The president of the Maldives has resigned, after clashes in the capital, Male, between soldiers and police who sided with anti-government protesters.
Mohamed Nasheed confirmed his resignation on Tuesday in a nationwide broadcast after police defied orders to break up demonstrations and seized control of the state television station.
“I believe if I continue as the President of the Maldives, the people of the country would suffer more. I therefore have resigned as the President of Maldives,” Nasheed said.
“I wish the Maldives would have a consolidated democracy. I wish for justice to be established. My wish is for the progress and prosperity of the people,” he said.
Mohamed Waheed, Nasheed's vice president, was sworn in as the country's interim leader soon after.
A statement issued by the president's office earlier on Tuesday called for people to remain calm.
"The government of Maldives together with all state institutions will work to ensure peace and stability in Male," it said.
"Government of Maldives calls to people to remain calm and support to stabilise the situation."
Colonel Abdul Raheem Abdul Latheef, a military spokesperson, told reporters that the president was safe in his residence when he chose to step down, and he made the choice on his own free will.
"It is not a coup. Definitely not a coup," Latheef said. "The military advised the president to resign today. It was his initiative."
But an official with Nasheed contradicted the statement. "This is a military and police coup. Make no mistake about it," said the unnamed official.
He added that he believed that Waheed, the new interim president, was working with opposition members to orchestrate the "coup".
Dunya Maumoon, a member of the opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives and the daughter of the islands' long-time leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, told Al Jazeera that Nasheed was under "military protection".
"The opposition parties have all aligned themselves together. We have been demonstrating on the streets for the last 28 days," said Maumoon.
"As the Progressive Party of the Maldives, we welcome his resignation, as we believe this will be in the best interest of the country.... generally, the situation in the country has deteriorated since he came to power in 2008."
Maumoon said a new coalition government would probably be formed, with elections due to be held in 2013.
Nasheed's resignation comes after weeks of street protests by opposition supporters after Nasheed ordered the military to arrest the country's top judge, whom he accused of being in the pocket of Gayoom, the country's former president.
The nation of the Maldives is a grouping of 1,192 islands covering about 500 miles of the Indian Ocean, south of India. Fewer than 200 of the islands are inhabited.
330,000 people are citizens, including 200,000 on the capital island of Male alone.
The Maldives gained independence from Britain in 1965.
Most of the population is Muslim, which has greatly influenced the political system.
Tourism is the largest industry, accounting for a third of GDP and more than 60 per cent of foreign currency earnings.
GDP in 2009 was $1.47bn. GDP per capita was $2,791.80.
Nasheed was widely credited with ushering in democracy when he won an election victory in 2008 to end Gayroom's 30-year rule.
Police on Tuesday defied orders to break up protests and began broadcasting an opposition-linked television station's calls for people to come on to the streets to overthrow the president, witnesses said.
A witness earlier said he had seen soldiers launch tear gas grenades at a crowd of about 500 people, including several dozen police officers in uniform, who were trying to smash their way into the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) headquarters, Reuters reported.
Gayroom's Progressive Party of the Maldives accused the military of firing rubber bullets at protesters and spokesperson Mohamed Hussain "Mundhu" Shareef said "loads of people" were injured, without giving any specific details.
Presidential spokesperson Paul Roberts denied the government had used rubber bullets, but confirmed that about three dozen police officers defied orders overnight and smashed up the main rallying point of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.
"This follows Gayoom's party calling for the overthrow of the Maldives' first democratically elected government and for citizens to launch jihad against the president," Roberts said.
The protests, and the scramble for position ahead of next year's presidential election, have seen parties adopting hardline Islamist rhetoric and accusing Nasheed of being anti-Islamic.
They have reignited a longstanding and bitter rivalry between Gayoomn and Nasheed, who was jailed for a combined six years after being arrested 27 times under Gayoom's rule while agitating for democracy.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies