Maldives opposition urges tourist boycott after vote halted

MALE, Maldives (AFP) - The Maldivian opposition appealed to foreign holidaymakers on Saturday to boycott the upmarket tourist destination as authorities indefinitely postponed a presidential runoff amid mounting international concern.

The runoff had been slated for Saturday between human rights activist Mohamed Nasheed and Mr Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives with an iron fist for three decades before the first elections in 2008.

"It's mainly the tourism profits that go to finance the suppression of democracy in the Maldives," main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesman Hamed Abdul Ghafoor told AFP.

"This is why we appeal to other countries to slap a tourism ban on the Maldives," Mr Ghafoor said as the party extended its protests to resorts in the secluded coral islands with pristine beaches.

Mr Nasheed is the candidate of the MDP and was forced to quit as president of the Maldives 20 months ago in what his supporters described as a coup.

The Supreme Court called off the runoff amid allegations of irregularities in the first round in which Mr Nasheed narrowly missed garnering 50 per cent of the ballots needed to claim outright victory.

Tourism is a key source of revenue for the Maldives, a nation of 350,000 Sunni Muslims, which attracted over a million tourists last year.

Dozens of Maldivian resort workers on Saturday carried placards denouncing the Supreme Court move to suspend Saturday's vote pending the investigation into a complaint of malpractice in the first round three weeks ago.

"The management allowed workers to freely express their feelings, but there has been no disruption to work," an official at the upmarket Anantara resort told AFP by telephone.

Another hotel manager who declined to be named said some local employees staged brief protests at resorts, but regular services were not interrupted.

Some of the hotel employees displayed white underpants in public to taunt Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed who was allegedly filmed during a sex romp in a video that has gone viral.

The independent Elections Commission announced late on Friday that the Supreme Court had ordered the security services to prevent any effort to hold the elections the next day.

"This is why we are not able to hold the run-off election within the constitutional deadline of 21 days of the first round," the commission said in a statement.

As the news spread, hundreds of MDP activists stepped up their nightly protests in the capital island Male, witnesses said.

The court has angered the MDP and been criticised by the international community for blocking Saturday's vote where Mr Nasheed was expected to do well.

He had won the first round with 45.45 per cent of the popular vote.

The runoff was halted pending a petition by the third-placed candidate who challenged the result and said he should be facing Mr Nasheed in the final two-way race.

The 54-member Commonwealth voiced "concern" over the developments and said the country should ensure a new president is elected by November 11, 2013, the constitutionally mandated date.

Transparency Maldives, an anti-corruption watchdog, called on the Supreme Court to "uphold the spirit of the constitution" and respect electoral deadlines and the people's electoral choice.

The Maldives has resisted international pressure to ensure the run-off takes place without delay and outgoing President Mohamed Waheed has maintained the country must allow the legal process to take its course.

Mr Nasheed, a pro-democracy campaigner and climate-change activist, has faced various tussles with the country's judiciary.

He sees it as biased and intent on protecting the interests of Mr Gayoom and of a handful of tycoons who control the tourism industry in the country of 1,192 islands.

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