“A demoralised opposition, even divided, is not making things easy for the government”: Daily Mirror

A legislative deadlock involving the Executive and Parliament on the one hand, and the Executive and the Judiciary on the other, both leading to a serious and a series of constitutional crisis kept Maldivian politics and politicians on their toes for most of 2010, writes Sathiya Moorthy for Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror.

“Now in the third year of its five-year term, the government of President Mohammed Nasheed ‘Anni’ has tied itself down in a fiscal situation through an IMF-driven ‘managed float’ of rufiyaa, the local currency. The government says that the consequent steep increase in prices was unavoidable but would stabilise within three months.

“A demoralised opposition, even when remaining divided, is not making things easy for the government. Their protest rallies drew crowds for a few days in a row with the police having to disperse them forcibly. Though the government blamed them on the opposition, particularly the divided Dhivehii Rayyithunghe Party (DRP) founded by former President Maumoon Gayoom, sections of the local media said apolitical youth were seen in good numbers.”

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President talks business tax increases as part of economic reform plans

President Mohamed Nasheed has pledged further economic reforms including the planned implementation of a general business profit tax in July and the possible increase of the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (GST) from six percent to 3.5 percent.

Speaking yesterday during his weekly radio address, the president claimed that serious reorganisation of state finances was needed as the Maldives graduates from the UN’s list of nations with Least Developed Country status.

This reorganization strategy includes a managed float of the rufiyaa to effectively devalue the currency against the US dollar .  The move was designed to try and allow the local currency to be traded within 20 percent of the pegged rate of Rf12.85 – a decision that has led to ongoing protests in Male’, said by organisers to be focused on escalating living costs.

“Reducing public expenditure and increasing state revenue to reduce budget deficit; stopping money printing to prevent devaluation of currency due to increased  supply; and corporatising government services to increase participation of efficient private parties,” were outlined by the president  as the government’s key aims for the economy.

In order to meet these goals, Nasheed claimed that the government would look to begin collecting business profit tax from the private sector on July 18 as well as trying to impose a minimum wage for local people.

In addition, the president also claimed that he was considering increasing the Tourism Goods and Services Tax, which was first implemented as of January 1 this year, to six percent from the introductory rate of 3.5 percent.

Criticising national spending policies under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Nasheed claimed that his government had reduced a budget deficit that stood at about 30 percent of the nation’s GDP back in 2008 to just above 10 percent at present.

While generally supporting initiatives to reduce costs that have led to ongoing public protests in the country, the Treasurer of The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI), Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor, said that the the planned addition of a minimum wage and a Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all enterprises operating in the country needed to be gradually implemented.

Speaking earlier this month, Abdul Gafoor claimed that gradual introduction of taxes would be vital to ensure the nation’s fledgling economy can cope with any potential changes.


Comment: Every person injured in protests leaves behind a trial of bitterness

The last few days have seen bitter times in the republic island of the Maldives. The cost of living has risen heavily, causing thousands to come out on the streets in protest. Street protests are not new to the Maldives; only this time around, the anger is directed against a democratically-elected government rather than a dictatorial regime. This means that irrespective of whether the protests are lawful or not, the police response needs to be lawful.

But the police treatment of demonstrators under the new government has been well below mark. Although MPS is unarmed, excesses committed by police officers, through means such as tear gas, police baton, arbitrary arrests and detention, has been a recurring matter of concern. In October 2010, the Maldives police were alleged to have reacted with excessive force against journalists covering the demonstrations by the main opposition party, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP). In the ongoing ‘cost of living’ protests, the police were alleged to have arrested over 300 people (though the majority were released subsequently) whereas over 75 people were reportedly injured in the span of 10 days of protest.

Notwithstanding the veracity of such claims, it is clear that crowd control is going to remain a challenge for the police. What then are the principles governing public order management?

The starting point for policing public protest is the presumption in favour of facilitating peaceful assembly (Article 21, ICCPR). Public protest is an important democratic activity and peaceful intentions should be presumed unless there is compelling evidence that those organizing or participating in a particular event will themselves use, advocate or incite violence. This places both positive and negative duties on the police (Keeping the Peace: Manual of Guidance, UK).

The negative duty means that the police must not prevent, restrict, or hinder peaceful assembly except to the extent allowed by law. Positive duty entails safeguarding the right to peaceful assembly. In case of a threat of disruption or disorder, the law allows police officers to use force but only when other ‘non-violent means have been tried and proved ineffective’. In other words, force must be used as a last resort.

Once the decision of using force has been taken, the guiding principle is the minimum use of force. This means that any use of force must be reasonable in the circumstances. But what does reasonable mean? As per international law and best practices, reasonable has come to mean the following:

One, the use of force must be proportionate to the lawful objective to be achieved and to the ‘seriousness of the offence’. In any public gathering or protests, the lawful objective is only to minimize chance of violence and not to disperse the crowd.

Second, the use of force by the police must be lawful: necessary for a purpose permitted by law such as self-defense, defense of another, to prevent crime, to protect life, or unlawful action. For this, it is important for the police rules or regulations of any country to provide guidelines on specific circumstances under which the police may carry firearms, warnings to be given before firearms are to be discharged, reporting system whenever officials use firearms in the performance of their duty etc. Such guidelines are important by way of minimizing arbitrariness in police action.

There is little information on whether the MPS has formulated such rules on crowd control. Notably, this is a theme missing in the otherwise comprehensive Strategic Plan 2007-2011 of the Maldives Police Service.

Whenever use of force is necessary, it is the duty of the police to respect and protect human life, minimise damage and injury, provide assistance and aid to those injured and ensure that a relative or close friend of the injured or affected person is notified at the earliest possible opportunity.

Following these guidelines on the ground, however, can be difficult. Determining the import of terms such as ‘seriousness of offence,’ ‘ineffectiveness of non-violent means,’ or even the time of intervention are all, ultimately, matter of discretion. Much depends on the judgment and understanding of the officer on ground. These difficulties are real, but it is precisely to address such challenges that post-incident accountability assumes significance.

For this, the police are required to follow safeguards at the time of use of force such as identify themselves as police, give a clear warning of their intent to use force firearms, and allow enough time for the warning to be observed unless it places the police at risk or creates risk of death or serious harm to others. The use of firearms mandates additional safeguards such as submission of an incident report to the competent authorities (UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, Article 3). Although firearms have not been used in the Maldives in a long time, such safeguards are of equal value even in other forms of force used such as tear gas in this instance. Moreover, to avoid and reduce arbitrariness of officers while in action, the decision to use force must be taken by senior office, adequately trained into making sound judgments.

Often, the police complain that such measures are difficult to follow and situations generally can turn so quickly that not enough room is left for following the standard. However it is exactly these kind of situations for which the police need to equip and train themselves. Training in fact needs to orient police officers to the basic requirement of minimial force and minimal damage rather than the obvious tendency of grave harm. The accountability for actions cannot be avoided and in fact the police should be more open to scrutiny which alone will help build its capability of managing public disorder; and also boost its public image as a force willing to work within the confines of law.

It is, therefore, crucial that the government/MPS conducts an inquiry into the protests to determine whether these guidelines were followed. Every person injured in protests leaves behind a trial of bitterness. This is hardly conducive to gaining trust and confidence of the people, something that the MPS is striving hard to achieve (as is reflected in their Strategic Plans). Officers will do well to remember that their actions in these formative years of democracy in the island will most likely set the tone for its relationship with the community. As such, the development of a comprehensive system for managing public order that accords with international standards is a priority. Legislation that governs the management of public order by the police, and builds a co-operative relationship between the police and the public, is needed.

Navaz Kotwal and Devyani Srivastava work with the Access to Justice Programme, part of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Opposition blames president for negative international coverage as protest talks continue

Opposition MP Ahmed Mahlouf has not ruled out future protests over living costs following a series of demonstrations held in Male’ over the last two weeks, claiming that President Mohamed Nasheed should personally take responsibility for any media attention that harms the Maldives’ global reputation as a result.

The MP’s comments follow a series of protests and gatherings held in Male’ over the last two weeks that the party said were initially organised by a non-political “youth movement”.

This movement is said to be focused on dealing with concerns at the rising costs of living and consumer goods in the country, and lead to protests that were included in a Washington Post list of the 29 largest government crackdowns of the last decade.

Organisers of the protests reportedly gathered on Friday night at the artificial beach area of Male’ for a meeting that that was described by newspaper Haveeru as an “anti-government” rally, with speeches from a number of political figures.

A police spokesperson said that the meeting was not treated by officers as a protest as it did not culminate on the capital’s streets.

After seven days of demonstrations across Male’ this month – purportedly in protest against the government’s decision to implement a managed float of the rufiyaa – police and protesters were witnessed clashing on a number of occasions leading to dismissed Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy leader Umar Naseer being pepper sprayed.

The Washington Post coverage was used by the government to allege that opposition politicians have been attempting to “mislead” international media about the protests for political gain by deliberately skewing certain facts to compare themselves to mass anti-government demonstrations in Egypt earlier this year.

Concerns had additionally been raised by some travel industry insiders that coverage of the protests had led to travel warnings being issued in Honk Kong that could negatively impact travel to the Maldives from emerging holiday markets; though these worries are thought to have subsided over the course of this week.

Speaking to Minivan News today before travelling out of the country for a week, Mahlouf said that protest organisers were expected to give the government time to respond to their concerns over the prices of goods and services before officially setting a date for any potential future demonstrations.

“I don’t think we will see any other protests this week as there are school exams coming up. I think the protesters will also give the government some time,” he said. ”People have been drawn to protests due to concerns about prices, particularly with Ramazan a few months away.

With reports claiming rufiyaa was being exchanged at a rate of Rf17 to the US Dollar – despite government setting an upper limit of Rf15.42 at present due to the recenet managed float of the local currency, Mahlouf said that the situation remained a serious matter for protesters.

“The public are also seeing seven percent of their pay go into pension schemes as well,” he said. “In general these are difficult times for people.”

In light of coverage about the protests in papers like the US-based Washington Post, fears reportedly have risen about the potential impacts on the country’s lucrative tourism market. However, Mahlouf said he rejected government criticisms that opposition groups like the DRP had manipulated the scale of the protests.

“We have tried our best to get the attention of the international media and community with these protests,” he said. “President Nasheed has a very polished reputation in the global media through his work on issues like the environment. But back at home things are different. Recent elections have shown he doesn’t have support and it is our duty to inform others of this.”

Mahlouf is himself linked with the Z-DRP faction that as last month officially spun off from the main opposition DRP in support of the group’s former leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Mahlouf added that while he was “sad” to see last week’s series of protests being included in a Washington Post story relating to the 29 biggest government crackdowns of the decade, he claimed that the inclusion of the Maldives in the list was the fault of President Nasheed and his policies.

“The action taken by police to disperse crowds was brutal. We were part of peaceful protests. Yet despite being so peaceful, police still decided to do harmful things to us,” he claimed.

Mahlouf said he was among a group of people including former President Gayoom’s spokesperson Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef that gathered in Sri Lanka to meet with representatives of the EU, the US and Canada to “explain everything” that had occurred at the protests from their point of view earlier this week.

The MP claimed that he remained committed to trying to address the stated concerns of protesters over the affordability of living in the Maldives.
“This issue is very serious. I was personally invited by [protest] organisers to attend and with so many people turning up – I believe it is the duty of MPs to be there in support.”

Amidst reported public dissatisfaction with government financial policy, Mahlouf last week announced plans to forward a resolution to parliament calling for a referendum to test public support for President Nasheed and his handling of the economy in light of the protests witnessed in the capital over the month.

While still committed to following through with his referendum plan, the MP said that he would first need to consult his parliamentary and party colleagues, as well as lawyers to see if he would be able to send such a motion to the Majlis.


Industry fears easing over impact of protest publicity on Chinese market

Industry concerns that last week’s protests and Hong Kong’s subsequent travel alert would affect the growing Chinese tourism market in the Maldives have eased.

Sources at the Arabian Travel Market held in Dubai last week expressed concern at a number of cancellations from tour operators in the Asian region following the issue of the alert, which placed the Maldives alongside Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Russia and Pakistan.

A major Shanghai-based tour operator said today that despite 10 cancellations last week during the widely publicised protests, the situation had improved and bookings were improving this week.

However Minivan News understands that one major international airline operating to the Maldives suffered a 20 percent cancellation on booked and reserved tickets from several countries in the region last week, and expressed concern that communication with operators regarding future business had also suffered.

Locally, Manager of Traders Hotel Ester Marcaida said the hotel had received no cancellations as a result of the protests, “although it is possible it may have affected future bookings. So far so good.”

Traders is a bellweather as it accommodates many charter passengers from China transiting to seaplane after arriving from the Asian region – most international airlines arrive in the evening and passengers must overnight in Male.

“It’s a sizeable business for us,” Marcaida said, adding that “charters from Singapore and Malaysia haven’t been affected.”

The Maldives Ambassador to China, Ahmed Latheef, said he had been assured by Chinese tourism authorities that it did not intend to issue a travel alert for the Maldives, unless advised to do so by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“It is true there was some effect from media coverage of the protests in Male’,” he said, “but it was not as bad as it could have been. The travel alert was only for Hong Kong – there was no alert for mainland China.”

There had been some concern expressed by travel agencies sending tourists to the Maldives, he noted, although the numbers were down as it was not high season for Chinese travellers.

“One tour operator called to say he’d seen a travel alert in Hong Kong and wanted to find out the situation,” Latheef said. “We did what we could and sent out a circular explaining that the tourist resorts were far from Male’ where the protests were occurring.”

Rise of the dragon

China is a major emerging market for the Maldives and is now the country’s leading tourism market in terms of arrivals, eclipsing the UK last year and offsetting a slump in the European market due to the economic recession.

The Maldives received 120,000 Chinese visitors in 2010, an increase of 96 percent on 2009.

Most tourists from the region stay relatively briefly – four nights is the average stay – and spend an average of US$2500: a gross input to the economy of US$300 million.

“If you look at the numbers they speak for themselves,” Latheef told Minivan News. “The Chinese market will be very important – there is so much interest in the Maldives.”

Latheef explained that the Chinese market was attracted to the Maldives not only because of the beach and the sun – a major drawcard for those trapped in the European winter.

“It also carries a lot of prestige in China to say you have been to the Maldives,” he said. “It carries status. A lot of people have increasing spending power, and have been to many European countries. The Maldives is much sought-after and very popular.”

Resorts had been slow to react and cater to the market, but had noticeably increased efforts to hire Mandarin-speaking staff, he noted.

“The Chinese have specific requirements of which we have to be mindful,” he said. “They prefer Chinese food, and they feel safer if there are staff who speak Mandarin as many only speak their own language. There are a lot of things that need attention.”


Mahlouf plots presidential “referendum” as stats show living cost rise

Official statistics supplied by the Department of National Planning have indicated a 4.42 percent increase in the rate of inflation last month compared to March 2011, as one opposition MP plans a referendum on President Mohamed Nasheed’s leadership over the dissatisfaction with living costs.

The new figures indicate increased prices for food and drink products last month, particularly for fish, on the basis of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) when compared to 2011 and April 2010.

The release of the statistics comes as MP Ahmed Mahlouf from the Z-DRP party, a spin-off of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), claimed to be ready to forward a resolution to parliament this week calling for a referendum to test public support for the current president and his handling of the economy.

Figures such as the CPI are therefore an important issue following seven consecutive nights of protests in the streets of Male’, with demonstrators announcing they were now willing to negotiate with the government.

Protest organisers have claimed the demonstrations were a non-partisan “youth movement” in response to rising living costs on the back of government attempts to effectively devalue the rufyiya.

Aside from criticising the political opposition for politicising the demonstrations in the media for their own political gain, the country’s financial authorities last week claimed that to be providing some economic support to try and stabilise prices it said that while increasing, varied significantly between different stores.

According to the latest planning department stats, the cost of food and beverages when including fish was up by 20.35 percent during April 2011 compared to the same period the previous year. These costs were also up by 10.65 percent on the same terms compared to March 2011.

When excluding the price of fish, the average cost of food and drinks last month was up by 13.07 percent compared to over the same period of time last year. On the same terms, the statistics found that food and beverage costs last month rose by 4.44 percent compared to March 2011.

When comparing the overall change in CPI between April 2011 and April 2010, increases in costs were recorded across the board with the exception of recreation and culture, which was down by 3.11 percent.

As of late month, healthcare was up by 6.25 percent, transportation was up by 8.96 percent, education was up by 16.89 percent and fish was up by 58.32 percent when compared over the same period the previous year.

Between March to April this year, the statistics showed that the costs of healthcare were up by 1.21 percent, transport was up by 6.56 percent and fish prices were up 42.07 percent. The full statistics can be found here.

Halt to protests

In light of protests last week over rising costs, DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf told Minivan News today that the party would be postponing any further demonstrations relating until next Friday after requests from police.

In the meantime, he claimed that young people who had initially organised the protests were negotiation with members of the government, a meeting that had been organised through the police to try and find some possible compromises on costs.

“The meetings were scheduled to take place with the government at 12:00pm today though I have not been informed yet of their progress. I imagine that they [the protest organisers] would be demanding some changes to government policy,” he said. “The police have asked us to stop the protests and as some of their members supported the march, we have wanted to keep good relations with them.”

Mahlouf added that he believed there had been a reluctance among organisers to stop the protests as the government were failing to address concerns about costs and “not believing” the financial realities Maldivians were facing.

However, amidst intense media scrutiny, the opposition MP said he believed the protesters had succeeded in their aims to attempt to change government policy on the economy.

However, ahead of the next scheduled protest on Friday, Mahlouf claimed he plans to forward a parliamentary motion for a referendum on whether President Nasheed had sufficient support from the public to enact his planned reforms.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem last week criticised opposition parties like the DRP for “misleading” international media about the nature of the protests and failing to sit down and present their own alternatives for financial reforms in the country.


Parties launch protests as foreign media descends on Male’

Police this morning dispersed a rally of several hundred anti-government demonstrators who gathered at Republican Square near the headquarters of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), amid a somewhat carnival atmosphere that settled over other parts of the city on Friday.

Dismissed Deputy Leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer, and MPs Ali Arif and Ahmed Mahlouf were detained for an hour after allegedly shoving police.

After a run of demonstrations across Male’ this week in protest against the government’s decision to implement a managed float of the rufiya, effectively devaluing the currency, police on Wednesday announced that any protests not held in the open artificial beach or tsunami monument areas would be immediately dispersed.

The DRP, which insists the protests are ‘youth-led’ despite the apparent leadership of its MPs, has tried to replicate the ‘Arab Spring’ protests across the Middle East, painting President Nasheed as a despot to the international media and dubbing a busy Male’ intersection ‘Youth Square’.

The DRP announced that the protest would continue this evening at the artificial beach from 8:45pm.

Meanwhile, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a counter-protest this afternoon, with several thousand people gathering near the tsunami monument carrying banners and waving yellow flags.

Speaking at the rally, President Mohamed Nasheed stated that the government’s currency decision was backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and challenged the opposition to defeat him in an election rather than attempting to topple the government illegitimately.

Nasheed claimed that the budget deficit had improved since the government took power, and that it had also introduced state pensions, health insurance and benefits for single parents and the disabled.

A concert stage and a number of upturned and smashed vehicles in the area, part of a police ‘Speed Kills’ campaign, provided a surreal backdrop to the pro-government demonstration.

An upturned car near the MDP rally, part of a police road accident campaign.

A number of foreign media outlets, including Al-Jazeera, have arrived in Male’ to cover the demonstrations after violent protests last week were widely publicised internationally.

Passing the DRP headquarters this afternoon and assumed to be foreign media, Minivan News was approached by an opposition supporter who compared the pro-government demonstrators to “pro-Mubarak supporters” who “beat us at night.”

Former Egyptian President of 30 years Hosni Mubarak was deposed by a democratic uprising in Egypt, leading to a tide of similar pro-democracy rallies across the Middle East.

Maldivian tourism representatives attending the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, the region’s largest such expo, claimed this week to be receiving cancellations because of safety fears amid the ongoing demonstrations.

“Travel operators in Taiwan have said they are postponing and cancelling group bookings because of negative perceptions [of safety] in the Maldives,” a tourism source attending the expo told Minivan News.

“We just had another two confirmed bookings cancelled today because of reports of riots and instability. We worked hard to get these bookings and the potential domino effect is really worrying – people panic.”

Economic problems

An ongoing dollar shortage, reluctance of banks to exchange local currency, and a flourishing blackmarket that reached Rf 14.2-14.8 to the dollar, culminated in mid-April with the government finally acknowledging that the rufiya was overvalued – after a short-lived attempt to crack down on ‘illegal’ exchanges.

High demand immediately led to most banks and companies dealing in dollar commodities – such as airline ticketing agents – to immediately raise their rate of exchange to the maximum permitted rate Rf15.42.

With the Maldives almost totally reliant on outside imports, including fuel and basic staples such as rice, the government’s decision has effectively led to a 20 percent increase in the cost of living for most ordinary Maldivians.

In an article for Minivan News, Director of Structured Finance at the Royal Bank of Scotland Ali Imraan observed that ‘growth’ in the domestic economy had been driven by the public sector and “paid for by printing Maldivian rufiya and clever manoeuvres with T-Bills, which the government has used since 2009 to be able conveniently sidestep the charge of printing money. In simple terms: successive governments printed/created money to drive domestic economic growth.”

With the introduction this year of a 3.5 percent tourism goods and services tax, a business profit tax and a revision of the rents paid for resort islands, the government now has a number of economic levers it can pull to increase revenue in the future.

However, it has struggled to explain that to people now paying up to 20 percent extra for basic commodities – an affront to the MDP’s pledge to reduce the cost of living – and was caught unawares by this week’s populist protests.

Both factions of the opposition have seized the political opportunity to take the focus off the party’s internal troubles, but have offered few alternatives beyond demanding the government “reduce commodity prices”.

Read more on the Maldivian economy


Police prepare for major demonstrations after sixth night of protests

Protesters in the capital city of Male’ gathered in the Artificial Beach area last night for a sixth night of protests, ahead of a major demonstration planned for today after Friday prayers.

The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) maintains the protests are ‘youth led’ demonstrations against rising commodity prices, brought on by the government’s decision to implement a managed float of the rufiya.

Haveeru reported that despite warning demonstrators to remain in the open artifical beach area, police treatment of demonstrators was relaxed compared to previous evenings.

Groups of protesters split from the main group and attempted to gather in the intersection used as the focus of the protesters this week, but were dispersed by police.

Meanwhile, a senior government source claimed the Sri Lankan High Commission had called every hospital in Colombo in an attempt to locate local football star Assad ‘Adubarey’ Ali, who was flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after suffering injuries during the fifth night of protests in Male’.”
“He wasn’t admitted to any hospital in Colombo. He was however spotted in a Colombo nightclub,” the source alleged.
Haveeru reported yesterday that Assad had suffered “soft tissue injury” from force applied by a riot shield.

Dismissed deputy DRP leader Umar Naseer and several DRP MPs, including Ali Arif and Ahmed Mahloof, were briefly detained by police, and protests dissipated around 1:30am.

This morning riot police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) personnel could be seen gathering in Republican Square ahead of mass protests the opposition has scheduled for this afternoon.

Local sports star reported injured in police standoff during fifth night of Male’ protests

A well-known local football star has been sent to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after suffering serious injuries during a fifth night of protests in the Maldivian capital.

Media reported that Ahmed Assad ‘Adubarey’ was injured when he was caught and crushed between police riot shields.

Police had restricted protesters to the open area around the tsunami monument and the artificial beach area in the capital Male’ after complaints from business owners and residents around the Majeedhee Magu and Chandanee Magu intersection, a two-lane road the demonstrators have dubbed the Maldives’ “Tahrir Square.”

Protesters split up to try and reach the area, with 10 people including Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf arrested by police and released later in the evening.

Those that reached the intersection were immediately dispersed by police, with several injuries reported.

It is thought that 14 demonstrators arrested during the week’s protests currently remain in custody after the Criminal Court issued warrants extending their detention.

A pickup truck with loudspeakers used by the opposition was damaged and looted by a group of seven young men near the Heniveru police station, in front of 600 demonstrators.

‘’We are residents of this area and you have caused much disturbance to us,” one of the men said, facing down the protesters. “You cannot move even a step forward. If you have the guts, take one step forward and you will see what happens,’’ he said, as 600 people stood silent.

Police are trying to locate the driver of the pickup.

‘’We had a report that a pick-up used by the protesters was destroyed by a group of people and we are now investigating the case,’’ said Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam.”So far no one has been arrested in connection to the incident.’’

The opposition has maintained that the protests are ‘youth-led’ over concerns at the rising cost of living, despite the active leadership of MPs loyal to the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the opposition.

Certain activists said to belong to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are also said to have been involved in the protests, along with other political parties.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has told a press conference in Colombo that the budget deficit was the Maldives’ most pressing issue, and the at the opposition was obliged to assist in resolving the matter.

“The government has laid out a series of steps with the advice of the International Monetary Fund,” Reuters reported Blake as saying. “If the opposition opposes those steps, then it’s incumbent on them to divulge what their own plan would be and then to engage in good-faith negotiations with the government.”

President Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said in a statement that the country “should unite for the common good.”

“If the opposition Z-DRP faction does not like the government’s economic policies, we call on it to set out an alternative, credible economic plan to reduce the budget deficit.”

Tourism insiders also alleged yesterday that growing international coverage of the protests has negatively impacted tourist interest from certain travel markets at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

“Travel operators in Taiwan have said they are postponing and cancelling group bookings because of negative perceptions [of safety] in the Maldives,” a tourism source attending the expo told Minivan News yesterday.

“We just had another two confirmed bookings cancelled today because of reports of riots and instability. We worked hard to get these bookings and the potential domino effect is really worrying – people panic.”

In addition to these claims, the National Council of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) yesterday announced that it had approved a resolution to conduct “direct action to defend the government, the constitution of the Republic of the Maldives, the President of the Maldives and senior government officials” against an opposition-led protest planned for Friday afternoon.

The group claimed at the time that it was responding to threats by opposition figures to “torture and kill” the president and other ministers at Republic Square.