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More arrests in Maldives as protests spread


Dozens of anti-government activists were arrested in the Maldivian capital Male, the opposition said Saturday as the government accused them of whipping up religious extremism.

Opposition parties said police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of activists on Friday night and that dozens were detained, raising to 82 the number of arrests in the past four days.

"The police detain people and release them after a few hours," opposition spokesman Mohamed Shareef said adding that a total of 82 had been arrested during the past four days.

Maldivian authorities said the protesters had attacked government facilities, including two police vehicles and vandalised the home of a government minister during the protests.

The government said six journalists and staff of the state-run national television broadcaster had been attacked by anti-government protesters while private media organisations accused the government of intimidating them.

Anti-government activists have been keeping up pressure on President Mohamed Nasheed who initiated the arrest Monday of the head of the country's criminal court on charges of misconduct and favouring opposition figures.

A senior figure in the opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Mohamed Jameel, was also re-arrested on Wednesday as police investigate him and the party for allegedly spreading hate-speech.

The government has accused Jameel, a former justice minister, of making public remarks that Nasheed was working under the influence of "Jews" and "Christian priests" to weaken Islam in the Maldives.

The government on Wednesday raised fears of Islamic extremism taking hold in the Indian Ocean atoll nation, which is best known for its upmarket tourism and as a destination for honeymooners.

The foreign ministry said it was "extremely concerned" by an increase in extremist rhetoric used by the government's rivals that could lead to "stigmatization, stereotyping and incitement to religious violence and hatred".

There have been anti-Semitic protests recently about the transport ministry's decision to allow direct flights from Israel, while a restaurant that hung up Christmas decorations in 2010 was also targeted.