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.


Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

Updated 13 min 50 sec ago
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Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

WASHINGTON: After months of unexplained delays, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down Tuesday before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate, citing a “painful” family situation that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”
President Donald Trump announced Shanahan’s departure in a tweet, and said that Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.
“It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process,” Shanahan said in a statement. “I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”
The acting defense secretary did not provide specifics about the family situation but media outlets including The Washington Post and USA Today published extensive reports Tuesday about circumstances surrounding his 2011 divorce shortly before Trump tweeted that Shanahan’s nomination would not go forward.
In his statement, Shanahan said he asked to be withdrawn from the nomination process and he resigned from his previous post as deputy defense secretary. He said he would work on an “appropriate transition” but it wasn’t clear how quickly he will leave the job.
Defense officials said that leaders are trying to decide when Esper would take over the job. Officials were meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss transition plans. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
In his tweet, Trump simply said that Shanahan had done “a wonderful job” but would step aside to “devote more time to his family.”
And, in noting Esper’s move, Trump added, “I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!“
The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since Gen. James Mattis retired in January following policy differences with Trump.
Trump announced in May that he would nominate Shanahan but the formal nomination process in the Senate had been inexplicably delayed.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position.
His prospects for confirmation have been spotty due in large part to questions about his lengthy work as former Boeing executive and persistent questions about possible conflicts of interest.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing in connection with accusations he had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors.
In Shanahan’s tenure at the department he’s had to deal with a wide array of international hotspots, ranging from missile launches by North Korea to the sudden shift of military ships and aircraft to the Middle East to deal with potential threats from Iran.
Shanahan, 56, had extensive of experience in the defense industry but little in government. In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis’ tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.