Maldives opposition leader held for alleged plot against government

(Reuters) - Maldives police arrested an opposition leader on accusations of plotting to overthrow the government, they said on Friday, days after the opposition failed in a bid to impeach the speaker of parliament.

File Photo: Maldivian Jumhooree Party presidential candidate Qasim Ibrahim (2nd R) casts his vote at a polling station during the presidential elections in Male, November 9, 2013. REUTERS/Waheed Mohamed

Qasim Ibrahim, the leader of the Jumhooree Party and a former presidential candidate, was remanded for six days by a Male court. Denying the allegations, his lawyer said Qasim had acted lawfully.

The largely Muslim island chain with a population of 400,000 and a reputation as a tourist paradise has been mired in political unrest for years.

The impeachment motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, a close ally of President Abdulla Yameen, was defeated by 48 votes to zero in parliament after all opposition lawmakers walked out in protest at their colleagues’ expulsion from the chamber for unruly behavior.

A second impeachment vote, against the deputy speaker, is scheduled for Monday.

Police in their charge sheet said Qasim was arrested for allegedly of bribing and “undue influencing of parliament members and state security forces” in the impeachment vote against the speaker.

Police also cited “unlawful incitement to the removal, from office, of the legitimate government”.

Hussein Shameem, Qasim’s lawyer, said his client was an opposition whip and was by law entitled to try to convince lawmakers to vote a certain way.

“He has not used undue influence and no unlawful activities were done. He acted within the law,” Shameem told Reuters.

Qasim, a tourism tycoon who ran for the presidency in 2013, backed Yameen in the second round of the poll against former president Mohamed Nasheed. Yameen won by a slim margin.

After he and Yameen fell out, Qasim formed an opposition coalition along with former presidents Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a half brother of Yameen.

The Maldives has been plagued by unrest since Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012. He was later sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a widely criticized trial and now lives in exile.

Many potential challengers to Yameen in elections due in 2018 have been arrested for alleged security offences. The opposition alleges his administration is trying to cover up corruption including money laundering.

The government denies this and says it does not influence law enforcement.

Significant numbers of radicalized Maldives youths have enlisted to fight for Islamic State in the Middle East.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Nick Macfie and John Stonestreet