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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 19:53 GMT
Maldives 'bans critical website'
By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo

President Gayoom
President Gayoom is Asia's longest-serving leader
The Maldives Government has blocked web access to an opposition website, Maldivian exiles in Sri Lanka say.

The site - set up a few weeks ago - belongs to the Maldivian Democratic Party, whose members include Maldivians living in exile in Sri Lanka.

The party has called on the Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, to lift restrictions on the website and to improve his human rights record.

The president began a record sixth term after winning a referendum last month.

No other political parties or candidates contested November's referendum, which gave Mr Gayoom 90% of the vote.

Reconstituted in exile

A statement from the Maldivian Democratic Party said the ban on their site violated the international norms of free speech as well as the Maldivian constitution.

They said the site could still be accessed from abroad.

According to opposition figures in Sri Lanka, the new website was already registering more than 700 visitors a day when the President moved to block it.

The writer and former member of parliament, Mohamed Nasheed - himself arrested several times for articles he wrote in the Maldives - said he felt the ban on the website should be lifted and President Gayoom's best option was to move towards more political pluralism.

The Maldivian Democratic Party was first established two years ago by a group of 40 intellectuals and businessmen in the Maldives, but was prevented from obtaining registration as a political party.

It was then reconstituted in exile last month after political unrest in September in Male indicated discontent was rising with the government there.

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