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Maldives president makes opening speech in Parliament despite protests
MALE, Maldives (AP) ' The new president of the Maldives addressed lawmakers and opened Parliament amid vehement protests by the opposition on Monday, nearly six weeks after he took office in a contentious power transfer that his predecessor has called a coup.
Authorities used tear gas earlier in the day as several hundred demonstrators blocked roads and shouted slogans calling for the resignation of President Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Hassan was prevented from opening Parliament on March 1 amid protests by opposition lawmakers.
Hassan was vice president when he replaced President Mohamed Nasheed last month after his predecessor resigned following weeks of public protests and a loss of support from the military and police.
Nasheed later claimed that he was forced to resign at gunpoint in what he called a coup. He demanded that Hassan resign immediately and call fresh elections. Hassan says the power transfer was constitutional.
Television footage on Monday showed security staff in the Parliament building forcibly removing four opposition lawmakers as they were trying to stop Hassan from making his opening speech.
A fire raged at a market close to the street demonstrations, and military personnel and firefighters doused it. It was unclear how the fire started.
After a few hours' delay, Hassan made his speech in which he called for national unity. However, street protests continued.
In Monday's speech Hassan said the Maldives' constitution does not allow a presidential election before July 2013 and an early election would require constitutional amendment.
"I will do everything in my power to bring together all the political leaders, to hold discussions on the matter," he said.
The Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago that is home to 300,000 people and known for its luxury resorts, introduced democratic elections after 30 years of autocratic rule ended in 2008.