World Bulletin / News Desk
The Maldivian opposition has blamed state interference for the poor attendance at its latest anti-government rally – prompting the authorities to claim the turnout reveals support for stability.
Protesters in the capital Male had called for the release of former president Mohamed Nasheed as well as Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, one of hundreds arrested during a 20,000-strong May Day protest against President Abdulla Yameen’s government.
“[A] government policy of blatantly discriminating against employees joining opposition protests was expected, in addition to circumventing other public events to coincide with the protest date,” said Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor on Saturday.
After the party reported that 5,000 people had journeyed to the capital from across the archipelago, less than 2,000 attended Friday night’s march which culminated in a sit-in on the city’s main thoroughfare.
Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer said on Friday that the low attendance was a sign of continuing support for the government.
“Less than 2,000 people turned out to MDP's protest tonight. A clear indication that people prefer peace and stability,” tweeted Naseer.
The march coincided with a speech from Zimbabwean Islamic scholar Mufti Ismail Menk just yards away from the start of the demonstration. The sermon, organized by the Islamic Ministry, was originally scheduled for the previous evening, while the popular night market was also extended by five days.
The sit-in protest, which opposition leaders had said would last for three days, was broken up by police at around 2 a.m. local time (2100 GMT), with officials confirming 14 arrests, including that of opposition MP Ahmed Mahloof.
After having calling for a peaceful assembly, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon expressed concern at protesters’ failure to comply with police orders.
Both the MDP and Adhaalath Party last week received fines – of MVR53,000 (US$3,437) and MVR69,000 (US$4,475), respectively – for “unlawful acts” on May 1.
Authorities facilitated Friday’s peaceful march before confiscating protestors’ sound system just after 11 p.m., although speakers placed on the roof of a nearby building ensured anti-government speeches could be heard until just before 1 a.m.
The weeks since the May 1 showdown have included calls for negotiations with the government alongside accusations of intimidation, as known opposition supporters were removed from the government’s payroll.
While the MDP and Adhaalath Party have refused to enter talks while their leaders remain behind bars, the Jumhooree Party (JP) began negotiations last Tuesday and refused to take part in yesterday’s rally.
As opposition supporters heard speeches decrying the intimidation of civil servants and businesses yesterday, JP leader and tourism magnate Qasim Ibrahim urged his employees to stay away from the event.
“It is Qasim’s appeal that no Villa employees join the MDP protest,” tweeted the leader, who has remained abroad in recent weeks while authorities have frozen the accounts of his numerous business interests.
The MDP has called the JP’s actions a “classic case of government intimidation”.
“Our goal is to secure the release of President Nasheed and all political prisoners and to reverse fundamental democratic losses under President Yameen,” Ghafoor, the MDP spokesman, told Anadolu Agency.
“These are demands echoed by international civil society and all major democratic states.”
After continuing concern expressed internationally regarding the human rights situation in the country, senior U.S. senators this week urged a re-evaluation of U.S.-Maldives bilateral ties.Last Mod: 13 Haziran 2015, 16:02