Maldives prez forced out after police mutiny

Maldives prez forced out after police mutiny

Vice-President takes over

Maldives prez forced out after police mutiny

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed quit under pressure on Tuesday after weeks of protests triggered by a judge’s arrest saw mutinous police personnel backing opposition activists and rocking the archipelago known for its deep blue seas, turquoise reefs and white sandy beaches.

A former rights campaigner who had increasingly come under attack for arbitrary rule, Nasheed, 44, announced that he was resigning after a little over three years in power as he did not want to use force to curb escalating street protests.

India, relieved that its 30,000 citizens are safe in the Maldives, offered full support to the government of the island nation.

After the departure of the fi­rst democratically elected president in the history of the Maldives, Vice-President Moh­ammad Waheed Hassan, a former top Unicef official, took oath as president.

A tourist haven, the Maldives is made up of several atolls and lies southwest of Sri Lanka. It has a population of over 3,50,000, most of them Sunni Muslims. The main language is Dhivehi, a Sinhalese dialect.

Hussain Shareef, chief spokesperson and member of the interim council of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives , said Nasheed is in the custody of the army and will be granted constitutional rights. Nasheed was elected president on October 28, 2008, when he defeated President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who had ruled the Maldives for three decades.

Nasheed’s resignation happened only after the army applied pressure on the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)  leader, leading him in the morning to the television office to make his dramatic anno­uncement, media reports said.

“I resign because I am not a person who wishes to rule with the use of power. I believe that if the government were to remain in power, it would require the use of force which would harm many citizens,” he said in a statement broadcast on state-run television seized by rogue policemen.

“I resign because I believe that if the government continues to stay in power, it is very likely that we may face foreign influences,” he said.
Nasheed had hit the global headlines three years ago when he held a cabinet meeting under water to highlight global warming and the threat to his atoll nation.

As fast paced events unfolded at Male, the Maldivian authorities went out of their way to deny intense speculation that a coup had taken place.

The Maldivian and foreign media reported jubilation on the streets of capital Male as opposition activists celebrated.

Nasheed had run into widespread anger after senior judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) over a fortnight ago on corruption charges. The judge was reportedly confined to one of the lesser inhabited islands. The Maldives is made up of about 1,200 mostly small islands, with only 200 inhabited.

Supporters of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom control parliament and organised protests against the judge’s internment. Tension and sporadic violence had been escalating, with the ruling MDP alleging attacks on its supporters and offices by opposition activists not happy with long-time ruler Gayoom’s departure. Since Tuesday morning, there was intense speculation that Nasheed had been taken into custody. Shops and businesses in Male quickly shut down.

In the meantime, officers of the MNDF, the number ranging from 60 to 600, joined the demonstrations. Events galloped rapidly thereafter. Opposition protesters and rogue policemen then seized the Maldives National Broadcasting Corp and quickly renamed it Television Maldives, reports said.

That led a government official to say a coup attempt was under way, causing concern in many capitals, including New Delhi. The presidency denied Nasheed had resigned, until the president actually stepped down. The opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP)  told Sri Lanka’s “Sunday Leader” that most police and army personnel were backing Nasheed’s removal. DQP spokesperson Mohamad Malech Jamal said there were now celebrations in Male and the airport and the state broadcaster were under the control of the police and army.

“About 800 police officers gathered at Republic Square. Several of them called for the president’s resignation,” Jamal was quoted as saying.
The Maldivian government appealed for calm.

“The government of the Maldives together with all state institutions will work to ensure peace and stability in Male,” a statement said. “The Government calls on people to remain calm and support to stabilise the situation,” it added.
New Delhi said it was closely monitoring the situation.