Maldives court releases ex-president in stunning blow to regime

Maldivian opposition protestors shout slogans demanding the release of political prisoners during a protest in Male, Maldives, on Friday. (AP)
Updated 02 February 2018
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Maldives court releases ex-president in stunning blow to regime

MALE, Maldives: The Maldives’ top court Thursday ordered the release of nine key political prisoners in a surprise move that cleared the way for exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed to run for president.
The atoll nation’s joint opposition welcomed the surprise ruling, which has also granted them a parliamentary majority and stunned the government of strongman President Abdulla Yameen.
“The Supreme Court’s verdict effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule,” the opposition said in a statement calling for his resignation.
The Maldives’ popular image as an upmarket holiday paradise had been severely damaged by a major crackdown on dissent under Yameen, who has overseen the jailing of almost all the political opposition.
Yameen’s spokesman, Ibrahim Hussain Shihab, said the court had made its decision without hearing out the government.
“While the ruling makes significant implications on various points of constitutional import and criminal justice procedures, it was issued without representation of the state from either the Attorney General or the Prosecutor General,” Shihab said in a statement.
However, he said the administration “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.”
On the tiny streets of the capital Male, there were celebrations. Hundreds of opposition activists took to the streets and were quickly pushed back by police who fired teargas.
Nasheed, who is currently in neighboring Sri Lanka, urged his supporters to avoid confrontation with the police.
“President Yameen must abide by this ruling and resign,” Nasheed said on twitter. “Urge all citizens to avoid confrontation and engage in peaceful political activity.”
Nasheed, who is living in self-imposed exile, was sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terrorism charge widely criticized as politically motivated.
In its order, seen by AFP, the Supreme Court said the “questionable and politically motivated nature of the trials of the political leaders warrant a retrial.”
The court ordered authorities to immediately free nine jailed leaders.

The Maldives police said in a tweet that it will abide by court orders, but within minutes the government announced the sacking of police chief Ahmed Areef.
Attorney General Mohamed Anil told a hurriedly summoned press conference at the military headquarters in the capital that Yameen sacked the police chief because he was uncontactable after the court order.
Anil said they were also in the process of “verifying the validity” of the court order.
The court also restored 12 dissident members of parliament who had been controversially expelled in July for defecting from Yameen’s party. The latest order gives Yameen’s opponents a majority in the 85-member parliament.
Earlier this week, opposition figures jointly petitioned the court to remove Yameen over alleged corruption.
Opposition figures including Nasheed and another five dissidents named in Thursday’s order have united against the president.
Among those who petitioned the top court was Yameen’s half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose legislator son, Faris Maumoon, had been arrested. He was among those whose release the court ordered.
Also among them is Ahmed Adeeb, Yameen’s erstwhile deputy, who is serving a 15-year jail term after being convicted on a charge of attempted assassination in September 2015.
Another key dissident, Qasim Ibrahim, who helped Yameen in the 2013 run-off election, was also ordered to be released.
He, however, is not in the Maldives. Like Nasheed, he also obtained prison leave for medical treatment and has remained in Europe.
Almost all key opposition leaders and a number of ruling party dissidents have either been jailed or gone into exile in the Maldives in recent years under Yameen.
The president took office in 2013 after winning a controversial run-off vote against Nasheed.
The former president was jailed in 2015, but granted prison leave in 2016 for medical treatment in London, where he secured political asylum.
Last year he announced his intention to return and run for president in elections due later this year, but he was prevented by the criminal conviction against him.
The United States has said democracy is under threat in the strategically located archipelago of 340,000 Sunni Muslims, which sits on key international shipping lanes.


Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

Updated 14 min 16 sec ago
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Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

  • Eight blasts have ripped through churches and hotels
  • Social media blocked across the country in temporary ban

COLOMBO: An eight blasth has been reported in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, as the government announced an immediate curfew.

The curfew will begin on Sunday night at 6:00pm local time (1230 GMT) and run until 6:00am local time (0030 GMT), the Sri Lankan defense ministry said.

The attack took place just hours after a string of bombings ripped through churches and hotels on Sunday monrning, killing at least 160 people.

Access to major social media platforms and messaging services has been shut down by the Sri Lankan government.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the seventh blast hit a hotel in the southern Colombo suburb of Dehiwala, killing two people.

A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts, which also injured hundreds of people.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”

The public has been told to excercise caution in the following days, with emergency numbers being circulated for people who want to seek help.

The country’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before the blasts that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine — a church in Colombo — and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital. Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Inside St. Anthony's Shrine where one of the bombings took place. (AFP)

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.

An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant. He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

(Reuters)

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine, and described “horrible scenes.” “I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added. Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the deadly string of Easter Sunday attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka as “truly appalling.”