Maldives crisis deepens as opposition seeks Indian intervention


The declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives and arrest of two senior judges prompted an exiled former president to ask India yesterday to send an envoy backed by military to free political prisoners on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago.

Exiled former President Mohammed Nasheed, who was among the opposition politicians ordered freed by the Supreme Court and is now in neighboring Sri Lanka, said in a statement that Yameen "has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power," calling for the Indian envoy and military to be sent. "We are asking for a physical presence." He also called on the U.S. to stop Maldives government officials from making transactions through U.S. banks.

President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency yesterday to investigate "this plot, this coup" involving a Supreme Court ruling last week that ordered the release of imprisoned opposition leaders, including many of his political rivals. "This is not a state of war, epidemic or natural disaster. This is something more dangerous," he said on national television, as reported by AP. "This is an obstruction of the very ability of the state to function."

Yameen, who has rolled back a series of democratic reforms during his five years in office, has said that the court overstepped its authority in ordering the politicians released, saying the order "blatantly disrupts the systems of checks and balances."

Yameen's government has moved to assert its power since the Supreme Court ruling, announcing a 15-day state of emergency Monday night that gives officials sweeping powers, including to make arrests, search and seize property and restrict freedom of assembly. Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces arrested two Supreme Court justices and a former ruler who is now an opposition leader.

"This state of emergency is the only way I can determine how deep this plot, this coup, goes," Yameen said.

Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces in riot gear and blue camouflage stormed the Supreme Court building, arresting two of its judges, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. It was not immediately clear what charges they faced, if any.

The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands with fewer than 400,000 citizens, more than one-third of them living in the crowded capital city, Male. Tourism now dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown to hyper-expensive resort islands.

While there was no immediate sign of India preparing to send troops to the Maldives, New Delhi does have a history of military involvement there. In 1988, Sri Lankan militants working for a Maldivian businessman tried to take control of the country and seized many government buildings. Then President Gayoom asked for Indian military help to drive back the militants. India dispatched 1,600 paratroopers, who quickly restored Gayoom's control.

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