.

Thasmeen claimed that reports of excessive force against protesters had been accurate, adding that MDP supporters led by their parliamentary leadership had been “violently charging” protest crowds while police were attempting to disperse peaceful protesters.

In light of the factional divides occurring within the DRP between Thasmeen and the Z-DRP faction linked to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the current party head said that apparent collaboration between the two groups was not related to the internal situation of the party.

“It is the duty of responsible politicians to try and find solutions to this problem [living costs],” he said. “There are a number of opposition I believe who have become involved with these protests.”

Thasmeen added that it was inevitable that although the protests has been initiated by a “youth movement” they had become politicised with involvement of figures such as former DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer and MP Ahmed Mahlouf.