MALE, Maldives — The thugs came just as the protest here in the capital was about to start. Nearly a dozen men on motorcycles drove into the crowd, forcing some people to jump to safety.
Later, the attackers sprayed gasoline on the marchers who had come out on a recent evening to demand that the former president be freed from prison. Nearby police officers did nothing because, according to independent analysts, diplomats and opposition politicians, the gang members — responsible for a growing number of murders and knife attacks — are in the pay of the Maldivian government.
Even Home Minister Umar Naseer said the growing role of criminal gangs in politics was deeply worrisome.
“I will not say conclusively that the government is involved,” said Mr. Naseer, who was expelled from the governing party after publicly linking it with gangs and drug lords. “But I think the government can take and must take action.”
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Ex-President’s Party Concedes Defeat in Maldives Parliamentary ElectionsMARCH 24, 2014
The scene this month at a polling place in the Maldives, where courts interfered in the election.
Memo From South Asia: A Region Totters Toward Democracy, Gathering Momentum NOV. 27, 2013
The Maldives is a country of about 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean whose economy is chiefly dependent on tourism and whose faltering transition to democracy, begun in 2008, appears increasingly at risk. The United States, Canada, India, Britain, and a host of international governmental and human rights organizations have issued statements in recent weeks expressing concerns after what many see as the politically motivated imprisonment of the still-popular former president.