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Maldives government blames opposition for protests

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Protests in paradise
  • NEW: An opposition party spokesman says youth organized the protests
  • iReports show both peaceful protests and demonstrators clashing with police
  • Demonstrators protest poor economic conditions
  • President Mohammed Nasheed promises to continue economic reforms

(CNN) -- In a statement released Monday, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed accused the nation's former leader of orchestrating sometimes-violent protests there over the last week.

But an opposition party spokesman countered the claim that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was behind the demonstrations, saying the party helped protesters when asked and has no plans to overthrow the government.

"These protests were very much spontaneous protests organized by the youth. They were a group of concerned youth who really were concerned about recent rises in prices locally of essential commodities, like bread and fuel," spokesman Mohamed Shareef said.

"As a political party, we're actually gearing toward the next scheduled election (in 2013)," he added. "We have no intention of overthrowing the government before that."

iReports received over the past week by CNN showed what appeared to be both peaceful and violent demonstrations in the capital, Male. In one iReport, demonstrators are seen clashing with police, but it was not clear what prompted the outbreak.

The capital was quiet on Sunday evening, following smaller protests on Friday and Saturday, according to a statement from presidential spokesman Mohamed Zuhair.

Demonstrators have said they are protesting economic conditions, created by reforms imposed by Nasheed, who vowed to continue with government efforts to reduce the budget deficit and balance government spending. But the government says members of Gayoom's opposition party have sparked the demonstrations for political reasons.

Some demonstrators have called for the resignation of Nasheed, who became the country's first democratically elected president in 30 years in 2008. Gayoom ruled the Maldives from 1978 to 2008.

The Maldives -- an archipelago of almost 1,200 coral islands south-southeast of India -- is a secular nation of 370,000 Muslims. But it is a favorite of well-heeled Westerners lured by its white sandy beaches. Tourism is one of the top industries of the Maldives.

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet and Elizabeth Yuan contributed to this report.