Maldives takes steps to draft a new constitution
Commonwealth envoy Tan Sri Musa Hitam held talks with political parties in the Maldives on drafting a new constitution.india Updated: Feb 09, 2006 14:36 IST
A special Commonwealth envoy held talks with political parties in the Maldives on Wednesday on drafting a new constitution, as the main opposition group accused the government of orchestrating attacks on five of its members.
The chief government spokesman, Mohamed Hussain Shareef, called the meetings with Commonwealth envoy Tan Sri Musa Hitam "a major step forward in the country's political transition."
In separate meetings, the envoy sought the opinion of each party about what should be contained in a new constitution, which the Commonwealth will then help draft, Shareef said.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has governed the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago, since 1978 with tight control.
He promised political reforms in 2004 in response to international pressure sparked by anti-government riots and allegations of torture of political prisoners, but the reforms have been slow.
The main opposition group, the Maldives Democratic Party, said the talks with the Commonwealth envoy would only succeed if the government genuinely supports democracy and stops harassing political opponents.
"The meetings can be just eyewash for an international audience ... we cannot speak freely with a gun to our head," said party spokesman Mohamad Latheef, who lives in exile in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.
In a statement on Wednesday, the MDP accused the government of orchestrating two attacks in the past 30 days in which five of its members were stabbed and beaten with iron bars.
"The MDP is very concerned by this unprecedented rise in frequency and severity of political violence in the country directed at leaders and members of MDP," it said.
The government denied the allegation.
It called on the international community to persuade the government "to implement democratic reforms on an urgent basis."
The MDP also is demanding freedom for four of its senior members, including Latheef's daughter, Jennifer Latheef, who is serving a 10-year prison term on charges of terrorism.
Latheef, 32, was sentenced in September for throwing stones at police during pro-democracy riots in the capital two years ago.
The Maldives is a Muslim nation of about 300,000 people on 1,192 coral islands.