April 20, 2016 / 9:18 PM / 3 years ago

Under-pressure Maldives to let jailed opposition leaders attend talks

(Reuters) - The Maldives government has said it would allow jailed leaders of rival parties to take part in talks on resolving the country’s political crisis.

Abdulla Yameen takes his oath as the President of Maldives during a swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Male November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Waheed Mohamed

Best known as an exotic tourist destination, the Indian Ocean island nation has been mired in political unrest since its first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, was ousted in February 2012.

The concession was announced on Wednesday, four days after President Abdulla Yameen’s administration started talks with a U.N. delegation amid international pressure for reform.

The administration has jailed opposition leaders including Nasheed and members of Yameen’s party, including the vice president, on various charges.

Opposition parties have demanded the release of all political detainees and allow parties to choose representatives at the talks.

“Those serving sentences won’t be released. Arrangements will be made so that they can actively contribute to the party talks,” said government spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab.

He gave no date for the talks but said the government was committed to holding them.

Nasheed was arrested and sentenced in March last year to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges for ordering the abduction of a judge, following a rapid trial that drew international condemnation.

He is now in London for medical treatment.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), in a statement on Thursday, underscored the importance of Yameen’s government facilitating the prompt release from detention of political leaders “in order to help restore confidence in the overall political environment in Maldives”.

A spokesman for Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said the party appreciated the group’s “call for clear, measurable progress and calls upon the government to release political prisoners”.

Yameen’s government is also criticized for detaining 18 journalists who this month protested against a proposed defamation bill citing it aimed at suppressing freedom of expression and speech of the general public.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; editing by John Stonestreet

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