Maldives shuts parliament, resists order to free dissidents
Male (Maldives): Maldivian authorities on Saturday announced an indefinite postponement of parliament as President Abdulla Yameen's regime resisted international pressure to comply with a landmark Supreme Court order to free political prisoners.
The People's Majlis, or parliament, told local reporters in a brief message that the assembly will not have its scheduled sessions on Monday "due to security reasons".
No fresh date was given for the sessions.
The move followed a shock order Thursday by the country's Supreme Court to release nine political dissidents. It also restored the seats of 12 legislators who had been sacked for defecting from Yameen's party.
The reinstatement of the dozen legislators has given the opposition a majority in the 85-member assembly, and it can now potentially impeach Yameen as well as his cabinet.
The beleaguered president announced on Saturday that he sacked police chief Ahmed Saudhee, who was appointed just two days ago. His predecessor Ahmed Areef was fired on Thursday, shortly after he said he will honour the court's decision.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said Yameen was yet to release any political prisoners.
"Although Yameen has said he will abide by the ruling, he is yet to comply with the order delivered more than 36 hours ago," Colombo-based MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said on Saturday.
The court had said that cases against the nine dissidents, including MDP leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed, were politically motivated and asked the government to release them immediately.
In a statement issued overnight, the joint opposition, which includes Nasheed's MDP, said there were concerns the regime would ignore the ruling and that it would trigger further unrest in the nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims.
"We are deeply fearful that the government's refusal to implement the Supreme Court order could escalate to unrest and incite violence across the country," the opposition said.
Nasheed, the country's first democratically-elected president, has urged the government to respect the top court's decision.
The United Nations, Australia, Britain, Canada, India and the United States welcomed the court's decision as a move towards restoring democracy in the politically troubled Indian Ocean nation.
Earlier, Nasheed had said the ruling cleared the way for him to return to the Maldives and contest elections due later this year.
"I can contest and will contest," he said in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
For its part, the Maldivian government said on Friday that it had concerns about releasing those convicted for "terrorism, corruption, embezzlement, and treason".
Nasheed was barred from contesting any election in the Maldives after a controversial 2015 terrorism conviction internationally criticised as politically motivated.
The Maldives' popular image as an upmarket holiday paradise has been severely damaged by a major crackdown on dissent under Yameen, who has overseen the jailing of almost all his political opponents. The opposition said there were sporadic clashes last night between anti-government activists and the police in the Maldives.