The nation of 270,000 Sunni Muslims, which is also South Asia's most expensive tourist destination, will introduce constitutional amendments to strengthen democracy.

 

"Among the reforms that were being undertaken were those that focussed on the strengthening of the democratic framework and governance, and on the role of the Majlis, as well as those on the reform of the judiciary and the framework of government," President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said on Friday in a statement.

 

The reforms outlined in an address to the Majlis, or parliament on Thursday, were not spelt out in the statement.

 

US report

 

The move comes as the United States issued its annual human rights report criticising the country ruled by Gayoom since 1978.

  

"The government's human rights record worsened, and it committed abuses," said the US report.

  

"The president's power to appoint members of the parliament constrains citizens' ability to change their government. There were reports of the abuse of prisoners," it said.

 

"President Gayoom's promises of reforms to protect human rights are in sharp contrast to the arrests made by the police" 

Amnesty International

"The government continued to impose constraints on freedom of the press. The government limits freedom of assembly and association and does not allow the formation of political parties," said the US report card on the Maldives.

  

The Maldivian law, it said, prohibited the practice of any religion other than Islam.

 

Disadvantages

  

Although the government had sought to address women's issues, women faced legal and social disadvantages while the authorities also restricted internationally recognised worker rights.

  

Two weeks ago, human rights watchdog Amnesty International demanded the release of people arrested during a crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the Maldives.

  

"President Gayoom's promises of reforms to protect human rights are in sharp contrast to the arrests made by the police," Amnesty said.

  

Gayoom, who was re-elected president for his sixth five-year term in October, has been criticised for suppressing dissent, a charge the administration has strongly denied.

  

The president two months ago set up a human rights commission in a bid to deflect criticism over abuses.