Pressure builds for probe into Maldives' crisis

MALE Sat Feb 11, 2012 1:18pm EST

Maldives' newly appointed President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik speaks during a news conference at the president office in Male February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Maldives' newly appointed President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik speaks during a news conference at the president office in Male February 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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MALE (Reuters) - New Maldives President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik said on Saturday he was open to an inquiry into how he took office after his predecessor said he had been forced out in a coup.

Diplomats from the United States, Britain, India, the United Nations and the Commonwealth have been pressing for an independent inquiry after President Mohamed Nasheed quit office on Tuesday.

"I have heard calls for an independent inquiry into the events that preceded my assumption of the presidency," said Waheed, who met U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake on Saturday. "I am open to those suggestions," he told reporters.

Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Indian Ocean archipelago and tourist haven, says he was forced out at gunpoint by mutinying police and soldiers. Waheed, his former deputy, says Nasheed resigned freely.

On Friday Nasheed threatened mass street protests unless his successor stepped aside and handed power to the parliament speaker until new elections are held in two months. The next elections are due in October 2013.

But Blake, after talks with the current and former presidents, said many people he met felt immediate elections were not feasible "because the police, the election commission and judiciary are not sufficiently prepared for a free and fair election."

Whether Nasheed's exit was the result of a coup or a voluntary departure needed to be investigated, he said.

"The circumstances of the transfer of power remain very much up for debate but it's up to Maldivians to decide," said Blake, who was ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives when the October 2008 elections that brought Nasheed to power took place.

Nasheed remains free despite an arrest warrant against him, issued, he says, by the same judge he ordered the military to arrest on the grounds he was illegally blocking multi-million dollar graft cases.

The judge's January 16 arrest sparked three weeks of protests which culminated in Tuesday's mutiny of police and soldiers.

CALM RETURNS TO ADDU

Maldives, a chain of 1,192 islands, is home to around 330,000 Sunni Muslims, and annually receives about three times as many visitors to its luxury resorts.

On Addu atoll, a southern island chain with 30,000 people, calm appeared to have returned after police retaliated against Nasheed supporters who rampaged and destroyed police stations and other government buildings.

Five people Reuters spoke to reported being assaulted by police and soldiers, and being detained for a few hours. Most bore bruises and visible signs of assault.

"My face was pushed into the ground, they walked on my back, pulled me up and I put my hands up and they began to beat me. They handcuffed me and squeezed, and then forced my eyes open and pepper-sprayed me," said Muaz Haleem, a Nasheed supporter.

Haleem, who lives on Hithadoo island in Addu, had bruises on his wrists and forearms, and swollen marks on his head. Police have denied attacking citizens, saying they only arrested people responsible for the destruction.

The rampage was sparked by a false report of Nasheed's death, according to people in Addu, home to a former British air base and a stronghold of Nasheed's party.

Across Addu, the police and military presence was subdued, and around 100 people carrying placards supporting President Waheed protested against what they said was the lack of safety caused by Nasheed supporters.

(Additional reporting by J.J. Robinson in Male and Eleanor Johnstone in Addu; editing by Myra MacDonald)

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Comments (2)
anonymot wrote:
At last! Now there’s a possibility that America might invade a country it could beat since I understand the Maldives has no army. But they do have a myriad of islands and it would probably take tens of thousands of men and specialized equipment to control them all. Oh, what a delight. Finally. Let’s get everyone out of Afghanistan and onto the beaches. Could this replace the Iranian problem. Could we move Israel to the Maldives?

Wait. Is this a Mouse That Roared stunt? Do they just want some Hillary photo ops? No bikini, please (what a horrible thought!) She’s already been there. Maybe once is enough. We could always send her girlfriend from the UN. She’s not been anywhere lately.

Feb 11, 2012 2:39pm EST  --  Report as abuse
dtierney wrote:
@anonymot: The United States is only one of the entities involved in, as the article states, “pressing for an independent inquiry.” Among the rest are the UN and the Commonwealth, which is comprised of 64 states including the Maldives itself. The “pressing” on the part of the U.S. consists of the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake saying that the U.S. is, “committed to working with the new government,” and that, “We [U.S., presumably] believe that some sort of independent Maldivian mechanism should be formed to investigate that [the transfer of power] and reach a conclusion of [sic] all Maldivians.” (http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2883718.ece). This doesn’t seem like the threat of invasion to me or even saber rattling. Nor does it involve Secretary of State Clinton, who I am sure you are not familiar enough with to address informally. Additionally, remarking on the appearance of a woman when discussing their professional capacity is a classic sign of sexism, in case you were unaware.

The Maldives do have a military, albeit a very small one which does not, you’re correct, contain an army, per se. It has instead a small Marine Corps, a very small unit of Special Forces (who co-train with US Navy Seals and Army Green Berets, and the British SAS, among others), a coast guard. These are too small to prevent foreign aggression and largely serve to support the state police (who are being accused by the ousted president of abusing civilians and forcing him to resign, “at gunpoint”).

Largely the United States has been harangued in Iraq and Afghanistan by non-uniformed, semi-unorganized, unconventional forces who (in Afghanistan, at least) cross foreign borders to avoid pursuit. Most of these forces have no aspiration of defending their nation against a foreign aggressor, but are acting on the part of larger non-governmental networks whose aim is the obstruction of what they believe is American imperialism. So, I’m not sure that your comment about America’s ability to “beat” a country has any relevance whatsoever. There is also little, if any, strategic value to occupying the Maldives as Diego Garcia, a well-established US military presence, is less than 2 hours away by plane.

Prior to the ousted President’s election in 2008, the country had been ruled autocratically, though nominally a republic. That ousted President, Mohamed Nasheed, had been a “prisoner of conscience” according to Amnesty International, and then had to form his oppositional political party in exile in Sri Lanka, prior to there being open elections within the country, the first of which occurred in 2008 when Nasheed was elected. He has not yet served one complete term.

There is good reason to suspect that the transfer of power was not legal. Nasheed’s underwater cabinet meeting in 2009 to bring attention to rising ocean-levels was certainly a publicity stunt. A potential coup is not.

Feb 11, 2012 11:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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