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Ex-leader's allies riot in streets, seize some police posts as Maldives leader urges unity
MALE, Maldives (AP) ' Supporters of the Maldives former president rioted through the streets and seized some police stations Wednesday to demand his reinstatement as the country's new leader appealed for an end to the political turmoil roiling this Indian Ocean nation.
Allies said former leader Mohamed Nasheed and other top party officials were beaten by police in the street chaos. The nation's first democratically elected president, Nasheed resigned Tuesday after police joined months of street protests against his rule and soldiers defected.
Late Wednesday evening, Nasheed supporters seized some small police stations but larger ones stayed under official control, police spokesman Amhed Shyam said. Residents told local reporters that as many as 10 police stations on small islands may have been seized. The Maldives is made up of nearly 1,200 scattered islands, some of which have just a few hundred residents.
Nasheed said Wednesday he was forced to resign at gunpoint and he promised to fight to return to office.
"We will come to power again," Nasheed said. "We will never step back. I will not accept this coup and will bring justice to the Maldivians."
Nasheed's party insisted his ouster was engineered by rogue elements of the police and supporters of the country's former autocratic leader, whom Nasheed defeated in the Maldives' first multiparty elections in 2008. Others blamed Islamic extremists in the Muslim country where some have demanded more conservative government policies.
New President Mohammed Waheed Hassan denied claims there was a coup or a plot to oust Nasheed. The former vice president, he said he had not prepared to take over the country and called for a unity coalition to be formed to help it recover.
"Together, I am confident, we'll be able to build a stable and democratic country," he said, adding that his government intended to respect the rule of law.
Later in the day, he appeared to be consolidating his power by appointing a new military chief and police commissioner.
Nasheed insisted he was pushed from power by the armed forces.
"I was forced to resign with guns all around me. They told me, if I don't resign, they won't hesitate to use arms," he said.
Speaking to about 2,000 wildly cheering members of his Maldivian Democratic Party in the capital, Male, he called for Hassan's immediate resignation and demanded the nation's top judge investigate those he said were responsible for his ouster.
Nasheed then led an anti-government demonstration. Police responded by firing tear gas.
"If the police are going to confront us we are going to face them," Nasheed told the rally. "We have to overcome our fear and we have to get strength."
Nasheed's supporters began rioting, throwing fire bombs and vandalizing a private TV station that had been critical of Nasheed's government.
Reeko Moosa Manik, a lawmaker and chairman of the party, was beaten unconscious by police and hospitalized, said his son Mudrikath Moosa. Nasheed and other lawmakers were beaten as well, he said.
Hassan, who had promised to protect Nasheed from retribution, said his predecessor was not under any restriction and was free to leave the country. However, he said he would not interfere with any police or court action against Nasheed.
Police were investigating the discovery of at least 100 bottles of alcohol inside a truck removing garbage Tuesday from the presidential residence as Nasheed prepared to relinquish power, said Shyam, the spokesman. Consuming alcohol outside tourist resorts is a crime. If charged and convicted of possession of alcohol, Nasheed could be sent to jail for three years, banished to a distant island, placed under house arrest or fined.
Nasheed's resignation marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who had been jailed for his activism. He is also an environmental celebrity for urging global action against climate change, warning that rising sea levels would inundate his archipelago nation.
Over the past year, Nasheed was battered by protests over soaring prices and demands for more religiously conservative policies. Last month, Nasheed's government arrested the nation's top criminal court judge for freeing a government critic and refused to release him as protests grew.
Nasheed defended his government.
"I did not want wealth or to continue in the presidency, but I wanted to bring good governance," he said.
The dueling leaders ran as a ticket in the 2008 elections after Nasheed's MDP formed a coalition with Hassan's Gaumee Itthihaad Party, or National Unity Party.
In a news conference Wednesday, Hassan sought to tamp down fears that Islamists were gaining power.
"They are part of the society; you can't ignore them," he said. "But there are wide range of people with different views, philosophies and ideas about politics. I am planning to create a plural multiparty government."
He also worked to reassure the vital tourism industry that the country, known for its stunning beaches and lavish resorts, remained a peaceful place to visit.
A U.N. team is expected in the country later this week.
Francis reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka.