Fear and festivity in Malé on the eve of May Day protest

With additional reporting by Ismail Humaam Hamid and Zaheena Rasheed.

The Maldives’ capital city Malé is gearing up for a mass anti-government rally tomorrow. The day will kick off with prayers at dawn and at noon. Protesters have been told to wear comfortable shoes and clothes for the official demonstration, which will start from the Artificial Beach at 3:30pm.

Supporters from Maldives’ remote atolls are continuing to arrive by the thousands, and the opposition has set hashtags #EkehFaheh15 (OneFive15) and #AniyaaverikanNinmman (To end tyranny) for the day, and started circulating leaflets on how to reduce the effects of pepper spray and tear gas.

Supporters say they are determined to “end the government’s tyranny” and free imprisoned ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Meanwhile, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb has accused the opposition of plotting to overthrow President Abdulla Yameen’s government as the police continued riot control exercises on Malé’s streets.

“We expect the security forces to confront us, but we have no fear,” a smiling Khadeeja Ibrahim, 49, told Minivan News outside the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) offices at noon today.

She was among a group of MDP members who were about to deliver tens of thousands of petitions calling for Nasheed’s freedom to the president’s office. The police turned them back.

Across town, Ibrahim Nadheem, 26, who works in a grocery shop and is studying to become a Quran teacher said Nasheed “brought me hope, he had a vision for the youth, that we should grow up to be skilled and educated citizens.”

Nadheem’s face is disfigured by a broken nose after a police officer punched him during a protest in 2012.

At the airport, Mohamed Zubair, who suffered serious head injuries in a brutal police crackdown in February 2012, says he is ready to sacrifice again for Nasheed’s freedom. “Today I am hopeful.”

Nasheed and Nazim’s imprisonment has united former bitter rivals, the Adhaalath Party, the Jumhooree Party and the MDP, who now say President Yameen is out to silence all dissent.

The opposition called for the demonstration when Yameen turned down repeated calls for dialogue despite months of nationwide protests. The president made a record number of public appearances this week and has appealed to the armed forces to defend his administration.

Among government employees, paranoia and fear is high. Employees at the state-owned electricity company, STELCO, the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) and the immigration department say their superiors have threatened them with dismissal if they are seen at the protests.

“We are all afraid, I can’t go. I don’t want to lose my job, I have to pay rent and take care of my family,” one 43-year-old man, who works in STELCO, told Minivan News.

The MPL has meanwhile arranged a BBQ at 1:30pm and a dinner for all of its employees tomorrow, in a move opposition supporting workers say is aimed at keeping them away from the protest.

“We’ve also been told if anyone of us is seen at the protests, we will be dismissed immediately,” an employee who wished to remain anonymous said.

The home ministry this week said it has received reports that dozens of island council members are traveling to Malé on state expenses to take part in the protests, and has asked the anti-corruption watchdog to take action.

The department of judicial administration has also demanded island offices to provide information on magistrates and judicial sector employees who have traveled to the capital this week.

Meanwhile, a website set up for the Mayday protest was hacked and a photo of president Yameen and the PPM logo was put up with the words: “Go back to your homes if you want peaceful Maldives.”

On social media, opposition supporters called for revolution.

Elsewhere, supporters shared advice on how to mitigate the effects of pepper spray and tear gas and how to act in the event of a charge by the police.

Some proposed home made plastic masks for for pepper spray.

The police have also raised concerns over violence, saying they have received reports protesters will harm police officers and attack the residences of cabinet ministers. Tonight, they issued a statement telling protesters to suspend activities for the hour between the dusk and evening prayers and said the demonstration must end by midnight.

Adhaalath Party (AP) president Sheikh Imran Abdulla said last night that protesters will perform the evening prayers on the street after a special prayer at sunset, advising protesters to bring prayer mats.

The police have released several photos and videos of protest control trainings this week.

The AP, which has claimed responsibility for organising the protest, must bear legal costs for any unlawful activities that may take place before or after protests, the police said.

Some opposition supporters fears of attacks by gangs, who are allegedly controlled by tourism minister Adeeb. Gangsters have attacked protesters in recent months with knives and vandalised their equipment.

Individuals who said they will not attend the protests cited concern over a possible confrontation between police and protesters.

“I am not happy with the idea of protesting, it creates too much conflict. The end result will not be good,” said 49-year-old Maryam Waheedha.

A fisherman who wished to remain anonymous “for the safety of his family” told Minivan News that he was unhappy with the government, but did not like to protest.

“I used to make 3,000 rufiyaa a week from two baskets of fish before Yameen came to power. But now I am not able to make that in a month even with a ton of fish,” he claimed.

Pro-government supporters denounced the opposition as power-hungry, but said they expect tomorrow’s turnout to be high.

Mohamed Waheed, 36, said; “We will not go to the protest, we will be sleeping on May 1. I do think there will be a good turn out at the protest, big enough to pressure the government.”


Unrest rising with no reconciliation in sight: Eurasia Review

In the current tense situation prevailing in Male, one would have expected President Waheed to make the initial move towards reconciliation during the national day address last week on the 47th year of independence. It was not to be, writes Dr S Chandrasekharan for the Eurasia Review.

In his speech President Waheed appealed to the people to offer full cooperation to the State’s relentless peace efforts while maintaining high regard for the country’s laws and legislature. While highlighting the need to safeguard the religion, consolidating the military forces and further unifying people, a conciliatory gesture on his part would have gone a long way in defusing the current tensions.

On the other hand his position is seen to have hardened. On 17th July he said that he ( he meant his party) will not participate in the All Party talks while the MDP continues to going back to street protests in Male. Earlier the President’s spokesperson condemned the MDP protests as “acts of terrorism.”

President’s Adviser Dr. Saeed who holds a very important post and who is expected to show some restraint declared very categorically that there is no benefit in continuing the “All Party Talks” and does not believe that Nasheed’s participation would reap any benefit!

Earlier the chairman of the All party talks- Ahmed Mujuthaba announced that 16 previous attempts at talks among the top political leaders had not resulted in any breakthrough! It looks that the talks have been given a decent burial. So much for the Indian initiative!

In the last few days, over 200 protestors have been arrested and this included many MDP MPs and even a former cabinet minister. Many of those released after arrests have been ordered to remain indoors in the evening and the night till the next morning! Quite a strange order!

Not all the protests have been peaceful either. In many instances the protestors are seen to have broken the barricades and rushed towards the security forces. The security forces have also been subjected to verbal and filthy abuses.

The Police are also seen to be using “pepper spray” indiscriminately. There is a video footage doing the rounds showing the security forces aiming the spray at Nasheed! The government has publicised the statements of the bodyguards provided by the government from the forces that they did not see any spray being aimed at Nasheed. They have to say this if they are to keep their jobs!

With the government pushing for prosecution of Nasheed, the latter has called on all the population to be present at the trial to witness what happens in the court while alleging that he whole case is being politically motivated.

The MDP has already declared that it will not participate in an election where its presidential candidate ( here Nasheed) is prevented from contesting.

An unfortunate incident of a killing of a lance corporal of Maldivian police by a criminal while he was being arrested is being given a political twist by none other than the Home minister himself that the MDP protests and abuse of Police by the demonstrators have led to the killing!

UK Foreign Office Spokesman Alistair Burt made a very balanced statement. He said -” I call on all sides to show restraint in the interest of achieving a sustainable political solution to Maldives’ recent problem. Protests must be peaceful and security forces’ response should be professional and proportionate. Violence and any cases of excessive use of force should be investigated and those responsible held to account.”

The Special Envoy of the Commonwealth made a similar call for restraint. He expressed his concern at ‘rising political tension’ in Maldives and specifically over the ongoing protests and criminal charges filed against Nasheed. He called for dialogue among political parties urging all parties to show restraint and restore calm.

The European Union made a similar observation. Their High Representative said – continued political unrest, heavy-handed response of security forces and charges filed against political leaders will only lead to further deterioration of the political climate of the country and will adversely affect the lives of all Maldivian citizens.

India on its part has also called for restraint and dialogue. These appear to have fallen on deaf ears of both sides.

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