Bloody clashes, protests mark Maldivian Eid
Opposition MDP accuses police of being goons of ruling party
By Aishath Velezinee
MALE: Eid holidays, a period of festive celebrations in the Maldives, were marred this year by political violence. Clashes that erupted as political parties used the week-long holiday to launch an archipelago-wide membership drive and promote their agendas, continue to this day.

While President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, leader of the ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), spent his holidays in Singapore, his daughter Yumna Maumoon, Attorney General Dr. Hassan Saeed and Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed flew to Addu Atoll on the southern tip of the archipelago. Less than a month earlier, in a by-election contest for the Constitutional Assembly, the DRP candidate lost the Addu seat with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Husnoo Al-Suood securing 5491 votes, 3613 votes more than the ruling party rival.

The MDP followed the DRP delegation to Addu, chartering an expensive air taxi (seaplane) when they failed to get seats on the scheduled Island Aviation flights. MDP Vice President Ibrahim Hussain Zaki led the team which included parliamentarians Ibrahim Shareef, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Mohamed Aslam and Husnoo Al-Suood, and National Council member Ali Shiyam among other leaders.

In Addu, the two parties held their meetings simultaneously in adjacent halls, a provocative situation in itself. The evening ended in violence as party supporters got into a brawl with police intervention further aggravating the situation. Police resorted to pepper gas, which the Maldivians are increasingly becoming used to. MDP members accused the police of political bias and using force on MDP supporters.

The situation turned worse the following day with DRP supporters throwing stones at the departing MDP delegates, forcing their chartered air taxi to leave without passengers. The MDP accused the police of not taking any action to stop the stoning. Tempers flared as sporadic confrontations between DRP and MDP supporters continued throughout the day, once again ending in a violent clash that evening.

Some desperate MDP supporters who accused the police of being ‘DRP members in blue’ eventually drove a vehicle through a police barricade line, allegedly injuring a few police officers. Later, police raided the MDP office in Hithadhoo Island and allegedly attacked party supporters. “They barged into the office in riot gear… there was nothing peaceful about it. They were lashing out indiscriminately and beating up whomever they could reach,” said one MDP member who was present at the time.

Parliamentarian and MDP stalwart Mohamed Ibrahim Didi, who was in the MDP office at the time said, “I think it was a stun gun… they aimed it to my forehead twice… it did not touch me. Then someone else with a long baton hit me twice very hard. I kept saying, ‘Don’t do this. You don’t need to attack the people. I am speaking as a Member of the Parliament.’ They were not listening.”

Attorney General Dr. Hassan Saeed, speaking not as the Attorney General but a DRP member, accused the MDP of initiating the clashes. According to Dr. Saeed, some MDP supporters had come to the DRP hall, triggering a clash and forcing police intervention. But MDP Vice President Ibrahim Hussain Zaki maintained it was the police who attacked first.

With clashes continuing in Addu, hundreds of MDP supporters led by Mohamed Nasheed who defeated the DRP candidate, comedian Yoosuf Rafeeu, 7120 to 4742 votes at the recent by-election for the Constitutional Assembly, converged on Republic Square to protest against what they saw as attempts by the police to stifle opposition. Republic Square, seen as the birth place of the new democracy movement in the Maldives following the August 2004 mass protests there, was filling up and police warnings to the crowd to disperse were in the air when a sudden downpour drove the crowds to shelter. Nasheed, who defied the rain and stayed behind was given police ‘shelter’ for what they described as “his own safety”. He was released later that night.

The other Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), MDP Chairman, who was dragged off the same spot on the Republic Square “for his own safety” by the police last August, has not left police ‘protection’ since. Nasheed (Anni) remains under arrest charged with sedition, crimes against the state and terrorism.
Meanwhile, the violence continues. In the capital, Male, thugs roam about. A vice president of an MDP cell in Male was stabbed on Wednesday. That same evening, the family home of MDP President Ibrahim Ismail was stoned by a motor-bike gang. Eyewitnesses say at least one of the motorbikes involved in the attack had a police/military number plate. Mr. Ismail said he had received a number of threatening calls before the attack and he had informed the Parliamentary Liaison Officer in the police, but the police had failed to take any action to foil the attack.

Eyewitnesses at the stabbing incident said police were present when the attack took place and had taken the attacker away in handcuffs, while the wounded was rushed to hospital. That evening, just a couple of hour later, MDP supporters had seen the attacker at the immigration counter at the Male International Airport. Probably, he was on his way to Colombo! They had detained him and once again he was taken in by the police.

Enraged MDP supporters marched through the streets of Male calling for the resignation of Police Commissioner Adam Zahir and an end to police brutality. The demonstration which grew in strength drew a crowd of over 4,000 people, when it ended peacefully about 1.30 in the morning.

On Thursday, there were more reports of clashes. Thugs entered the home of Addu MP Ibrahim Shareef, damaging furniture and demanding to know where Shareef was. They left before Shareef appeared on the scene. The homes of MDP leaders and MPs Mohamed Shihab and Ismail Shihab, as well as MDP Vice President Ibrahim Hussain Zaki were also targeted by the “thugs”. Police and the Government portray these attacks as “gang warfare” and Government controlled TV Maldives did not report the incidents.

Tension is building up in Male as government-backed “thugs” terrorise the capital. Their targets, invariably, are MDP leaders and supporters.
(The writer is editor of the Adduvas Weekly, a Maldivian publication)

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