Maldives opposition calls for Indian intervention as president imposes emergency rule

MALE/COLOMBO,  (Reuters) – Maldives President Abdulla Yameen’s administration said yesterday it had put down a coup after declaring a state of emergency the day before and arresting two Supreme Court justices and opposition figures.

“We have managed to ensure the failure of the coup attempt by some people,” Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar said on state television.

While the government seemed in control on Tuesday, it was unclear whether the political crisis in the Indian Ocean island nation, best known as a luxury holiday destination, was over.

On the same day, an exiled former president urged regional power India to send an envoy backed by its military to release Maldivian political prisoners.

The Maldives plunged into crisis last week after the Supreme Court quashed terrorism convictions against nine leading opposition figures including the exiled, first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed.

Tensions came to a head when Yameen’s government rejected the ruling and on Monday imposed an emergency and then in the early hours of Tuesday morning arrested the chief justice and another judge of the court. In doing so, the government ignored calls from the United States and the international community to respect the court’s verdict.

By Tuesday evening, Yameen appeared to have gotten his way with the court when he lifted his suspension of an article of the constitution that establishes the Supreme Court as the final authority on legal matters.

That move was quickly followed by the three remaining court justices who are still free annulling the court’s decision to drop charges against the nine opposition figures, according to a statement on the court’s website.

Yameen’s office released a statement saying his government “welcomed the Supreme Court’s revision”.

Meanwhile, Nasheed, who was granted asylum by Britain after the Male government allowed him to leave jail for medical treatment abroad in 2016, sought Indian intervention to resolve the nation’s most serious political crisis in years.

“On behalf of Maldivian people we humbly request: India to send envoy, backed by its military, to release judges & pol. detainees… We request a physical presence,” Nasheed, who is currently in Colombo, Sri Lanka, said in a Twitter post.

He also urged the United States to block the financial transactions of Yameen’s government.

Since Yameen took power in 2013, his government has faced heavy criticism over the detention of opponents, political influence over the judiciary and the lack of freedom of speech.

Addressing the nation on state television, Yameen said he had acted to prevent a coup, and suggested that the judges had chosen to side with his opponents because they were being investigated for corruption.

“I declared the state of emergency because there was no way to hold these justices accountable. This is a coup. I wanted to know how well planned this coup is,” he said.

As part of the crackdown, police also detained Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the Maldives for 30 years until 2008 and now stands with the opposition.

Gayoom was detained at his residence along with his son-in-law. But Gayoom’s son Faris, who was one of the imprisoned opposition leaders whom the court ordered to be freed, was released on Tuesday, his lawyer told Reuters.

Other opponents of Yameen remained in prison.

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