August 25, 2016 / 1:15 PM / 3 years ago

Leader of Maldives aware of plans to overthrow him: spokesman

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, whose administration has jailed most of his opponents, is aware of an opposition plot to overthrow him with the support of “external forces”, the president’s spokesman said on Thursday.

Abdulla Yameen takes his oath as the President of Maldives during a swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Male November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Waheed Mohamed

The BBC, citing unidentified sources, reported earlier that Yameen was facing a “removal plot” by opponents “looking to move against him within weeks”.

Best known as an exotic tourist destination, the Indian Ocean island nation has been mired in political unrest since its first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, was ousted in February 2012.

“The administration is aware of Maldives United Opposition is trying to ‘legally’ overthrow the government with the help of external forces,” Yameen’s spokesman, Ibrahim Hussain Shihab, told Reuters by telephone from the capital, Male, citing the opposition.

He declined to say if he thought it was a serious plot.

Nasheed, now in exile in Britain after being allowed out of jail to go there for medical treatment, formed the Maldives United Opposition (MUO) in June with the aim of toppling Yameen’s rule.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a trial in 2015 that was widely denounced as politically motivated.

Shihab, asked who the “external forces” were, said the plan was drawn up by those living abroad.

The international spokesman for Nasheed’s party, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said the opposition was working to oust the government and was ready to set up a transitional government if Yameen’s administration fell.

“There have been a lot of developments and we are continuing with a democratic approach and the shadow cabinet is ready to take off when the government falls,” Ghafoor said.

Ghafoor denied the opposition was working with “external forces” but said it enjoyed international support.

He said he opposition would ensure a free and fair presidential election in 2018.

The opposition says Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives is facing splits between its leader, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and Yameen, on some issues.

The two are half-brothers.

Gayoom’s daughter, Dunya Maumoon, stepped won as foreign minister last month citing her opposition to the government’s use of capital punishment.

Shihab acknowledged differences.

“There are political disagreement and differences within the party. But that won’t have an impact on the government and governance,” he said.

The largely Muslim island chain with a population of 400,000 has other looming problems. Significant numbers of radicalized youths have been enlisting to fight for Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robert Birsel

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