Maldivians took to the streets in Male on Saturday night, even as a top U.S. State Department official was assessing the situation in the country.
The people were protesting against the government's decision to allow the Maldivian currency, the Rifiya, to “float” in a 20 per cent band which, in effect, devalued it by 20 per cent. Maldives imports all its essentials and fuels and the move has hit citizens hard.
Independent news website ‘Minivan News' said that although the protest was led by Opposition leaders, its reporters observed many unfamiliar faces not identified as members of either major party. “The protest's leadership consisted mostly of those from the ‘Z-DRP' faction of the Opposition loyal to the former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, including MPs Ahmed Mahlouf, Ilham Ahmed and the dismissed Deputy Leader, Umar Naseer, Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed and Jumhoory Party (JP) MP Ibrahim Muthalib. Other Opposition allies were also present at the protest,” it added.
The government has condemned the violent protest on Saturday night and said it was organised by supporters of Mr. Gayoom. “Scores of people were injured and shops and private property damaged when protesters hurled bricks and other projectiles at the police. The police responded with tear gas and made several arrests. “The government condemns the violence perpetrated by some of Gayoom's supporters last [Saturday] night,” said President's Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair.
“Peaceful political activity, such as the right to protest, is legal — and indeed welcome — in the Maldives' new democracy. But there can be no excuse for needlessly causing violence in the streets,” Mr. Zuhair said. “We have numerous peaceful political rallies, protests, petitions and other forms of legitimate democratic activity throughout the year, which is a healthy part of our democracy. However, whenever Mr. Gayoom's supporters take to the streets, it always seems to end in violence,” he added.