Ex-Maldivian president takes refuge in Indian mission

Male, Feb 13 (IANS) The political crisis in the Maldives took a dramatic twist when former president Mohamed Nasheed, ousted a year ago amid street violence, Wednesday took refuge in the Indian High Commission here.

The 45-year-old opposition leader belonging to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) entered the Indian mission after a court ordered his arrest in connection with a case of illegal detention when he was the president.

As security forces massed outside the Indian High Commission and tension gripped Male, India voiced concern over the "political instability" in the Maldives and said it was in touch with Maldivian authorities.

Nasheed, a candidate in this year's Sep 7 presidential polls, made the dramatic move after a local court issued an arrest warrant after he failed to attend a trial hearing Feb 10.

He was on a visit to India and arrived in Male Feb 11.

New Delhi urged the Maldivian government and political parties "to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections".

The former president tweeted: "Mindful of my own security and stability in the Indian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the Indian High Commission."

The Indian external affairs ministry said: "As a close and friendly neighbour, India has expressed concern over the ongoing political instability in (the) Maldives and called upon the government and all political parties to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections."

India said preventing (Nasheed's) participation in the elections "would call into question the integrity of the electoral process, perpetuating the current political instability in (the) Maldives.

"This is not in the interest of (the) Maldives or the region.

"India would call upon the government and all political parties in Maldives to avoid any actions that would vitiate the political atmosphere in the Maldives," the ministry said.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdhul Gafoor told IANS over telephone from Male: "There is no point of his (Nasheed) being there (at the Indian mission)." He said there would be "no effort to take him out".

He said the situation in his atoll nation was "calm and stable" and "under control".

The Maldives is known for its deep blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches and palm trees. It comprises 1,190 islands - of which about 200 are inhabited - and has a population of 350,000.

Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan succeeded Nasheed after the latter resigned Feb 7 last year followed by what he alleged was a coup.

Nasheed claimed he was forced to quit at gunpoint and urged the international community, particularly India, to help restore "democracy" in his country.

Nasheed's political party has condemned the arrest warrant issued against him and called the charges politically motivated.

Gafoor argued that the Maldivian judiciary was independent and even lenient towards Nasheed by allowing him to travel abroad despite grave charges against him. He asked Nasheed to face the court.

There had been widespread violence before and after Nasheed stepped down as the president in February last year.

A large number of Nasheed supporters gathered in Male on hearing that he had taken shelter in the Indian mission, said sun.mv, an online news portal in the Maldives.

"The MDP calls on the international community to remain vigilant and immediately intervene to ensure a free and fair trial for Nasheed," his MDP party said.

Nasheed hit the world headlines four years ago when he held a cabinet meet under water to highlight global warming and the threat to his country.

He and his ministers were in full scuba gear as they met for about 30 minutes at a depth of six metres just north of the capital Male in 2009.

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