Opposition to resume protests

The opposition alliance have vowed to continue anti-government protests tonight despite the arrest of 193 protesters and leaders of the allied parties after clashes at yesterday’s May Day rally.

Police have meanwhile threatened to break up any demonstration held without prior notice as soon as it starts. The ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ coalition has urged supporters to gather at the artificial beach at 9:00pm.

The goal of the May Day protest march was to “bring an end to brutality,” but was met with a brutal police crackdown, said main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’ after a meeting of the alliance’s steering committee.

Police have said that protesters assaulted police officers, damaged the property of the security services and the public, and disrupted public order and safety. Two police officers have been flown to Sri Lanka for treatment of injuries.

However, opposition leaders accused police of using “excessive and disproportionate force” against protesters after 30,000 people took to the streets of the capital.

Police cracked down with tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades, and baton charges after protesters attempted to enter the ‘green zone’ to perform dusk prayers at the Islamic centre. Gatherings are prohibited at the Republic square in front of the mosque.

Ibu said the alliance had planned to pray on the street after marching to the western end of Majeedhee Magu, but the leadership decided to pray at the Islamic centre as police had told the AP that no protest activity should take place between dusk and evening prayers.

While such an order was unconstitutional, Ibu said the opposition leaders decided not to carry out any activities during the specified period.

“We had a plan. We tried for the people gathered with us to the Islamic centre any way they could. But you saw how police acted after that,” he said.

Responding to criticism of the opposition leaders “fleeing” the scene after the crackdown, Sheikh Mohamed Didi from the Adhaalath Party said the leaders went to pray at nearby homes when it became clear they could not enter the Islamic centre.

Former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof said reports suggested the number of people arrested yesterday could be as high as 280 and not 193 as police have said.

“We are clarifying this information. This number of people have never been arrested in Maldivian history,” he said.

Mahloof also criticised the Police Integrity Commission for claiming police had acted professionally and with restraint. The independent MP said police beat up several protesters.

Further clashes took place at 8pm after protesters regrouped at Chandhanee Magu with Specialist Operations (SO) officers periodically charged the crowd and made dozens of arrest.

Police have made public video footage of protesters tripping and beating up a lone SO officer. The officer was rescued by protesters and brought behind police lines, prompting a baton charge. Police said another officer was injured when a protest pickup broke through police lines near the fish market.

Ibu said pro-government supporters had infiltrated the crowd yesterday and that the alliance is looking into the assault of the police officer on Chaandhanee Magu to determine who was involved.

Mahloof claimed the incident occurred shortly after an SO pickup charged into the crowd at high speed, which angered the protesters.

The alliance regrets the incident and does not encourage violence, he said, and suggested that the officer might have been assaulted by gangs paid by the government.

Local media reported officials at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGHM) as saying that neither the police officers nor protesters suffered serious injuries. Five police officers and six civilians were treated at IGMH while four protesters were treated at ADK.

Meanwhile, invoking authority under the 2013 freedom of assembly law to restrict the constitutional right to protest, police announced today that further protests will not be allowed unless police are given advance notice.

“We notify protest organisers that gatherings held without giving notice or providing full information to police will be stopped at the time of commencement,” the Maldives Police Service warned in a statement this afternoon.

The 2013 law requires organisers to uphold public interest and notify police if the protest is to take place on public roads. The law also states that the right to assembly can be limited in the interests of maintaining national security, public order, and stability.


Government accuses opposition of plotting May Day coup

The ruling coalition has accused the opposition alliance of plotting a violent overthrow of the government at an anti-government rally tomorrow.

The ‘Maldivians against brutality’ coalition last night turned down last minute overtures for negotiations when President Abdulla Yameen appointed the tourism minister as his envoy for talks.

“We will only sit down to negotiate with the the president of this country,” the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla told the press last night.

The opposition has held daily protests over the imprisonment of ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim. The alliance has vowed to bring out 25,000 people on the streets of the capital Malé to “end the government’s tyranny.”

Imran said tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had sent him a letter seeking a time and place for negotiations, but declared that Adeeb is “unfit” to negotiate with the opposition, calling him “corrupt”, “a venial sinner” and “a criminal”.

Adeeb has called Imran’s refusal to meet him “cowardly” and “effeminate” in a tweet this morning, dismissing the allegations of corruption and illicit connections with gangs as lies.

Government ministers and ruling party MPs held a joint press conference this afternoon, and claimed the May Day protest will not be peaceful.

The opposition is calling for an overthrow of an elected government and attempting to destabilise the country, Adeeb said today.

“Our security forces are ready,” he said.

He accused the Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim of “funding” the May Day protest and hiring Imran under “a contract”.

Imran is “playing the religious card” and inciting the public to rise up against the government, Adeeb said.


President Yameen had maintained on Monday that he saw no reason to negotiate or resign in the face of the’May Day’ mass rally. However, at a government ceremony the following night, Yameen said he has appointed Adeeb as his representative.

As the opposition build up to the mass rally continued and supporters from the atolls converged on Male’, Yameen has made daily public appearances this week.

Speaking at a ceremony held yesterday to accept membership forms of opposition councillors from Shaviyani atoll, Yameen accused the opposition of sowing discord, destabilising the nation, and disrupting peace and security.

Unlike the opposition parties, Yameen said the PPM will not seek power at any cost and was “impatient” to develop the Maldives.

The PPM will not torch buildings, assault civilians, and “commit atrocities,” he said.

He reiterated the government’s stance of upholding the rule of law and enforcing court verdicts.

At a live programme on opposition-aligned Raajje TV and Villa TV last night, opposition alliance leaders warned that the government will abolish political parties and establish a full-fledged “dictatorship” if tomorrow’s attempts to force president Yameen to come to the negotiating table fails.

The chairperson of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Ali Waheed dismissed claims by police that the opposition is planning a violent confrontation with police.

The Maldivian people will be on the street “as one congregation” tomorrow.

“I want to tell the public, don’t be afraid, the whole world is watching,” he said.


Riot police conduct training exercises ahead of May Day rally

Specialist Operations (SO) police officers have conducted training exercises ahead of an anti-government mass rally on May 1.

The opposition alliance, made up of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Adhaalath Party (AP) and leaders of business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoory Party (JP), expects at least 25,000 people to take part in the May Day protest.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz told Minivan News that the alliance does not expect a heavy-handed crackdown from police.

“We are not talking about overthrowing the government on May Day. We want an end to the brutality shown against Maldivian citizens by president [Abdulla] Yameen’s government,” he said.

Leaders of the opposition alliance have been traveling across the country in recent days, holding rallies and urging opposition supporters to converge on the capital on May 1.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day, prompting fears of a stand-off and civil unrest.

Opposition leaders have said the mass rally will force president Yameen to “come to the negotiating table” and discuss the release of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The SO training meanwhile took place on the island of Feydhoo Finolhu during the weekend and involved exercises on controlling protests.

Police said the first round of the training session has concluded and all SO officers and other officers transferred to the department participated in the exercises.

Similar exercises were carried out with stun guns and grenades ahead of an MDP-JP mass rally on February 27.

In a sermon in Malé on Thursday night – attended by senior members of the allied parties – head of the AP’s religious scholars’ council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain called on the police and military not to “brutalise” any Maldivian citizen.

Ilyas urged police to disregard orders from superiors to use force against the public.

Meanwhile, speaking at a futsal stadium opening event in Lhaviyani Naifaru on the same night, Adeeb said the current government cannot be overthrown through street protests.

The deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives said only 60 or 70 people were taking part in the nightly protests.

The opposition alliance “cannot do anything,” he said.

In response, Shifaz said today that the rally on February 27 had considerably more than 60 or 70 people.

“We are doing what an opposition party is supposed to do,” he said.

Shifaz said it was inappropriate for a minister to mock and challenge the opposition.

He suggested that Adeeb and other senior government officials were “unfamiliar” with the new democratic constitution and multi-party democracy.

“We were there even at the start of the work and awareness of democracy. Maybe Adeeb is too young to be familiar with ruling through a democratic system and the constitution. How can such people rule the country?” he asked.


‘Peace offering’ met with pepper spray and arrests

Three activists were arrested from a youth-led opposition protest march yesterday after making a “peace offering” of white roses to riot police.

Specialist Operations (SO) police officers blocked the march at Orchid Magu, issued warnings of dispersal by force, and used pepper spray against protesters after the roses were laid at their feet, Mohamed Azmeel, president of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) youth wing, told Minivan News today.

“White roses are used everywhere in the world as a peace offering. A group of youth offered white roses to police to show that we are peaceful. But they didn’t accept and pepper sprayed us,” he said.

He noted that the three activists taken into custody were among the group that offered roses to police.

The protest march dubbed ‘Heylaa’ (Wake Up) was organised by youth activists of the opposition alliance, made up of the MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, and the Jumhooree Party, with the aim of “bringing an end to brutality”.

The alliance has been staging nightly protests in Malé against what they call the government’s persecution of opposition political leaders. Former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim were sentenced last month to 13 years and 11 years in jail, respectively, on terrorism and weapon smuggling charges.

At least 140 protesters have been arrested since February. The MDP has previously accused SO officers of instigating a “coup d’etat” in February 2012 that led to then-president Nasheed’s resignation and of using excessive force against protesters.

The MDP youth wing has said protesters wore white t-shirts yesterday to “symbolise peace and friendship” while the white roses were offered to show that protesters were not seeking a violent confrontation.

Azmeel said he did not understand why police had to use pepper spray or make arrests as protesters did not attempt to break police lines.

He noted that police had not put up barricades on Orchid Magu.

A police media official said the three men were arrested for “disobeying orders” and “obstructing police duty.”

One protester was released “after giving advice” last night, he said, and police have not decided whether to seek extension of remand detention for the pair still under arrest.

Azmeel insisted that the march was peaceful and that protesters did not disobey orders.

“Disobeying orders would be crossing a barricade or refusing to take a route they showed. But none of that occurred there,” he said.

At least 150 youth led the march on Friday afternoon, Azmeel said, which began around 4:30pm at the Usfasgandu area and made its way west on the capital’s main thoroughfare, Majeedhee Magu.

The protest march stopped at various locations where youth leaders made speeches, he noted, adding that police had told protesters not to stop.

The march ended with a prayer for the safety of opposition leader Nasheed and other detainees.

Azmeel said the purpose of the march was “to raise concerns of youth and raise our voices.” The march was part of opposition activities in the run-up to a mass anti-government rally planned for May 1.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May 1, prompting fears of a stand-off and civil unrest.




Adhaalath cleric attacks government

Influential cleric Sheikh Ilyas Hussain today denounced the government’s alleged attempts to “create strife and discord” among religious Adhaalath Party members.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives has claimed Adhaalath’s break from the government and subsequent alliance with the opposition was not a popular decision among Adhaalath’s religious scholars and members.

But Ilyas, the president of Adhaalath’s scholar’s council, said he backed the opposition’s anti-government protests, and that the council had met on the matter.

“Dear brothers and sisters, remain vigilant of the rival’s attempt to create strife and discord. I urge everyone to go forward with the party’s president [Sheikh Imran Abdulla],” he said in an audio message from Malaysia.

“We held a meeting on March 7, and discussed the current events in the country. I call upon everyone to refrain from spreading false information regarding the council,” said Ilyas.

Adhaalath has been holding nightly protests alongside the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party urging the government to stop its alleged human rights violations.


AG appeals ruling on harbour plot sales

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) last week appealed a Civil Court ruling that declared the President’s decision to auction plots from the southwestern harbour area in Male’ illegal.

Solicitor General Ibrahim Riffath told newspaper Haveeru that the court did not provide legal justification for its ruling, which held that the auction was invalid as a law governing sale of state assets and property as required by article 250(a) of the constitution was not in effect.

The state has however asked the High Court to rule that the existing Land Act should apply to property transactions.

The plot auction was challenged at the Civil Court last year by the short-lived alliance of opposition parties in parliament, consisting of main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party and minority opposition parties People’s Alliance, Dhivehi Qaumee Party and Republican Party.

The Civil Court ruling in favour of the opposition came after the government collected Rf100 million (US$7.7 million) in advance payments from five auction winners. Five plots of 2,000 square feet, three plots of 5,000 square feet, two plots of 7,500 square feet and one 10,000 square feet plot in front of T-jetty area was auctioned last year.


Government to refund harbour plot buyers

The government will refund buyers of four plots from the southwest harbour after the Civil Court ruled earlier this month that the sales were illegal, Male’ Mayor “Sarangu” Adam Manik told local media yesterday.

Adam Manik however revealed that the Attorney General’s Office will appeal the Civil Court’s ruling, which held that President Mohamed Nasheed’s decision to auction off 50,000 square feet of land from the harbour area was made illegally after the move was challenged at court by the opposition alliance.

The Civil Court decision came after the buyers made advance payments of 10 percent of the total amount due.

Should the High Court overrule the lower court decision, said the Mayor, the City Council will resume the project and offer the previous auction winners the same plot again.

Four out of eleven plots auctioned last year had been sold before the court ruling – two 2,000 square feet plots were bought for Rf27 million by SunFront, a 5,000 square feet plot was bought by BHM Traders owner Hussein Moosa while resort company Universal bought a 7,500 square feet plot for Rf46.5 million.