Eight gangsters wielding knives threatened opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members and vandalised the party’s lorry and speaker systems ahead of a protest last night.
Eyewitnesses told Minivan News, eight young men allegedly belonging to Malé’s gangs, charged into a group of 20 protesters with knives at around 9:00pm, threatened them and shattered the windows of a lorry and speaker systems that were to be used for the night’s protests.
The gangsters shouted, “You cannot do this, this is our country too!”
The MDP has held daily protests since February 10, first against President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged constitutional violations and later against the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail for terrorism on March 13. The MDP has since pledged to launch a national civil disobedience campaign to free the party’s leader.
Speaking to Minivan News, MDP member Aisha Hussain Rasheed said the group threatened former MP Ibrahim “Bonda” Rasheed with a knife, telling him to stay back as they shattered the windows of the lorry carrying the sound system.
An MDP member took a picture of the gangsters, but they chased him down, took his camera from him and broke it.
A police van arrived on the scene, and police arrested one of the attackers, Aisha said.
“We told the police, please protect us, we are also Maldivian citizens. This is your country too, why won’t you do anything? The police, however said, ‘What are we supposed to do?’ Then they left,” she said.
Another eyewitness said a forensic team came ten minutes later and took pictures.
A police media official declined to comment on the incident, but said no arrests were made last night.
The MDP issued a statement today condemning the police’s inaction, noting the attacks happened in public and were documented through photos and videos.
“The police are obliged by law to protect peaceful protesters. We note with great concern that police have failed to take action even as such groups continue to repeatedly attack MDP protests and destroy our property,” the statement said.
A group of young men had attacked MDP protesters on February 27, and cut off opposition-aligned Raajje TV’s live feed. Protesters on March 13 also reported that a group of young men threatened MDP supporters with box cutters and threw crude oil on protesters.
The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has also held numerous rallies in support of the government and calling for a speedy sentence in Nasheed’s terrorism trial.
The opposition has alleged hundreds of Malé’s gangsters attend the government rallies, a claim the PPM has denied.
Minivan News has observed several young men who had been charged with murder at the front lines of pro-government rallies on March 7 and February 19. Three young men seen in the front-lines of PPM bike rally on March 7 included one charged with the murder of 15-year-old Ahmed Shaneed in 2008 and two charged with the 2012 murder of 33-year-old Ali Shifan. They were all acquitted by the Criminal Court.
Speaking after the rally, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb called on the opposition to stop its nightly protests.
“Don’t make us take to the streets. These are Malé City’s youth. This is a very strong crowd. If these young men get angry it would not be good. That’s why we are with these young men in their homes. We are people who love peace, so don’t make us come out to the street,” Adeeb warned, according to Sun Online.
“We won’t give him [President Nasheed] anymore chances. You [the opposition] will also have to go home. Then we will also quietly stay home,” he added.
MDP subsequently condemned Adeeb’s speech and accused him of threatening the opposition with violence.
“MDP is alarmed by the threats of violence against opposition protesters, made by senior members of President Yameen’s administration,” a statement issued by the party on March 8 read.
“This is a desperate and dangerous escalation of the current crisis by the government. President Yameen’s administration is baring its fangs,” spokesperson for MDP, Hamid Abdul Gafoor said at the time.
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