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01 December 2023

I was 'ousted at gunpoint': Maldives leader

Teargas clouds are seen during a clash between Maldives soldiers and supporters of opposition parties and police in Male on Tuesday. (Reuters)

By Reuters

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

Police tried to break up the protests with tear gas and baton charges as former president Mohamed Nasheed's party said he too was "beaten" by police.

The Maldives on Tuesday installed Vice-President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik as president who promptly denied being part of any coup against Nasheed after weeks of opposition protests and a mutiny by police.

"Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint," Nasheed told reporters after his party meeting a day after his resignation. "There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn't hesitate to use them if I didn't resign."

He did not elaborate on who held him at gunpoint, but one of his aides told Reuters he had been hustled out by the military.

"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," he said.

In his first comments since his televised resignation, he urged Waheed to step down and said he and his supporters would take to the streets "if police use force".

Hundreds of supporters protested in the evening, prompting police to fire tear gas and make baton charges in Republic Square, near the police and military headquarters.

Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party said the former president had been beaten and appealed for international help.

"We strongly condemned the violent attack by the Maldivian Police Service on President Nasheed and senior officials of the MDP," the party said in a statement. "President Nasheed is being beaten up as of now in an ongoing peaceful protest."

On the streets leading out of Republic Square, dozens of flip-flop slippers favoured by Maldivians lay abandoned or broken after protesters fled.

Waheed earlier said he was holding discussions with all Maldivian parties and expected to have nominations for his cabinet ready in a few days.

"Do I look like someone who will bring about a coup d'etat?" Waheed asked. "There was no plan. I was not prepared at all."

The political tumult, like most of everday Maldivian life, was far from the tourists who stream to the chain of islands, seeking sun-and-sand paradise at luxury resorts that can command $1,000 a night.

Nasheed's order to the military to arrest a judge, whom he accused of blocking multi-million dollar corruption cases against members of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's government, set off three weeks of opposition protests that peaked with Tuesday's police revolt.

Opposition parties found common ground against Nasheed amid the constitutional crisis and protests, and had begun adopting hardline rhetoric to criticise his Islamic credentials. The country is wholly Sunni Muslim.

In the end, the military marched him into his own office to order his own resignation, a close aide told Reuters in the first witness account of Nasheed's exit.

"The gates of the president's office swung open and in came these unmarked vehicles we've never seen before and Nasheed came out with around 50 soldiers around him, and senior military men we'd never seen before," said Paul Roberts, Nasheed's communications adviser.

Nasheed was brought to his office, met his cabinet, and then went on television to announce his resignation, Roberts said from an undisclosed location.

"He was forced to resign by the military," said Roberts, a 32-year old British citizen. "He could have gone down shooting, but he didn't want blood on his hands. The security forces moved against him."