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11 December 2023

Commonwealth mission set for Male to probe crisis


The Commonwealth said Sunday it would send a ministerial mission to the Maldives to probe the ousting of president Mohamed Nasheed as fresh clashes broke out in the streets of the capital Male.

The nine-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which deals with serious violations of the 54-nation bloc's political values, took the decision after an emergency telephone conference.

"CMAG agreed to constitute a ministerial mission which will visit Maldives urgently to ascertain the facts surrounding the transfer of power, and to promote adherence to Commonwealth values and principles," the Commonwealth Secretariat said in a statement issued in London.

Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed insists he was removed in a military-backed coup and on Sunday rejected a US call for compromise and the formation of a unity government.

Nasheed told supporters overnight in the capital Male he would press for snap elections rather than recommending his party consider a coalition with his former deputy, who succeeded him.

"We want an election and we will campaign for it," Nasheed told large, cheering crowds, who later dispersed peacefully.

Nasheed said his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) did not accept the new government as legitimate.

As evening fell on Sunday hundreds of Nasheed loyalists surrounded the National Majlis, or parliament, and clashed with police as they demanded the release of an MDP legislator arrested in the southernmost atoll of Addu.

Police dressed in full riot gear used pepper-spray on protesters to lift the siege on the parliament building, where 20 MDP law makers were petitioning the authorities about the arrest of their colleagues.

Nasheed was not among the protesters outside parliament, but earlier in the day he repeated accusations that the authorities were arresting MDP supporters and people linked to his administration.

The CMAG meeting urged the Maldives to respect "the Commonwealth's fundamental political values" including the rule of law, respect for human rights and constitutional democracy, the secretariat statement said.

Recognising the "impressive gains made by the Maldives in recent years in consolidating multi-party democracy" CMAG urged a democratic resolution to the turmoil.

"CMAG stressed that the way forward must be determined by Maldivians themselves, through inclusive political dialogue in an atmosphere of non-violence, restraint and stability," the statement said.

The group's intervention came after US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs Robert Blake spoke out against snap polls, asking both sides in the Maldives to make "compromises."

The United States is backing calls from the new president, Mohamed Waheed, for a national unity government that will hold election by November 2013 when they are due.

Blake had said it was too early to hold a snap election: he wanted Maldivian institutions such as the police, the judiciary and the elections commission strengthened before the next vote.

"In a situation like this everyone must compromise," Blake told reporters on Saturday at the end of a 12-hour visit for talks with Waheed, Nasheed and other figures.

"In the days ahead, everyone should look for ways to bridge the differences."

Blake blamed both Nasheed's MDP party and the police under the new president for violence that swept across the nation of 330,000 on Wednesday.

At least 35 people were wounded in a police crackdown in Male on Wednesday, while MDP supporters in the southern islands set 18 police stations ablaze. The MDP said police were continuing to arrest their supporters.

The new government has not however carried out a warrant issued for Nasheed's arrest, following international pressure and fears such a move could spark more street protests and violence. It has also agreed to probe coup charges.

President Waheed appointed seven more cabinet members on Sunday, but kept five portfolios open in a sign of his willingness to have a national unity government.

UN special envoy Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, arrived in the Maldives on Friday and met both sides. An EU delegation is expected later Sunday.