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.
“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.”