Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Maldivian president proposes elections amid protests over arrests of opposition

AP, MALE

Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom said he is willing to hold an early presidential election to allow voters to decide who they want to lead the Indian Ocean archipelago as political unrest continued to grow after a court ordered the release and retrial of political prisoners.

Speaking publicly for the first time since Thursday’s Maldivian Supreme Court order to release politicians opposed to him, including exiled former Maldivian president Mohammed Nasheed, Yameen said that he is open to holding an election several months before his term ends in November.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted of abducting a judge under the Maldives’ anti-terror laws in a trial that was widely condemned by international rights groups

In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the court also reinstated 12 lawmakers who were ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. When those lawmakers return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which could result in the legislature functioning as a rival power to the president.

The opening of the parliament for the year on Feb. 5 has been indefinitely postponed, opposition Maldivian Legislator Ahmed Mahloof said, adding that the government’s fear of losing its majority could be the reason for the postponement.

Yameen said that he did not expect the court ruling, but that all relevant authorities of the state need to do “a lot of work to see how to implement it.”

“We are working on making sure we can respect the Supreme Court order in a way that doesn’t cause any difficulties to the people,” he said at a rally in his support organized by his party.

Earlier Saturday, Yameen for the second time since the court order fired a national police head.

Yameen’s office said he had dismissed Ahmed Saudhee as commissioner of police and appointed deputy police commissioner Abdulla Nawaz to act as interim commissioner.

No reason was given for the dismissal.

Saudhee was appointed interim police commissioner on Friday, one day after Yameen fired Ahmed Areef, whose dismissal came after his Maldivian Police Service announced that it would uphold the Supreme Court’s order.

Maldivian Attorney-General Mohamed Anil said that Areef was fired because Yameen was repeatedly unable to reach him on the phone.

The court ruling, which said that the dissident political leaders’ guilty verdicts were politically influenced, has led to protests by opposition supporters urging the government to obey the order.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked the Maldivian government to respect the Supreme Court’s order, joining a similar appeal by the US.

Known for its luxury tourist resorts, the Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule by the current president’s half-brother, former Maldivian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

However, the nation lost much of its democratic gains after Yameen was elected in 2013. He has maintained a tight grip on power, controlling institutions such as the judiciary and the police.

Yameen was set to run for re-election this year virtually unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.

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