Street protests have hit Maldives over its troubled economy. [AFP]

Maldives police briefly detained an opposition politician on the fourth night of anti-government protests in the capital Male, amid growing public anger over the island country's troubled economy.

The police arrested Umar Naseer, deputy leader of the opposition Dhivehi Raithunge Party, and 30 others who had gathered along with three to four hundred protesters in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority late Tuesday night, Ahmed Shiyam, police spokesman, said on Wednesday.

Some reported a bigger turn out of thousands.

Nazeera and 24 protesters were released within a few hours, while the rest remained in custody for further questioning, Shiyam said.

Public discontent

Maldives have in the past few days witnessed violent protests over alleged wasteful spending and financial mismanagement by the government.

Many are unhappy with President Mohamed Nasheed's decision last month to float the Maldivian currency rufiyaa, which is pegged against the US dollar, within a 20 per cent band. The float led to a quick drop in value and soaring prices for key necessities. Most commodities are imported to the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,200 islets in the Indian Ocean.

Nasheed announced a 50 percent cut on fuel import tax on Tuesday, as an effort to abate "drastic fluctuations in diesel prices in the Maldivian market in quick successions due to unpredictable world fuel prices".

"The government understands that many people are concerned about the economy and recent price rises and we are doing everything possible to ease the situation," Mohamed Zuhair, the president's press secretary, said.

While noting the public's discontent with the economy, the government condemned former president and opposition party leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for organising such a demonstration.

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.

"Peaceful protest is legal and welcome in the Maldives’ new democracy. But former President Gayoom is taking advantage of the economic situation to cause violence in the streets. These protests are more to do with Gayoom trying to shore up his position in the opposition, than the state of the economy," Zuhair said.

"In the Middle East, you have democrats on the streets bringing down dictatorships. Ironically, in the Maldives, the remnants of the former dictatorship are trying to bring down a democratically elected government," he added.

Source: Al Jazeera