10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation

Thousands of opposition supporters marched through Malé calling on President Abdulla Yameen to resign and free “political prisoners.”

Approximately 10,000 people are estimated to have attended the rally organized by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP).

Protesters carried national flags and placards calling for former President Mohamed Nasheed, former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim and MDP MP Ali Azim’s release.

Nasheed and Nazim are currently in police custody until a verdict is delivered in two separate trials on terrorism charges. Azim was arrested during a protest last week, with police alleging he tested positive for drugs.

While leaders from both parties have insisted in recent days that toppling the government was not the purpose of the mass rally, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed Ali suggested at a march on February 20 that the demonstration would usher in “a second February 7,” referring to the day when former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in the wake of a police and army mutiny.

However, speaking to reporters after a meeting with senior police officers today, Waheed said the protest would take place within legal bounds, adding that the objective was to show the size of the opposition to the government.

When Waheed announced the end of the rally at 6pm, opposition supporters converged at the Malé City Council Hall, and the Alikilegefaanu and Majeedhee Magu junction near President Yameen’s house. They were calling for Nasheed’s release. At least 31 people were arrested tonight.

Minivan News ceased live updates at 1:00am

1:00am: Police are pushing protesters at Alikilegefaanu Magu junction back towards Malé City Council Hall. Only a few hundred remain on the streets now.

12:20am: Speaking to Minivan News, ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the opposition had done a “commendable job” during it’s official march from 4-6pm.

“It was largely peaceful, and a good amount of people turned up. It was very professional, they stuck to the 6pm deadline agreed with the police. MDP has always been able to mobilize large numbers on the streets, they had more impressive numbers in 2012. The numbers today were not at all surprising. They have made their voices heard to the government.”

11:45pm: On its live blog on today’s protests, the police claimed Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives Ahmed Tholal called police “traitors” as he disembarked from a speedboat returning from Dhoonidhoo Island. Tholal had returned from a visit with former President Nasheed. The police have lodged a complaint with the People’s Majlis.

11:26pm: Addressing the crowd at Alikilegefaanu Magu junction, former MP Thasmeen Ali said the opposition has demonstrated it’s strength today, and said supporters must continue the fight. “It may not happen over night. We must remain steadfast. Justice will prevail.”

10:32pm: Two molotov cocktails were hurled into the group of protesters at Alikilegefaanu Magu. No one was hurt. Meanwhile, protesters in front of Malé City Hall a few blocks away have spread mats on the street and have started eating rice pudding. Nasheed’s running mate Musthafa Luthfi told reporters MDP would not step back until Nasheed is released.

9:59pm: Approximately 150 protesters, calling for President Yameen’s resignation and Nasheed’s freedom, remain at the junction of Alikilegefaanu Magu and Majeedhee Magu. Protesters can be seen walking back and forth between Seagull café and Alikilegafaanu Magu junction. Neither the MDP nor JP leadership are present at the protests.

Police have now arrested a total of 31 people from the protests, including two foreigners. Their nationalities are unknown.

9:13pm: Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said the main aim of this evening’s mass protest was to issue reform demands on President Abdulla Yameen and demonstrate public support for these demands. The ongoing protests are not organized by the party leadership, he continued. Depending on the government’s response tomorrow, the MDP and JP joint commission will restart and scale up activities, he said.

8:57pm: Protesters have scattered. Close to a hundred protesters have now gathered at Seagull café on Chaandhanee Magu and Majeedhee Magu. There are pockets of protesters on Majeedhee Magu.

8:38pm: According to the Maldives Police Services, 28 people have been arrested from the protest.

8:37pm: Minivan News journalists observed police arrest five more people from the protest. They have now cleared the junction of Alikilegefaanu Magu and Majeedhee Magu.

8:26pm: Protesters are alleging police are targeting and arresting protesters instead of arresting the young men who attacked protesters and vandalized Rajje TV’s equipment.

8:23pm: The young men have left now, and police are now pushing protesters away from the junction of Alikilegefaanu Magu and Majeedhee Magu. Protesters are alleging the young men were helping the police break up the protest and clear up the area.

8:19pm: Dozens of young men on 20 motorbikes, some with their faces covered, have charged into the crowd.

8:17pm: Police have now started pushing protesters back and arrested former MP and JP member Dr Ibrahim Didi.

8:08pm: A group of six young men charged into the crowd, attacked protesters and Raajje TV’s cameraman, cutting the station’s live feed. The six have escaped, according to Minivan News journalists on the scene. The police reportedly arrested six men who attempted to obstruct the attackers.

Shortly before the attack, a Minivan News journalist observed a man throw crude oil at riot police officers behind the barricade on Alikilegefaanu Magu. The man fled the area. However, riot police has so far not made any move to disperse the crowd.

7:55pm: “Despite announcing that the protest held this evening jointly by the Maldivian Democratic Party and Jumhooree Party has ended, as participants of the protest are gathering at various locations in Malé and raising their voices, we note that the Maldives Police Service does not believe that the protest that started this evening has ended,” reads an update posted on the police live blog at 7:36pm.

“And if any activity outside legal bounds occur at the present gatherings, the Maldives Police Service believe that the organisers of the protest will have to bear responsibility.”

7:46pm: Protesters remain scattered near the Alikilegefaanu Magu-Majeedhee Magu junction and in front of the city council office. When riot police behind barricades moved into the crowd, protesters drew back. However, riot police did not push the protesters back and have now withdrawn behind barricades.

7:04pm: Two groups of protesters with a gap in between are currently gathered at the Chandanee Magu-Majeedhee Magu junction and in front of the city council office. Some protesters have sat down at both locations. Despite the official announcement that the mass rally has ended, several hundred protesters remain on the streets.

6:57pm: JP MP Ali Hussain has also told Minivan News that the protest will continue until Nasheed and Nazim are released.

6:50pm: Hundreds of protesters are currently headed to the Chandhanee Magu-Majeedhee Magu junction. Protesters on the pickup vowed to continue the protest until Nasheed and Nazim are released.

6:43pm: After announcing the end of the protest, MDP and JP leaders have left the march. However, approximately 100 protesters have gathered behind police barricades near the Maldives Monetary Authority area. Police have blocked entry to the Republic Square.

6:35pm: Home Minister Umar Naseer at 6:21pm: “This is a responsive & a responsible government. We have seen & heard you.”

6:20pm: MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed has announced that the mass rally has now ended, warning the government that the protest will resume if the government does not comply with the 13 demands.

6:13pm: Vnews has reported that PPM MP Hussain Areef has joined the protest march. The MP for Nolhivaram defected to the PPM from the JP in June 2014.

6:12pm: The protest march has stopped near the Social Centre. Speakers continue to demand the release of Nasheed and Nazim.

6:02pm: Protesters are reaching the western end of Majeedhee Magu while the tail end of the march is currently at Chandhanee Magu. The march stretches half the length of the capital’s main thoroughfare.

5:59pm: Protester have issued several demands to the government: Afford all rights enshrined in the constitution; release all political prisoners; withdraw amendment to Audit Act that saw removal of former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim; withdraw politically-motivated charges; investigate allegations of corruption; ensure justice for the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan; provide affordable electricity service; fulfil PPM campaign pledges such as providing MVR10,000 a month to fishermen and farmers; empower local councils; enforce the Fiscal Responsibility Act; increase salaries in the health and education sectors; increase salary across the board before hiking taxes or introducing new taxes.

5:52pm: MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy says President Yameen jailed opposition leader Nasheed because the PPM government lacks public support. Imthiyaz appealed to the security services to observe the size of the opposition to the Yameen administration.

5:45pm: The protest march has stopped in front of the JP headquarters, Maafanu Kunooz. Water bottles were passed out to participants.

5:38pm: Photos from the protest march:

5:28pm: The protest march has started moving forward again. The front of the march has reached Chandhanee Magu.

5:23pm: Addressing the crowd, MDP MP Eva Abdulla says there will be no political negotiation with the government as long as President Nasheed remains in jail. President Yameen cannot rule while the opposition leader is jailed, she said.

5:20pm: Multiple rows of police officers in full riot gear are blocking entry to both sides of Alikilegefaanu Magu.
5:17pm: The protest march currently stretches from the Alikilegefaanu-Majeedhee Magu junction to the Prosecutor General’s Office on Majeedhee Magu.

5:15pm: The march has stopped at the Alikilegefaanu-Majeedhee Magu junction. President Yameen’s residence is located at the southern side of Alikilegefaanu Magu. Protesters at the front of the march are carrying a large yellow banner with Nazim’s face.

5:12pm: MDP MPs Shahid, Eva Abdulla and Rozaina Adam as well as Chairperson Ali Waheed are at the head of the march. Protesters are calling for the resignation of the “25 percent government.”

5:07pm: The protest march currently stretches from Sosun Magu to the artificial beach stage on the eastern end of Majeedhee Magu.

5:05: Protesters are calling on the government to withdraw politically-motivated charges against opposition politicians, stop police brutality and respect the constitution.

MDP MP Abdulla Shahid is currently addressing the gathering. The government cannot “hijack democracy,” the former speaker of parliament said, calling for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation.

The PPM government is “weak” and will fall, he said, reiterating calls for Nasheed and Nazim’s release.

5:00pm: Protesters are calling for the immediate release of former President Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

4:55pm: Police say they’ve found more weapons, including a machete, three knives and pieces of metal.

4:47pm: Thousands of protesters are now marching westward on Majeedhee Magu.

4:31pm: Police claimed to have found weapons in the western corner of the Usfasgandu around 3:50pm, including iron rods and two large knives.

“The items were found hidden in a gunny bag while searching the area based on police intelligence information,” reads a live blog on the police site.

4:26pm: Police officers are searching the area near Dharubaaruge convention centre. Minivan News journalists observed police searching the bushes in the open area and empty trash cans.

4:25pm: The JP has issued a press release stating that the mass rally will take place from 4 to 6pm today. The crowd will disperse before Maghrib prayers.

4:20pm: While the security services last night threatened legal action against protesters arriving in the capital from the atolls, police have said no vessel en route to Malé have been impeded.

However, marine police have inspected boats to ensure safety standards, police said.

Meanwhile, roads leading to the police and military headquarters have been closed to traffic.