MALE Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed took refuge in the Indian High Commission in the capital Male on Wednesday as police attempted to arrest him, raising the prospect of protests by supporters who say he was ousted a year ago in a coup.
Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected leader, was removed from office in contested circumstances and his supporters have frequently clashed with security forces in the Indian Ocean archipelago, famous as a luxury tourist resort.
"Mindful of my own security and stability in the Indian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the Indian High Commission in Maldives," Nasheed wrote on his Twitter page.
Riot police barricaded the street outside the High Commission after Nasheed's arrival at noon, as his supporters began to gather.
India's External Affairs Ministry said in a statement that Nasheed had sought India's assistance and that the High Commission was in touch with Maldivian authorities.
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 rule, police spokesman Hassan Haneef said.
"We have received the order and we will be trying to carry it out in accordance with the Maldivian constitution and the order itself."
Imad Masood, spokesman for Maldives President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik, said the police would wait for Nasheed to come out. "If he doesn't come, then police will begin to talk to High Commission officials," he added.
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, a ruling that triggered several days of large demonstrations.
If he is found guilty in the court case, Nasheed 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.
India said it had "expressed concern over the ongoing political instability in Maldives and called upon the government and all political parties to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections".
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.
(Reporting by J.J. Robinson in Male and Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Editing by Kevin Liffey)