Maldives crisis: Defiant ex-leader Nasheed leads rally

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed greets people after prayers in Male. Photo: 10 February 2012 Mohamed Nasheed got a rapturous reception from his supporters

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Defiant former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed has led a street rally in Male, three days after what he says was a coup that forced him to resign.

A crowd of several hundred people chanted "Long live Nasheed!" during the march after Friday prayers. There were no reports of violence.

New President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik denies Mr Nasheed's coup claim.

Meanwhile, a UN envoy is holding talks to try to end violent protests which followed Mr Nasheed's resignation.

UN Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco is expected to meet both rival leaders of the tiny Indian Ocean nation. He earlier urged all sides to "remain calm and prevent any type of violence".

Mr Nasheed, meanwhile, said he was bitterly disappointed by a US decision - voiced by state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland - to recognise his successor.

He said the US move could only further inflame tensions in the Maldives.

Snap election call

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

The Maldives

  • The Maldives is a chain of nearly 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean
  • Fewer than 200 of those islands are inhabited but with sandy beaches and coral, tourism is the Maldives' largest industry
  • It became a protectorate under the Dutch in the 17th Century and then the British in the 19th Century. It achieved full independence in 1965
  • President Mohamed Nasheed came to power after elections in 2008 ended 30 years of autocratic rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
  • A former political prisoner and activist, President Nasheed highlighted the threat of global warming to the low-lying islands
  • But he has faced fierce political opposition, as parliament is dominated by opposition supporters of the former president
  • Tensions escalated last month after the army arrested a senior judge the government accused of political bias, prompting street protests

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.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Nasheed told the BBC that 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 Addhu - about an hour's flight from Male.

New Maldives President Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Photo: 8 February 2012 New President Hassan says he now wants to form a coalition to restore stability

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.

New President Hassan denies the coup claims, and says his aim now is to form a coalition to help restore stability ahead of fresh presidential elections due next year.

The army also rejects Mr Nasheed's version of events.

On Wednesday, several thousand MDP supporters, led by Mr Nasheed, marched through the streets of 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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