Opposition alliance opens meeting hall in Malé

The opposition alliance says its new haruge (meeting hall) opened in Malé last night will give renewed impetus to the ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ campaign.

Addressing opposition supporters gathered for the opening, Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim said the opposition resume its activities with more passion and resolve with the meeting hall.

The “song and melody” of the opposition alliance has not changed, Ameen said, and the parties were united through a common purpose.

Ameen said forthcoming talks between the government and opposition could be fruitful if President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation for dialogue is sincere.

The opposition parties will accept the invitation in the interest of peace and for the sake of detained opposition leaders and supporters, he said.

While the three opposition parties will respond separately to the official invitations, Ameen said the “agenda” and stance of the allied parties are the same.

President Yameen’s proposed agenda focuses on three aspects; political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and legal system and political party participation in economic and social development.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali, however, ruled out negotiations over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The pair’s arrest in February and subsequent imprisonment triggered the ongoing political crisis. The opposition alliance has staged mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 calling for their release.

Some 30 protesters arrested from the May Day anti-government demonstration meanwhile cut ribbons at last night’s opening ceremony. The meeting hall is located in front of the artificial beach stage.

A donation box has also been placed at the meeting hall to raise funds for the opposition cause.

The wives of detained main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed and Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla also attended last night’s rally.

The opposition leaders were arrested in the wake of the May Day protest and accused of inciting violence against the government.

Ameen said the pair were being held in solitary confinement in small cells at the Dhoonidhoo detention centre. Ali Waheed was suffering back pains because his concrete bunk was too small for his size, Ameen said.

The former transport minister called on the president to cease the government’s alleged efforts to foster “a culture of brutality,” warning that President Yameen could be remembered as the “most brutal ruler” in the country’s history.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz said the opposition alliance will continue its activities until imprisoned politicians are released.

Adhaalath Party council member Shidhatha Shareef questioned the sincerity of President Yameen’s call for talks as he had not accepted the opposition’s repeated appeals during the past three months.

“President Yameen is not part of the delegation he assigned after calls for talks. We are calling for talks to resolve the serious political turmoil in the country. If the president of the Maldives does not have the capability to do it, I don’t believe he has the capability to be the president,” she said.

The president’s office sent official invitations to the three opposition parties yesterday. So far, only the JP has officially accepted the invitation and assigned representatives for the talks.


Government alleges continued opposition “harassment”, while MDP slams “terrorism” charges

No date has been set  for President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to participate in all party talks, the government has said, claiming the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) continues to “harass” state officials despite agreements to the contrary.

Speaking following his return from Saudi Arabia, the president spoke with local media about several issues affecting the country,  including financial and political stability.  He also talked of the likelihood for his participation in talks with key parliamentary and opposition representatives.

The comments were made as the MDP this weekend hit out at the government over accusations it is conducting a string of “seemingly politically motivated charges” to destabilise the party, ahead of the publication of findings by the Committee of National Inquiry (CNI). The CNI was established to investigate the events surrounding February’s controversial transfer of power that brought Dr Waheed into office.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza claimed that despite the MDP’s pledge to cease its street protests over the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramazan to facilitate fresh talks, harassment by party members was continuing.  Abbas pointed to an attack on two police officers yesterday (August 17), that he alleged that were politically motivated and carried out by MDP members.

Police Spokesperson Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed to Minivan News that attacks on two officers had taken place yesterday evening, but claimed that they were not at present being treated as politically motivated assaults. Investigations are continuing into the matter, Haneef added.

According to police, a group of 20 men reportedly attacked two on duty officers yesterday evening near the Dolphin View Cafe’ in Male’. Two male suspects aged 18 and 19 years of age have been arrested in connection to the incident.

CNI outcomes

Upon his arrival today at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ after representing the Maldives at the fourth extraordinary session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Conference, President Waheed told local media that the government would not discuss any outcome of the CNI until the body concluded its work later this month.

The CNI is scheduled to publish its report by August 29, on the events leading to Dr Waheed assuming the presidency on February 7. The report will first be made available to the authorities and prosecutor general. The public will be given access to the findings on August 30.

Abbas stressed that the government was committed to not “intervene” in the inquiry’s work, as it had been set up, and later amended under international pressure, to operate free from state interference.

“The outcome will be respected by the country’s various institutions such as the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Human Rights Commission and the Police Integrity Commission,” he said.

Abbas also told Minivan New that the president was nonetheless committed to taking part in road-map talks between government-aligned parties and the opposition MDP to try and overcome the country’s political deadlock, but only once he was confident the opposition had stopped its alleged harassment.

“The president has continued to reiterate that this harassment needs to stop. It is not stopping and two police officers have been beaten this weekend by MDP supporters,” he went on to allege. “As long as harassment continues we will not join talks.”

Last week, the government alleged that protests against Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen on the island of Hulhumale’, where he was met with a barrage of offensive language, were directly linked to the MDP, despite the party’s decision to temporarily suspend street demonstrations.

However, the MDP at the time denied any direct involvement in the incident – which saw eight people arrested – claiming it represented the frustrations of individuals against the present political situation.

Ahead of the government’s ongoing accusations that it was being harassed by the MDP, the country’s only opposition party yesterday released a statement expressing “grave concern” at the prosecution of its members, who it alleged were being targeted unlawfully.

“The MDP believes this is a deliberate attempt by the regime to destabilise the country ahead of the Commission of National Inquiry report into February’s transfer of power, which is due to be published on 30 August,” the party stated.

“The regime is pressing charges against MPs for Male’: Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – for obstructing police duty, MP Ibrahim Rasheed for obstructing police duty, assaulting police officers, threatening and creating unrest and MP, Imthiyaz Fahmy, for allegedly assaulting a police officer.”

According to the statement, there was also particular concern over terrorism charges the party said had been filed against MP Mohamed Rasheed and Addu City Councillor Ahmed Mirzad.

“Terrorism charges against these two individuals are being levied under allegations that they incited violence and arson attacks on public buildings and police stations on 8 February 2012 in Addu City. Furthermore, last month the Prosecutor General lodged a case at the criminal court against MP for Thoddu constituency and Deputy Leader of MDP’s Parliamentary Group, Ali Waheed,” the statement read. “The charges against him are also for obstructing Police duty. All the MPs have denied the charges. The MDP believes all of the charges to be politically motivated.”

Coupled with uncertainty over whether former President Mohamed Nasheed will face trial for his role in the controversial arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, the MDP alleged that its members continue to be the victims of a “witch-hunt” orchestrated by the state.

“While politically motivated prosecutions continue, the MDP notes with dismay that no action has been taken against security forces who mutinied and used excessive force on peaceful protesters, although these concerns have been highlighted by international organisations and international media agencies,” the party claimed. “At a time when the people of the Maldives and the international community are also questioning the legitimacy and the impartiality of the government and the courts, it is concerning the government is continuing to press politically motivated charges against pro-democracy activists.”

OIC funding talks

Beyond domestic politics, President Waheed also today discussed the (OIC) that saw the establishment of an institute of dialogue to allow member states within the organisation to collaborate and reach agreement on religious issues.

Abbas said that the president has also had meetings with a number of fellow OIC member states regarding unspecified funding projects.

“The president will in due course reveal the details on these funding projects and how they will work,” he said.


High level talks stall after senior party figures fail to appear

Resort tycoon and leader of the government coalition Jumhoree Party (JP), Gasim Ibrahim, has called for the resignation of Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, after he did not appear at high-level talks on Tuesday morning.

Shahid made the decision to suspend Parliament indefinitely pending a resolution to the ongoing political turmoil.

Gasim was reported as stating in local media that “if the Speaker had any sincerity he would have been here.”

The latest round of informal parliament-initiated talks – running parallel to the formal All-Party talks – were to involve a series of high-level discussions between senior party leaders. The all-party talks are one track of the international community’s response to the political turmoil in the Maldives, together with the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

A UN source disputed that the all-party talks had collapsed, stating that “on the contrary we are still hoping to reach agreement on holding them again soon.”

The previous round of the UN-mediated talks, held at Vice President Waheed Deen’s Bandos Island Resort and Spa in early June, collapsed after parties aligned with the government presented the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) with a list of 30 demands.

The list included calls that the MDP “stop practicing black magic and sorcery”, “stop the use of sexual and erotic tools”, and “not walk in groups of more than 10”.

Following the Bandos retreat, Convenor of the All-Party talks, Ahmed Mujuthaba, acknowledged the lack of progress and suggested that “In the end, the most senior political leaders will need to create an atmosphere conducive to discussions, and come together prepared to work in good faith.”

Following this morning’s meeting, Gasim observed to local media that “parliamentary group leaders of the so called big parties, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and MDP were absent.”

Speaking to reporters outside the President’s Office, MDP MP Ali Waheed revealed that the party made two proposals, which were for all parties to agree to early elections or to determine a course of action based on the conclusions of the CNI report.

“Going for an early election would certainly cool the political atmosphere. Then we talked about how to act on the CoNI report due on the 30th this month. [We said] if they conclude it was a coup d’etat, President Nasheed should be reinstated and there won’t be any further discussions on that. If it was not a coup, if they conclude that the transfer of power was constitutional, we will wait for 2013,” the deputy leader of the MDP parliamentary group explained.

He added however that those found by the commission to have violated the law or committed criminal acts should face prosecution.

Ali Waheed said he expected a response from the President’s Office to the MDP’s proposals.

Gasim told reporters that participating in such talks was “meaningless” as the subject of resuming Majlis sittings was not discussed.

JP would not participate in any further talks until a solution to resuming sittings could be sought through parliament, Gasim said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that talks were part of the India-initiated All-Party talks. The talks were parliament-initiated.


All Party talks to continue at Bandos May 31-June1

Convenor of the All Party talks, Ahmed Mujthaba, confirmed at a press conference this morning that party representatives would attend a three-day retreat at Bandos Island Resort from Thursday, to try and reach a consensus on the six-point agenda.

The India-sponsored roadmap talks were put forward to try and break the political deadlock following the controversial ousting of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on February 7.

Despite stalling several times due to disagreements over the subject and order of the agenda, challenges from the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) over the legality of the MDP’s representation, and the higher profile of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) into the circumstances surrounding the change of power, the roadmap talks have continued.

The six items on the agenda on the agenda are, in order:

  1. Discussion on how to solve the problem of public disturbances carried out in the country;
  2. Discussion on assessing the state budget situation;
  3. Discussion on identifying reforms needed for institutions and independent posts;
  4. Discussion on assessing the laws to be amends and new laws to be enacted;
  5. Discussion on amendments to the constitution;
  6. Discussion on determining a date for a presidential election.

The next round of talks had been scheduled at Bandos – a resort owned by Vice President Waheed Deen – to allow the parties to focus on the issues without the distractions of a normal working day, Mujthaba said.

MDP representative at the talks, former Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa, said she felt the atmosphere was now conducive towards productive discussion, and said the MDP was trying to get the leaders of all the parties assembled on the final day – “there might be something to sign,” she suggested.

“I think the Commonwealth’s insistence on changing the composition of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) has driven home to the government the seriousness of of these talks,” she added.

The original objective of the talks, as put forward by President Mohamed Waheed, was to “restore peace and harmony in the country”, Dr Zulfa noted. “Disruption of peace and harmony was not something that just fell out of the sky. At least a third of the country are upset about the rights that have been taken away from them.”

Deputy Leader and Spokesperson of the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef was not responding at time of press, while Vice President of the PPM Umar Naseer was in Singapore.

UN Mediator Pierre Yves Monett, who is assisting Mujthaba with the talks, also attended the press conference this morning. Mujthaba noted that Monett had been provided with interpreters as the talks would be conducted in Dhivehi.


Roadmap talks stall as government parties contest legitimacy of MDP representatives

The India-sponsored all-party talks ground to a halt again yesterday, after parties affiliated with the ruling coalition challenged the legitimacy of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s representation.

The ousted party’s President Dr Ibrahim Didi and Vice President Alhan Fahmy were removed from their posts last week in a near unanimous vote by the party’s national council. The pair are contesting their dismissal.

“The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) delegate walked out questioning the legality of the MDP leadership,” explained Dr Mariyam Zulfa, who represented the MDP at the talks, together with party spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

“We are of the opinion that they had planned to derail the talks before they had begun. The PPM delegate said legitimacy of the [MDP’s] leadership was in question. I think it was not a matter for them to decide,” Dr Zulfa said.

“Our representatives went through the protocol and processes and were authorised to attend. This is a plan to stall the talks,” she added.

Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef, of the new ruling coalition which the MDP contests came to power in a coup d’état on February 7, said the DRP was now waiting for the Elections Commission (EC) to make a decision on the legality of the MDP’s current leadership, and its authority to appoint representatives to the all party talks.

“[The representatives] must be properly endorsed by the party. Somebody with the authority to nominate the representative of the party, such as President or Vice President,” he said, noting that the DRP was “unhappily” not present during yesterday’s talks.”

Dr Zulfa described the roadmap talks as “a bit of a farce”.

“[President] Dr Mohamed Waheed is purporting to the international community that he is bringing all the parties to the table, but on the weekend he went out in public and said the earliest he would hold elections was July 2013. He is saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. It is very revealing to us,” she said.

“The PPM is behind the coup-led government, and the longer they can stay in power the better it is for them. They have not taken into account the people’s vote – our agenda is to restore the legitimacy of government,” Dr Zulfa said.

The talks previously stalled in March after parties were unable to agree on a priority for the five item agenda, which includes early elections.

“The MDP at first chose to not take part in the talks, and there was such a big outcry from the opposition parties that we were not acting in good faith,” Dr Zulfa said. “Now we are participating, early elections are on the agenda, and they are saying the talks are designed so that MDP will benefit the most from them. It is quite amazing.”


Sri Lankan diplomats make first Maldives visit since power transfer

Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Professor G L Peiris has become the first official from the country to travel to the Maldives since the controversial transfer of power that saw President Mohamed Waheed Hassan take office in February.

The External Affairs Minister was in Male’ as part of a four-day visit to hold bilateral talks with his Maldivian counterpart, Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah.

During the talks, Professor Peiris pledged ongoing support and assistance to developments in the Maldives. Meanwhile, Maldives Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdullah reiterated the importance of contributions made by Sri Lanka relating to socio-economic developments in the Maldives.  Samad welcomed contributions to the development of  “human resources” in particular, the Ceylon Daily News reported.

“The talks were also attended by the Foreign Affairs State Minister Hassan Saeed Hussain, Foreign Secretary Mohamed Naseer, MP Sajin De Vass Gunawardena, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Maldives Dickson Dela and senior official of the Sri Lankan delegation,” the newspaper added.


All party peace talks halted as facilitator leaves country on “personal matter”

The India-mediated cross-party peace talks initiated by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan have been halted after the facilitator of the talks, Ahmed Mujuthaba, had to leave the Maldives for a personal matter reports local Newspaper Haveeru.

According to Haveeru, the secretariat of the peace talks released a statement stating that Mujthaba had earlier informed President Waheed that he would leave the country on March 3 on a personal matter.

The statement quoted read: “As mentioned, since Mujthaba is going out of the country, the peace talks have been temporarily halted. While the talks have been halted, the parties have had five meetings and the last meeting was held on on 29th February. Currently the parties are discussing on deciding and tabling the agenda items of the forthcoming meetings.”

Four parties in support of the support of the government: DRP, PPM, Adhaalath Party and PA – have temporarily decided to walk out of the talks after MPs of the Democratic Party (MDP) obstructed the convening of the first parliament session of this year, preventing President Waheed from giving his presidential speech.


Footage of the Taliban in Paradise: Al Jazeera

Thirteen members of Afghanistan’s parliament, an Afghan governor “and a variety of political parties and armed groups” have held the second in a series of meetings in the Maldives, according to news network Al Jazeera.

Press Secretary at the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, on Thursday confirmed that the peace talks were taking place and all involved in the talks had valid passports and visas.

The Maldives is one of the few countries to provide Afghan nationals a visa on arrival.

“None of the representatives involved are listed in UN or other international travel blacklists,” Zuhair said, noting that the MNDF was aware of the meeting. The Al Jazeera report observed that US and NATO were not represented at the talks and that while it was interested the discussions, Afghan government had not officially endorsed them.

Al Jazeera’s report contained footage of the talks and of man the network said had arrived at the last minute “claiming to be a member of the Taliban.”

The representatives told Al Jazeera that their presence at the meeting, which the Maldivian media speculated was being held at Paradise Island Resort, was not official.

The event was organised by Almayoun Jarir, the son in law of former Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is one of the three key leaders of the armed opposition in Afghanistan.

Topics of discussion included the need for fresh elections, and the future of foreign troops in the country. The report noted that one of the Afghan MPs who attended was female.

Besides the ease of visa issuance, the Maldives was chosen as the venue for the three day talks “because it is considered neutral ground for all countries [involved]” Al Jazeera said. “It is also an example of what peace can bring to an islamic country.”


Second round of Taliban peace talks to be held in the Maldives

The Maldives is hosting a second round of talks between Afghan lawmakers and “groups opposed to the Afghan government.”

Press Secretary at the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed the talks were taking place and said the Maldives government had “no involvement”.

“We cannot disclose the location of the talks, although we can confirm that they are not being held in Male’ or other population centres,” he said.

In late January Al Jazeera reported that a group of seven men allied with the Taliban had met in the Maldives on January 22 to discuss an ambitious plan to bring peace to the war-torn country by offering cash, jobs and incentives to Taliban fighters in exchange for laying down their arms. Taliban fighters are reportedly paid US$10 a day, a considerable sum in an embattled country with 40 percent unemployment.

One of the Taliban’s representatives told Al Jazeera the Maldives was chosen as a venue for the talks because “we feel safe.”

Photos of the meeting at Bandos Island Resort and Spa were later leaked to the press.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, Siyamak Herawi, later told news agency Reuters the visiting group included “Hekmatyar loyalists along with some former Taliban members who are now sitting in the parliament. It happened in January in the Maldives and they decided to hold more talks,” he said.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is an Afghan Mujahideen leader who was the country’s prime minister from 1993-1994, and is considered by the US to be one of the three main leaders of the Afghan insurgency. He was a key figure in the insurgency against Soviet occupation, reportedly receiving millions in CIA funding, but is now labelled as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the US.

The last secret meeting in the Maldives coincided with the International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Lancaster House in London on January 28, where discussions revolved around a national council for peace, reconciliation and reintegration to be set up by the Afghan government.

The programme was to channel development funds towards luring fighters away from the insurgency into alternative livelihoods, with US$140 million in international funding earmarked for the first year.

While many elements of the Maldivian government were oblivious to the first meeting, Zuhair said this time “Maldivian security and intelligence agencies have been fully informed of the talks.”

“All the representatives involved in the talks are holding valid passports and visas. None of the representatives involved are listed in UN or other international travel blacklists,” he said.

“Afghanistan’s stability affects the peace and security of our region. The Government of the Maldives supports efforts to bring a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” Zuhair said.