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Maldivian opposition MPs arrested for drinking alcohol

Male:  Maldivian police arrested four opposition figures, including two lawmakers, on charges of consuming alcohol, which is illegal in the country for locals, the main opposition said on Friday.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the arrests were politically motivated.

The four men were being held on an island where they were said to have been drinking on Thursday night.

Among those arrested were political adviser to former president Mohamed Nasheed, Ibrahim Zaki, and his spokesman Mohamed Zuhair, as well as MDP MP and international affairs spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, the MDP said in a statement.

The fourth man was Abdulla Jabir from the Jumhooree Party, which backed the government earlier this year but now has differences with the ruling administration.

Drinking is punishable with hefty fines and lengthy jail terms in line with local regulations set by sharia law in the Maldives, a nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.

"These are politically motivated arrests," the MDP said, adding that they were aimed at mounting pressure on the opposition ahead of a confidence vote on new President Mohamed Waheed in parliament next week.

The Maldives is best known for its upmarket tourism industry but in recent years the country has been troubled by an increase in religious extremism, resulting in calls to ban spas and massage parlours from tourist resorts in the archipelago.

The country has been in political turmoil for over a year. Former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned in February after weeks of street protests against his administration.

He claimed that he was forced out in a coup that was backed by the police and the military as well as Islamic extremists.

The Maldivian government confirmed the arrests and said they were carried out after a tip-off to police.

"Police had raided Haa Dhaal atoll... on a tip-off that a group of people were using alcohol on the island," the government said, giving no further details.

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