/ 13 February 2012

Maldives president welcomes coup probe

New Maldives president Mohamed Waheed has welcomed a Commonwealth mission to investigate the ousting of his predecessor after overnight clashes.

New Maldives president Mohamed Waheed on Monday welcomed a Commonwealth mission to investigate the ousting of his predecessor after overnight clashes during protests in the restive capital Male.

Waheed agreed to a Commonwealth ministerial probe into the dramatic fall of Mohamed Nasheed, the nation’s first democratically elected leader who came to power in 2008, spokesperson Masood Imad said.

“The president welcomes the Commonwealth mission,” Imad said. “Please come here and see the exact situation. We want not only the Commonwealth but others too to come and see what really happened.”

The nine-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which deals with serious violations of the 54-nation bloc’s political values, decided on the mission after an emergency telephone conference on Sunday.

The Commonwealth Secretariat said the mission would “ascertain the facts surrounding the transfer of power and to promote adherence to Commonwealth values and principles”.

Ex-president Nasheed insists he was removed in a military-backed coup following weeks of opposition protests. On Sunday, he rejected a US call for compromise and the formation of a unity government.

His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters clashed with police in the capital on Sunday night as MDP lawmakers complained that one of their colleagues had been arrested and tortured in the southernmost atoll of Addu.

An Agence France-Presse correspondent saw police use pepper spray to break up a group of about 200 people and arrest at least three demonstrators who shouted anti-government slogans.

Nasheed insists that the way out of the crisis is a quick election and he has threatened to take to the streets to protest.

“We want an election and we will campaign for it,” Nasheed told large, cheering crowds at the event that started late on Saturday and ran into the early hours of Sunday.

Tarnished image
His remarks came after US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs Robert Blake spoke out against snap polls, asking both sides in the Maldives to make “compromises”.

The US has backed the idea of a national unity government under Waheed until elections that are due by November 2013.

Waheed appointed seven more Cabinet members on Sunday but kept five portfolios open in a sign of his willingness to have a national unity government.

New Human Resources, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Mohamed Shareef warned on Monday that instability in the country was beginning to tarnish the image of the top-end holiday destination.

“It has been one drama after another in the past three months or so with street protests, the arrest of a judge and then the fall of president Nasheed,” said Shareef.

“There is a lot of negative publicity abroad and it is beginning to have an impact on tourism,” he said.

Blake blamed both Nasheed’s MDP party and the police for violence that swept across the nation of 330 000 Sunni Muslims on Wednesday and Thursday.

At least 35 people were wounded in a police crackdown in Male on Wednesday, while demonstrators on other islands set 18 police stations ablaze. The MDP said police were continuing to arrest their supporters.

Shareef, a key aide to president Waheed, said several key slots in the new cabinet were being kept open to entice MDP senior politicians to join the government and break ranks with Nasheed.

“There are ambitious people in the MDP who feel it is better to join the government rather than go back to the streets,” Shareef said.

As well as the Commonwealth delegation, diplomats from regional power India, UN special envoy Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, and an EU group are all working to help resolve the political crisis.

The new government has not carried out a warrant issued for Nasheed’s arrest, following international pressure and fears such a move could spark more street protests and violence. It has also agreed to probe coup charges. — AFP