Maldives leader says VP's arrest over boat blast 'not easy'

AP News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2015 7:52 AM
Maldives leader says VP's arrest over boat blast 'not easy'

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The Maldives' president appealed for calm throughout the island nation Sunday, after his deputy was arrested on suspicion of treason for allegedly plotting to assassinate him with an explosion on his boat.

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who escaped the Sept. 28 blast unhurt, told reporters it "was not easy" to see the arrest of Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, a young protege appointed to the office only three months ago.

The decision to arrest Adeeb was made "for the security of the country," Gayoom said, but added that he would wait for the case to go to trial before beginning any process to impeach him.

The arrest marks the latest in a series of political shakedowns and power struggles in the Maldives that have seized the fragile, young democracy since it held its first elections in 2008, after 30 years of autocracy under Gayoom's half-brother.

After Adeeb's arrest on Saturday, a small group of his supporters staged a protest that led to a police crackdown, with 17 people detained.

The home minister said Adeeb would be charged with "high treason," an offense not specified in the penal code but still used in the Maldives for terrorism or offenses against the state by government officials.

Gayoom said the investigation suggested Adeeb was connected with two soldiers arrested for tampering with evidence on the boat soon after the blast. He said police had found bomb-making materials at their homes.

Adeeb's lawyer on Saturday called the allegations against his client untrue.

During a hearing in which Adeeb and his lawyers participated by teleconference, the court approved his detention for 15 days of questioning while police conduct raids on the homes and businesses of his family and associates.

Gayoom has been dodging controversy since he won the presidency in 2013 after hotly disputed elections against a predecessor who was forced to resign three years earlier amid public protests. Former President Mohamed Nasheed is now serving 13 years behind bars on a conviction delivered in a rushed trial widely criticized as unfair.

The 33-year-old Adeeb, who was hugely popular with young Maldivians, was credited with delivering the important youth vote to Gayoom. Some 40 percent of the mostly Muslim country's 350,000 people are aged from 15 to 34.

In July, Adeeb was moved from the Tourism Ministry to become vice president, after lawmakers loyal to Gayoom impeached his predecessor and lowered the minimum presidential age from 35 to 30.

The promotion put Adeeb next in line for the presidency, should Gayoom be unable to govern. Adeeb was also given influence and powers beyond those of his elder colleagues, including heading the country's economic council and mapping out plans for a special economic zone. Meanwhile, he kept control over tourism — a major industry for an island nation known worldwide for its palm-fringed beaches, clear waters and luxury resorts.

After the explosion tore through the president's boat last month, rumors soon began circulating that Adeeb was behind the blast — allegations he emphatically denied.

Investigators ruled out mechanical failure as a cause of the blast, and the government said an explosive device had been placed under the seat the president usually occupied.

Authorities carried out raids on the homes and businesses of Adeeb's associates, but have refused to give any details about what may allegedly have been found. Gayoom also sacked his defense minister and the police commissioner after the blast.

Adeeb was taken into custody Saturday at the airport immediately upon returning from an official visit to China. Police spokesman Ismail Ali said Adeeb was wanted "on suspicion of involvement in the boat blast."

Three other people were arrested Saturday, raising the number of those detained in the case to seven. Earlier, three soldiers were arrested, including a former member of Adeeb's security detail and a member of the army's bomb squad.

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Francis reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka.