February 10, 2012

Maldives crisis: New leader rejects snap election calls

New Maldives President Mohammed Waheed Hassan has rejected calls by his predecessor for snap elections as a way of resolving a political stand-off.

Mr Hassan told the BBC that the current environment was not conducive to hold "free and fair" elections.

Former leader Mohamed Nasheed earlier led a rally in the capital Male, three days after what he says was a coup - a claim denied by the new president.

His resignation was followed by violent protests in the Indian Ocean nation.

However, there were no reports of any violence on Friday.

UN Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco is, meanwhile, holding talks with both sides to try to find a way out of the current impasse.

So far, he has not publicly commented on the outcome of talks.

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed greets people after prayers in Male. Photo: 10 February 2012 Mohamed Nasheed got a rapturous reception from his supporters
'Show for media'
"This is not an environment in which you can have free and fair election," President Hassan told BBC Sinhala's Saroj Pathirana on Friday.

"The country is divided on political lines, the former president is still agitating and you know he is free, he can move around wherever he wants to."

Mr Hassan said the election campaign had already started for scheduled polls in 2013.

"I think what is really important now is to calm down, make things settle down. And I have to demonstrate that we uphold the constitution and the rule of law."

The new leader also said Mr Nasheed had acted "like a dictator" and was now trying to stage a "show" for international media.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Nasheed - who stepped down on Tuesday - got a rapturous reception from his supporters as he emerged from Male's main mosque after prayers, the BBC's Andrew North in the capital reports.

The supporters surged behind Mr Nasheed, as he led a rally through the narrow streets of the city, ending at his home, our correspondent says.

There he reiterated that he was no longer calling for his reinstatement as president, but wanted snap elections to resolve the stand-off.

In a BBC interview, he said the new president should hand over power to the speaker of parliament in order to hold elections within two months.

And he repeated his claim that he had been ousted in a coup and was threatened at gunpoint.

"About 18 or so military personnel came up to me and said that if I didn't resign in one hour they would resort to using arms," Mr Nasheed told the BBC.

"They gave me a piece of paper and told me to write it - I wrote it and signed it, and they took the letter."

At Friday's rally, Mr Nasheed also complained of the arrest of several members of his party on the island of Addu - about an hour's flight from Male.

Large numbers of soldiers and police with batons, helmets and tear gas canisters were deployed near the mosque in the capital.

So far, there has been no sign of the new government trying to carry out a warrant it says it has issued for Mr Nasheed's arrest.
Tourist warning
Mr Nasheed stepped down following weeks of protests over his rule.

On Wednesday, several thousand MDP supporters, led by Mr Nasheed, marched through the capital in protest at his ousting. Riot police fired tear gas and broke up the demonstration - dozens of opposition supporters were arrested and several badly beaten.

The violence spread to outlying islands, where there were reports that several police stations had been overrun by supporters of Mr Nasheed.

Tensions in the Maldives escalated in January after the government ordered the arrest of a senior judge in the Maldives criminal court.

Protests over the arrest of the judge are widely seen as having hastened the downfall of Mr Nasheed. The judge was released soon after Mr Hassan took power.

Foreign governments are advising those visiting the islands to be careful. The archipelago receives nearly a million visitors a year - but most head straight to their resorts and never reach the capital.

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