Bomb blast wounds 12 tourists in Maldives capital

A homemade bomb exploded near a mosque in the Maldives’ capital, Male, on Saturday, wounding 12 foreign tourists, the islands’ government said.

The blast occurred at the entrance to the capital’s Sultan Park, a popular stop-off for tour groups.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rare attack on tourists in the remote Indian Ocean island chain, best known for luxury honeymoons and Hollywood star visitors.

”Twelve were injured — two British nationals, two Japanese and eight Chinese,” Tourism Minister Mahmood Shaugee told Reuters.

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

The two Britons were still receiving treatment, he said.

”They sustained significant burns but they are stable and out of danger,” he added.

Earlier, government spokesperson 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.”

In London, the British Foreign Office confirmed the explosion was caused by a bomb and two Britons were among those hurt.

”We have been informed that two Britons were injured. It was a bomb blast outside the main mosque at Male,” a spokesperson said.

The government said it was too early to pin blame and said an investigation was under way.

”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 cellphone and washing machine motor attached to a gas cylinder.

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.

Luxury resort

More than 500 000 tourists visited the Maldives last year, and the tourist industry is the linchpin of the Indian Ocean archipelago’s $1-billion economy.

The Sunni Muslim country has a reputation for tranquillity and the capital has not witnessed gunfire or explosions since an attempted coup in 1988.

But the archipelago has witnessed recent political unrest.

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

Critics say Gayoom, in power since 1978, is dragging his feet on pledged democratising 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 multiparty election in 2008. Gayoom’s aides have said he will run again. – Reuters

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