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Tuesday 23 October 2018

Two arrested after clashes in Maldives over political prisoners

Demonstrators in the capital Male have urged authorities to comply with the supreme court ruling.

Maldivian police officers detain an opposition protester (AP)
Maldivian police officers detain an opposition protester (AP)

By Mohamed Sharuhaan

The exiled former president of the Maldives has said he will run again for office, hours after a supreme court decision to free a group of political prisoners led to unrest in the capital.

Police arrested two opposition supporters as protesters clashed with police for a second night in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Demonstrators had urged the government to obey the court order to release the nine prisoners.

Current president Yameen Abdul Gayoom had been set to run for re-election virtually unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.

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Scuffles broke out after the ruling (AP)

However, ex-president Mohammed Nasheed, who is among the prisoners who were ordered freed, said he would challenge Mr Yameen, who has rolled back many democratic reforms since coming to power five years ago.

“I can contest and I will contest and hopefully we will win it again,” Mr Nasheed said in Colombo, the capital of neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Mr Nasheed was jailed in 2016 but received asylum in the UK later that year after travelling there on medical leave from prison. He has lived in exile ever since.

He also called for reforms in the country’s security services, saying “a small element within the military and police want to prop up the dictatorship” of Mr Yameen.

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Pepper spray and batons were used by the police to disperse demonstrators (AP)

Hundreds of people gathered in the capital Male on Friday, and a scuffle erupted when police asked the protesters to stay clear of a road.

The Thursday night court ruling ordered the release of the political dissidents, saying their guilty verdicts had been influenced by politics. It also ordered new trials for all nine. It is not immediately clear how retrials would affect the upcoming elections, but the opposition alliance welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying it “effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule”.

Hundreds of joyous Nasheed supporters poured into the streets of Male after the verdict, waving flags. But clashes broke out quickly after Mr Yameen sacked the country’s police chief, whose department had announced that it would uphold the supreme court verdict.

The clashes lasted about three hours, with police dispersing rock-throwing crowds using pepper spray and batons.

Atul Keshap, the US ambassador to the Maldives, welcomed the supreme court order. “I urge the government and security services to respect this ruling, which bolsters democracy and rule of law for all Maldivians,” he wrote on Twitter.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the court decision should be a turning point for the nation.

The group’s South Asia director, Biraj Patnaik, said the ruling must be implemented and the government’s “witch-hunt against the political opposition and other critics” must come to an end.

He said re-trials of the opposition leaders must be conducted in line with international standards, and authorities must restore judicial independence.

Press Association

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