Trouble in paradise

TENSION that was simmering in Maldives since late last year when riots broke out after the country’s security forces cracked down on prisoners who were protesting alleged torture, boiled over into the open on Friday.

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Published: Sun 15 Aug 2004, 10:19 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:10 AM

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has been the president of the country for 25 long years, has put in place emergency laws after 50,000 Maldivians took to the streets in a rare show of dissent. The demonstrators who battled with the police were demanding political reforms and the release of political prisoners. Just two months ago, the Maldives government had assured its people that it was proposing political reforms that would allow the formation of opposition parties for the first time in the country’s history. The promised historic reforms would have changed the entire framework of democracy on this island over which Asia’s longest-serving leader presides. But it would have also weakened Gayoom’s all-powerful presidency, a risk, it now seems, he is unwilling to take. The nation of 300,000 people on 1,192 coral islands has been ruled by Gayoom since 1978. It was he who transformed the country’s fishing economy into an elite vacation spot. But times have changed. The country’s youth that for long have been fed on a tourism boom that began in the 1970s are beginning to get bored in paradise. They have known no alternative to Gayoom and now feel stifled and want to break free from the chains of a one-man rule. Maldivians feel the Gayoom government has reneged on its promise and has taken no steps to show it was sincere in introducing the much-needed reforms. The opposition claim that Gayoom has consistently refused to act against widespread police brutality and ignored letters that Maldivians have written to him about torture and unjust imprisonment. They say his government agencies have condemned Amnesty International reports as lies. It’s time the ageing Gayoom opened up the country, introduced reforms, quickly provide for the formation of political parties and strengthen parliament’s powers.


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