A hundred raincoat-clad protesters took to the streets of Malé at midnight Tuesday calling for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation, prompting a crackdown by riot police who used pepper spray to disperse the un-announced gathering.
Security forces were on alert in the capital Malé Tuesday evening ahead of the protest, amid speculation of a plot to remove Yameen from office.
Dozens of soldiers were stationed at the supreme court, the republic square and at the president’s residence at Hilaaleege. Riot police had cordoned off the streets leading up to the president’s residence to traffic and pedestrians.
The news of the protest, the Maldives United Opposition’s first since the parliament approved a new law limiting protests, spread on social media.
Protesters first gathered on Orchid Magu, a block away from Hilaaleege. Soon after Twitter posts urging supporters to gather at the area began circulating, riot police moved in, set up barricades and quickly dispersed protesters using pepper spray.
Some were treated at the hospital after being pepper-sprayed at close range.
The gathering came hours after the criminal court issued arrest warrants for MUO leaders, former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, both of whom were recently granted political refugee status by the British government.
Nasheed and other opposition figures had traveled to Sri Lanka last week, fuelling speculation of Yameen’s imminent ouster. The MUO has vowed to arrest the president on corruption charges.
It is not clear if Jameel has joined Nasheed in Sri Lanka.
Ministers and MPs have rushed to Yameen’s defence, slamming the opposition as traitors working with foreign governments to attack on the Maldives’ sovereignty.
On social media, government supporters have launched a social media campaign with the hashtag ‘Healing Paradise,’ a pun on an upcoming corruption expose of the Yameen administration by Al Jazeera, titled ‘Stealing Paradise.’ The president has maintained his innocence.
Yameen’s spokesman has confirmed to the BBC that he was aware of a “formal attempt at ‘legally’ overthrowing the government.” Ibrahim Hussain Shihab called the pot “disingenuous to the people of the Maldives and in clear breach of international legal norms.”
— TeamMdp (@TeamMdp) August 30, 2016