Maldives president agrees to ‘coup’ probe

New leader says he would submit to inquiry into allegations that former president was forced to resign at gunpoint.

Maldives President Mohamed Waheed

Mohamed Waheed, the president of the Maldives, has told a visiting top United States diplomat that he would be willing to co-operate with a probe into the circumstances of the transition of power, following the former president’s resignation on Tuesday.

Mohamed Nasheed, the former president, says he was forced to resign at gunpoint, and that Waheed, then his vice-president, helped the military carry out a “coup” against the government.

The former president has demanded new elections and called for mass street protests if the new government does not relent, raising the prospect of a protracted political crisis on the Indian Ocean islands.

In an effort to get a fresh assessment of the political situation on Saturday, Robert Blake, the US assistant secretary of state, met with Waheed, Nasheed and civil society representatives to gather facts about recent political developments.

He ruled out the possibility of snap elections, but promised to probe allegations regarding the possibility that a coup had taken place.

Waheed has said that his ascension to power was entirely legal, but that he would co-operate with any probe into the circumstances that led to Nasheed’s resignation.

“Members of the civil society told me that the country is not ready for early elections now because the police, election commission and judiciary are not sufficiently prepared to ensure free and fair elections,” Blake told reporters.

Nasheed defiant

Nasheed remained free on Friday despite an arrest warrant against him as diplomats, including a UN envoy, worked to forestall renewed violence.

He demanded that Waheed step down and hand power to the speaker of the parliament for two months, until a new presidential poll can be called.

Before Nasheed resigned his presidency, the next election had been scheduled for October 2013.

“Fresh elections are our bottom line and we are not relying on the international community for that, we are relying on the people of the Maldives,” Nasheed told reporters. “The medicine here is on the streets, in strength.”

But in an interview on Friday, Waheed told Al Jazeera that Nasheed’s approach could become dangerous.

“I cannot protect him if he continues to do this kind of thing,” Waheed told Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao. The new president also said that Nasheed had been acting “autocratic in so many ways”.

Security concerns

The political crisis in the country had been sparked by Nasheed’s January 16 sacking of the head of the country’s criminal court, alleging that he was not investigating corruption cases and supported the party of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

A warrant was issued on Thursday for Nasheed’s arrest, but the warrant’s charges were not made public, and the former president told reporters from his home on Thursday that he expected to be in jail by Friday.

Abdul Mannan Yusuf, a police spokesperson, told the AFP news agency that authorities would be “tactical” about when they would use the warrant.

“We can arrest him when we feel the need for it,” he said.

Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, who arrived with a delegation on Thursday night, said he was concerned about the security of the former president. 

“It is extremely important that he be treated fully within the rule of law and that his rights, like those of all Maldivians, need to be protected and respected,” said Fernandez-Taranco.

Clashes in Addu

Nasheed said on Friday that police and military were ransacking Addu atoll, a bastion of his supporters, and were dragging people out of their homes and beating those who belonged to his party, with rival party members helping to identify them.

“We are losing a country as we speak,” he said, describing the attack as retaliation. Police said his supporters razed at least 20 government buildings on Wednesday night.

The capital, Male, remained peaceful on Saturday, however. There were no signs of extra security on the streets and people went about their normal lives.

While Nasheed has repeatedly called for foreign support, no government has yet backed him.

The United States dealt him a blow on Thursday by announcing its recognition of the new regime as legitimate, but it backtracked on Friday.

“The circumstances of the transfer of power need to be clarified,” said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Regional power India has declined to intervene, calling it an “internal matter” and congratulating Waheed as the new head of state.

Commonwealth foreign ministers are also due to hold talks on the crisis in the coming days.

Video footage distributed by Nasheed’s office emerged on Friday apparently showing him pleading with security forces in vain to help quell a police mutiny and violent demonstrations on the morning of his resignation.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies