COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The Maldives' national museum reopened Tuesday without some of its most valuable exhibits a week after a mob of suspected religious extremists smashed images from the pre-Islamic era of this Indian Ocean archipelago.
About 35 exhibits — mostly images of Buddha and Hindu gods — were destroyed in the attack. Some of the artifacts dated back to the sixth century, museum director Ali Waheed said.
Waheed says 99 percent of the Maldives' pre-Islamic artifacts from before the 12th century, when most inhabitants were Buddhists or Hindus, were destroyed.
"Some of the pieces can be put together but mostly they are made of sandstone, coral and limestone, and they are reduced to powder," he said.
The mob of suspected Muslim extremists attacked the museum during the Maldives' unfolding political crisis. The country has seen weeks of protests and last week President Mohamed Nasheed stepped down. He later said he was forced to resign at gunpoint.
The attack was the latest blow to the island nation that is best known as a high-end tourist destination.
"We are very sad. This is the physical and archaeological evidence of the country, we have nothing to show (of the pre-Islamic history)," Waheed said.
The items had been preserved since the museum opened in 1952. Waheed said the the attackers did not understand that the museum exhibits were not promoting other religions in this Muslim country.
Practicing or preaching any religion other than Islam is prohibited by the Maldives constitution, and there have been increasing demands for conservative Muslim policies to be implemented.
Last year, a mob destroyed a monument given by Pakistan marking a South Asian summit with an engraved image of the Buddha in it. Pakistan is an Islamic republic that also has a Buddhist history.
There have been strong objections to former president Nasheed's ties with Israel and selling alcohol outside tourist resorts.
But Maldives' new President Mohammed Waheed Hassan rejected claims of rising Muslim extremism in the country.
"I don't tolerate it and it is not acceptable at all," he told reporters last week after the museum attack. "I can assure you there is no extremist violent action in this country."
Police spokesman Ahmed Shyam said investigations are ongoing into the museum attack, but no one has been arrested.
- Mohammed Waheed Hassan
- The Maldives