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Opposition holds protest marches in southern atolls

Opposition supporters in the capital and five southern islands took to the streets calling for the release of four lawmakers detained after the collapse of the government’s majority in parliament.



Opposition supporters took to the streets in the southern atolls Friday afternoon, calling for the resignation of President Abdulla Yameen and the release of four lawmakers detained after the collapse of the government’s majority in parliament.

Hundreds of protesters carrying placards and banners marched in the southernmost Addu City as well as the islands of Thinadhoo and Gahdhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll and Villigili and Kolamaafushi in Gaaf Alif atoll.

In the capital city, opposition supporters gathered outside the Maldivian Democratic Party meeting hall in front of the artificial beach but were prevented from marching by Specialist Operations officers.

Five people were taken into custody and released a short while later.

Opposition supporters also gathered near the Jumhooree Party office Friday night but their attempts to march in the streets of Malé were thwarted again by the riot police.

Two protesters were briefly detained.

Of the four lawmakers in police custody, Saud Hussain represents the Villigili constituency whilst Mohamed Ameeth and Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim are from Gahdhoo and Thinadhoo, respectively.

Waheed, Ameeth and Saud were arrested in the wake of the unprecedented expulsion of opposition lawmakers from parliament on July 24. They were accused of breaking through police lines and entering the parliament building after the Majlis had declared that they were no longer members of parliament.

The former Progressive Party of Maldives lawmakers were deemed to have lost their seats after the Supreme Court ruled that MPs who were elected on political party tickets will be disqualified once the electoral body notifies parliament that they have either left their party, been expelled, or switched parties.

MP Faris Maumoon, who was leading the group of ex-PPM MPs, was arrested on July 18 on charges of attempting to bribe lawmakers.

Nine other opposition lawmakers were also summoned for questioning last week on charges of breaking through police lines on July 24. MPs Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, Hussain Areef and Mohamed Abdul Kareem were summoned for the second time on Saturday.

The police have meanwhile been cracking down on “unlawful gatherings” in Malé.

The 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act was revised in August last year to restrict protests and gatherings in the capital to areas designated by the home ministry, which later picked the carnival area in Malé’s eastern waterfront.

The amended law requires written permission from the police to gather in other areas.

Speaking at the opening of a neighbourhood park and community centre in Hulhumalé on Thursday night, President Yameen meanwhile renewed attacks on opposition leaders, including his estranged half-brother former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Opposition leaders should put aside political rivalry until next year’s presidential election and support the government’s efforts to develop a new urban centre and spur job growth, he said.

According to the president’s office, Yameen “also highlighted that while one group tries relentlessly at providing a quality life for the people, another is regrettably encouraging the destruction of this community.”

“He further noted that despite some political leaders emphasizing the independence and sovereignty of the Maldives, they did not practice in their affairs, what they preached.”

The government must be accountable but “doing so must result in the people’s contentment,” Yameen said.