By Mohamed Junayd
MALE (Reuters) - Police in Maldives arrested at least 139 opposition protesters, its spokesman said on Saturday, as they attempted to defy orders under the state of emergency and march into the high security zone in capital Male.
Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has extended the state of emergency for 30 days through March 22 after declaring it on Feb. 5 following an order by the Supreme Court for nine opposition leaders to be released.
The protesters are calling for the arrest of Yameen and for the Supreme Court ruling, which the president has defied, to be enforced.
Police spokesman Ahmed Shifan told Reuters that 141 people were arrested in protests late on Friday, though two men were subsequently released.
Witnesses said masked special operations policemen arrested several protesters, while riot police charged with shields and used pepper spray and tear gas to break up the protests.
The arrest came after authorities warned last week that the protests would not be allowed, saying that police had received word that there was an attempt to violently overthrow the government and create unrest.
Rights group Amnesty International said, Maldivian authorities are using the state of emergency as a licence for heightened repression and the 139 people have been detained "solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly".
"They must be released immediately and unconditionally,” Omar Waraich, Amnesty's deputy South Asia director said in a statement.
Police accused a protester of fracturing an officer’s arm in a tweet and said: "A policemen is injured after being attacked by a protester. The policemen has a fracture in his hand."
The government has said that there were no plans to extend the state of emergency after it expires on March 22.
(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Richard Balmforth)