Police use pepper spray to disperse MDP protesters gathered near Hiriya School

Maldives police used tear gas to disperse the MDP protesters that gathered near Hiriya School this morning to protest against President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who visited the school to inaugurate the “Clean Energy for Male” project.

The President officiated over the opening of the school’s solar panel system and chatted with members of staff.

Japanese Ambassador to the Maldives Nobuhito Hobo signed the scheme over to the school, and the system was connected to the grid. The project is the first phase of a US$11 million project to set a precedent for the use of solar panels on rooftops in Male’. Panels have been installed on the President’s Office, the youth centre, Hiriya school and Thaajuddheen school.

Protesters gathered near the school at about 11:00am and surrounded the police barricades, which had been set up blocking all routes to the school entrance.

Women were at the front of the protest while there were men behind them. Some of the women sat on the street during the protesters.

The protest exploded with shouting as President Waheed arrived and was escorted into the premises with the help of the police, who forced back the protesters to allow for Dr Waheed’s arrival.

It was reported that some of the protesters went past the police barricades before the being forced back to the original line of protesters.

Tear gas was used to disperse the crowd after they started spraying water at police.

A witness who was present at the protests told Minivan News that the police had also used tear gas on the women who had sat down in the street.

“At first they [police] came towards the women sitting down and told them to leave the premises and to go behind the barricades but the women refused. Then they tried by force to send them away and after the women started refusing, they sprayed pepper spray,” the witness said.

The witness added that the pepper spray had been used at close proximity.

In spite of this, there were no serious injuries to the protesters although both the police and the protesters received minor wounds.

Police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that the protesters had thrown water and other objects towards the police, and said that a female police officer was hit by an object thrown by the protesters.

“The protesters threw stones and other objects towards police and one of our female officers got hit in the head. The protesters used abusive language towards the police and some of the even spat on the officers.” Shiyam said.

Shiyam said that the police used tear gas when the protesters began throwing things at them. “We used tear gas only to control the crowd when they began throwing things at us,” he claimed.

Shiyam also said that the police did not arrest any of the protesters despite them breaking through the police barricades.

President Waheed left the premises at about 12:15pm after waving at the crowd. MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged the wave was “a clenched fist”, signifying Waheed’s growing impatience with such incidents.

A teacher from the school disputed this version of events, remembering the President “waving nicely” as he left.

Ghafoor compared this event with the disruption of the Japanese embassy’s tsunami anniversary event at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel last night.

“It doesn’t matter what time of day [it is], people just assemble. They are not necessarily coming from the [MDP] rally point. It is because they just dislike him. It is very grassroots, not just MDP,” said Ghafoor.

“As time goes by, the opinion of the coup leaders is that people will settle. But I feel they are getting more unsettled and anger is being expressed. Disillusionment is turning to anger.”

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Australian medics donate boards, advice in honor of Huraa victims

Two rescue boards have been donated by an Australian paremedic and shire council in memory of the four Hiriya students and their principal who drowned on a September 10 school fisheries science excursion.

The long boards were arranged by a Lotus Special Casualty Access Team paramedic in cooperation with the New South Wales Sutherland Shire council. A report from Australian publication The Leader indicates that the boards were flown into Male’ on Wednesday, October 20 to support safety management practices on local beaches.

Australia is known globally for its surfing culture. Attached to that reputation is a savvy sense for water rescue. Australia’s own Surfers’ Medical Association (SMA) reportedly flies doctors and paramedics to Maldive islands twice each year, providing health workshops and medical equipment.

When four female students and the principal of Hiriya school drowned while on a fisheries science snorkeling trip off of Huraa island, awareness of the lack of school safety procedures and equipment was raised at the local and government levels.

The students were snorkeling in waters used by for national defense training, which are known for having very strong currents.

Although police and MNDF forces were called immediately to the site of the incident, they were criticised for being unable to reach the island until long after the critical moments.

Instead, the bodies of ninth grade students Nash-ath Saeed, Mariyam Naza, Aishath Saniha, Mariyam Shaiha and principal Ali Nazim were brought to Male’ on a speedboat from nearby Four Season Kuda Hura resort.

SMA member Paul Featherstone told The Leader that Huraa island had no rescue boards at the time of the Hiriya drowning, and he hoped the donation would make a difference in the future.

The SMA team is expected to deliver water safety and education advice from Sutherland Shire beach operation manager Brad Whittacker, along with the long boards. Paramedic Harry Gatt added that a meeting with the education minister has been scheduled to discuss risk management procedures.

“We really need to help educate them about water safety,” Mr Gatt was quoted as saying. “The community is just devastated by what happened.”

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Findings in Huraa drowning investigation revealed to families

The Education Ministry has shared the results of its investigation into the drowning accident in Kaafu atoll Huraa with families of the deceased. The accident left four students and a principal of Hiriya School dead earlier this month.

Details of the investigation have not been released to the public.

The Ministry did issue a statement recommending schools amend their budgets to accommodate a program which would establish safety measures, implement precautionary measures at campsites jointly with relevant authorities, and familiarise management officials and employees with these measures by the end of the year, Haveeru reports.

Police are continuing their investigation of the incident. Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said investigators are taking care to respect families and friends involved.

“The police are doing a very detailed investigation, and we are respecting the victims’ families, students, teachers and classmates. We have to give them time to recover, so we are not forcing them to participate more than they are willing to at this time,” said Shiyam.

Shiyam said evidence from the site of the incident and nearby Huraa island has been gathered and is being processed. He said the investigation will be done as soon as possible.

Minister Shifa Mohamed, School Board Chairperson, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer and Dr Abdul Muhsin Mohamed, who chaired the committee tasked to investigate the accident, also met with the families of the deceased, reports Haveeru. Education Minister Abdullah Nazeer assured the families that the recommended measures would be implemented.

The Education Ministry had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

Nashath Saeed of Meenaz/Gaaf Alif atoll Dhehvadhoo, Mariyam Naaz of Suvaasaage/Haa Alif atoll Hoarafushi, Aishath Shaaniha of Handhuvary Villa/Raa atoll Rasmaadhoo and Mariyam Shaiha of Maafannu Moisha and Principal Ali Nazim drowned during a Fisheries Science field trip to the campsite in Huraa.

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Committee to set emergency safety measures

The Cabinet appointed a ministerial committee to set emergency safety measures yesterday. The issue was raised after four students and the principal of Hiriya School drowned during a snorkeling excursion in Kaafu atoll Huraa last Friday.

Discussions addressed appropriate emergency preparedness and responsiveness in a crisis, and emphasised the need for the full cooperation from all concerned agencies.

The committee is chaired by Minister of Defence and National Security, Thalhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu, and consists of Minister of Home Affairs Hassan Afeef, Minister of Transport and Communication Mohamed Adil Saleem, Minister of Housing and Environment Mohamed Aslam, Minister of Education Shifa Mohamed and Minister of Health and Family Dr Aminath Jameel.

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PTAs concerned over Dhivehi teacher at Hiriya

A group of Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) have raised concerns over a Dhivehi teacher who was transferred to Hiriya school, after he was found innocent in a court case concerning possession of pornographic images.

Hiriya school is an all-female secondary grade school which officially opened last year.

Director General of the Education Ministry Mohamed Saeed said that the PTAs of many schools in Male’ met with the Ministry yesterday to “express concern”.

”He worked in Dharumavantha School last year as a Dhivehi teacher and was transferred to Hiriya School along with some other teachers,” said Saeed. ”Ever since he was transferred we have received complaints from parents.”

”The teacher was suspended during the case and the court ruled that we should restore his job,” Saeed said.

He emphasised that the teacher had been found innocent, but parents remained concerned about the allegations.

”They said they did not like a man who had allegations of this kind against him to face the students everyday,” he said. ”Because of this issue he has not started working at the school but he remains officially registered as a teacher at Hiriya.”

He said that the PTAs were trying to prevent the teacher from working at the school.

Ahmed Riyaz, President of Hiriya School PTA, told Minivan News that parents were concerned that pornographic pictures of the teacher had been exposed “and everybody knows that”, despite the court ruling he was innocent.

”Courts do not always punish criminals,” claimed Riyaz. ”The court ruled that the pictures were not produced or leaked by [the teacher] – we do not know from the ruling whether it was him in the picture,” he added.

Riyaz said that as the school contained “a mixture of disciplined and undisciplined students”, there might be students “who would tease him by [spreading] the pictures and consequently get punished for it, which might disrupt the education of the student.”

Riyaz claimed Permanent Secretary for the Education Ministry Amand Ali “is the only one who is pressuring the school to have this teacher in Hiriya. She had sent letters to the Hiriya school principal demanding the teacher be allowed to work.”

He further alleged the Dhivehi teacher was transferred because he was “embarrassed to face students at Dharumavantha School,” and “does not have the qualifications to be a secondary grade Dhivehi teacher.”

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