(Adds call for international intervention, US, British
reaction, president quote)
* Police surround election offices to halt vote
* Leading candidate's party calls for foreign intervention
* Britain, United States denounce "threat to democracy"
By J.J. Robinson
MALE, Oct 19 Maldives police forced a halt to a
presidential election on Saturday, in what supporters of the
leading candidate said looked like a new coup as they started a
sit-down protest that blocked parts of the capital.
Britain and the United States criticised the latest delay to
elections in the Indian Ocean archipelago which has been in
turmoil since February 2012 when the then-president, Mohamed
Nasheed, was ousted by mutinying police, military forces and
Just hours before polls were due to open for an election
that Nasheed looked set to win, police surrounded the
secretariat of the Elections Commission.
"We cannot proceed with the election if police are
obstructing it," Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek told a
news conference, saying the police had "overstepped their
Security forces cordonned off a central area of the capital
Male that included the president's office and the supreme court,
while Nasheed's supporters blocked other streets with ropes,
human chains, motorbikes and trucks, a Reuters reporter
Thousands of Nasheed's supoorters put down tarpaulins and
settled in at two main road junctions as they started a sit-down
protest that brought Male to a standstill. Nasheed and
parliament speaker Abdulla Shahid sipped tea with others in the
Ahmed Khalid, 33, an artist at the protest, said: "The
police are in control of this country. This is a coup."
Elections Commission member Ali Mohamed Manik said: "This is
a dark day for democracy".
Nasheed, who came to power in the Maldives' first free
elections in 2008, looked set to return to office when he won
the first round of an election on Sept. 7, putting him in a good
position to win a run-off vote set for Sept. 28.
But that election was cancelled by the Supreme Court which
cited fraud. International observers had said the election was
free and fair. The court later ordered a fresh election by Oct.
20 and a run-off by Nov 3, if required.
The Supreme Court upheld that decision in an early-morning
ruling on Saturday after a request by the election commission.
There had been confusion over whether the election could go
ahead as some candidates had still not signed a new voter
The police said they would not support an election held "in
contravention of the Supreme Court verdict and guidelines".
Chief Superintendent Abdulla Nawaz said he had acted due to
concern about "any unrest that may occur in the country as a
result of letting the election proceed".
Masked men fire-bombed a television station that backs
Nasheed on Oct. 7. Nasheed's supporters have staged violent
protests since he was ousted.
Elections Commissioner Thowfeek said he doubted the election
could now be held before the end of the current presidential
term, on Nov. 11.
President Mohamed Wheed called on the Elections Commission
to hold discussions with all candidates to find a way to hold
the election next week, on Saturday, Oct. 26.
"The President urges all candidates and their political
parties to find a solution to election disputes," a statement
from Waheed's office said.
A spokesman for Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party, Hamid
Abdul Ghafoor, said there was "a clear mandate for the
international community to intervene and to restrain these
undemocratic forces ... An interim arrangement has to be sought
through international intervention."
A U.S. diplomat in nearby Sri Lanka told reporters that the
failure to hold the election "represents a real threat to
democracy in the Maldives".
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said new delays
"will be seen as nothing less than an attempt to frustrate the
democratic process. This would undermine democracy, create
greater uncertainty, further instability and damage the Maldives
economy and international reputation."
Nasheed's main election rival is Abdulla Yameen, a
half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years and
was considered a dictator by opponents and rights groups.
Holiday resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, who was finance minister
under Gayoom, also ran against Nasheed.
Critical issues the new president will face include a rise
in Islamist ideology, human rights abuses and a lack of investor
confidence after current President Waheed's government cancelled
the biggest foreign investment project, with India's GMR
Nasheed, who once held a cabinet meeting under water, with
members in scuba gear, to highlight the danger of rising sea
levels, won the Sept. 7 polls with 45.45 percent of the vote,
short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo and
Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Writing by Shihar Aneez;
Editing by Robin Pomeroy)