Confusion reigned over the status of the Maldivian president on Tuesday after opposition protests boiled over with a police mutiny and some diplomats said he had resigned, but a source close to the president said he was chairing a cabinet meeting.
President Mohamed Nasheed, widely credited with ushering in full democracy with a 2008 election win, has for weeks been in a struggle with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose 30-year rule was widely seen as autocratic.
Earlier on Tuesday, mutinying police on the Indian Ocean archipelago best-known as an exclusive beach getaway took over the state broadcaster and issued an opposition-linked station's calls for people to come on the streets to overthrow Nasheed.
Sri Lanka's high commissioner to the Maldives later said Nasheed had resigned but other diplomats said that was not clear.
I wouldn't take if for certain that he is gone, but it is an apparent resignation. But we are hearing from inside the presidency that he has not resigned, a European diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Two other diplomats in Colombo and Male, said they expected he would resign, but said the situation was fluid.
Hassan Saeed, head of the opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party, said Nasheed had resigned and would hand power to the vice president.
However a source close to the president flatly denied the resignation: That is a lie. He is chairing a cabinet meeting and is going to address the nation in about an hour, the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Nasheed was holed up in the military headquarters and would address the nation shortly, the source close to the president told Reuters.
Protests began weeks ago after Nasheed ordered the military to arrest the top criminal court judge, whom he accuses of being in the pocket of Gayoom.
That set off a constitutional crisis that has Nasheed in the unaccustomed position of defending himself of acting like a dictator.
SCRAMBLE FOR POSITION
Gayoom's opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives accused the military of firing rubber bullets at protesters and a party spokesman, Mohamed Hussain Mundhu Shareef, said loads of people were injured. He gave no specifics.
The official close to the president denied the government had used rubber bullets, but confirmed that about three dozen police officers defied orders overnight and smashed up the main rallying point of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.
This follows Gayoom's party calling for the overthrow of the Maldives' first democratically elected government and for citizens to launch jihad against the president, said the official who declined to be identified.
The protests, and the scramble for position ahead of next year's presidential election, have seen parties adopting hardline Islamist rhetoric and accusing Nasheed of being anti-Islamic.
The trouble has also shown the longstanding rivalry between Gayoom and Nasheed, who was jailed for a combined six years after being arrested 27 times by Gayoom's government while agitating for democracy.
The trouble has been largely invisible to the 900,000 or so well-heeled tourists who come every year to visit desert islands swathed in aquamarine seas, ringed by white-sand beaches.
Most tourists are whisked straight to their island hideaway by seaplane or speedboat, where they are free to drink alcohol and get luxurious spa treatments, insulated from the everyday Maldives, a fully Islamic state where alcohol is outlawed and skimpy beachwear frowned upon.
(Reporting by C. Bryson Hull; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ed Lane)