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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
'Arrests' after Maldives riots
Election Commission headquarters in Male
Rioters set government buildings alight
Police in the Maldive Islands have made a number of arrests after anti-government riots rocked the capital at the weekend, reports say.

The capital, Male, remains tense after crowds torched government buildings in protest at the deaths of two inmates in a jail riot.

Relatives blame the inmates' deaths on the security forces.

The mayhem is unprecedented in the Maldives, a tranquil Indian Ocean atoll famed for its upmarket tourist resorts.

Residents scared

The death toll from the weekend's violence rose to three on Monday, as a convict injured in the prison riot died.

Doctors confirmed his death at a private hospital in neighbouring Sri Lanka, where a number of casualties from the riots are receiving treatment.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, says the authorities had prevented the media from entering the hospital.

She said many Male residents were scared of talking to the media, fearing they could be arrested.

The weekend's street protests are said to have started when the injured convicts were visited in hospital by their relatives in Male.

MALDIVES BASICS
Maldives beach
1,200 islands in archipelago
Population is over 300,000
Majority is Sunni Muslim
One-party rule since 1978
Low-lying islands vulnerable to rise in sea-levels

Crowds threw stones at government buildings and set fire to police vehicles and public property.

Many were protesting against the government of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is seeking another term after 25 years in office.

Residents in Male said the injured prisoners had been flown out of the country for treatment so they could not provide a focus for fresh protest.

In July this year, human rights group Amnesty International accused the government of imprisoning and intimidating its critics - a charge the government denies.

Punishment

President Gayoom blamed the weekend's mayhem on hardened criminals and said they would be punished without leniency.

In a televised address to the nation on Saturday, he expressed dismay at the rioters' actions.

Maldives

But he also promised to punish any members of the country's security service that may have had a hand in the deaths at the prison.

Five security staff who were on duty at the prison during the riot have been arrested.

The president has also announced an inquiry into the causes of the violence.

His officials say calm has now returned and people are going about their business.

"Everything is normal today," foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Sareer said on Monday.

The tourist trade, the bulwark of the Maldives' economy, appears not to have been affected.

Few foreign visitors stay in the capital, Male, choosing instead to frequent the resorts built on other islands nearby.


Your comments:

Democracy doesn't mean people can do what ever they want. When Amnesty International condemn our government for human rights abuses, they should also understand that it took many years for them (western countries) to come to the level they are now. They made and still make lot of mistakes. If you just keep on telling the negative things that we do you will be creating more damage to us than good. Instead of giving peace and stability you will be destroying us. So please help us instead of dividing us.
I am 40 years old. During this period I have seen lot of good changes. Of course there are plenty of room for improvement. What I believe is you can't just force people to democracy. You have to educate people and democracy will come automatically. Our main income is from tourism. We do not have many natural resources. If you give a bad image of our country you will be very soon closing our only hope towards progress. Your culture and our culture is very different. So, when talking about democracy please keep in mind to respect our values as well.
Hussain, Maldives

It seems that the Deputy Chief of Staff of NSS/Commissioner of Police has been sacked from him military post and re-assigned to a new post in the ministry of information arts and culture. This certainly proves HE Maumoon is reforming his police, and this certainly is good step in the right direction, I would say.
Concerned, Maldives

The uprising was a result of years of suppression and injustice to the people. We need to reform the countries judicial system and need to bring more transparency to the criminal justice system.
Ibrahim, Maldives

For the first time in the modern history of Maldives there was such unrest and mayhem. I saw youngsters burning the High Court building. All the sub-police stations, Office of the Commisioner of elections and the National Conference Centre (Dharubaaruge) were also attacked by mobs. Unfortunately no news of the incident appeared in any of the newspapers. The radio and TV didn┐t broadcast any.
Ismail Abdulla, Maldives

I saw the riot in progress and have witnessed much of the police's activities that have been going on today [Tuesday]. My friends and I have seen many people being hauled in off the streets in Male by the police and the government's security forces - being dragged out of shops and homes. We have heard that people have been taken away by the police and security forces in the middle of the night, nobody knows where to or under what charge. The police and the security forces appear to be arresting anyone who was seen during the riots and anyone who was caught on camera when the buildings were attacked. The police had cameras during the riots and there were cameras in the buildings that were attacked. My friends last night saw two men being hauled out of their shops and thrown into police vans, just before curfew started. I have also seen many young people being arrested, not hardened criminals as the government claims. Everyone here is very scared of possible government reprisals.
'Rosa', Maldives

Here in the capital Male everything was calm and stable as usual until the afternoon at about 2:00 AM on Saturday [20 September 2003]. It was only a few crowd running around burning and destroying some of the government buildings. No private property was damaged or affected. It is very first time in the current history of Maldives that this kind of a thing happened. People obeyed the request from the president and most had returned home instead, enjoying the scenery.
Rasheed, Maldives

People here have no right to throw stones and fire government buildings. It was almost crazy but the government is doing its best and I am sure they will do it. It's all rumours in here.
Pink, Maldives

The violence first erupted near the hospital when the police refused to let the friends and family of the injured inmates access to the hospital. In a tense situation the police tried to show its macho muscles and this sparked further agitation and unrest. Now three inmates have died due to police brutality.
Ibn Hazm, Maldives

I was watching the mob on the streets from my house on Saturday night. The crowd was huge, armed with butchers' knives and iron rods... basically anything they could find. Suddenly the police arrived in armoured vehicles, and dropped a smoke bomb right in front of my house. Within minutes the crowds dispersed. A curfew was set for the night and my brother (who lives on a nearby island) was stopped by the police on his way to the ferry terminal and was asked to stay in Male and to stay indoors. Since then the police have been everywhere, questioning everyone on the streets, schools have been closed and even some businesses. Everyone is stopped on the road and asked for their identification and details of where they are going.
Violet, Maldives




SEE ALSO:
Maldives capital tense after riot
21 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Amnesty blasts 'holiday paradise'
30 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Country profile: The Maldives
05 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Maldives defends prison terms
26 Feb 03  |  South Asia



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