A day of protests and counter-protests in The Maldivian capital Male meant that parts of the city were paralysed yet again on Friday, from around the time the prayers concluded to close to midnight.
They are protesting against the soaring prices after the government allowed the Maldivian currency, the Rufiya, to float in a 20 per cent band. The protests have led to at least some travel agents advising their clients to re-consider their Maldivian holidays.
With the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) claiming that it had nothing to do with the protests, the government is left with no one to talk to. The government has maintained that a faction of the DRP led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was behind the protests. It said that Mr. Gayoom was inspired by the Tahrir square and that he was hoping to overthrow the government after crippling the functioning of the government.
According to Reuters news agency, more than 300 persons have been arrested so far; a figure that was disputed by the Maldivian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Naseem. On Friday he said that only 16 persons have been held.
The independent Maldivian news website, Minivan News, said that the opposition protest near the artificial beach was dispersed by police after the group tried to make its way towards the intersection of Majeedhee Magu and Chandanee Magu, the focal point of last week’s violent demonstrations. Aljazeera said that the protesters moved briefly to another location. They later regrouped on Friday evening for a seventh night of demonstrations. Local news website known for its spot coverage of events, Miadhu Daily said that Police tried to restrict the movements of journalists covering the developments around the square.
Counter protests by MDP
The counter-protest organised by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and addressed by President Mohamed Nasheed set out a robust defence of the government's economic policies. Mr.Nasheed noted that economic fundamentals such as the budget deficit and the disparity between government income and expenditure had dramatically improved since his administration came into power in the country's first democratic elections in late 2008. Haveeru news, a local online newspaper, reported that the President said that there would be no budget deficit by 2012.
A communication from the President’s office said that the President highlighted various measures taken to revive the economy. For the first time in the country's history, Maldivians now enjoyed a state pension for over 65 year-olds, one third of the population joined the government's health insurance scheme, and the disabled and single parents enjoyed income benefits.
Commenting on the Z-DRP, the opposition faction led by former president Gayoom, which has called for the overthrow of the government and led a series of often violent protests in the past week, President Nasheed said: "If you want power, face me in the 2013 presidential elections."
The crowd of MDP supporters had a solution to all their ills: arrest of former president Gayoom, on charges of alleged corruption and human rights abuses during his 30-years in power. Their voice has support among some in government too, leading some observers to suspect that the ground was being prepared for his arrest.