New Maldives Leader Calls for National Unity

Posted February 8th, 2012 at 6:25 am (UTC-5)
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The new president of the Maldives has called for the formation of a national unity government.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, the former vice president, was sworn in Tuesday after Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president, resigned following weeks of anti-government protests which were joined in by police.

During a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Waheed denied claims he was behind a plot to overthrow the former leader, adding he was unprepared to take control the country. The new president said he will appoint a unity cabinet in the next few days.

Mr. Nasheed told the country in a televised speech on Tuesday that he was stepping down as president because he had no desire to use force to maintain his rule. In an interview with the French press agency and a speech to 2,000 members of his party,Wednesday, he said that he was forced into resigning by a group of rebel police and army officers who threatened to use arms if he stayed. Mr. Nasheed has called for the new leader to step down and for the country's chief justice to investigate the matter.

Mr. Nasheed's resignation announcement came after mutinous police took over the state television headquarters in the capital, Male, and broadcast calls for him to step down. Earlier, a group of police had joined an opposition protest and attacked a nearby demonstration led by members of the ruling party, prompting soldiers to use tear gas.

The government had faced three weeks of mounting protests after Mr. Nasheed ordered the arrest of a senior judge on charges of misconduct and favoring opposition figures.

Mr. Waheed, the Supreme Court and the United Nations Human Rights Commission had all called for the judge to be released.

Mr. Nasheed became president in 2008, replacing Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who held office for 30 years under a one-party system.

The Republic of Maldives is a Muslim-majority nation made up of about 1,200 islands scattered in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka. It is famous for its beach resorts and hotels that cater to newly married couples and high-end travellers. There was no immediate indication that the political unrest affected the country's tourism industry.

The spokesperson for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that Mr. Ban had learned of Mr. Nasheed's resignation and expressed “strong hope” the hand-over of power would lead to the peaceful resolution of the country's political crisis.