Maldives declares state of emergency after democracy protest

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The Independent Online

Officials have imposed an indefinite curfew on the capital of the Maldives, following pro-democracy protests. A vigil outside police headquarters in the capital of the Indian Ocean islands, Male, for the release of several arrested activists turned into a demonstration of more than 3,000 people yesterday afternoon - a massive gathering for a country known for its beaches but not for its politics.

Officials have imposed an indefinite curfew on the capital of the Maldives, following pro-democracy protests. A vigil outside police headquarters in the capital of the Indian Ocean islands, Male, for the release of several arrested activists turned into a demonstration of more than 3,000 people yesterday afternoon - a massive gathering for a country known for its beaches but not for its politics.

In recent years, there has been a surge of popular anger at the government and President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader. The President's critics say he runs the island like a prison, tightly controlling the police, media, legislature and courts, with little tolerance for dissent.

A recent Amnesty International report condemned the government for arbitrary detentions, restricting freedom of speech and expression and torturing prisoners. Ahmed Shaheed, the government's spokesman, claimed that the demonstration escalated when members of the crowd stabbed two police officers, seriously wounding one.

The national security service sprayed tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators when they refused to leave. Witnesses say that dozens of demonstrators were injured.

Mohamed Latheef, the leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, which is banned, said 15 to 20 activists were arrested, including a former attorney general. He claimed the security forces had a list of 60 core pro-democracy activists, and were going house to house, beating and arresting them. "This shows that the hardline people in the regime have taken the upper hand," Mr Latheef said by telephone from Sri Lanka, where he is in exile. "They won't tolerate any push for change."

The government insists there is no repression or torture, and said that the crowd had erupted at the demonstration.

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