* Police surround election offices to halt vote
* Britain, United States denounce "threat to democracy"
* Nasheed calls for Male shutdown by blocking streets
(Adds Nasheed, Election Commissioner comments, Commonwealth
By J.J. Robinson
MALE, Oct 19 Maldives police forced a halt to a
presidential election on Saturday, in what the leading
candidate's supporters said was a new coup as he called on them
to block the streets in protest.
The Indian Ocean archipelago which has been in turmoil since
February 2012, when then-president Mohamed Nasheed was ousted by
mutinying police, military forces and armed demonstrators.
The election was due to be held on Saturday, after a vote in
September was annulled over allegations of fraud.
However, there had been confusion over whether it could go
ahead as some candidates had still not signed a new voter
register in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling early on
Saturday to allow the election.
Just hours before polls were due to open for the vote that
Nasheed looked set to win, police surrounded the secretariat of
the Elections Commission, forcing a delay condemned by the
Police said they could not support an election held "in
contravention of the Supreme Court verdict and guidelines".
Police 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".
Nasheed's supporters have staged violent protests since he
was ousted, and masked men this month fire-bombed a television
station that backs Nasheed, who came to international prominence
in 2009 after holding a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear
to highlight the threat of climate change.
"There has been a coup in the Maldives, and the coup
backers, in order to maintain that coup, are committing bigger
and bigger atrocities day after day," he told supporters staging
a sit-in at two road junctions that brought Male to a halt.
"I call on you to block these streets ... Let us shut down
Male. Male can't function, we must succeed."
Security forces cordonned off part of 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 said.
Ahmed Khalid, 33, an artist at the protest, said: "The
police are in control of this country. This is a coup."
"THREAT TO DEMOCRACY"
Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek told a news conference
it could not proceed with the vote if police were obstructing
it, saying officers had "overstepped their authority".
Thowfeek appeared on state television late on Saturday to
say it would take a minimum of 21 days to amend the voter
register again and the commission was in discussion with the
government to potentially hold polls on Nov. 2 or Nov 9.
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 current president's term expires on Nov. 11.
A spokesman for Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party, Hamid
Abdul Ghafoor, called on Saturday for the intervention of world
powers. "An interim arrangement has to be sought through
international intervention," he said.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said: "I
cannot stress firmly enough how critical it is for all state
institutions and presidential candidates to cooperate in good
faith to ensure that this election can take place as soon as
A U.S. diplomat in nearby Sri Lanka told reporters 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
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, was also running.
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 Mohamed Waheed's government
cancelled the biggest foreign investment project, with India's
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo and
Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Writing by Shihar Aneez;
Editing by Alison Williams)