, MALE, Feb 7 – The Maldives’ first democratically-elected president resigned on Tuesday after a mutiny by police described by his office as an attempted coup, capping three weeks of political upheaval in the holiday paradise.
“It will be better for the country in the current situation if I resign. I don’t want to run the country with an iron-fist. I am resigning,” President Mohamed Nasheed told a televised press conference.
His announcement came as police officers joined anti-government protests that have rocked the capital Male for the past three weeks.
Army spokesman Colonel Abdul Raheem Abdul Latheef told AFP that troops had used tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes with protestors and police who had gathered outside the military headquarters in Male.
“The sporadic clashes began after midnight and continued until 8am (0300 GMT),” Latheef said.
Police also took over the state television station and began broadcasting an opposition channel.
Opposition demands for Nasheed to step down have escalated since he ordered the arrest last month of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed on charges of misconduct and favouring opposition figures.
A statement by the government posted on the president’s website said that “the government of the Maldives together with all state institutions will work to ensure peace and stability in Male.
“The government of the Maldives calls on people to remain calm and support to stabilise the situation.”
A delegation from the UN Department of Political Affairs headed by Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco had been due to arrive on Thursday in a bid to broker a resolution to the political crisis.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem had written to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Commonwealth last month asking them to “urgently dispatch” a team of jurists.
Nasheed, a former political prisoner, was elected in 2008 when the Maldives staged its first democratic presidential election, unseating the long-serving autocratic regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The Maldives, a country of 1,192 Indian Ocean islands scattered across the equator, is famous for its upmarket holiday resorts and hotels that cater for honeymooning couples and high-end travellers.
Problems, including high youth unemployment, a widespread illegal drug use problem, an increasing rise in Islamic fundamentalism and a downturn in tourism due to the weakening global economy, have fuelled discontent against Nasheed’s rule.
As a political activist, Nasheed, who was an outspoken critic of Gayoom’s one-party rule, was at one point an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
He formed the Maldivian Democratic Party in exile but then returned home to a hero’s welcome, sweeping 54 percent of the vote in the 2008 elections whose results brought people out into the streets dancing and cheering.