Clashes in Maldives after court orders top politicians' release
Male: Opponents of the Maldives government clashed with police on the streets of the capital on Friday, demanding the release of imprisoned politicians whose convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court. On Thursday night court ruling ordered the release of the politicians, including exiled ex-President Mohamed Nasheed, saying their guilty verdicts had been influenced by the government.
Hundreds of people celebrated in Male, the Indian Ocean archipelago's capital, by waving the country's flag, but police dispersed the crowds using pepper spray and batons.
Rocks were thrown at police and at least one injured officer was seen being carried to a hospital. The ruling could allow Nasheed, the nation's first democratically elected president, to challenge President Yameen Abdul Gayoom when he seeks re-election later this year.
Atul Keshap, the US ambassador to the Maldives, welcomed the Supreme Court order. "I urge the government and security services to respect this ruling, which bolsters democracy and rule of law for all Maldivians," he wrote on Twitter. An archipelago known for its luxury tourist resorts, Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule. But it lost much of its democratic gains after Gayoom was elected in 2013. He has maintained a tight grip on power, controlling institutions like the judiciary, police and the bureaucracy.
The court also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had been ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. When those lawmakers return, Gayoom's Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose a majority in the 85-member Parliament.
The government said in a statement it was trying to "vet and clarify" the court's ruling and "will work to engage, and consult with, the Supreme Court in order to comply with the ruling in line with proper procedure and the rule of law."
The opposition alliance in a statement welcomed the ruling and called for Gayoom's resignation, saying the court's decision "effectively ends President Yameen's authoritarian rule."
Nasheed had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges but was allowed to get medical treatment in Britain, where he received asylum. The ruling could lead to him becoming eligible to run in the presidential poll likely to take place between August and November.