Mass arrests after Maldives ex-president detained

Police in the Maldives said Wednesday they have arrested scores of opposition supporters protesting at the detention of former president Mohamed Nasheed before his court appearance on abuse of power charges.

After the regional powerhouse India appealed for calm on all sides, a police spokesman said 79 people had been taken into custody for causing "disturbances" during protests on the main island of Male.

The spokesman Hassan Haneef said 17 women were among those arrested on Male during protests which went on late into the night.

"There were disturbances throughout Male, but the situation is under control," Haneef told AFP.

Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, is to be taken before a magistrate later in the day on charges of abusing his authority and ordering the arrest of a judge when he was in power between 2008 and 2012.

The 45-year-old, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, says the charges are politically motivated and designed to disqualify him from contesting the September 7 presidential election.

Amnesty said the arrest of Nasheed was an example of selective justice from the Maldivian authorities and highlighted their failure to investigate other serious rights abuses in a country better known for its upmarket tourism.

"Of course political leaders, including Nasheed, should be held to account -- but the targeting of Nasheed is an example of selective justice," said Abbas Faiz, the group's Maldives researcher.

India, which moved to end a political standoff in the Maldives last month after Nasheed sought refuge at the Indian embassy in Male to avoid arrest, said it was monitoring developments closely.

"We would urge all concerned to exercise caution and restraint and not to resort to any violence or extra-constitutional means and steps which would weaken the democratic system," said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

The US embassy in neighbouring Sri Lanka said it was "increasingly concerned" about developments in the Sunni Muslim nation, which straddles strategic shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean.

Male has been racked by violence and political infighting since February 2012 when Nasheed was ousted following a mutiny by security forces and protests.

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