Maldives police arrest opposition leader for plotting to oust government

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 07, 2017 7:33 AM

(Reuters) - Police in the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives arrested an opposition leader for "plotting to overthrow the government", police said on Friday, days after the opposition's failed bid to oust the speaker and take control of parliament.

The arrest of Qasim Ibrahim, the leader of Jumhooree Party, comes ahead of another impeachment vote against the deputy speaker scheduled for Monday.

The impeachment motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, a close ally of President Abdulla Yameen, was defeated by 48 votes to none in parliament after all opposition lawmakers walked out in protest at their colleagues' expulsion from the chamber for unruly behavior.

The largely Muslim island chain with a population of 400,000 and a reputation as a tourist paradise has been mired in political unrest for years. Significant numbers of radicalized Maldives youths have also enlisted to fight for Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Police in their charge sheet said Qasim was arrested for his alleged role of bribing and "undue influencing of parliament members and state security forces" in the impeachment vote against the speaker.

Police also said his arrest was due to his attempt of "unlawful incitement to the removal, from office, of the legitimate government".

Hussein Shameem, Qasim's lawyer, said his client was an opposition whip and by law he can try to convince members at a vote.

"He has not used undue influence and no unlawful activities were done. He acted within the law," Shameem told Reuters.

Qasim, a tourism tycoon and a 2013 presidential candidate, backed Yameen in the second round of the poll against former president Mohamed Nasheed. Yameen won by a slim margin.

Later he and Yameen fell apart and he formed an opposition coalition along with former presidents Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a half brother of Yameen.

The Maldives has suffered from unrest since Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012. He was later sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a widely denounced trial and now lives in exile.

Most of Yameen's opponents who might challenge him in a 2018 election have been arrested for alleged security offences. The opposition alleges his administration is trying to cover up corruption including money laundering.

The government denies this and says it does not influence law enforcement.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Nick Macfie)