Monday, August 6, 2007

Maldives officials quit, say president blocks reform

Two top Maldivian government officials resigned from President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's cabinet on Sunday, accusing Asia's longest-serving ruler of stalling on democratising reforms.

Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel and Attorney General Dr. Hassan Saeed said reforms ranging from independence of the judiciary to freedom of assembly and a new constitution have been repeatedly blocked or delayed.

Gayoom pledged wide-ranging democratic reforms in late 2004 to revamp the power structure in the nation of 300,000 mostly Sunni Muslims in response to criticism of his government's rights record.

"Most of the reforms have not been passed," Saeed, a presidential appointee, told Reuters by telephone from the Maldivian capital of Male. "The constitution is not in place. None of the criminal justice-related laws have been passed."

"I don't believe in the current process," he added. "Gayoom has been in power for a long time ... and found promising reforms was a good way of getting support. But then the international pressure was gone, domestic pressure was gone and he thought he could take it easy."

Gayoom's critics accuse him of cracking down on dissenting views to stifle opponents and hold onto power and maintain control of tourism resorts, which rake in millions of tourist dollars each year.

Gayoom has been in power since 1978, and his autocratic rule has been likened by critics to a sultanate of old.

The Indian Ocean island cluster is due to a hold a public referendum on Aug. 18 on whether to adopt a Westminster-style parliamentary system or U.S.-style presidential system. [Read more on Reuters]

Source: COLOMBO (Reuters)

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