crowds at gov't building in Male, Maldives_150.
(photo credit: Reuters)
MALE - Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed resigned on Tuesday after three weeks of opposition-led protests in the Indian Ocean archipelago boiled over into a police mutiny.
Nasheed handed over power to Vice-President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, saying continuing in power would result in his having to use force against his people.
"I resign because I am not a person who wishes to rule with the use of power," he said in a televised address. "I believe that if the government were to remain in power it would require the use force which would harm many citizens."
Nasheed swept to victory in 2008, pledging to bring full democracy to the luxury holiday resort nation, but drew opposition fire for his arrest of a judge he accused of being in the pocket of his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years.
Mutinying police took over the state broadcaster and issued an opposition-linked station's calls for people to come on the streets to overthrow Nasheed.
Protests began weeks ago after Nasheed ordered the military to arrest the top criminal court judge, whom he accuses of being in the pocket of Gayoom.
That set off a constitutional crisis that had Nasheed in the unaccustomed position of defending himself of acting like a dictator.
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"I resign because I believe that if the government continues to stay in power, it is very likely that we may face foreign influences," he said, without giving details.
Gayoom's opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives accused the military of firing rubber bullets at protesters and a party spokesman, Mohamed Hussain "Mundhu" Shareef, said "loads of people" were injured. He gave no specifics.
The official close to the president 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," said the official who declined to be identified.
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.
The trouble has also shown the longstanding rivalry between Gayoom and Nasheed, who was jailed for a combined six years after being arrested 27 times by Gayoom's government while agitating for democracy.
The trouble has been largely invisible to the 900,000 or so well-heeled tourists who come every year to visit desert islands swathed in aquamarine seas, ringed by white-sand beaches.
Most tourists are whisked straight to their island hideaway by seaplane or speedboat, where they are free to drink alcohol and get luxurious spa treatments, insulated from the everyday Maldives, a fully Islamic state where alcohol is outlawed and skimpy beachwear frowned upon.
Twitter user Alexander Brown said he was in the Maldives enjoying life.
"Maldives government overthrowing (sic) and im watching a Vogue photo shoot in front of me on Four Seasons ... very strange world".
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