Thousands of supporters of Mohamed Nasheed, who says he was forced to resign as the president of Maldives, have taken to the streets to protest over what they are calling a coup.
Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, reporting from the capital island of Male on Wednesday, said up to 3,000 people took part in the protests in support of Nasheed and calling for his return to power.
He said police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters as they attempted to push the crowds backwards. In the hours following the protests, there were reports of Nasheed being manhandled by security forces.
Nasheed was only “lightly” injured, according to his supporters, our correspondent reported via Twitter.
Nasheed, the Indian Ocean island nation’s first democratically elected leader, stepped down on Tuesday in the wake of a police mutiny and clashes on the streets after weeks of anti-government protests.
In an interview to Al Jazeera’s Chao at his family home earlier on Wednesday, Nasheed said he was compelled to resign to prevent bloodshed.
“This is definitely a coup,” he said. “By any definition anywhere, this was a coup. This was a bloodless coup because I did not take part in it. I did not want to defend [my position]; that is why there was no blood.”
Asked why he had resigned, Nasheed said: “Because I didn’t want them to go shooting our people. They were threatening me and they were threatening the people. I didn’t want that.“
But Nasheed said he believed he still had the backing of the people and hinted he would seek office in new elections, currently scheduled for next year.
“We are certain that the people of this country are with us,” he said.
|Mohamed Nasheed speaks exclusively to Al Jazeera|
Nasheed’s home was being guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, although Mohamed Waheed, the former vice-president sworn in as Nasheed’s successor, said that was for his family’s protection.
Waheed also said he had revoked a travel ban preventing Nasheed and other officials from leaving the country.
Members of Nasheed’s Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) have already denounced Tuesday’s events, with a former presidential aide, speaking anonymously, telling Al Jazeera that he has been “profoundly shocked” by what he has witnessed.
“You call it what you want,” he said. “But when someone metaphorically and physically puts a gun at your head and tells you to resign, that’s a coup in my mind.”
For his part, Nasheed’s former foreign minister said Islamists were behind the takeover in the mostly Sunni Muslim nation of 330,000 people.
“I was with the president throughout and I knew what was going on on Tuesday. It was nothing but a coup by Islamists,” Naseem told AFP news agency.
Waheed, who denied allegations that he was involved in a plot to remove Nasheed from office, called on Wednesday for the creation of a cabinet of national unity, which aides said would include members of the MDP.
“Together, I am confident, we’ll be able to build a stable and democratic country,” he said.
Waheed said his government intended to respect the rule of law.
Nasheed replaced Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Maldives’ leader for 30 years, in elections in 2008 and quickly gained international prominence as his country’s first democratically elected leader and a campaigner for action against climate change.
|Crisis began with Nasheed’s order for a judge’s arrest|
But Gayoom and his supporters remained influential figures in Maldivian affairs, and Nasheed ran into protests after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge whom he accused of being in the pocket of Gayoom.
Opposition parties accused Nasheed of trampling over the constitution, and the demonstrations were swelled by religious conservatives critical of his government.
Describing Tuesday’s events that culminated in Nasheed’s resignation, one of his aides said a group of up to 500 protesters, including several hundred police officers first gathered outside his office at 7am local time.
There was then a “full-scale battle” between police and soldiers, the aide said.
“About an hour or two later we heard that members of the military had started to defect towards the protesters,” he said.
At 11:45am, several military vehicles arrived at Nasheed’s office, the aide said.
“There were about 60 to 70 soldiers, some with guns and some without, surrounding him. He had a brief meeting with his aides and then went into a press conference at which he announced his resignation.
“Then the military escorted him immediately to his residence and placed him under military custody.”