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22 April 2024

Change of govt in Maldives was no coup: New President

By Reuters

The ousted president of the Maldives, credited with bringing democracy to the Indian Ocean islands, said on Wednesday he had been forced out of power at gunpoint, prompting clashes between police and angry supporters.

Mohamed Nasheed, who in 2008 became the first democratically elected president of the 1,200-island archipelago best known for luxury tourism, resigned on Tuesday after three weeks of opposition protests culminated in a police revolt.

Just a day after he stepped down, it was as if Nasheed had stepped back in time: riot police and soldiers launched tear gas grenades and beat him and other supporters, a scene played out scores of times under the 30-year rule of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whom he succeeded.

Witnesses said around 40 or 50 people including Nasheed had been injured, some severely. Police and soldiers surrounded the main hospital and kept journalists out of Republic Square, the site of the protest on Male's northern seafront.

"I was quite close to him when they began to charge. He had some cuts and bruises but he was beaten quite badly," a cousin of Nasheed, who asked not be identified, told Reuters.

Adam Manik, a senior official in Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said the former leader was in a safe house. The party in a statement appealed for international help, and Nasheed blamed his old rival Gayoom for the crisis.



Waheed, who runs a small party, said he expected to form a cabinet in a few days, and had invited all parties to join a national unity government that would rule until presidential elections in October 2013.

Nasheed's party refused, and he urged Waheed to step down.

"I call on the chief justice to look into the matter of who was behind this coup. We will try our best to bring back the lawful government," Nasheed told a gathering of the MDP party faithful in a conference call on Wednesday.

As soon as the meeting broke, Nasheed led thousands of supporters across the capital to Republic Square, scene of many of the Maldives' political turning points including the police mutiny on Tuesday.

There, police and soldiers in riot gear began firing tear gas and charged protesters with batons, beating some and hauling away others. The Maldivian police, on state TV, termed the march and ensuing protest "an act of terrorism".

There were unconfirmed reports that Nasheed supporters attacked two police stations on the second-largest atoll, Addu.

Several ambulances raced away from the scene and dozens of sandals lay strewn and broken across the pavement, abandoned as people took flight from the police charges.

The political tumult was far from the tourists who stream to the chain of desert islands, seeking sun and sand at luxury resorts that can cost $1,000 (Dh3.67) a night.

Nonetheless, the British government advised its citizens against travel to Male.