Maldives ex-president leaves Indian embassy refuge

MALE Sat Feb 23, 2013 12:33pm EST

Maldives' former President Mohamed Nasheed addresses a news conference in Male August 31, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Maldives' former President Mohamed Nasheed addresses a news conference in Male August 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

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MALE (Reuters) - Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed on Saturday left the Indian High Commission, his party said, after taking refuge for 11 days to avoid arrest on charges related to his presidency.

The government has said he no longer faces arrest.

Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected leader, left office last year in contested circumstances. He entered the Indian High Commission, or embassy, in the capital on February 13 as police tried to arrest him in connection with a court case.

During his refuge in the embassy Nasheed called for the formation of a caretaker government to ensure free and fair presidential polls in the Indian Ocean archipelago, scheduled for September.

He was greeted on Saturday by hundreds of his party supporters, who cheered him with his nickname "Anni," and surrounded him before he came before the media.

"I've come out with the understanding I will be able to conduct peaceful political activity and my social life," he told reporters.

"I believe that even on issues that we disagree on, we can reach a compromise with the Maldivian government."

His supporters say he was ousted last February in a coup in the Maldives, a major tourist destination. They have clashed with police outside the diplomatic mission and near the entrance of the country's main high security zone since he took refuge.

Nasheed's decision comes after an Indian delegation led by Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs held a series of meeting with the officials of the Maldives government.

The Indian High Commission in Colombo said in a statement Nasheed "entered the Indian Mission in Male on 13 February 2013 on his own volition and had similarly decided to leave on his own."

"FREE AND FAIR TRIAL"

A court ordered Nasheed's arrest after he missed a February 10 court appearance in a case relating to accusations that he illegally detained a judge during the last days of his administration, which also forced the regime change.

If Nasheed is found guilty in the case, he could be barred from standing in a presidential election on September 7. His party says the trial is an attempt to exclude him from the contest and has challenged the court's legitimacy.

"The government has nothing to do with Nasheed's court case," Imad Masood, presidential spokesman, told Reuters.

"We will ensure a free and fair as well as an inclusive election. But it is the Prosecutor General who should decide whether a person could contest in the election."

The presidential spokesman has said that Nasheed's arrest warrant has ceased, but he still faces a court hearing.

Nasheed says he was forced from power at gunpoint after opposition protests and a police mutiny. A national commission last August said the toppling of his government was not a coup, but a transfer of power that followed the constitution, a ruling that triggered several days of demonstrations.

The Maldives held its first free elections in 2008. Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for 30 years and was accused by opponents and international human rights groups of running the country as a dictator.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in COLOMBO; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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