Maldives police break up opposition protest

Dozens reportedly injured as police violently disperse activists staging protest over worsening economy.

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    DRP activists demand President Mohamed Nasheed's exit over currency depreciation (AFP)

    Police in Maldives have used tear gas and batons to break up an anti-government protest in the island country's capital Male, reportedly injuring dozens of activists.

    About 400 supporters of the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom gathered in Male on Saturday night, demanding the resignation of incumbent President Mohamed Nasheed over Maldive's recent currency depreciation and worsening economy, Nasheed's office said Sunday.

    The demonstration began peacefully but turned into a riot when demonstrators began trashing the streets, the Maldives police said.

    "After we received some complaints from residents, the police approached demonstrators to tell them to return home, and they began throwing stones and bricks at the policemen," Ahmed Shiyam, Maldives police spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

    "We had to use tear gas and batons to break up the crowd as it began smashing shop windows," Shiyam said. The incident ended early Sunday morning with the arrests of some vandals, he added.

    The Maldivian government condemns the violent protest organised by Z-DRP, a faction of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) led by Gayoom, Mohamed Zuhair, the president's spokesman, said in a statement on Sunday.

    Protesters' account

    Protesters gave a different account, saying about 5,000 people attended the demonstration and that dozens were "crushed brutally", DRP spokesman Mohammed Shareef told the Associated Press news agency by phone.

    Nasheed was elected president in the country's first multi-party election in 2008, ending Gayoom's 30-years of one-party rule, but the country has recently struggled with soaring food prices and unemployment.

    Gayoom leads the DRP, which accuses the Nasheed administration of wasteful spending and financial mismanagement.

    The Maldivian currency has recently depreciated after the rufiyaa's peg to the dollar became unstable, affecting food and import costs.

    "Like US President [Barack] Obama, President Nasheed inherited a terrible economic situation, with huge bills and debts," said Paul Roberts, the president's communication adviser. "You have to sometimes make difficult decisions to improve the situation."

    "But [Sunday's protest] isn't a huge outpouring of anger and neither like an Arab Spring," he said. "There weren't thousands pouring out onto the streets."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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