Maldives opposition says blocked from entering parliament for impeachment vote

(Reuters) - Two opposition leaders accused soldiers and police in the Maldives of roughing up opposition lawmakers on Monday, using pepper spray to prevent them from entering parliament to take part in an impeachment vote against the speaker.

A Maldives national flag flutters as pigeons fly past during the morning in Male February 8, 2012. President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, widely credited with bringing democracy to the Indian Ocean archipelago, resigned on Tuesday in what his party said was a coup after weeks of opposition protests erupted into a police mutiny. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Police said access to the parliament building was restricted by the government because the scheduled parliament session was canceled.

They said they were now investigating “a case of obstruction of police duty” against lawmakers who broke into the restricted area around the parliament building which was cordoned off by a police line.

The opposition is trying to unseat Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, an ally of President Abdulla Yameen, for blocking its requests to summon government officials accused of corruption.

“After Yameen (lost his) parliament majority, he is trying to use both military and police to suppress the opposition,” Eva Abdullah, an opposition MP, told Reuters via telephone from the capital Male.

“This is almost like a military coup and they take over legislature.”

The soldiers and police surrounded the parliament building and stopped 30 opposition legislators from entering, the chairman of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Hassan Latheef also told Reuters by telephone from Male.

He said the opposition MPs were pepper sprayed and tear gassed by the police, and stopped from entering the parliament. He blamed Yameen for ordering the closure because he was sure of losing the vote.

The parliament secretariat said in a statement that at no point had a no confidence motion been scheduled for Monday.

Police blamed the lawmakers.

“Maldives Police Service was requested by the Maldives National Defence Force (military) to intervene in clearing out individuals who forcefully entered the parliament building,” the police said in a statement.

The Maldives has been mired in political unrest since Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically elected president, was ousted in 2012.

Nasheed in a statement said he was “extremely worried about an imminent coup in the Maldives”.

The opposition alleges the Yameen administration is trying to cover up corruption including money laundering. The government has denied the accusations.

The move to impeach the speaker gathered momentum after 10 Yameen loyalists in the 85-member legislature defected and joined the opposition to unseat him.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Michael Perry