From Wed Aug 18 19:15:14 2004
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 2004 15:11:30 -0500 (CDT)
From: “Randy” <>
Subject: Maldives: Ain’t No Beach Resort from today's Oread Daily
Article: 187826
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Ain't no beach paradise

Oread Daily, [16 August 2004]

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives—Asia's longest-serving leader—announced a program of political liberalization in June, less than a year after a riot in the capital, Male, highlighted discontent with his autocratic rule. A special assembly called to debate the changes had been due to convene on Monday, but several of its members were taken into custody following the crackdown. “So far none of the parliament members who were arrested have been released,” said a resident of Male who was involved in the demonstration and asked not to be named for fear of reprisals in the nation best known as a holiday paradise for its coral islands dotted through the Indian Ocean.

Opposition politician Mohamed Latheef, a Sri-Lanka-based member of the Maldivian Democratic Party—which says it cannot function in the Maldives — called for a tourism boycott in the country where arrivals hit a record high of 500,000 last year in the nation of only 300,000 citizens. “I am very angry with the Western world. They see all the reports in the papers and they are not taking enough action,” Latheef told a news conference. “We are very clearly asking Western countries to warn their people … where you are resting on he beach, there is blood.” He said the reform agenda could not be pushed forward as long as Gayoom, who has led the country since 1978, was in power. “This man Gayoom has got to go. There is no way otherwise to have constitutional reform.” Latheef added, “It has always been a police state and now it is more so than ever.

Activists said they gathered last Thursday to press Gayoom to make good on reform promises, but the government accused demonstrators of attempting to destabilize the country. At least 200 people, including a former attorney general and a former minister were arrested. Dozens were hospitalized when police fired teargas and used sticks and batons to disperse the crowd of over 5000. “There was so much blood at the Republic Square. I saw scores of men and women fallen. I don’t think they will survive. It was like Tiananmen,” a witness said. Many were demanding the release of some pro-reform activists arrested earlier were tear-gassed. The subsequent release of the prisoners did not appease the protestors, who demanded the immediate resignation of several ministers and the Male city police chief. Instead, the government launched a crackdown on the activists, and declared a state of emergency. The emergency order gives President Gayoom the power to suspend the constitution and take whatever steps he thinks are necessary “to maintain peace.”

Amnesty International said it is deeply concerned at reports of large numbers of injured people needing hospital treatment after the police used sticks and batons to attack them during the demonstrations. The organization is urging the government to adhere to international human rights standards and is calling on the government to ensure the safety and security of those taken into custody, after emerging reports of security forces beating those in detention.

The state-run telecommunications authority has cut off Internet access and short message services (SMS) on mobile phones to prevent pro-democracy activists in the country contacting people outside. Telephone services were operating, but residents said they feared the authorities had tapped phones and were listening in.

The declaration of emergency rule for the capital is the second major crackdown in Maldives this year, coming exactly six months after a series of early morning raids on Maldivian Democratic party supporters in February.

Since then, the reform movement has grown significantly in numbers and sophistication. Elections for a Special Majlis, to prepare changes to the constitution, saw many democratic reformers selected in the atolls and the capital, and large meetings in Male’ have consolidated public understanding and support for the reforms.

Now everything is in jeopardy of being reversed.

Sources: Khaleej Times, Rediff, International Herald Tribune, News 24 (South Africa), Miadhu Daily News (Maldives), Maldives Culture, Amnesty International