Protests in Maldives over election cancellation

Male, Sep 27 (IANS) The Maldives capital was tense Friday as thousands of people gathered in front of the Supreme Court demanding that postponed presidential election be held as scheduled Saturday.

The Supreme Court Monday indefinitely postponed a second round vote that would have decided Maldives' next president.

The delay was triggered by a case lodged by tycoon Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoory Party (JP) who alleged that the first round of voting Sep 7 should be cancelled because of large-scale vote rigging.

Nearly 2,000 supporters, together with ousted president Mohammad Nasheed, filled the street leading to the Supreme Court but was stopped metres from their destination by about 150 riot police and army, Xinhua reported.

Protesters waving yellow flags and shouting slogans of "Push ahead" and "We want elections now" to the tune of blaring music reached the police cordon but were unable to push through.

Frontline protesters were also pepper sprayed by the police but it was unclear whether Nasheed was in that crowd.

Sporadic scuffles broke out between police and protesters with at least six people being dragged off to the police station by officers.

Steel barricades were also used to bar entry to the Supreme Court perimeter as traffic came to a standstill.

Media rushed to the scene with local TV stations providing live coverage of the protest.

The public were also out in force to view the protest with many of them clambering onto balconies of nearby apartment buildings to video-record the standoff on phones and tabs.

Police funnelled tourists away from the tensed area ensuring that they remained well away from the protesters.

"This is an injustice. We want the Supreme Court to let elections be held as previously scheduled. There is no proof of vote rigging in the first round," Hilmy Rheema, a Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) supporter in a yellow t-shirt told Xinhua.

Scattered protests have been staged around Male this week by Nasheed's supporters after the Supreme Court Monday indefinitely postponed the second round of voting in the presidential elections.

The Supreme Court Thursday ordered the police to arrest anyone attempting to hold elections Saturday in defiance of the previous order.

The call came after the Elections Commissioner told the media he would attempt to hold the vote.

Nasheed, the first democratically elected president in the Indian Ocean group of islands, obtained 45.45 percent of the vote to win the first round of voting.

However, he failed to get a crucial 50 percent mandate that would have negated the need for a second round.

Nasheed's party has pledged continuous protests till a date for the elections is announced and has insisted the first round of voting was free and fair.

He was to have faced a run-off against former president Abdul Gayoom's half-brother MP Abdulla Yamin.

Yamin managed to poll some 3,000 votes more than Ibrahim winning by a whisker and has since them joined JP asking the Supreme Court to postpone elections by one month.

The Commonwealth, the U.S., European Union, United Nations, India and Australia have called for swift resumption of polls and have warned of an outbreak of violence if delays continue.

However, incumbent President Mohamad Waheed has condemned the criticism from the international community.

"Irresponsible statements by foreign governments and international organizations would not be helpful in consolidating democracy in the country," President Waheed said in a statement Wednesday.

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