Maldives president blames opposition for bomb attack

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MALE, Sep 30 (Reuters) Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom today blamed opposition groups behind a tourism boycott campaign for a homemade bomb that wounded 12 foreign tourists in the remote Indian Ocean island chain yesterday.

Police have arrested seven people in connection with the blast near a mosque in the capital, Male, a rare attack on tourists, who are the linchpin of Maldives' 1 billion dollar economy.

Opposition and rights groups have called in the past for a tourism boycott to protest against Gayoom, who is Asia's longest-serving ruler and who has been accused by critics of dragging his feet on democratic reforms and of cracking down on dissent.

''The president did not name anybody in his speech at the hospital, but said people calling for a tourism boycott as the best way to target the government and destabilise the country should take responsibility,'' said Hana Aishath, a spokeswoman at the information ministry.

Tourism Minister Mahamood Shaugee said all those arrested were Maldivian nationals. He did not give more details.

The two Britons wounded in the attack, who have been named by the British Foreign Office as Christian and Jennifer Donelan, were recovering well, he said.

''They are in good spirits. I met them this evening. They said they want to come back to the Maldives again.'' Government and opposition groups have blamed each other for the bomb attack in the archipelago, best known for luxury honeymoons and Hollywood star visitors.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said the blast showed the government has failed to tackle crime.

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, in power since 1978, 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 its 370,000 people live in poverty.

Maldives is due to hold its first multi-party election in 2008.

Gayoom's aides have said he will run again.

REUTERS RS RAI2128

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