The opposition has asked supporters to prepare for a prolonged sit-in on Malé’s thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu tomorrow (June 12), and have notified the police that the protest may last for three days.
“We will continue to protest as long as we can peacefully continue,” said Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, MP of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
The Maldivians Against Tyranny coalition – which consists of the MDP, the Adhaalath Party, members of the Jumhooree Party (JP) and family members of jailed politicians – is protesting over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and the targeting of opposition businesses.
Supporters have been told to wear comfortable clothes and gather at the opposition’s campaign office near at the Artificial Beach area at 8:30pm.
Organizers stressed that the sit-in will be peaceful, but declined to reveal further details of plans for the protest.
The sit-in is the third mass protest called by the opposition. Some 10,000 protesters marched on February 27, while some 20,000 protested on May Day.
President Abdulla Yameen is in China, and due back on June 16.
MDP has set a hash tag for the sit-in, #BaaraHayeh15, reflecting the date of the protest. Supporters are also using #OccupyMajeedheeMagu and have set up a blog with news of the event.
Mohamed Shifaz, the MDP vice-president, said some 5,000 supporters from the Maldives’ remote atolls will converge on Malé for the protest. Some 2,000 have already arrived, he said.
“The largest groups are coming from the southern Addu atolls, central Laamu and Alif Atolls and northern Noonu and Haa Alif atolls,” Shifaz said.
He also assured supporters that the leadership will remain with protesters throughout the protest.
Key opposition figures are in prison or abroad. The JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed left the Maldives shortly before the Prosecutor General’s office pressed terrorism charges on a claim of inciting violence at the May Day protest.
Sobah has since said he is seeking political asylum abroad.
Adhaalath President Sheikh Imran Abdulla is in police custody, awaiting the conclusion of a terrorism trial, also on charges of inciting violence.
The MDP chairperson Ali Waheed, who was arrested on May 1 along with Imran and Ameen, is abroad in an unspecified country for medical treatment.
MP Ibu has denounced what he called the government’s attempts to disrupt the protest.
The biannual street market in Malé was due to end on June 8, but extended until June 13. The organizers said the extension was necessary due to heavy rain last week.
Ibu also said the government had pushed back a sermon by Islamic Scholar Mufti Menk from June 11 to the night of June 12. The coalition had chosen June 12 because the government had initially set the sermon for Thursday, he said.
The Elections Commission has meanwhile fined the MDP and the Adhaalath Party for “unlawful acts” during the May Day demonstration. The MDP is fined with MVR 53,000 (US$ 3,437) and the Adhaalath Party was handed a fine of MVR 69,000 (US$4,475).
The demonstration is taking place in a more conciliatory political environment than May 1.
President Abdulla Yameen called for separate talks with the allied opposition parties. He has, however, ruled out negotiations on Nasheed and Nazim’s release.
A police spokesperson said officers will cooperate with the protesters if the sit-in remains peaceful. While the opposition has criticized the police for requiring a notice before the protest, the police official said the notice did not amount to seeking permission, but only to allow police to make arrangements for public safety.
The police, however, have also announced that the military has guaranteed support for the June 12 protest.
JP representatives met with cabinet ministers yesterday, and asked the government to facilitate joint talks between all parties, freeing opposition politicians in jail or facing criminal prosecution, ensuring judicial independence and protecting investors.
JP leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim has been in Bangkok since late April. According to local media, the criminal court has issued an arrest warrant for Gasim on charges of financing the May Day protest.
Nearly 200 people were arrested on May Day.
Opposition MPs, meanwhile, are no longer protesting in the People’s Majlis.
Malé City Council (MCC) has opened a new parking lot on a vacant plot of land at H.Heenaamaage in Majeedhee Magu – the capital’s main road.
While speaking at the opening ceremony of the facility – believed to accommodate up to 300 motorbikes – MCC Mayor Mohamed Shihab said that since Majeedhee Magu is the busiest street in Malé, specialized parking spots would reduce traffic.
“As of now, parking in the lot is free. However, we may take a small fee after discussing it with the people living nearby and shop owners in the area,” said Shihab.
Also speaking at the ceremony, MCC member Shamau Shareef said that the plot has been contracted to an Indian firm which wsa to develop a multi-story facility two years ago, but the work had not begun as the company was not able to register in the Maldives.
“The contract is still valid and if the government allows the company to register in the Maldives, We would be able to build the three story parking lot here,” explained Shamau.
A group of masked men wielding machetes cut down areca nut palm trees across Malé in the early hours of Friday morning.
Eyewitnesses told local media that the group felled about 25 palm trees planted by the city council in late 2011 on both sides of the capital’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu.
On the previous night, (October 22), two trees in front of the Prosecutor General’s Office and one near the Amity shop were also chopped down.
Credible sources have suggested that the trees were felled by Specialist Operations (SO) police officers in plain clothes, with the incident causing a rift between the SO and capital divisions of the service.
Police have said the incident was reported around 3:30am on Friday morning and that no arrests have been made yet.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party-majority (MDP) city council has since called on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“This revolting, abhorrent and unlawful act was an injury caused to all citizens of the Maldives and especially the beloved people of Malé,” reads a press release issued by Mayor Mohamed Shihab yesterday.
Such acts would not deter either the council’s efforts to beautify the capital or calls to ensure peace and security, the statement added.
The Indian High Commission had donated the areca palm trees in October 2011.
Former Police Commissioner and sitting Jumhoree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz told local media yesterday that the police should have stopped the group in the act.
If not, he added, police have the competence and the technology to find and arrest the perpetrators, referring to an extensive network of security cameras in the capital.
Rumours of police involvement in the vandalism have circulated online, with a photo purportedly of one of the perpetrators in the act being shared on social media.
Patrolling officers from the capital police command allegedly followed the group, intercepted one cycle and baton charged two suspects.
However, the men fled and were seen entering the police Iskandhar Koshi barracks.
The group allegedly used police radios to verbally abuse the duty officer at the command centre and the SO SWAT team has since been transferred to the training island Feydhoo Finolhu.
The police media official has, however, dismissed the allegations today as baseless and intended to bring the Maldives Police Service into disrepute.
Anti-government protesters cut down the areca palm trees during demonstrations in January 2012 against the MDP government’s decision to detain Criminal Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
Speaking to reporters last night, former President Mohamed Nasheed criticised the failure of police to apprehend the perpetrators despite video and photographic evidence.
“The safety and security of the public have been lost today to an unprecedented extent. This is something we are all very concerned about,” he said.
It was around 2:00pm on March 5 when news of the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed became public, leading to gridlock on sections of Majeedhee Magu – the main road cutting through the Maldives capital.
Throughout the day, a few hundred demonstrators aligned to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) attempted to “bring the capital to a standstill” with a protest to blockade traffic following the arrest of the former president.
At sporadic points during the afternoon, in between clashes with police forces and peaceful sit downs, ugly scenes of confrontation were also witnessed where trucks, bikes and even government-aligned people deemed “Baghee” – a traitor – were swarmed and attacked by the crowd.
“Your photos will be a problem,” isolated figures explained throughout the day, following such confrontations. “Do not take pictures here. Take them from further away,” they said. “Do not give them to police.”
In the battle for international media attention, an image speaks a thousands words – so long as it is the right image.
Following the arrest of Nasheed, who is currently standing trial for the controversial detention of the Criminal Court chief judge during his time in office, men and women of all ages gathered outside the Male’ City Council building (MCC) between the intersections at Alikilegefaanu Magu and Rahdebi Magu.
Among the crowd was Mohamed Aslam, a former Environment Minister under Nasheed’s government, who claimed there was no official plan for demonstrations or a protest at the time.
“People are agitated, they are angry,” he said. “There is no plan, there is just outrage.”
It was earlier in the afternoon that 15 masked police officers had entered Nasheed’s family compound of Kenerege with a court warrant to detain the country’s first democratically elected president.
Sources within the MDP later told Minivan News that the former president was taken peacefully, if reluctantly, briefly saying goodbye to his family before being escorted away by authorities. Police later returned for a second time to the compound, though no further arrests were made in the building.
However, by 2:00pm, there was clear anger among some three dozen predominantly male figures around the corner from Kenerege on Majeedhee Magu. The tension was exacerbated as a group of officers in the back of a van quickly singled out an elderly gentleman across a crowded intersection and took him away.
Media were quick to capture the image, as angry onlookers heckled the officers over a blare of horns from taxis and other motorists now blocked by the unfolding drama.
A group of people including Nasheed’s representative on the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), Ahmed ‘Gaha’ Saeed, soon blocked the road in what they claimed was a makeshift protest.
Perched on front of delivery vehicle, Saeed told Minivan News that demonstrators had opted to blockade the truck that he said to belonged to one of the country’s largest private retailers alleged to be one of the masterminds behind a “coup d’etat” that saw Nasheed controversially resign from office last year.
“People have waited a year since the coup and are very angry and unlikely to act reasonably now. They could bring Male’ to a standstill,” Saeed stated.
As some attempted to dissuade Saeed from his actions, other figures in the crowd attempted to limit the taking of pictures – an impossible task considering the prevalence of I-pads, camera phones and social media in the country.
By 2:30 pm, as the sun beat down intensely on the intersection, tensions continue to escalate as the crowd singled out a figure passing through the intersection on his bike. The figure was Ali Waheed, the brother of current President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.
In the first of several such isolated attacks during the day, a crowd swarmed and surrounded Ali Waheed amidst shouts of Baghee, before he was pushed from his bike, surrounded and attacked. After a tense minute of confrontation, Ali Waheed was ushered from the intersection by some figures in the crowd – his bike abandoned on the street. It would not be the last vehicle left on the capital’s street during the day.
The crowd’s attention later turned to a military car with tinted windows. Isolated figures attacked the vehicle, ripping off its mirrors and smashing a rear passenger side window. Some three or four dozen young men appeal divided amidst appeals for calm from Saeed and several other figures asking to let the vehicle pass.
Heavy rainfall temporarily cleared the road and the simmering tension. As the situation calmed, Saeed explained that the crowd had sought out figures perceived to be tied either to senior government or the security forces, particularly the police’s Special Operations (SO) officers.
“They see it as you are either with us or against us,” he said. “We continue to ask for calm, but as always happens, it is the loudest in crowds who have their way.” Saeed rejected the accusation that individuals were being purposefully singled out as they passed through the barricade.
Sit down demonstrations
As the blockade continued, a growing number of men and women began to join the demonstrations, with former Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam joining a sit down in the middle of the street.
Further down the road, a single man lay in the rain soaked road outside the Male’ City Council building. The crowd suddenly appeared happy to clear to one side to let media to take a photo opportunity of the man. Meanwhile, curious and often bemused onlookers and shoppers stepped over him.
However, the lighter mood was at times broken. In one instance, a man riding a bike with a young girl on the back was heckled as a “Baaghee” – prudently he avoided the crowd and detoured down a side street.
At the height of the demonstration, some two or three blocks on Majeedhee were blockaded, with an orange rope set up across the street to stop traffic coming through. A few motorists tried to get through to the derision of the crowd.
Shortly before 4:00pm, around 30 police officers in helmets arrive and begin to clear the intersection outside the city council building, removing Mohamed Aslam from the scene, while coming under fire from plastic water bottles and small sections of pavement stones.
Several other figures in the crowd were also taken by authorities, as police left the scene.
Behind them, some 200 demonstrators remained on the road, continuing with their blockade and chanting. Another group of women soon resumed their sit-down protests and anti-government chants.
The light mood again sporadically broken as another male – accused of being a member of the Police’s SO division – attempted to pass through the crowd. He was quickly swarmed as he was mobbed by a crowd divided over whether to attack or protect the figure.
Shouts of “baghee” from the crowd were punctuated by the screams of a woman travelling with the man. Both are eventually moved to safety.
“There is hatred here,” said one protester. “He was asking for it. He could see there was a [blockade] but came through anyway. It is very hard to control some of these [demonstrators].”
Soon after, individuals once again spoke to media figures, reiterating appeals to cease taking photos as some of the group turn their attentions to breaking through a glass door of a large clothes shop – eventually they are dissuaded by others in the crowd.
At the same time, the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) released a statement strongly condemning violent attacks said to be carried carried out against a journalist and a cameraman working from private media outlet Sun Online. Earlier in the day, a journalist for the same organisation had stayed in Nasheed’s family compound over concerns about his safety among the crowd outside.
By 4:30pm, Police reinforcements once again arrived to clear the intersections, heckled by the 200 demonstrators who has sought to block sections of the road during the afternoon.
Though some officers were witnessed carrying firearms with rubber bullets, no such measures were witnessed being used by police, though one young woman arrested had appeared to have been pepper sprayed.
During the ongoing police operation, a further two dozen demonstrators were arrested and loaded into the back of a police van – among them a middle-aged women taken for heckling and singing songs. she soon becomes an inadvertent hero among her fellow demonstrators. Aware of her status, she begins dancing in the back of the police truck.
As order is restored by authorities and the arrested are taken from the scene in an open topped van, the crowd cheer and wave at the figures, including an elderly woman who blew kisses and waved to the crowd.
With the police presence again gone, the crowd return to their blockade to songs and anti-government chants. The mood once again light temporarily until protesters attack and roll over a van belonging to Eydhafushi MP Ahmed Saleem, another figure unpopuler among the core MDP supporters. According to local media, milk packets are taken from the van and distributed among the protesters.
Whether demonstrators succeeded in bringing the capital to a standstill as some had claimed, for large parts of the day, one of the capital’s busiest roads was transformed into a protest site for dissatisfaction with the government.
As police began to bring the crowds under control, among a blockaded section of Majeedhee Magu between Alikilegefaanu Magu and Rahdebi Magu, a shop-owner looked out from his door at the deserted road.
Police have asked for public assistance in identifying four men seen in a video clip captured of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest on Tuesday near the Male City Council Office in Majeedhee Magu.
In a statement police asked the public to provide any regarding the four persons to the police criminal investigation department on 963 1696 or police headquarters at 332 2111.
Police also said that, if required, protection will be given to anyone who shared information with the police.
Yesterday the police also published the picture of MDP activist Ali Hashim, 24, from the island of Dhidhoo in Haa Alifu Atoll.
Hashim was previously arrested by police in connection with the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali, but was released without charge.
Police said Hashim surrendered himself to the police at 10:55pm last night and was is now under police charge.
Police have not disclosed why the four suspects were being searched for.
MDP protesters took to the street after police arrested former President Mohamed Nasheed in compliance with an arrest warrant issued by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.
Nasheed is to appear for his alleged unlawful detention of Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office, charges his party maintain are a politically-motivated attempt to disqualify him from the September 7 elections.
Nasheed’s legal team filed a case at the Criminal Court yesterday requesting for a writ to habeas corpus. However the Criminal Court rejected the case without holding a hearing.