Maldives faces international pressure to lift emergency

The United States and Britain have expressed deep concern after the Maldives imposed a state of emergency, saying it curtailed vital civil liberties and urging the release of jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed. President Abdulla Yameen invoked the decree on Wednesday in an apparent attempt to prevent a major opposition rally to press for Nasheed's release from going ahead in the honeymoon islands. The move came at a time of heightened tensions in the Indian Ocean nation of 340,000 people after a crackdown on dissent and two alleged attempts on the president's life in recent weeks. "The United States calls on the government of Maldives to restore immediately full constitutional freedoms to its citizens by terminating the state of emergency," US State Department spokesman John Kerby said. The United States also demanded "an end to politically motivated prosecutions and detentions, including that of former President Nasheed," who was jailed earlier this year for 13 years following a trial the UN said was seriously flawed. Britain, a former colonial power in the Maldives, echoed Washington's concern at the imposition of a state of emergency for the first time in 11 years. "We call on the government to end the current state of emergency and to release all political prisoners, including former president Nasheed," Britain's Minister for Asia Hugo Swire said in a statement. There was no immediate word from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on whether it would defy the emergency and go ahead with the protest on the capital island Male. The Maldives' Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon earlier denied that the move was intended to suppress the protest, but said it was unlikely to go ahead "because of the security" in Male. Under emergency laws, eight provisions of the constitution have been suspended, including the freedom of assembly and the freedom of movement. - Business as usual - Despite the political unrest, tourism -- the archipelago's mainstay -- is booming with more than one million visitors flocking to its golden beaches and clear seas every year. The country's tourism ministry sought to allay fears on Thursday, saying tourism-related businesses would be operating as usual. "The situation in the Maldives remains stable," the ministry said in a statement. Holidaymakers who pay top dollar to relax on the Maldives' atolls are usually whisked away by seaplane or boat, bypassing the restive capital Male where extra police have been deployed in recent months. But some Western governments have advised their nationals to exercise caution while travelling to Male, citing protests and the possibility of terrorist attacks. On Thursday the Hong Kong Football Association raised serious concerns about next week's football qualifier against Maldives and said the team would not play unless safety could be guaranteed. Authorities in the Maldives have said that a September explosion aboard the president's speed boat and the discovery this week of a remote-controlled bomb near his official residence were assassination attempts. However, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has said there is no evidence the blast, which wounded Yameen's wife and two others but left the president unharmed, was caused by a bomb.