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Cablegate: Maldives: Protesters Detained After Demonstration

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001420

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR SA/INS
USPACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM MV
SUBJECT: MALDIVES: PROTESTERS DETAINED AFTER DEMONSTRATION
IN CAPITAL TURNS VIOLENT

REF: 04 COLOMBO 1337

-------
SUMMARY
--------

1. (U) An unknown number of arrests were made in the
Maldivian capital of Male' late August 13 after protests
against the arrests of three prominent opposition activists
turned violent. National Security Services (NSS) forces were
called in to assist the police in quelling the disturbance
after demonstrators overwhelmed the police. The Government
alleges that "a large cache of blunt and sharp weapons" were
found at a "rally headquarters" used by the opposition
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), a charge the MDP Spokesman
disputed. A curfew was imposed in the capital from 12:00
a.m. - 4:00 a.m. August 14. As of mid-day August 14, the
situation had returned to normal, but both the Government and
MDP do not rule out the possibility of additional
disturbances later in the evening. We have received no
reports of Americans affected by the incident. The Embassy
continues to follow the situation closely. End summary.

--------------------------------------
ANNIVERSARY OBSERVANCES TURN VIOLENT
--------------------------------------

2. (U) Police arrested an as-yet undetermined number of
protesters late August 13 after a demonstration by Maldivian
Democratic Party (MDP) sympathizers demanding the release of
three party members detained the previous day turned violent.
Speaking to poloff by telephone on August 14, Government
Spokesman Mohamed Shareef said that the protests, which began
in a residential area of Male' about 4:00 p.m. local time,
deteriorated into violence about four hours later, as
demonstrators reportedly began throwing stones and bricks at
police. Two policemen were severely injured in the melee,
Shareef reported, including one who was reportedly pulled off
his motorcycle and beaten up by the mob. According to
Shareff, police used tear gas to disperse the protesters
about 10:00 p.m. local time. (Note: A reporter for a local
newspaper and a Maldivian employee of a multilateral
organization who observed the demonstrations told us in
separate conversations that the police also charged
demonstrators with batons; Shareef, on the other hand, said
that no baton charge occurred.) The demonstrations, however,
continued until midnight when the streets were finally
cleared after the government announced a midnight - 4:00 a.m.
curfew. Shareef said that calm had returned to Male' at OOB
August 14 (schools, businesses and government offices are
open on Sunday), but said he feared further disturbances
might occur later in the evening. To avert that possibility,
the police were "trying to identify the ringleaders" who
incited the previous evening's violence, he said. Shareef
added that he was in the process of confirming the number of
arrests or injuries resulting from the August 13 incident,
but assured us that the ICRC and family members would be
given access to detainees.

3. (SBU) Because the police had been unable to control the
disturbance, Shareef reported that the National Security
Service (NSS) were called in to assist in quelling the
violence. The August 13 disturbance was particularly
worrisome to the Government, Shareef said, because it
occurred in a densely populated residential area where
innocent bystanders could be easily caught up and injured in
the violence. The NSS "worked in partnership with the
police" to restore order, Shareef said, for the first time
since the formal separation of the civilian police from the
NSS last year. He emphasized that anyone detained in
connection with the disturbance is now in police custody and
that no Members of the Special or People's Majlis are among
the detainees.

4. (SBU) The August 13 violence appears to have been
sparked by the Government's response to a (at least
initially) more peaceful demonstration held by MDP party
members the previous day to mark the one-year anniversary of
the detentions of pro-reform activists by the Government
(Reftel). MDP Chairman Mohamed Naseem and several others who
staged a sit-down protest after Friday prayers August 12 were
urged to disperse by police, Shareef reported, but refused,
eventually drawing a crowd of about 300 which later became
unruly and attacked police. Even though Naseem and other MDP
council members were not themselves acting violently, Shareef
acknowledged, they were nonetheless arrested and detained by
police as "catalysts" of the disturbance. Shareef confirmed
that 38 protesters, including Naseem, remain in detention.

5. (SBU) Following Naseem's arrest, the NSS later on August
12 raided an MDP "rally headquarters," recovering a "large
cache of blunt and sharp weapons," according to a faxed
report the Embassy received from the Maldivian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. When asked about this report, Shareef said
that besides retrieving approximately 100 steel rods and
"mallets" from the site, the NSS had also apprehended a man
"red-handed" in the act of operating a machine to cut the
steel bars into uniform size, which the man allegedly
admitted were to be distributed among demonstrators to wreak
further havoc. The security forces then destroyed the site,
according to Shareef (the "rally headquarters" seems to have
been a tent-like, temporary structure), but the office
headquarters of MDP remain open.

-----------------------------
OPPOSITION DISPUTES CHARGES
-----------------------------

6. (SBU) MDP Spokesman Mohamed Latheef, who lives in
self-imposed exile in Colombo, disputed the Government
version of events in a separate conversation with poloff on
August 14. Charging that President Gayoom is attempting to
"bleed the country to death," Latheef accused the Government
of perpetrating the violence itself through proxy "private
militias." While acknowledging that his daughter, who had
been initially detained by police August 12, had been
released, Latheef alleged that Naseem had been "beaten up"
before being taken into custody. The "weapons" found by the
NSS at the MDP site, Latheef contended, were no more than
construction materials that the landlady had been keeping
since before the MDP rented the "rally headquarters" at a
neighboring construction site on the same property. Latheef
said he challenged the NSS to turn over its findings to any
impartial authority to assess their credibility, asserting
that the investigation could not stand up to even "minimal
scrutiny." He added that he feared further disturbances
could erupt.

---------------------------------
NO REPORTS OF AMERICANS AFFECTED
---------------------------------

7. (U) The Embassy has received no reports of Americans
affected by the August 12-13 unrest in Male'. (Note: Most
foreign tourists, who stay on separate resort islands and
enter and leave the country via a separate "airport" island,
never visit Male'.) We will continue to follow the situation
closely.

ENTWISTLE

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