Maldives activist to form opposition political party
COLOMBO: A pro-democracy activist has returned from exile to the Maldives, planning to form the island nation’s first official opposition party, a spokesman said. Mohamed Nasheed, chairman of the Maldives Democratic Party, which has been operating in exile in neighbouring Sri Lanka, arrived Saturday in the Maldives’ capital, Male, said party spokesman Mohamed Latheef.
Nasheed was able to enter the country without any trouble despite fears that he might be arrested, Latheef said. “The MDP is very encouraged that the government has shown political maturity by not arresting him,” he said.
Political parties are banned in the Maldives, where President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has ruled with an iron fist since 1978.
Gayoom has promised sweeping reforms to establish a multiparty democracy, but recently said that the time to form political parties has not yet come, and that opposition activists should wait for constitutional reforms. He has not said when any such changes would be made. Gayoom’s promise of reforms followed international pressure prompted by allegations of torture of political prisoners, and a series of anti-government riots in 2003.
Meanwhile, the head of a British charity involved in tsunami relief efforts denied he has links to Islamic fundamentalists in the Maldives.
David Hardingham of Friends of Maldives was barred Friday from flying from the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, to Male. Government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said he had been blacklisted because of his suspected links to a radical Muslim group trying to operate in the Maldives.
“This is a total fabrication. I have no links whatsoever with any fundamentalists, Islamic, Christians or any other type,” Hardingham said Sunday, adding that he might have annoyed the government with his human rights activities.
“We are a humanitarian organisation and when we see human rights violations we speak up,” he said.
The Maldives is a Muslim nation of 278,000 people on 1,192 coral islands about 500 kilometres off southern India. ap