Maldives arrest 10 in bombing probe

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Male, Oct 1 (Reuters) Maldives police have arrested 10 people, including two Bangladeshi nationals, in connection with a bomb explosion that wounded 12 foreign tourists in the remote Indian Ocean island chain, a government minister said today.

Seven people were arrested yesterday, a day after the homemade device went off near a mosque in the Maldives' capital, Male.

''In total police have arrested 10 suspects,'' said Tourism Minister Mahamood Shaugee, adding that two of the arrested were Bangladeshi nationals.

Shaugee said many Bangladeshi nationals work in the Maldives, but he gave no details of those detained.

The United States said a regional representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation was helping Maldivian authorities in the bomb inquiry.

''We condemn without reservation this senseless act of violence,'' the US embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

Attacks on tourists, the linchpin of the Maldives' 700 million dollars economy, are rare.

However, opposition and rights groups have in the past called for a tourism boycott to protest against long-serving President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has been accused by critics of dragging his feet on democratic reforms and of cracking down on dissent.

Two Britons wounded in the attack, who were named by the British Foreign Office as Christian and Jennifer Donelan, were recovering well and arrangements were underway to repatriate them for further treatment, the tourism minister said.

Government and opposition groups have blamed each other for the bomb attack in the archipelago, best known for luxury honeymoon resorts and Hollywood star visitors.

More than 500,000 tourists visited the Maldives last year and the Sunni Muslim country has a reputation for tranquillity.

The capital has not witnessed any explosions since an attempted coup in 1988.

Gayoom yesterday blamed opposition groups for the weekend attack. In power since 1978, the president won a referendum in August to adopt a US-style presidential system in a vote the opposition said was rigged.

The 1,192-island archipelago has many luxury resorts but half of its 370,000 people live in poverty.

The Maldives is due to hold its first multi-party election in 2008. Gayoom's aides have said he will run again.

REUTERS SKB HS1655

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