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`India should ask Maldives President to go easy on his people'

By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JAN. 28. India should ask the President of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, to "go easy on his people," Mohammed Latif, founder of the Sri Lanka-based Maldivian Democratic Party, told presspersons here today.

Mr. Latif, a former Member of Parliament, said that "advice" from India would be helpful in a correction of course. "I don't want to be a Minister, I don't want to be in government. I simply want to exercise my conscience," he said.

According to him, a Maldivian youth was "beaten to death" in September 2003 following which there was a "prison uprising." Three persons, Mr. Latif claimed, were killed in police firing and another 19 were injured in the incident.

He also alleged that a report on the incident, recently presented to Parliament, was "heavily edited" by the Maldives Government on grounds of "national security."

Mr. Latif, who now lives in Colombo, alleged that he was forced to leave the Maldives after his daughter was imprisoned.

He, too, had to face a term in jail and exile on a remote island after becoming an MP in 1990.

Though he claimed that the Maldivian leadership did not want the "messy democracy" of India, Mr. Latif added that the Government of the island nation would listen to India. "India is so totally important to the Maldives."

By addressing the press here he wanted to raise "awareness" about what was going on in the Maldives.

According to Mr. Latif, an attempt had been made in 2001 to register the Maldivian Democratic Party (political parties are permitted under the Maldivian Constitution), but it was to no avail.

Asked why the people in the island nation were not protesting if "repression," as he claimed, was for real in the Maldives, Mr. Latif replied: "That's because of the level of fear that exists among the people."

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