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Maldives welcomes Commonwealth 'coup' probe


New Maldives president Mohamed Waheed Monday welcomed a Commonwealth mission to investigate the ousting of his predecessor after overnight clashes in the capital Male.

Waheed agreed to the Commonwealth probe into the dramatic fall of Mohamed Nasheed, the Muslim nation's first democratically elected leader who came to power in 2008, spokesman Masood Imad said.

"The president welcomes the Commonwealth mission," Imad told AFP. "Please come here and see the exact situation. We want not only the Commonwealth, but others too to come and see what really happened."

A top UN official said earlier that all sides should act with restraint, agree to a unity government and probe the events that led to the fall of Nasheed's administration and the wave of violence since then.

UN Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco wrapped up a four-day visit Monday saying there should be space for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

"I call upon all parties to ensure that no incitements to violence and acts of violence occur," Fernandez-Taranco said.

"The Maldives cannot afford a descent into violence and protracted instability that would jeopardise the progress achieved by the country since 2008."

The nine-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which deals with violations of the 54-nation bloc's political values, decided to send a mission to the country after an emergency tele-conference on Sunday.

The Commonwealth Secretariat said the mission would "ascertain the facts surrounding the transfer of power" in the Maldives, a chain of nearly 1,200 islands off southern India that is a favourite luxury holiday destination.

Ex-president Nasheed insists he was removed in a military-backed coup following weeks of opposition protests. On Sunday, he rejected a US call for compromise and the formation of a unity government.

His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters clashed with police in the capital on Sunday night as MDP lawmakers complained that one of their colleagues had been arrested and tortured in the southernmost atoll of Addu.

An AFP correspondent saw police use pepper spray to break up a group of about 200 people and arrest at least three demonstrators who shouted anti-government slogans.

Nasheed insists the way out of the crisis is a quick election and he has threatened to take to the streets to protest.

The US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs Robert Blake who spoke out against snap polls, has asked both sides in the Maldives to make "compromises".

The United States has backed the idea of a national unity government under President Waheed until elections that are due by November 2013.

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

New Human Resources, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Mohamed Shareef warned on Monday that instability in the country was beginning to tarnish its image as a high-end vacation spot.

"It has been one drama after another in the past three months or so with street protests, the arrest of a judge and then the fall of president Nasheed," said Shareef.

"There is a lot of negative publicity abroad and it is beginning to have an impact on tourism," he said.