Opposition alliance to discuss president’s offer for talks

The opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance will discuss President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation to hold talks for the “stability and benefit of Maldivian citizens” at a meeting tomorrow.

“There will be a steering committee meeting of the opposition coalition tomorrow. We will decide then,” main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) vice president Mohamed Shifaz told Minivan News today.

Shifaz had previously said the MDP will accept the president’s invitation only if imprisoned ex-President Mohamed Nasheed and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed could represent the party.

The Adhaalath Party (AP) also demanded the release of the party’s leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla as a condition for participating in the talks.

However, Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim welcomed the president’s appeal for dialogue.

The AP leader, MDP chairperson, and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested in the wake of a mass anti-government demonstration on May 1 along with nearly 200 protesters. They were accused of inciting violence against the government.

Last week, the tax authority froze the bank accounts of several companies owned by Gasim, while the criminal court reportedly issued an arrest warrant for the JP leader the following day. The business tycoon is accused of funding the May Day rally.

The opposition alliance meanwhile continued its activities with a rally on Thursday night and a protest march in Malé on Friday. The allied opposition parties have been protesting since February, calling for the release of former President Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

President Yameen had initially rejected the opposition’s calls for dialogue to resolve the political crisis, insisting that he cannot interfere with the judiciary and urging the pair to appeal their sentences.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News last week that the government’s stance has not changed and that discussions can only be held on “lawful demands.”

Asked if the president’s office was ruling out negotiations on Nasheed and Nazim’s release, Muaz said the government has not set an agenda or a representative for negotiations, but reiterated that talks can only proceed on “demands the president can meet.”

Speaking at Thursday night’s rally following his release from police custody earlier in the day, Ameen Ibrahim said President Yameen is “miscalculating” by imprisoning opposition leaders and protesters.

The president believed the opposition’s mass gatherings on February 27 and May 1 have failed, but the alliance’s resolve has not weakened and will eventually “emerge victorious”, he said.

Both Ali Waheed and Imran urged supporters to remain steadfast and continue protests against tyranny and injustice, Ameen said.

Ameen said the three opposition parties will jointly propose rules or conditions for talks with the government, but did not reveal any details.

The opposition alliance has also accused the government of illegally imposing restrictions on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly after the police announced that the opposition must obtain prior permission before holding a protest.

Since the May Day demonstration, the police have cracked down on opposition street protests by briefly detaining key figures.

On Thursday, the police banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in the opposition’s protests without prior permission. The step was necessary after a lorry drove through police lines at high speed during the May Day protest, police have said.

The opposition frequently uses lorries and pickups at protests to hold speaker systems, and for public announcements during the day.

Following the ban on vehicles, the opposition alliance used a handcart to carry the sound system during Friday’s protest march. Senior members of the allied parties took turns dragging the cart across the capital.



Editorial: What we saw and heard on May Day

Approximately 20,000 people took to the streets on May Day in the largest anti-government protest in a decade. But protesters failed to seek the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed or force the government to negotiate. Instead, scores were arrested and injured in violent clashes.

What happened? Who attacked first, protesters or police? Did the security forces use disproportionate force? Minivan News recounts what we saw and heard on the streets of Malé.

Revolutionary fervour was in the air when protesters set off at 4:45pm on a march through Malé’s thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu. The de facto leader, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, started the march saying the opposition would “emerge victorious.”

May Day rally begins

From the start, the opposition Maldivians against tyranny coalition’s plans were unclear to protesters. Many expected leaders to announce plans at the end of the march. Protesters were geared up for a crackdown, some wore swimming goggles and surgical masks and had fashioned home made masks out of plastic bottles. Many carried bottles of coca cola to reduce effects of pepper spray and tear gas.


The Qur’an was blaring over static from a lorry at the frontline, while music was playing on lorries stationed in the middle and at the end. Protesters marched at a brisk pace as onlookers applauded and waved. Several megaphones, set up on balconies at private residences, were broadcasting opposition-aligned Raajje TV and 97 Minivan radio’s live coverage of the march.

At the western edge of Majeedhee Magu, opposition leaders stopped to speak to the crowds. A nervous energy hung in the air. Speakers said Muslims were obligated to stand up against tyranny and injustice. The Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed said he would only go home after securing Nasheed’s release.

Protesters in the middle and at the tail end could not hear the speeches. The crowd was agitated. Some attempted unsuccessfully to get protesters to sit down on the street. When Sheikh Imran took the stage, protesters faced the setting sun and put up their hands in prayer. Many were crying when Imran tearfully prayed for courage to remain steadfast and for mercy from the security forces.

Then came the announcement that protesters were to go and perform dusk prayers at the Islamic Center located next to the city’s main Republic square and the police and military headquarters.

The crowd broke off chanting Allah Akbar, with groups of thousands taking various routes. Police in riot gear had blocked off all the roads leading to the Islamic center. Clashes broke out as protesters attempted to break through police lines. Security forces indiscriminately used pepper spray and beat protesters with batons.

The air was thick with tear gas, pepper spray, anger and fear.


At the fish market, blocks away from the republic square, Minivan News journalists saw Sheikh Imran and Ali Waheed turn back as others urged on protesters to march through police lines. But when the leaders turned back, protesters fell back. MP Ahmed Mahloof, however, attempted to lead the crowd, but the ranks were nervous and disorganised, falling back to police’s use of pepper spray.

Police officers were visibly tense.

In narrow lanes surrounding the square, police in riot gear pushed protesters back. Some took refuge in mosques and were pepper sprayed inside. Stun grenades were thrown. A standoff ensued at the fish market until a protest lorry drove through police lines knocking some officers to the ground, but protesters were unable to follow the lorry into the square.

Dhahaau Pics-1-4

Police cracked down. The crowd threw bottles and pavement bricks. Pitched battles ensued. Police had already arrested scores. Some detainees were frothing at the mouth and hyperventilating from the effects of pepper spray.


At 7pm, the protest was in disarray. Many had already gone home.

Confusion reigned. Messages began circulating, urging protesters to regroup, first at the Social Center at the western edge, then at Artificial Beach at the eastern edge, and finally on Chaandhanee Magu, the central road leading to the square.

The streets were littered with bottles, flags, placards and discarded shoes.

Opposition leaders, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim, and MDP MPs urged protesters to regroup on Chaandhanee Magu. “We are here with you, we did not hide,” they said.

Ibu Ameen MayDay

But protesters fell back when police fired thunder flashes and periodically charged into the crowd with batons. Lorries carrying dozens of police officers drove at high speed into the crowds.


Confrontations ensued with protesters throwing glass and plastic bottles. A policemen was severely beaten and was rescued by former MDP MP Ahmed Easa.

Irate police officers once again charged into the crowd, and trapped dozens of protesters in narrow blocked-off lanes and made indiscriminate arrests.

May Day

Hundreds of angry protesters remained in pockets, rallying around opposition leaders periodically, but dispersing when groups of police officers charged into the crowd. A Raajje TV cameraman was injured.


Some protesters took refuge in private homes. But police officers forcefully entered homes and indiscriminately pepper sprayed residents. Security forces and protesters hurled profanities at each other. A dozen officers also entered a building on Majeedhee Magu and took down a pair of megaphones.

Police stepped up arrests at 9pm, picking up people at random, packing them onto lorries and driving off at high speed. Easa who had helped the fallen police officer was arrested and taken onto a police lorry. He was surrounded by Specialist Operations officers and Minivan News journalists heard him scream repeatedly in pain.


At 11pm came the news that Sheikh Imran had been arrested from Ali Waheed’s apartment. Small scale confrontations continued on the streets, but the crowds dwindled as police continued indiscriminate arrests. Many who were arrested were driven to a different location in the city and released with warnings.

By 1am, the crowds had largely dispersed, but police presence remained high. By 2pm, the roads were nearly empty. Ali Waheed and JP’s Ameen Ibrahim were arrested by 3pm.

Photos by Shaari, Dhahau Naseem and Ahmed ‘Anju’ Azim.


President dismisses calls for resignation

President Abdulla Yameen says he will not resign or negotiate with the opposition despite the threat of mass antigovernment protests on May Day.

The Maldivians against brutality coalition says it will bring out 25,000 people on to the streets of the capital on Friday, and has called on president Yameen to initiate talks immediately and free imprisoned former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

But the president at a press conference today reiterated his belief that there was no room for negotiations in court verdicts and said ordinary Maldivians are not facing any difficulties in their day to day life.

“There is no reason for me to resign. The opposition shouting out what ever they like is no reason for a president to resign,” he said.

“As I govern, I am the first to take the initiative to resolve issues arising from my mistakes. They have not said anything substantial as of yet.”

The criminal court last month sentenced Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism and Nazim to 11 years on weapons smuggling. Foreign governments and international rights groups have condemned the trials for lack of due process.

Tens of thousands have signed a petition urging president Yameen to free Nasheed. The opposition leader’s lawyers say the Clemency Act authorizes the president to shorten an inmate’s sentence to any period depending on the circumstances surrounding the prisoner’s conviction.

But Yameen today dismissed calls for Nasheed’s freedom, stating: “MDP says president Yameen can release president Nasheed even tomorrow. President Yameen will not release president Nasheed tomorrow. He is serving a sentence. The sentence can only be reduced according to due process.”

The coalition – made up of MDP, religious conservative Adhaalath Party, members of the Jumhooree Party and independent MPs – says it will end the government’s tyranny on May Day. Opposition politicians have been traveling across the country in recent weeks urging supporters to converge on the capital on May 1. Meanwhile, daily small scale protests are continuing.

But president Yameen says he faces no pressure stating: “I would like to say, May 1 will once again mark a day where the rule of law is upheld in the Maldives.”

“May 1 is coming. I will wait and watch. Those who violate the laws must know they will be punished. We have been advising [the opposition] through the relevant institutions. We will not allow [the opposition] to bring out young people and put them behind bars,” he said.

He accused the opposition of inciting violence and undermining the rule of law by using religion as a shield, and advised the opposition to cease its efforts immediately.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day.

The government has said Nasheed and Nazim must appeal their sentences, but the opposition says it has no faith in the judiciary saying the president controls the judiciary.


Opposition to field single candidate for vacant Majlis seat

The opposition coalition is holding talks to field a single candidate for a vacant parliament seat after the incumbent MP was sentenced to life in jail on corruption charges.

The Elections Commission has scheduled the by-election for the Dhiggaru constituency for June 13. The call for applications will be open from April 15 – 25.

Though the “Maldivians Against Brutality” coalition is made up of parties with vastly different ideologies, they are confident of fielding a single candidate against the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Former PPM partners, the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party, allied with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party following what they called a government crackdown on opposition politicians including former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The two were sentenced last month to 13 years and 11 years in jail for terrorism and weapons smuggling, respectively.

Meanwhile, JP leader Gasim Ibrahim is facing a US$100million fine that may bankrupt his Villa Group.

Adhaalath spokesperson Ali Zahir and a PPM councilor for of Meemu atoll council Moosa Naseer have expressed interest in standing for the vacant seat.

The former Dhiggaru MP Ahmed Nazim lost his seat on Monday after the Supreme Court convicted him of defrauding the former atolls ministry.

Ex-MP Nazim, a former deputy speaker of the Peoples Majlis was convicted of defrauding the state of MVR 1.4 million (US $91,400) by submitting bids on behalf of non-existent companies to supply 15,000 national flags to the now-defunct atolls ministry.


“Maldivians against brutality” alliance to launch activities tonight


The newly formed “Maldivians against brutality” alliance is launching its activities at 9:00pm tonight at the artificial beach.

Adhaalath Party (AP) President Sheikh Imran Abdulla made the announcement on behalf of the “national movement” at a press conference this afternoon, but declined to reveal any details of the activities planned for tonight.

Imran said the alliance has formed a 13-member steering committee to plan and oversee its activities, which includes representatives from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Jumhooree Party (JP), and NGOs.

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed claimed that the country’s tourism industry was collapsing as a result of the government’s alleged efforts to “wipe out political opponents,” contending that the Maldives’ international reputation has been tarnished by “politically motivated trials.”

He stressed that the opposition alliance’s protests would take place within bounds of the law

MP Ahmed Mahloof – recently expelled from ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – meanwhile alleged that Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was behind the death threats issued via text message to several opposition politicians last year under the name “ISIS.”

He also repeated allegations of corruption against Adeeb, claiming that the PPM deputy leader gifted a US$70,000 BMW car and US$100,000 gold ring to First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim.

Adeeb has denied the allegations, claiming the MP had been bribed to defame him and President Abdulla Yameen.