Maldives crisis: Nasheed urges President Waheed to quit

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Charles Haviland reports

Maldives candidate Mohamed Nasheed has urged President Mohamed Waheed to step down, a day after police stopped the latest attempt to hold an election.

Mr Nasheed was the clear frontrunner in last month's vote but he did not get an outright majority and the election was later annulled by the Supreme Court.

He has called for another election to take place under a caretaker leader.

Mr Nasheed is pushing for a second spell as president 18 months after he was forced to resign.

"We believe that the only prudent way forward and the solution is for Waheed to resign and the speaker of parliament to take over the government until elections are over," Mr Nasheed said on Sunday.

He accused the current leader of trying to obstruct the elections "to take this country into a constitutional void and then capture power".

Last month, he gained 45% of votes in a first-round election that was annulled because the electoral lists included made-up names and dead people .

On Saturday police prevented ballot papers from being sent out because two candidates had failed to approve the registry of voters.

The electoral commission said the police had exceeded their mandate.

'Threat to democracy'

Image source, AP
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Mohamed Nasheed (L) was first elected president in 2008

Mr Nasheed has been heading peaceful protests in the capital, Male. His supporters blocked a main road, drinking tea and eating snacks in a display of civil disobedience.

The current president, who had already pulled out of the leadership race after performing badly in the annulled first round, has proposed that the re-run vote be held on 26 October.

"I hope that over that week, any outstanding problems will be ironed out," Mr Waheed told the Associated Press, saying he wanted to ensure a new president was installed before the end of his term on 11 November.

The two remaining presidential candidates - Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen - have been fighting for the re-run not to take place.

On Friday, they had sought an injunction against the election at the Supreme Court.

Image source, Reuters
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The Maldives has seen months of political unrest

They complained that they had not had time to endorse the registry of voters, a newly introduced requirement.

The court did not issue an injunction nor did it give a clear instruction for the election to go ahead.

On Saturday, electoral commission head Fuwad Thowfeek said police had entered his offices and were stopped officials from distributing election materials.

Police spokesman Abdulla Nawaz said the election was stopped because the commission did not comply with a court order to have the voters' list endorsed by all candidates.

But Mr Thowfeek accused them of exceeding their mandate.

The cancellation caused alarm among the country's international partners.

India's foreign ministry said it was "seriously concerned at attempts to stall the democratic process", while a US embassy official in Sri Lanka said the delay "represents a real threat to democracy in the Maldives".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "deeply dismayed" and called for the democratic process to be allowed to proceed.

Commonwealth observers in the country also issued an angry statement denying suggestions by the police that they had sought Commonwealth advice before stopping the election.