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Celebrations Turn to Clashes After Maldives Court Orders Politicians Freed

  • Associated Press

Maldivian police officers detain an opposition protester demanding the release of political prisoners during a protest in Male, Maldives, Feb. 2, 2018. Opponents of the Maldives government clashed with police on the streets of the capital Friday as they demanded the release of imprisoned politicians whose convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court.

Opponents of the Maldives government clashed with police on the streets of the capital Friday as they demanded the release of imprisoned politicians whose convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court.

The court late Thursday had ordered the release of politicians including ex-President Mohamed Nasheed, who lives in exile in Britain, because it found their guilty verdicts had been influenced by the government.

Hundreds of people celebrated in Male by waving the country’s flag, but police dispersed the crowds using pepper spray and batons. Rocks were thrown at police and at least one injured officer was seen being carried to a hospital.

The ruling could allow Nasheed, the nation’s first democratically elected president, to challenge President Yameen Abdul Gayoom when he seeks re-election later this year.

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, center, arrives to address the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 22, 2018.
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, center, arrives to address the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 22, 2018.

Government to 'clarify' ruling

An Indian Ocean archipelago known for its luxury tourist resorts, Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule. But it lost much of its democratic gains after Gayoom was elected in 2013. He has maintained a tight grip on power, controlling institutions like the judiciary, police and the bureaucracy.

The court also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had been ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. When those lawmakers return, Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose a majority in the 85-member Parliament.

The government said in a statement it was trying to “vet and clarify” the court’s ruling and “will work to engage, and consult with, the Supreme Court in order to comply with the ruling in line with proper procedure and the rule of law.”

The opposition alliance in a statement welcomed the ruling and called for Gayoom’s resignation, saying the court’s decision “effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule.”

Nasheed had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges but was allowed to get medical treatment in Britain, where he received asylum.

Eligible to run

The ruling could lead to him becoming eligible to run in the presidential election expected to take place between August and November.

In a statement last month while in neighboring Sri Lanka, Nasheed said the opposition parties were in discussion to field a common candidate if he is unable to run.

“President Yameen wants a coronation; not an election. We won’t let that happen,” he said.

Gayoom had been set to run for re-election virtually unopposed with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.

Also named for release was Gayoom’s former deputy Ahmed Adeeb, who had been jailed on accusations of plotting to kill Gayoom.

Adeeb in 2016 was sentenced to 33 years in prison for alleged corruption, possession of illegal firearms and planning to kill Gayoom by triggering a blast on his speedboat even though FBI investigators said they found no evidence of a bomb blast.

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