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Nasheed was 'forced to resign at gunpoint'

He vows to come back to power; violence spreads in Maldives

Mohamed Nasheed

Violence erupted in the Maldives yesterday as supporters of the ex-president who claims he was forced out by a coup clashed with security forces in Male and stormed police stations on outlying islands.

Local officials on four atolls in the holiday paradise nation told AFP that residents overran several police stations and set fire to government buildings.

The attacks followed clashes in the capital Male where protesters, some throwing stones, fought army and police in riot gear who fired tear gas and used batons to disperse several thousand people in the city's Republic Square.

It is the worst unrest since clashes in 2003 following the death of an inmate at the hands of security forces, an event which sparked the process of democratic change on the islands in the Indian Ocean.

Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first elected president who resigned on Tuesday, told AFP he suspected new president Mohamed Waheed had known about a plot to overthrow him involving rebel army and police officers.

"I am afraid he's always entertained an idea to become the president... When the opportunity was available to him, he took it," the 44-year-old said of his former vice president -- from a different party -- who denies the allegation.

The ousted president said he was forced out of power at gunpoint and urged his successor to step down.

"Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint," Nasheed told reporters after his party meeting a day after his resignation.

"There were guns all around me and they told me they would not hesitate to use them if I did not resign," he said.

Nasheed, 44, was later injured along with other senior members of his Maldivian Democratic Party during a rally in the capital, with family members saying he was beaten by police.

After the clashes in Male, evidence emerged that unrest had spread to outlying islands of the archipelago, particularly in MDP strongholds in the north and far south.

The mayor of Addu, the country's southernmost atoll, said one police station had been stormed by protesters, an event repeated on at least three other islands where police surrendered without violence in some cases.

President Waheed, however, denied the allegation of coup and vowed to form a "multi-party" unity government.

"It is wrong to describe the events as a coup. We did not know this was going to happen. I was unprepared," he said.

The army has denied any involvement in a coup against the president, but a spokesman admitted officers had "advised" him to step down.

In his first press conference, Waheed said he would appoint a "truly multi-party cabinet" in the next few days, and claimed he was in talks with all groups including the MDP.

The weeks of protests that led to Nasheed's downfall had escalated after he ordered the army to arrest Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed on charges of misconduct and favouring opposition figures.

Opposition parties accused Nasheed of trampling over the constitution, and the demonstrations were swelled by religious conservatives who regarded his administration as un-Islamic.

Islamic activists attacked him on religious issues, including flights arriving with Israeli tourists and "improper" social conduct on island resorts.

Islam is the official religion of the Maldives and the open practice of any other religion is forbidden and liable to prosecution.

Tuesday's events marked a spectacular fall for Nasheed, who rose to power from grassroots opposition to the 30-year autocratic regime of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and was imprisoned on several occasions.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton expressed "deep concern" at developments in the Maldives, while Amnesty International urged the new regime not to persecute members of Nasheed's administration.

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