Thu, February 09, 2012
World > Asia-Pacific > Maldives crisis - Trouble in paradise

Peace returns after Maldives leader quits amid protests

2012-02-08 08:17:03 GMT2012-02-08 16:17:03(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

MALE, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Peace returned to the restive Maldives capital here late Tuesday after a morning of mounting protests forced Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president, to resign.

By afternoon, there was little indication of the political unrest, described by some people as a coup, according to Xinhua's correspondent in the city.

Republic Square, the center of the protests, was calm again with locals interviewed saying they only knew of the morning's clashes from television reports in the afternoon.

They also dismissed the claims of a coup, saying there was no bloodshed and the protesters had probably just thrown bottles and stones, pointing to empty bottles on the square.

Life on the islands seemed to be going on as usual. Tourists, who are still pouring into the islands that make up the Maldives, seemed unaware of and unconcerned by the political events.

Shops and restaurants were open and doing normal trade while others strolled in the streets as if nothing had happened.

An Indian journalist living beside Republic Square said he had asked hotel security and service staff about the morning's clashes, but no one said anything remarkable had happened.

The weeks-long protests began late January when Nasheed had a senior judge arrested. The judge is believed to have angered Nasheed by releasing a government critic.

Nasheed's repeated claims that the arrest was based on the judge's alleged political bias and corruption were rejected by the opposition and the public, who say the move violated the constitution and infringed upon judicial independence.

Nasheed's support and credit were further eroded when he ordered the expulsion of protesters by force, which led to defections from the police and army.

The pioneer of Maldives democracy, who ended Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's 30-year reign in 2008, declared his resignation hours after the riot and handed over his duties to Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

In a televised address Tuesday, the new president said he supported the peaceful efforts of Maldivians to protect the constitution and religion and thanked the soldiers and police in helping achieve a peaceful transition.

Manik also promised to protect Nasheed from retribution.

DEEP SOCIO-ECONOMIC REASONS

The arrest of the judge is seen as the last straw amid growing discontent with Nasheed, with deeper and more profound reasons believed to be behind his ouster.

Among them is religion. As a country whose only official religion is Islam, some religious groups have accused Nasheed of failing to effectively maintain the country's Islamic traditions.

A faltering economy added to the public discontent. After taking office in 2008, Nasheed instituted a raft of radical economic reforms, including the floating of its currency and new taxes. The rushing in of those reforms have hurt the country's economy.

The floating of the exchange rate has caused a sharp depreciation of the local currency against the U.S. dollar. This has pushed up living costs for Maldivians, who rely on imports for many of their daily necessities.

Nasheed has also long suffered from shaky political support. In 2008, he ended the first round of the presidential election in a distant second with only 25 percent of the vote against incumbent President Gayoom, who secured 47 percent. Thanks to support from eliminated candidates, Nasheed surprisingly won the second-round runoff. However, those political allies deserted him soon after he took office.

Many Maldivians are not shocked by his resignation. They reckon that if the president had lost public support, it was natural and reasonable for him to leave.

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