Maldives police break up anti-gov't protest

AP News
Posted: May 01, 2011 6:10 AM
Maldives police break up anti-gov't protest

Maldives police used tear gas and batons to break up a protest Sunday demanding that President Mohamad Nasheed step down. Dozens of people were injured and many were arrested.

Thousands of protesters converged on the capital, Male, on Saturday night to rally against economic hardship, alleged government mismanagement and wasteful spending. Organizers said about 5,000 people demonstrated overnight.

Police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam said officers asked the protesters to leave but they started throwing objects at the police. He said 10 people were arrested for damaging property.

Mohammed Shareef, a spokesman for the opposition Dhivehi Raithunge Party, said about 44 protesters were taken away by police, including two party lawmakers and leading activists.

There was no independent confirmation of how many remained in detention.

Shareef said the demonstration was organized to protest government inaction on rising unemployment and soaring prices of essential items caused by the devaluation of the currency.

He insisted the protest was peaceful until police used force, saying seven people were injured and one remained hospitalized.

The government condemned the protest, saying police "responded to the unprovoked assault with tear gas and made several arrests."

"Peaceful political activity, such as the right to protest, is legal and indeed welcome in the Maldives' new democracy. But there can be no excuse for needlessly causing violence in the streets," presidential spokesman Mohamed Zuhair said in a statement.

He did not comment on the opposition's allegations of government mismanagement.

Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,200 islets inhabited by around 300,000 people, has a tourism-driven economy. Nasheed was elected president in the country's first multiparty election in 2008 after 30 years of authoritarian rule.