Britain, US warn over travel to Maldives capital

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The Independent Online

The US and Britain on Wednesday issued warnings to their citizens travelling to the capital of the Maldives, where a deepening political crisis has led to violent street protests.

The Indian Ocean archipelago, an upmarket tourism destination famous for its beaches and turquoise waters, has been gripped by a bitter power struggle between the president and the opposition-led national parliament since June.

Several street demonstrations in the highly congested capital island of Male last week injured at least nine police officers and six civilians.

In separate warnings issued online, Britain and the US noted that demonstrations in Male could get out of hand and warned visitors to avoid large political gatherings and state buildings.

Most tourist resorts are located outside Male and most tourists travel straight from the airport island to their resorts without going to the capital.

"The demonstrations have not targeted foreigners, and there have not been any demonstrations in the resort islands or outside of Male," the US embassy in Colombo added.

Police broke up an unruly gathering of ruling party supporters in the capital on Tuesday after they surrounded a school where the speaker of parliament had gone for his weekly badminton game.

Meanwhile US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake on Wednesday urged President Nasheed and opposition parties to eliminate their differences and work towards serving the needs of the Maldivian people.

"I am sorry to see the absence of understanding between the government and the opposition parties," Blake told reporters in Colombo ahead of his one-day visit to Maldives on Thursday.

Washington has been urging the Maldives to accept offers of international mediation to unlock the political deadlock.

US Ambassador Patricia Butenis and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse have travelled to the Maldives in recent weeks for separate meetings to iron out the row in the nation of 314,000 Sunni Muslims.

Blake said his visit was aimed at continuing a dialogue between warring parties, and to try to narrow their differences.

"If I can narrow the disputes, I am happy to do so, to help defuse the situation," said Blake who was also the ambassador for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, prior to his appointment last May.

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