Six protesters released on condition they don’t participate in protests for two months

The Criminal Court has released six persons arrested during the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest calling for presidential elections, on condition that they do not participate in protests for two months.

A police spokesperson today told Minivan News that, as of this morning nine protesters were in police custody.

”The court extended two person’s detention period to 15 days,” he said, adding that they were arrested on charges of objection to order and obstructing police duty.

In a statement issued last night (28 September) police said that a total 15 persons have been arrested following unrest in Male’ since September 23.

Police said three were arrested without any conditions, and that the court had extended the detention period of six persons.

Police Spokesperson said that last night seven others were arrested in addition to the 15 persons mention in the statement issued.

”15 is the total amount of persons that were arrested,” he said. ”Some of them have also been released without being taken to the court.”

MDP protesters took to the streets following an injunction issued by the Supreme Court regarding a case filed at the court by Jumhooree Party- led by unsuccessful first round candidate Gasim Ibrahim – to annul the poll on allegations that there had been major issues with the voter registration, and that the Elections Commission had changed votes.

After the Supreme Court issued the injunction, pro-MDP supporters have been protesting everyday near the Supreme Court and other areas of Male’.

MDP has also questioned the legitimacy of decisions made by the Supreme Court as certain judges on the bench have been accused of misdeeds, most notably Justice Ali Hameed who remaind subject to an ongoing investigations into leaked video tapes appearing to depict him engaging in sexual relations with foreign women.

Pairs of large white underpants – similar to those worn by the figure in the sex video – have become a common theme in the last week’s protests.


Five in custody as anti-government protests continue in Male’

Police have said an anti-government protest held last night by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters was comparatively calmer compared to demonstrations witnessed on Sunday (July 15), as its officers continue to exercise “minimum force” to contain crowds.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today that eight arrests had been made during last night’s demonstrations, with five of those detained still remaining in custody as of this afternoon.

However, the now opposition MDP has alleged that its supporters continue to be the victims of police brutality, accusing the country’s law enforcement officials of “lying” about the conduct of demonstrators and the alleged discovery of several “syringes of acid” this week.

The MDP has held a week of consecutive daily demonstrations centred around Chaandhanee Magu in Male’ against what its supporters claim is the “illegitimate government” of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

While the opposition party contends that the protests this week have been “largely peaceful”, the ongoing demonstrations have at times broken out into violent clashes. This violence has led to allegations of police brutality against demonstrators, and counter claims of protesters attacking reporters and security forces.

Thousands of protesters were observed early yesterday evening by Minivan News attending the night’s demonstrations early, though this number had declined to a few hundred by around midnight. The protests eventually ended by about 4:00am this morning, according to police.

Crowd control

Sub-Inspector Haneef said that police officers had continued throughout the week to amend their crowd control tactics on a daily basis as needed. He declined to speculate on how demonstrators may have been adapting their own approach during the consecutive nightly protests that began earlier this month.

According to Haneef, an individual was last night taken from the crowd with what appeared to be stab wounds to his stomach. He adding that investigations were now continuing into the incident.

Haneef also confirmed that officers had discovered a package during the last two days said to contain vials of a substance later found to be an unknown concentration of sulphuric acid.  “We are now waiting on the final report to clarify the concentration of the acid,” he said.

However, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy today hit out at police claims that they had been employing “minimum force” during the week, alleging that peaceful protesters last night continued to be harassed and, in some cases, arbitrarily arrested.

“Every protest so far is peaceful, we have seen police coming through the barricades to snatch people from the crowd in intimidation,” he said.

In recent days, Minivan News observed isolated incidents of half-filled water bottles and shoes being thrown from crowds gathered near temporary barriers set up by police.

Fahmy contended that the protests were themselves “largely peaceful”, with protesters exercising their right to demonstrate against a police force it claims had a direct role in the controversial transfer of power in February.

The MDP and former President Mohamed Nasheed have alleged that the government of President Waheed had been brought to power in a “coup d’etat”, sponsored by mutinous sections of police and military as well as opposition politicians now aligned with the coalition government.

Fahmy claimed the MDP continued to doubt the legitimacy and tactics of national security forces as a result.

“We simply cannot trust anything the police say. This is the same police that brought about the coup and also falsely arrest people,” he alleged. “People flocked in their thousands yesterday to march from [an MDP protest site at] the usfasgandu area of Male’ to Chaandhanee Magu.”

When asked about reports of police discovering syringes of sulphuric acid and “plastic bags filled with chilli powder mixed with water” during this week’s protests, Fahmy accused police of fabricating the  stories and evidence to defame protesters.

“They are always coming up with such stories. They have been lying about incidents during the protests,” he claimed. “We have raised concerns about video footage clearly showing [former] President Nasheed being pepper sprayed. They have denied using pepper spray at the protests. This video evidence contradicts statements they have made.”

Sub-Inspector Haneef responded that police had admitted to using pepper spray during the ongoing protests in certain circumstances . When asked to clarify the official protocols for using pepper spray against crowds, the police spokesperson referred Minivan News to an official statement released earlier today.


Maldives Broadcasting Commission seeking to prevent Raajje TV broadcasting outside Male’

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has stated that transmission of the signal of local TV station Raajje TV is against the Maldives Broadcasting Act (No. 16/2010) and that those who are involved in such transmissions should stop it on immediate effect.

Raajje TV faced heavy criticism from opposition parties during Nasheed’s administration, who are currently involved with the new president Dr Waheed’s National Unity government. The opposition alleged that Raajje TV was biased and was working in favour of former president Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The station has actively covered MDP protests and rallies, and in several cases aired incorrect reports of fatalities which police later cited as a factor in the subsequent and widespread destruction of police property.

However the TV station’s audience seems to have rapidly risen following the fall of Nasheed’s government and takeover of the state broadcaster, MNBC, rebranded as TVM. Many people are apparently now viewing the channel through satellite.

A person from Addu City, Hithadhoo under the condition of anonymity, said “Here a lot of people are depending on Raajje TV for information. Many believe that TVM (the state broadcasting TV station) is biased and not showing what is really going on in Male’. There is only one house where Raajje TV can be seen in Hithadhoo and everyone gathers there to see the news.”

During the protests held by the ’23 December’ coalition against then president Mohamed Nasheed, some reporters from the TV station were attacked and some of them sustained injuries.

According to the media release issued from the commission, Raajje TV – which is run under a company Media Ring Pvt Ltd -was given the license to broadcast the channel via cable TV only to the capital Male’ city region and any broadcast out of the authorised boundary is illegal under the broadcasting act article 22 clause (a).

The article 22 clause (a) states “Any party who gives broadcasting service in the Maldives should be given under a license issued from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, adhering to the conditions and stipulations stated under the license.”

The commission further stated that they have been receiving complaints about the transmission of the channel outside its licensed region.

“When the commission inquired Raajje TV regarding the complaints, the TV station has confirmed the commission that it has not been broadcasting the channel outside its licensed boundaries.” The media release read.

When contacted with Raajje TV Chief Executive officer Mohamed Rafeeq, he confirmed that Raajje TV was not involved in such transmissions. “Raajje TV is not broadcasting its signal out of its licensed boundary but since we broadcast the signal through satellite, it is possible that reception of the channel could be possible through satellite TV.”

He further went on to say “We can’t do much about that kind of signal reception but we do believe that everyone has the right to information under the constitution. The media release could be because of political pressures especially given the current vibrant situation in Male.”


Tourists barely put down cocktails: Reuters

Tourists enjoying the sun and sand at the Maldives’ luxury island resorts have barely put down their cocktails during the political crisis rocking Asia’s newest democracy, oblivious to behind-the-scenes links of tourism to the tumult, writes Bryson Hull for Reuters.

Just a 10-minute boat ride from the capital island of Male, site of a police mutiny that led to ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s departure last week and ensuing clashes, lies the paradise most visitors associate with the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Step off the 15-metre (50-foot) power boat, replete with an air-conditioned cabin and leather seats, that whisks you to the dock at Kurumba resort on Vihamanafushi, and you are immediately in a land of luxury, water sports and relaxation.

The political turmoil, as far as American literature professor Jerzy Sobieraj was concerned, was an ocean away across the glassine turquoise waters at his feet.

“We are having a great time. We heard about the coup, but it doesn’t matter to us. It hasn’t affected us at all,” Sobieraj told Reuters, sipping a glass of white wine alongside his wife, lawyer Ewa Korzan-Sobieraj, on a chaise longue.

Full story


Citizens honor Evan Naseem in rally against torture

Maldivians honored the eighth anniversary of Evan Naseem’s death and the subsequent shootings at Maafushi Jail in a rally at the tsunami memorial today.

The events of 20 September 2003 are considered critical moments in Maldivian democracy that led to the ousting of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

About 100 people attended the rally, which featured speeches and posters of torture victims. The event will continue tomorrow at 4:00pm.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) founding member Mohamed ‘Bounty’ Nazim described his experience of Naseem’s death, and the protests that followed in Male’.

“We went to the cemetery and saw Naseem’s body. I cannot tell you how it felt. I felt very, very sad, the support I had for [former President] Maumoon was gone when I saw Naseem. I called my friends to come join us in protest against Maumoon,” he said.

On September 20, 2003, prisoners at Maafushi jail allegedly rioted against prison personnel, demanding an explanation for fellow inmate Evan Naseem’s death. Nineteen people were injured and three inmates killed.

Naseem “died due to grievous hurt caused to him by some personnel of Maafushi Jail Security System,” a report filed by the former administration claimed.

Citizens in Male’ rioted when Naseem’s mother Maryam allowed people to see her son’s body, which bore signs of torture.

Nazim said over 5000 people participated in the riot, and that police threw rocks and used arms against them.

Nazim informed Minivan News that today’s protest was “not an MDP event”. He said in two days he and 11 others would register the NGO “Activist Association of Maldives”, which will raise awareness about the penal system and strive to “stop the punishment of innocent people there,” Nazim said.

“We worry about Nasheed,” he said, referring to the Maldives’ current president. “Why not bring Maumoon to justice? There is proof that he ordered the shooting at Maafushi. But Maumoon is still powerful in the judiciary. I’m hoping that one day, we will have justice.”

Fliers are handed out that portray injuries done to men in prison during Gayoom's presidency

Nazim said that protests will be held every year on September 20. Previous anti-torture protests were suppressed by the police, but “Nasheed gave us the freedom to speak, and today we are here peacefully,” said Nazim.

Over 3,000 messages were sent out and MPs were invited to the event. MP Reeko Moosa, who was claims to be a victim of torture, told the crowd that Gayoom “would not be allowed to hold power again”.

“We are happy now because there is no news that torture is happening under this government,” Moosa claimed, speaking to Minivan News. “But we are still watching things very carefully. Gayoom is trying to take power again, but it will not happen. We are against torture happening in the Maldives ever again.”

Moosa did say that the current administration “could do more.”

“The government needs more investigation, and it needs to bring the torturers to court,” he said.

Other speakers spoke out against Gayoom and his newly-formed Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM). One man said the public should go to Gayoom’s house and “bring him out to face the people’s justice.”

Several torture victims who spoke to Minivan News expressed strong resentment for Gayoom. One Abdulla Naseeru said his “blood is boiling” and he wanted “to reach out and beat Gayoom.”

Naseeru reported being handcuffed and beaten in the same cell as President Nasheed for six months, and said he had spent a total of two years in prison.

“I wrote a letter to Gayoom after about my beatings, and his response was that the army and prison guards cannot be investigated,” he said. Naseeru said he still hears reports of prison beatings, and fears current investigations will be stopped by members of the former administration who still hold office.

Although the rally took place during school hours, a few interested teens joined the crowd. One said he was interested in politics, while his friend said he was curious to see what was happening. Both boys said their peers are aware of the issue.

Among those who attended the rally was a former army private who said he was willing to come out against Gayoom.

Evan’s mother Maryam Naseem was also in attendance. “It is very hard to be here,” she said. But she was pleased that Male was paying attention to the issue.

A government investigation into the events at Maafushi jail was launched by former President Gayoom, but the officers who were convicted were released before fulfilling their jail sentences. In June 2011, the case was re-opened and three former prison guards were sent back to jail.

Then-captain Adam Mohamed, who was allegedly responsible for Maafushi at the time, remains free.


Committee to probe 2003 Maafushi Jail shooting

A second investigation of the 2003 Maafushi Jail shooting has been launched by a special committee appointed by President Mohamed Nasheed and his cabinet.

The committee includes Housing Minister Mohamed Aslam, Attorney General (AG) Abdulla Muiz and Defence Minister Thalhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaan, and will investigate the incident that took place on September 20, 2003 – a watershed moment following the death in custody of Evan Naseem that led to street riots, the declaration of a state of emergency, and ultimately, the introduction of multi-party democracy and the eventual ousting of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

An investigation was previously conducted by a special commission under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The censored results were published in January 2004, and 12 prison guards were sentenced to death. Captain Adam Mohamed, the commanding official charged with ordering the shootings, was granted clemency by Gayoom. Subsequently, the sentence of the prison guards was commuted to 25 years in jail.

In June 2011, the case was re-opened and three of the former prison guards, who were living at large, were sent back to jail.

State Home Minister Mohamed Naeem previously told Minivan News that he regretted sending the convicted men back to prison after a long period without clear legal action.

“If [the former administration] had not freed them from prison, by now they would have served most of their sentence and could have even possibly applied for clemency,” said Naeem.

However, he did say that the action of the former administration had not only violated the rights of the convicted, but also those of the victims.

“When the victims who survived that time see these convicted people roaming around the streets, how do they feel? It is unfair for them,” he said at the time.

An individual who was imprisoned at Maafushi jail at the time of Evan Naseem’s death and the prison shootings spoke to Minivan News about the renewed investigation.

“I think they need to find out who ordered the torture of Evan Naseem–was it the highest ranking officer, or a lower officer? This has been delayed too long now. We have to have proper justice to move ahead,” he said.

The source added that a lot of information surrounding the incident had been censored, and said he wasn’t sure that “the right people” had been sent back to prison.

“I think it is wrong for the one who complied with the order to take the punishment. It should be the one who gave the order,” he said.

Former President Gayoom at the time was also Minister of Defence and National Security.

The former Maafushi prison guards involved in the shootings were recently re-arrested for the 2003 event. The source said several senior prison officials had informed him at the time that the order to shoot on September 20 had come from the top.

The shooting occurred after inmates broke out of their cells “to learn the details of fellow Evan Naseem’s death”, the source said.

The source told Minivan News that he could hear people being tortured from his cell, and that he had also heard these sounds on the night that Naseem died. His own cell was secure at the time of the riot.

“This army man was controlling us, and he said it was nothing. But we knew some things were happening. I knew, because I saw people jumping off the wall from my cell.

“When they opened the door to the block to bring the breakfast things we kept asking the guards what was happening but they would tell us nothing. Finally, we asked the guards to please open the gate so we could see, and at that time we saw a lot of people lined up on the beach in handcuffs. By the evening the army came and took control of things. Then, an inmate said ‘let’s burn this place down!’, but I said, ‘No, let’s work to get free. We are not going to burn the prison.’ I told him not to do anything, but he said ‘Let’s use [force].’ I said, ‘Let’s negotiate.’  So we negotiated.”

Following the shooting, 19 inmates and one officer were reported injured, and three inmates were reported dead. 15 of the 20 persons wounded had been shot above the knee.

An English translation of the initial investigation, provided by the Dhivehi Observer on January 24 2004, described the prison break as “not an emergency situation,” and determined that the use of weapons against the inmates was “neither a proportionate response nor a reasonable means of control.”

The report, which was filed by the former administration’s special commission, further stated that inmates were partially excused for the alleged riot “on account of the fact that they were acting on deep grief and frustration and did not appear to intend further harm [other] than demanding an investigation into Naseem’s death.”

Naseem “died due to grievous hurt caused to him by some personnel of Maafushi Jail Security System,” stated the report. The report further notes that inmates at Maafushi Jail had requested to meet with a security officer from the Department of Corrections several times after learning of Naseem’s death. Captain Adam Mohamed was assigned to this meeting, but chose to ignore it; he was the captain that the inmates confronted with their questions during the outbreak. The investigation report states that the captain “did not offer any reasonable response to those questions.”

CCTV recordings of the prison’s Operations Room and the block in which the initial outbreak took place had not been preserved for the investigation, and no Event Log Book had been used by officials, the report claimed.


Cabinet appoints sub-committee to investigate 2003 shooting at Maafushi jail

Cabinet has decided to investigate who gave the order to shoot inmates in Maafushi jail in September 2003, an incident in which three inmates died.

Further details were not mentioned, and Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

In June this year three of the 12 former prison guards sentenced to death – who were living at large – were arrested by police for the enforcement of their 25 year sentence.

During the trial, 13 guards were accused of murdering three inmates and all were found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death by the Criminal Court.

The 13th person, the head of the prison that time, was later pardoned by the High Court. Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom then used presidential privilege to commute the death sentences of the others to 25 year imprisonment.

Maafushi Jail ShootingState Home Minister Mohamed Naeem told Minivan News in June that the documents at the Home Ministry showed that the 12 officers were at first kept in Maafushi Prison until the new prison head sent a letter to the-then Home Minister Ahmed Thasmeen Ali – now the leader of the opposition – that it was unsafe for the 12 to be among the other inmates.

“They were then transferred to Dhoonidhoo prison, and after two months another letter was sent to Thasmeen from the then Deputy Police Commission saying that there were no lawful grounds for keeping convicts in Dhoonidhoo for the implementing of their verdicts,” he said. “And that was the end of the document trail. We do not know what Thasmeen said in reply, or how they managed to stay at large.”

Prison guards at Maafushi claimed to have shot the inmates to control a prison riot sparked by the custodial death of fellow inmate Evan Naseem, who allegedly died of injuries sustained during the brutal torture he was subjected to inside the prison. His death – and his family’s decision to display the body and his injuries – is considered a watershed moment in Maldivian politics that led to the ousting of the former President.


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


Tour operators cancelling bookings after protest coverage

The impact of four nights of violent protests in Male’ has been felt by Maldivian tourism representatives attending the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, the region’s largest such expo.

“Travel operators in Taiwan have said they are postponing and cancelling group bookins 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.”

The source noted that the average spend of couple holidaying to the Maldives was US$7000.

Reports in major newswires Associated Press (AP) and AFP on the Maldives’ protests were widely syndicated in world media, drawing largely from comments made by spokesperson Gayoom’s spokesperson Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef.

“Police are chasing protesters. Some of those injured have been rushed to hospital,” Shareef told AFP by telephone after last night’s protests, adding that scores of people had been arrested, “including parliamentarians Ali Arif and Ahmed Mahloof.”

“Arif and Mahloof were later released, but we have no news of Naseer’s whereabouts. Our legal team is trying to trace him,” Mundhu said.

Police said that Naseer was released at 1:30am, an hour after he was arrested. Minivan News spoke to Naseer today.

The previous evening, Shareef informed AP that 5000 people were demonstrating in the capital and dozens had been “crushed brutally”, including women.

“The opposition also blames Nasheed for failing to manage the economy – worth over a billion dollars – by recently devaluing the currency, while food prices have risen by as much as 30 percent,” AFP reported.

“Shareef said the protests aimed to emulate those across the Middle East and North Africa, pushing for political reforms in dictatorial regimes.”

Hong Kong yesterday became the first country to put out a travel warning on the Maldives, raising the country’s threat level to ‘amber’ alongside Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Russia and Pakistan.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported a government spokesperson as saying that “Those who plan to visit the Maldives or are already there should monitor the situation and exercise caution.”

Chinese visitors to the Maldives now constitute the greatest number of tourism arrivals, and are a major emerging market. A sharp increase in recent years offset a decline in European arrivals caused by the global recession in 2008.

The Maldives Association of Travel Industry (MATI) has meanwhile issued a statement claiming that reports on the situation were “exaggerated and ill-informed.”

“The series of demonstrations and public unrest by political groups opposed to the government of the Maldives have, over the last few days, led to some reports in the international press of civil unrest in the country.

“The Maldives is safe for visitors and remains peaceful and stable. The police and other authorities have the political situation well under control,” MATI stated.

Further protests – which the opposition maintains are ‘youth-led’ despite the active organisation of opposition MPs – are planned for the weekend, with reports of islanders travelling to Male’ to participate.