Police officers attempted to block the opposition’s anti-corruption walk for a fourth week on Friday by setting up multiple road blocks along protesters’ path and confiscating a megaphone.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said it has urged the Elections Commission to protect their right to protest. The home ministry had banned street protests in November citing concerns over violence.
The last time Maldives witnessed clashes was in May, when protesters attempted to enter the city’s restricted Republic Square. Hundreds were arrested and beaten on the day.
On Friday, lines of police officers physically blocked the protesters’ path atleast four times.
The march began with more than a hundred protesters gathered at the junction of Fareedhee Magu and Chaandhanee Magu at 4:30pm. They carried placards calling for a proper inquiry into missing millions from state coffers and the release of jailed opposition leaders.
Protesters were forced to walk down Fareedhee Magu instead of the city’s main artery, Majeedhee Magu. The walk ended at 6pm.
Tension is high in the capital Malé with President Abdulla Yameen’s regime mired in a historic corruption scandal. The opposition and officials of former watchdog bodies claim that money stolen from the state-owned tourism promotion firm was used to enrich ruling party officials and steal elections.
Yameen acknowledged last week that his MPs had received money from his former deputy Ahmed Adeeb, now detained pending trial on corruption and terror charges.
But the president denied having any knowledge that the cash came from stolen funds, claiming that he thought the money came from gifts given for the 2018 presidential election by friendly businesses.
Critics, however, say Yameen must bear responsibility for the loss of an estimated US$200million from the treasury.
Residents of Alif Alif Atoll Ukulhas Island also protested against Yameen during his visit to the island on Thursday. Photos from social media showed protesters holding placards calling for Yameen’s resignation.
The president was also called a “big thief.”
On the condition of anonymity, a protester told The Maldives Independent that a large crowd of mostly women had also called on the government to build a new sewerage system.
“We were not allowed to use the mosque, or the roads Yameen was using. The police nearly strangled one woman, they had pulled on our wrists and shirts. They had also harassed us by touching our intimate parts,” the source said.
A police spokesman dismissed the claims, saying there had been no clashes. The police had only taken the necessary security measures, he said.