Thousands of supporters of former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed rallied peacefully in the capital as Commonwealth ministers arrived to investigate the circumstances of his abrupt exit from power last week.

There were fears Friday's rally could set off bloodshed if Nasheed's supporters clashed with riot police, as they did on February 8. That was the day after Nasheed resigned in what he said was a coup on the Indian Ocean archipelago, best-known as a luxury holiday destination.

Nasheed, who won a historic election in 2008 and became the Maldives' first democratically elected president, waved to the crowds on Friday, and was expected to speak later.

There were no uniformed security officers present, in an apparent attempt to keep tempers cool. Nasheed's party has threatened to mount mass street protests - a return to past form for the 44-year-old, who was jailed 27 times while calling for democracy in the islands.

Nasheed says he was ousted in a coup on Tuesday in a mutiny by police and military officers. New President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik, former vice president, and his supporters in opposition parties say Nasheed resigned of his own accord amid popular protests against him.

It is three years since Nasheed took over after the introduction of a new constitution, following the autocratic 30-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The team from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the 54-nation organisation's democracy watchdog, arrived for what is expected to be a four-day visit to investigate Nasheed's exit.

Surujrattan Rambachan, foreign affairs minister of Trinidad and Tobago, is leading the team.

The group, empowered to take action and sanction Commonwealth nations it finds have violated Commonwealth principles, is one of several diplomatic initiatives afoot.

India's Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai visited on Thursday, and pushed Waheed to agree to elections before their due date in October 2013.

Waheed, who says he will establish a government of national unity, has agreed to hold them if certain conditions are in place, including constitutional changes and a peaceful environment.

Nasheed has demanded that Waheed step aside and new elections be called in two months.

(Writing by Bryson Hull; editing by Andrew Roche)