Maldives' deposed president faces arrest as wife flees to Sri Lanka

Former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, center, is soaked in sweat in a street protest in the capital Male on February 8.

Story highlights

  • The former president's wife has arrived in Sri Lanka
  • "There are 14 charges being brought against the president," an official says
  • His party says he was beaten, but opponents say the police were provoked
  • Nasheed says he was forced out at gunpoint in a coup
The deposed president of the Maldives was facing arrest Thursday, a former foreign minister said, as political turmoil gripped the capital following days of violent clashes in the Indian Ocean nation.
"There are 14 charges being brought against the president. God knows what the charges are," said Ahmed Naseem, who was also ousted as foreign minister.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed is holed up in his home with no protection from the police or the military, the minister said, adding that a large crowd was gathered outside his house in anticipation of an arrest.
His wife fled to Sri Lanka a day earlier, according to a spokesman for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa called Nasheed's successor to ensure he was safe after his wife arrived in Colombo, said Bandula Jayasekera, the presidential spokesman.
Nasheed -- the country's first democratically elected leader in three decades -- said he was forced to resign at gunpoint Tuesday, plunging the nation into clashes between police and his supporters. Political opponents contested his account, saying Nasheed is destabilizing the country.
Nasheed has urged his successor -- his former vice president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan -- to leave office.
A top U.N. official, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, arrived in the islands Thursday for talks with government leaders and political parties. He said the world body wants to preserve "the democratic gains that have been made in the Maldives," according to a statement from his office.
Fernandez-Taranco is the assistant secretary-general for political affairs. He urged calm and a halt to "any action that would further exacerbate tensions," according to a statement from his office.
Police beat Nasheed and several lawmakers when they took to the streets in "a peaceful protest" on Wednesday, his Maldivian Democratic Party said. Video footage posted online by RaajeTV, a video sharing site, showed police officers entering a store and escorting Nasheed out into the street, but it did not show him being beaten.
A spokesman for the Progressive Party, which participated in the demonstrations that led to Nasheed's ouster, said the deposed leader's supporters provoked the police and forced them to respond angrily.
"We are asking all sides for restraint and calm," said spokesman Mohamed Hussain Shareef, whose party is loyal to Nasheed's predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The police could not be immediately reached for comment.
Political tensions in the Maldives have simmered for weeks. And last month, the arrest of the chief judge of the Maldives Criminal Court set off a constitutional crisis after Nasheed's administration alleged he blocked corruption charges against members of Gayoom's government.
Opposition groups claimed the arrest was unconstitutional, and their protests culminated in the police revolt that drove Nasheed out of power.
The Progressive Party spokesman said Thursday that a degree of normalcy had returned to Male's streets.
"People are sending their children to school," Shareef said, noting that unrest in the Maldives tends to take place in the afternoon and evening.
But Eva Abdulla, a lawmaker for the Maldivian Democratic Party, suggested that more confrontations could take place Thursday after the violence of the day before.
"Given the kind of brutality we saw on TV last night, I don't know how calm people will be," Abdulla said.
Several lawmakers who had been detained by the police during the protest had been returned to their homes early Thursday, she said, adding that all of them had been beaten.
Abdulla rejected the idea that the Maldivian Democratic Party would participate in negotiations to form a new government with other parties and the new president, whom she described as a "puppet leader" for the police.
"This is not a legitimate government," she said. "We will not negotiate with an unconstitutional government."
The U.S. State Department has called for cooperation among the different parties and urged them to work together to resolve the situation peacefully.
U.S. envoy Robert Blake will visit the capital of Male on Saturday as part of previously scheduled trip to the region, said Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman.
The former president defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is still considered a hero by many who credit him with transforming a fishing culture into a tourist nation.
During Gayoom's long rule, Nasheed was among his fiercest critics, alleging that he ruled with an iron fist, crushing dissent, amassing wealth and stacking his administration with friends and relatives.
Until his defeat by Nasheed, Gayoom won six previous elections as the only candidate on the ballot.