Police said Wednesday a mob had stormed the Maldives national museum and smashed Buddhist statues, an act of vandalism which former president Mohamed Nasheed blamed on Islamic radicals.
"A mob entered the museum yesterday (Tuesday). They smashed many statues. This included some statues of Buddha," police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam told AFP.
In an interview with AFP, Nasheed, who resigned the presidency on Tuesday, said the vandals included Islamist hardliners who had attacked the museum because they believed some of the statues inside were "idolatrous".
Islam is the official religion of the Maldives and open practice of any other religion is forbidden and liable to prosecution.
The museum in the capital Male boasts a large collection of historical artifacts, ranging from stone objects to fragments of royal antiquities from the country's Buddhist era to the rule of Islamic monarchs.
"I can tell you that the damage is very big," a museum official told AFP by telephone, asking not be named because police had requested him not to speak to the media.
"A team of police officers are here and are investigating," he added.
Police spokesman Shiyam said the building had been sealed off to allow a proper assessment of the damage.
Religious radicals, who had painted Nasheed and his administration as un-Islamic, had taken part in three weeks of anti-government protests that led to the president stepping down.
Alleging that Nasheed was under the influence of Jews and was trying to bring Christianity to the Sunni Muslim nation, they had attacked him over flights arriving with Israeli tourists and "improper" social conduct on island resorts.