NATIONAL

Maldives situation `worsening'

COLOMBO, AUG. 14. The situation in the Maldives, where the President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, imposed an emergency on Friday to "prevent deterioration of law and order," following a two-day street protest by reformers, was said to be "bad, getting worse."

The protest was to demand constitutional reform and release of political prisoners.

A nascent Opposition grouping, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said over 200 persons, including four MPs have been taken into custody.

The President's office said the emergency was declared after tension escalated and termed the protesters as a "mob comprising various unruly elements" that "made various ad hoc demands," including the release of "a number of criminals."

The MDP, which wants greater reform and the President to meet his public commitment to separation of powers and political pluralism, has demanded the release of "political prisoners" and "prisoners of conscience."

Pointing out that Mr. Gayoom, who has been in power since 1978, had promised political reform earlier this year, Mohamed Latheef, MDP spokesperson, said before the imposition of emergency, the protests were "absolutely peaceful," and charged a "private militia" with "orchestrating disturbances" resulting in the clampdown.

`Just a ruse'

Referring to Mr. Gayoom's proposals for reform aimed at greater independence of the judiciary, separation of powers between the head of state and head of government, and a two-term limit on the Presidency, among other things, Mr. Latheef said: "People were very happy with it. But it is just a ruse. This is proved by the fact that he has clamped down hard on his own reform agenda and continues to abuse the fundamental rights of the people with impunity."The Government has maintained that there was no repression and its spokesman, Ahmed Shaheed, was quoted as telling the BBC: "We hope to lift the emergency as soon as we find out which elements were trying to subvert the political process and incite violence."

Calling for the "restoration of the rule of law,'' Mr. Latheef said "we are powerless, we cannot make demands, we want the Constitution to be respected, the harassment of political opponents stopped and the immediate resignation of hardline Ministers, who are opposed to political reform."

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