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Bomb blast wounds 12 tourists in Maldives capital

MALE (Reuters) - A homemade bomb exploded near a mosque in the Maldives’ capital, Male, on Saturday, wounding 12 foreign tourists in the remote Indian Ocean island chain best known for luxury honeymoons and Hollywood star visitors.

Police arrested two people in connection with the blast which occurred at the entrance to the capital’s Sultan Park, a popular stop-off for tour groups.

“They are Maldivian nationals, but I don’t have any other details,” Tourism Minister Mahamood Shaugee told Reuters.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rare attack on tourists, who are the linchpin of the archipelago’s $1 billion economy.

Shaugee said 12 people were injured -- two British nationals, two Japanese and eight Chinese.”

“The Japanese nationals and Chinese have been treated for minor injuries and discharged from the hospital.”

The two Britons, named by the British Foreign Office as Christian and Jennifer Donelan, were still receiving treatment, he said.

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The couple, aged 36 and 31 respectively, live in Qatar and were believed to be on their honeymoon when hit by the blast.

“The female has got first degree and second degree burns covering up to 40 percent of her body. And the male has got 27 percent burns,” the BBC reported the head of the ADK Hospital in Male, Ahmed Afaal, as saying.

Government spokesman Mohammad Shareef said the blast occurred inside the main gate of the park, adding: “The police told me it was some sort of homemade device.”

The government said it was too early to pin blame.

“The Maldivian authorities will pursue the culprits and attempt to bring them to justice and give them the harshest punishment within the law,” it said in a statement.

Local media said the explosion was caused by a device using a mobile phone and washing machine motor attached to a gas cylinder.

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A witness said he saw nails scattered in the park before the area was cleared by security personnel.

The park is in the shadow of the Maldives army headquarters, and surveillance cameras are trained on the area.

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More than 500,000 tourists visited the Maldives last year and the Sunni Muslim country has a reputation for tranquility. The capital has not witnessed any explosions since an attempted coup in 1988.

But the archipelago has experienced recent political unrest.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest-serving ruler, won a referendum in August to adopt a U.S.-style presidential system in a vote the opposition said was rigged.

Critics say Gayoom, in power since 1978, is dragging his feet on pledged democratizing reforms and have accused him of cracking down on dissenting views to stifle the opposition.

The 1,192-island archipelago has many luxury resorts but half its 370,000 people live in poverty.

Maldives is due to hold its first multi-party election in 2008. Gayoom’s aides have said he will run again.

Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo