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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 September, 2004, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Maldives urged to free detainees
Protesters were demanding political reform
The European Union has called on the Maldives to free dozens of dissidents held without charge since August.

An EU delegation which visited the island nation said it was denied access to detainees, including a former attorney general and a former minister.

At least 180 people were arrested and a state of emergency was declared after a pro-democracy rally last month.

The government denied withholding access, and said investigations against those being held were ongoing.

Government spokesman Dr Ahmed Shaheed told BBC News Online there had been a misunderstanding and a previous EU delegation had been given full access to the detainees.

"We are disappointed that they didn't acknowledge that," he said, adding the government would be happy to grant access to independent observers.

1,200 islands in archipelago
Population is around 300,000
One-party rule since 1978
Low-lying islands vulnerable to rise in sea-levels

He said the state of emergency would be lifted "soon".

About 5,000 people took to the streets of the capital, Male, in August to protest at the slow pace of political reform in the one-party nation.

Four police officers were reportedly stabbed during the rally, and about 60 people, including former attorney general Mohammed Munavvar and former minister Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, remain in custody.

The government has accused the demonstrators of being "anti-democracy activists" intent on derailing the reform process.

But the EU delegation of Sri Lanka-based diplomats said the government's reaction to the largely peaceful protest had been "disproportionate".

It said President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom should "immediately repeal the state of emergency, restoring all fundamental rights to the detainees and creating an atmosphere... which would encourage an early return to normality".

It urged his government to implement a number of pro-democracy reforms announced in June.

The emergency order gives President Gayoom the power to suspend the constitution and take any steps necessary to maintain peace.

He denies unfairly targeting pro-democracy campaigners and said the arrests did not mean the end of political reforms.

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16 Aug 04  |  South Asia
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14 Aug 04  |  South Asia
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19 Jul 04  |  South Asia
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10 Jun 04  |  South Asia
Country profile: The Maldives
05 Sep 03  |  Country profiles

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