MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives declared a state of emergency for 30 days on Wednesday citing a threat to national security, as President Abdulla Yameen sought to shore up his power over the Indian Ocean island nation following a suspected assassination attempt.
The authorities acted after discovering explosive devices near Yameen’s official residence and the main mosque in the capital Male, as well as stashes of weapons believed to have been stolen from army stores.
“Because these would be a threat to the public and the nation, the National Security Council advised taking immediate steps to protect the people of Maldives,” Attorney General Mohamed Anil said in a live televised address.
The imposition of emergency rule, for the first time under a constitution passed in 2008, came two days before a demonstration planned by the main opposition party.
The string of tropical islands, home to 400,000 people and a favorite of tourists, has been in turmoil since a Sept. 28 blast on board Yameen’s launch as it was about to dock at the capital, Male.
Yameen was unhurt but his wife and two aides were injured in the explosion, which the government quickly concluded was an attempt on his life.
Senior ministers told Reuters the government would only make use of limited powers to restrict the right of assembly. There would no curfew or arbitrary detention.
“Please go ahead with your holidays — the Maldives are a peaceful country,” Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon told Reuters. “There has never been a major incident targeting tourists.”
A Western diplomat in Colombo said European Union members may consider a travel advisory after the order, which comes just before the peak tourism season.
Britain advised its citizens after the order to “take extra care”, when traveling to the Maldives. A record 1.2 million tourists visited in 2014, accounting for 29 percent of the economy.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had planned the Friday protest to demand the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, jailed in March for 13 years for terrorism in a trial that drew international criticism.
A spokesman for Nasheed said imposing emergency rule showed that Yameen, having locked up his opponents, had lost the support of his allies and could no longer count on the loyalty of the security forces.
“It looks like Yameen has lost control or is losing control,” the spokesman said, expressing concern that the state of emergency could be indefinite.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, asked to examine the scene of the boat blast, said it found “no conclusive evidence” that a bomb had exploded, raising doubts over its cause.
Maumoon, however, said Sri Lankan and Saudi Arabian investigators had found traces of high explosives. The government was “convinced” that the blast was caused by a bomb.
Yameen has acted quickly to crack down on those suspected of disloyalty, with Vice President Ahmed Adeeb arrested in connection with the explosion and several suspects deported to the Maldives from Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
Adeeb’s office in a statement said the move would jeopardize the Maldives’ economic future by forcing other countries to advise their citizens not to visit due to safety concerns.
Adeeb denies any involvement in the blast, which has ratcheted up tension that was already running high after the trial and imprisonment of Nasheed.
Nasheed lost a 2013 presidential election to Yameen. The United States and human rights groups say Yameen’s government failed to follow due process and that the case against Nasheed was politically motivated.
Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Robert Birsel and Catherine Evans