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Maldives issues arrest warrant for ex-President Mohamed Nasheed

It is unclear what charges the former Maldives president faces. The upheaval in the strategic Indian Ocean nation has sparked concern that China may exploit the unrest.

February 09, 2012|By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times
  • Deposed Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed attends a meeting in Male, the capital. He spent much of the day with reporters and allies at his house as supporters formed a cordon outside.
Deposed Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed attends a meeting in Male,… (Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from New Delhi — A criminal court issued an arrest warrant Thursday for deposed Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed amid fear of further violence in the Indian Ocean nation after rioting the day before. It wasn't immediately clear what the charges against him were in the confusing and fast-evolving political crisis.

Newly installed President Mohammed Waheed Hassan moved Thursday to assemble a Cabinet, naming defense and home ministers who have had differences with Nasheed.

The jockeying and political upheaval come at a sensitive time for a country that held its first democratic election four years ago. The turmoil also provides a potential opening for China, which has been angling to expand its influence on India's doorstep, given the Maldives' strategic location astride Asia's main oil shipping lanes. And a protracted crisis could threaten the idyllic archipelago's tourism industry if it starts scaring away European and American travelers.

Nasheed, 44, spent much of Thursday with reporters and allies at his house as several hundred supporters formed a cordon outside under umbrellas in the inclement weather. Local news reports said the deposed president had sent his family to Sri Lanka while he awaited arrest.

Government officials and local reporters said a warrant was also issued Thursday for former Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu.

Newly named Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said in a telephone interview that violent protests Wednesday by Nasheed supporters, which he said saw shops, courts, police stations and at least 17 police vehicles destroyed, were "clearly an act of terrorism."

Ahmed said he didn't believe the warrant for Nasheed was issued on terrorism charges but rather was related to a police investigation of the president's firing of a judge last month, which galvanized opposition to his rule.

"The situation is very tense," Ahmed said. "We're trying to restore order. In the capital the situation is under control, but in the outer islands, as with all countries, there are limited resources."

Nasheed allies counter that democracy has been subverted just as it is taking root in the Maldives. Paul Roberts, an aide to the former president, said that after seizing control with questionable tactics, the new government has subverted many branches of government and arrested elected representatives.

"It looks really bad," he said.

The United States and India announced that they are sending officials to confer and monitor the situation amid concern that the unrest could be exploited by China.

The crisis hit the international spotlight Tuesday when Nasheed announced his resignation for the good of the country. On Wednesday, the former human rights activist shifted gears, saying he had been forced to resign at gunpoint. Fresh rioting followed his statement.

Hassan has denied there was a coup and has called for a unity government.

Nasheed has told supporters and journalists that he won't seek an immediate reinstatement but believes Hassan should step down and call for elections to settle the issue democratically.

Nasheed was elected in 2008 amid great promise after three decades of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. But Nasheed ran into trouble with police and parts of the army after he dismissed the nation's top criminal court judge last month, accusing him of subverting his rule and maintaining close ties to Gayoom.

Analysts said the government may decide not to arrest Nasheed, or to at least delay his detention until things quiet down, given the protests and intense scrutiny.

Ahmed Tholal, vice president of the government's Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, said protesters arrested Wednesday after the rioting were released early Thursday. "We spoke to them and they suffered no further injury" in detention, he said, adding that commission members have received threats.

"We're calling for calm," he said. "We're very concerned about the deteriorating law-and-order situation."

Ahmed, the new home minister, opposed the call for new elections, insisting that Nasheed had resigned voluntarily and his successor was named in line with the constitution.

A lingering question is whether former leader Gayoom, said to be out of the country, played a role in the crisis. Also of concern is the effect the unrest will have on the tourism industry, which brings in nearly 30% of the nation's gross domestic product.

Officials said they hoped visitors would realize that the resorts were far from the unrest and were safe.

"I understand the fear," said Tholal. "But it looks much bigger than what's happened. Things are relatively safe."

mark.magnier@latimes.com

Tanvi Sharma of The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.

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