Riots and muggings reflect the political dissatisfaction of the island's youth Until it was rocked by widespread rioting and arson a week ago, mugging was perceived as the biggest law-and-order problem in Male, the placid capital of the Maldives. When the number of knifepoint street robberies surpassed four this month, newspapers published dire warnings of 'a spate of muggings' overwhelming the 1.77sqkm capital. But if the handful of muggings were a threat to the normal tranquility of this sleepy, sun-kissed capital, they were also an indication of the deep social divisions and political unrest simmering in paradise. All those arrested for the Male muggings were teenagers aged between 16 and 18. They were not much younger than the hundreds of men who attacked and burned several government buildings a week ago after news of the death of inmates in an island prison reached Male. The riots were the first civil disturbances in the young nation's history. Despite economic prosperity - the 270,101 citizens of the Maldives have a per capita income of US$2,280 - young people feel angry and alienated under the repressive rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who, at 66, has the distinction of being one of the world's longest-serving rulers. Yet, despite the unprecedented violence and charges of endemic human rights violations from Amnesty International, Mr Gayoom last week got the 50-member majlis, or parliament, to unanimously 're-elect' him for a sixth term. A nationwide referendum seeking approval for this decision will now be held on October 17, with the authoritarian president, in power since 1978, expected to record a landslide 'yes' vote. But it is not as if the wily Mr Gayoom is completely insulated from the political realities of his remote republic. Following the jail riots, he transferred his police chief, ordered the arrest of 11 prison officials, promised prison reforms, and flew the seriously injured to Sri Lanka for treatment at one of Colombo's best hospitals. He also phoned his condolences to the families of all the four men who died in the jail riots. Although there were no deaths in the Male street riots, Mr Gayoom's reaction to the upsurge - which he condemned as the handiwork of 'criminals' - has been less-than-understanding, as he saw it as a direct challenge to his authority. Messages posted on websites indicate that Mr Gayoom's dreaded National Security Service (NSS), which performs the role of the police, the armed forces and intelligence, is up to its old ways. 'My friends and I have seen many people being hauled off the streets in Male by the government's security forces, being dragged out of shops and homes,' a 'Rosa' said, writing to the BBC's website. 'We have heard that people have been taken away in the middle of the night, nobody knows where to or under what charge. 'I have also seen many young people being arrested, not hardened criminals as the government claims. Everyone here is very scared of possible government reprisals,' she said. It was not always like this in the palm-fringed tourist haven. Indian intelligence analyst B. Raman said: 'In the initial years of his rule, Mr Gayoom was viewed by his people as a benevolent ruler who modernised the administration and developed the tourist infrastructure. 'But in recent years, people's perception of his rule has changed to the negative.'