United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake Jr. had a strong message to the opposition in The Maldives: work with the Government or allow the Government to handle the crisis.

The Maldives witnessed its biggest protests in recent times following the decision of the government to allow its currency, the Rufiya, to float in a 20 per cent band, effectively pushing up prices of all commodities by 20 per cent. Maldives imports all its needs. The decision is part of a package of measures the government has introduced on the advice of the central bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multi lateral organisations, in order to reduce the country’s budget deficit and stabilise the economy.

Mr. Blake Jr., who wound up his three-day trip to Maldives called on the opposition to come up with alternative policies rather than criticising the government all the time, highly placed official source said. This is the second time in under a year that he is in the Maldives, and he is the second high ranking U.S. State Department official to visit the country in under six months.

According to Maldivian news website Miadhu news, Mr. Blake Jr., commenting on the protests held every night since Saturday over the escalation of the price of commodities and services, said he encourages the government and the opposition to work together to try to tackle some of these problems that Maldives is now facing.

Mr. Blake Jr. met President Mohamed Nasheed on May 2 and discussed issues of mutual concern and ways of enhancing cooperation between the Maldives and the United States, the Presidential office said.

Speaking to the local press later at the American Corner in the National Library, Mr. Blake Jr. said, “United States understands the challenges Maldives is tackling as a young democracy... which is continuing to gain in strength.” He congratulated the Maldives on successfully holding its first ever local council elections, which he said was “vigorously, peacefully and fairly contested,” a release from the Maldivian President’s office said.

He highlighted Maldives’ role in engaging at the international level on global issues, especially the prominent role the Maldives is playing on the U.N. Human Rights Council. “The Maldives influence internationally far outstrips its size…President Nasheed is one of the world’s leading climate change advocates,” he added.

“Even in older more established democracies such as our own, politicians can find it difficult to work together across party lines in the spirit of fairness and bipartisanship for the sake of governing well. They do however when everyone benefits,” Miadhu news quoted him as saying. There was no word from the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, on the visit of Mr. Blake Jr. to Maldives or to Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the government condemned the actions of the Z-faction of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (Z-DRP), led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, for organising a third night of violent protests in the Maldives capital Male.

Protestors, led by Members of Parliament aligned to the Z-DRP, gathered on May 2 around 9 p.m. Scuffles broke out between anti and pro-government supporters, before police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and made a number of arrests.

At around 1 a.m., anti-government protestors regrouped near the Maldives Monetary Authority. When the police dispersed the crowd, protestors set fire to motorbikes and smashed the windows of a police station and a local business unit.

The Z-DRP says it is holding the protests over the government’s decision last month to introduce a managed float of the Rufiyaa, allowing the currency to fluctuate within a 20 per cent band of its previous dollar peg.

In late 2008, President Nasheed won the Maldives’ first democratic elections, ending 30 years of rule by former President Gayoom.

On April 30, former President Gayoom announced that he was leading a new faction called the Z-DRP. The next day, the party organised the first of the three violent protests witnessed this week.

“The government understands that many people are concerned about the economy and recent price rises and we are doing everything possible to ease the situation,” said the President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair.

“Peaceful protest is legal and welcome in the Maldives’ new democracy. But former President Gayoom is taking advantage of the economic situation to cause violence in the streets. These protests are more to do with Gayoom trying to shore up his position in the opposition, than the state of the economy,” added Mr. Zuhair.

“In the Middle East, you have democrats on the streets bringing down dictatorships. Ironically, in the Maldives, the remnants of the former dictatorship are trying to bring down a democratically elected government,” the President’s Office Press Secretary said.

Keywords: Maldives unrest

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