February 6, 2018 1:47 pm
Updated: February 6, 2018 2:11 pm

Canadians travelling to Maldives warned to be ‘vigilant at all times’

WATCH: Canadians urged to exercise ‘high degree of caution’ in the Maldives.

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The Canadian government has issued a travel warning for the Maldives, urging residents travelling to the popular tourist destination to “exercise a high degree of caution.”

The advisory is in line with what several other countries — such as the U.K., France and China — have told their citizens in recent days.

The Maldives government declared a 15-day state of emergency earlier this week amid political uncertainty and violent protests. Much of the unrest is concentrated in Malé, the capital of Maldives.

“Recent protests led to clashes with police in central Malé,” Global Affairs Canada spokesman Philip Hannan told Global News in an email.

“Further protests and clashes are possible and could lead to violence. Canadians travelling or living in Malé, are advised to be vigilant at all times, avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings and follow the instructions of local authorities.”

Opposition supporters protest against the government’s delay in releasing their jailed leaders on Feb. 4.

Reuters/Stringer

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The government is also urging Canadians with travel plans to Malé to contact airlines or tour operators to see whether the political situation will disrupt plans.

Global Affairs added that Canada is “concerned” about the situation in the Maldives: “Canada is closely watching the situation in the Maldives with concern. We call for respect for judicial independence, democratic institutions and for freedom of speech and assembly. Canada urges all sides to engage in inclusive dialogue and to exercise restraint.”

READ MORE: Why Canadians are being warned about visiting parts of Jamaica

The Canadian government does not have an embassy or office in the Maldives. The High Commission of Canada in Sri Lanka is responsible for the Maldives, but in case of emergency Canadians can contact sos@international.gc.ca, or find more information here. 

Here’s what to know about the situation in Maldives:

Why is there civil unrest?

The political crisis in the Maldives deepened this week after embattled President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrest of top judges and a former president.

Yameen, who came to power in 2013, has presided over an escalating crackdown on dissent that has battered the Maldives’ reputation. He has jailed almost all the political opposition.

WATCH: Maldives declares State of Emergency after alleged failed coup attempt

The Maldives was plunged into fresh chaos this week after the president refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s Thursday order to release nine dissidents and restore the seats of 12 legislators sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party.

Maldivian police stand guard on a main street during a protest by opposition supporters on Feb. 5.

Reuters/Stringer

The Supreme Court ruling gives the opposition the majority in the assembly — meaning they could potentially impeach the president.

In a stunning blow to the regime, it also paves the way for exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed — the first democratically elected leader who was controversially convicted of terrorism in 2015 — to return and run for president this year.

READ MORE: Maldives arrests ex-president for his move to arrest judge

On Monday, Yameen sent soldiers to storm the court and arrest judges, with Maldives police also detaining Yameen’s estranged half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had sided with the main opposition.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the court complex and police used pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

On Tuesday, the court revoked its order to free prisoners, but what that will do about the country’s unrest remains unclear.

Zika warning and terrorism threat

Along with civil unrest, the tourist hotspot, which saw about 1.4 million foreign visitors last year, is also under a Zika warning by Global Affairs.

Global Affairs recommends that Canadians visit a health clinic about six weeks before travel to assess the risk. It also notes that medical facilities in the Maldives are limited.

WATCH: Here’s how hard Zika virus hit Canadian tourists last year

The Canadian government’s website adds that there is also a threat of terrorism in the country, and travellers should be aware of their surroundings at all times.

— With files from AFP Forum

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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