|Ahmed Naseem, the Maldivian foreign minister, says the protests are ‘politically motivated’ [AFP]|
Police have blocked protesters in the Maldives from rallying in a central plaza, arresting several people, the Associated Press news agency reports.
The gathering was called to protest against rising prices in the Indian Ocean island, blamed by the opposition on the government’s planned policy overhaul.
Several hundred demonstrators turned up in Republican Square in the capital, Male, after Friday prayers, saying restructuring proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had sent commodity prices high.
Police quickly pushed the protesters out of the square, where authorities had banned entry saying it is a high security area, AP reported.
The protesters moved briefly to another location and vowed to regroup later on Friday evening for a seventh night of demonstrations.
Officials earlier warned the demonstration could turn “nasty” and vowed to break it up.
Protesters have taken to the streets over rising prices and alleged mismanagement by the government, demanding that Mohamed Nasheed, the president, step down.
Nasheed was elected in the country’s first democratic election in 2008 after a 30-year rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
More than 300 people have been arrested and scores injured since demonstrations on the main island – led by Gayoom’s opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – started on Saturday, the Reuters news agency reported.
The Maldivian government said opposition protests cannot bring down the government, and vowed to maintain order.
Ahmed Naseem, Maldives foreign minister, said in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, that the opposition is harming the economy.
“Police have taken appropriate action to prevent any damage to public property, damage to people and to keep order in the country,” he said.
In an attempt to mimic popular protests in the Middle East and North Africa, the opposition has vowed not to quit until Nasheed steps down over rising prices and a managed float of the rufiyaa currency.
The US has urged the opposition to present its own plan to plug a widening budget deficit and shake off global price shocks if it does not agree with the government’s IMF-backed plans.
Naseem said the protests are “politically motivated” and blamed the opposition for failing to put forward anyone to negotiate with to end the unrest.
Nasheed’s government has accused a faction of the opposition allied to Gayoom of staging the protests and of throwing bricks and petrol bombs.
The opposition says the government has set thugs loose to vandalise property.
The opposition DRP, which ruled until Nasheed’s victory in the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, in turn accuses the incumbent of turning autocratic.
“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,” Mohamed Zuhair, the government’s press secretary, said on Wednesday.
“These protests are more to do with Gayoom trying to shore up his position in the opposition, than the state of the economy.”
“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.