Anti-government protesters took to the streets of the Maldives for a fourth night on Tuesday, as police baton-charged demonstrators and arrested a senior opposition activist, eyewitnesses said.
In this picture taken late on May 2, people clash with riot police from the Maldives in Male during protests. Anti-government protesters took to the streets of the Maldives for a fourth night on Tuesday, as police baton-charged demonstrators and arrested a senior opposition activist, eyewitnesses said.
Police arrested opposition member Umar Naseer on Tuesday night as he led scores of people through the narrow cobbled streets of Male, demanding the government tackle soaring consumer prices.
Eyewitnesses said Naseer was handcuffed, bundled into a truck and driven off by law enforcement authorities, as police in riot gear tried to disperse noisy demonstrators.
Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party is leading the protest, demanding incumbent Mohammed Nasheed quit over his handling of the economy and clamping down on political dissent.
“Police are chasing protesters. Some of those injured have been rushed to hospital,” opposition spokesman Mohammed Shareef told AFP by telephone. He said scores were arrested, including parliamentarians Ali Arif and Ahmed Mahloof.
“Arif and Mahloof were later released, but we have no news of Naseer’s whereabouts. Our legal team is trying to trace him,” Shareef said.
There was no immediate comment from the police.
Shareef said he was among the crowd that was baton-charged by the police, and was hit on the temple.
Police used tear gas and batons on Tuesday to break up Nasheed’s backers and opponents, after both sides hurled bottles and stones at each other, damaging property and vehicles and injuring many people.
Earlier in the day, Nasheed presided over a cabinet meeting that voted to halve import duties on diesel to cushion transport, food and energy costs in the tourist-dependent nation.
The Maldives, a country of 1,200 islands scattered in the Indian Ocean, is famous for its high-end holiday resorts but many of its population of 330,000 Sunni Muslims live in poverty.
Nasheed, who was repeatedly jailed for protesting against Gayoom’s autocratic regime, unseated the dictator of 30 years in the country’s first multi-party election in 2008.
But his administration has been dogged by allegations of graft and financial mismanagement.
Nasheed’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said that peaceful protests were welcome and the government was doing its best to ease economic pressures.
“These protests have more to do with Gayoom trying to shore up his position in the opposition than the state of the economy,” Zuhair said.
Unrest has been stirred by a 30 percent rise in food prices, fuelled by a decision by the government to let the import-dependent nation’s currency fall against the dollar.
Nasheed’s office said the currency was floated on the advice of the International Monetary Fund to trim a soaring budget deficit.
The government rejected opposition charges of financial mismanagement, saying it had lifted the economy out of recession and expected growth of four percent this year.
Shareef said the protests were aimed at emulating those across the Middle East and North Africa, pushing for political reforms in “dictatorial regimes”.