Maldives president faces new threat from unrest - 3 killed in rioting

The Daily Star, Dhaka
September 22, 2003

AFP, Colombo

The president of the tiny Indian Ocean atoll nation, the Maldives, has survived three coup bids and huge waves, but faces a new threat from civil unrest as he moves for a sixth five-year term in office.

Known abroad for his activism against global warming which threatens to wipe his country off the map as sea levels rise, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for the first time Saturday faced riots in the capital island, Male.

The unprecedented violence erupted following the killing of a convict in riots at the infamous Maafushi prison, located in another island some 45 minutes away from Male by speedboat.

Rampaging mobs set fire to vehicles, stoned public buildings and police stations and smashed state property -- scenes never seen before in the country of 250,000 Sunni Muslims, where there is simmering dissension against Gayoom, despite his firm standing at the polls.

"People were waiting for a moment like this," a Maldivian resident said by telephone, adding the violence had an undertone of displeasure with the administration of Gayoom, who has ruled since 1978.

The unrest coincided with an announcement by elections chief Ibrahim Rashad that Gayoom and four lesser-known candidates were in the fray for the presidency in elections due in October.

AP adds: Tanks guarded the Maldivian President's house in the capital of the Muslim island nation on Sunday, a day after demonstrators attacked police vehicles and set fire to government buildings, residents and officials said.

At least three people were killed in the protest, which came on the same day that President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom filed for re-election. Mobs burned the Election Commission's office and the High Court building in Male, capital of the Maldives, a resident said on condition of anonymity.

print page

-Copyright © 2003 SARID, 675 Mass Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA