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Maldives new president calls for unity as turmoil roils the country, ex-leader alleges coup
MALE, Maldives (AP) ' Supporters of the Maldives former president rioted through the streets Wednesday demanding he be reinstated as the country's new leader appealed for unity to end the months of political turmoil roiling this Indian Ocean island nation.
Mohamed Nasheed, the nation's first democratically elected president, said he had been forced to resign at gunpoint Tuesday in what he termed a coup. He demanded his successor resign 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."
President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, the former vice president, took office Tuesday when Nasheed resigned after police joined relentless street protests against his government.
Addressing a news conference Wednesday, Hassan denied claims there was a coup or a plot to oust Nasheed. He said he had not prepared to take over the country and he called for the creation of a unity coalition 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 and arresting two parliamentarians from Nasheed's party.
"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.
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 police spokesman Ahmed Shyam. Consuming alcohol outside tourist resorts is a crime in this Muslim nation. 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.
Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi called on the new government not to seek retribution against Nasheed.
Nasheed presented his resignation in a nationally televised address Tuesday afternoon after police joined demonstrators who had spent weeks protesting his decision to arrest a top judge and then clashed with soldiers in the streets. Some of the soldiers then defected to the police side.
Nasheed's party insisted his ouster was engineered by rogue elements of the police and supporters of the country's former autocratic leader. Others blamed Islamic extremists.
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 nation's first multiparty elections in 2008 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.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he hoped Nasheed's resignation would lead to a peaceful resolution of the political crisis.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco is scheduled to lead a U.N. team to the country later this week to help the Maldives resolve its political tensions.
Nasheed's resignation marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who defeated the nation's longtime ruler, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in the country's first multiparty elections in 2008. Nasheed was also an environmental celebrity calling for global action to combat the climate change that could raise sea levels and inundate his archipelago nation.
Over the past year, Nasheed was battered by protests over soaring prices and demands for more religiously conservative policies.
Francis reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka.