02/15/2012, 00.00
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Islamists destroy some 30 Buddhist statues

Some of the artwork dates back to the 6th century and were part of the country's pre-Islamic past. The attackers are still at large. The incident is similar to the destruction by the Taliban in 2001 of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Fears are growing that the archipelago might see further Islamic radicalisation.

Male (AsiaNews/Agencies) - After Islamists stormed into the Maldives National Museum and destroyed almost 30 Buddhist statues on 7 February, police has not yet discovered the attackers. A six-faced tantric Buddhist statue from the 9th century and the so-called Thoddoo head, a 50cm coral stone representation of the Buddha's head found on Thoddoo Island in the 1950s dating back to the 6th century, were among the objects destroyed.

"The collection was totally, totally smashed," Ali Waheed, the director of the National Museum, said. "The whole pre-Islamic history is gone," he lamented.

In the past month, the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, has been experiencing social and political turmoil, fuelled by radical Islamist groups, which culminated in the resignation on 7 February of Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president.

The museum attack 7 is reminiscent of the Taliban's demolition of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001.

Deemed a tourist paradise, the archipelago does not tolerate freedom of religion. Sunni Islam is the state religion.

A constitutional amendment in 2008 banned non-Muslims from holding Maldivian citizenship.

Alcoholic beverages and pork products are also banned, except at the international airport and in tourist resorts not employing Maldivian citizens.

"Idols" from other religions cannot be brought into the country as well.

For some observers, the vandals who attacked the National Museum saw the Buddha artwork as idols.

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