The ousted president of the Maldives was walking free on Friday despite an arrest warrant against him as diplomats including a U.N. envoy worked to forestall renewed violence in the Indian Ocean archipelago best known as a luxury beach getaway.
Rain and cooler weather appeared to ease the tension the day after the new government issued the warrant against deposed leader Mohamed Nasheed, who quickly returned to his roots as a street activist and dared police to arrest him.
There has been no clarification on the arrest warrant, Nasheed told Reuters in front of his family home in central Male, capital of the 1,200-island Indian Ocean archipelago of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.
Security forces, a group of whom Nasheed accused of conspiring with political rivals to usurp him at gunpoint under the guise of a constitutional handover to his vice president, took no chances during Friday prayers.
Around 50 troops and police wearing helmets and riot gear stood guard in Republic Square, site of the Grand Mosque and two days of violence that first saw Nasheed unseated and then beaten along with his supporters as they protested his ouster.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco met new President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik at the start of his three-day visit to urge both sides to negotiate and avoid violence.
Fernandez-Taranco was among several teams of diplomats, including from India, Britain, the United States and European Union, who were either in Male or soon to arrive. A Commonwealth delegation also was meeting all the political parties.
We told the president that at this time, it is very important to ensure the police and military operate on an entirely constitutional level to cool the temperatures, Akbar Khan, the Commonwealth delegation head, told Reuters.
The fragility of the democratic transition here was clearly demonstrated by recent events.
The Maldives, for almost nine centuries a sultanate before it became a British protectorate, held its first fully democratic elections in 2008. Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who at 30 years in power was then Asia's longest-serving leader and accused of running the country as a dictator.
Nasheed, writing in The New York Times, said what had happened in the Maldives since the downfall of iron-fisted Gayoom should serve as a warning for other Muslim nations undergoing democratic reform.
The dictator can be removed in a day, but it can take years to stamp out the lingering remnants of his dictatorship.
On the atoll of Addu, the second-largest population centre in the Maldives with 30,000 people and a Nasheed stronghold, calm returned on Friday after his supporters went on the rampage, attacking and razing police stations, courts and government buildings on Wednesday.
Everyone is now silent, but I don't know if there will be more problems, firefighter Hussain Sharif told Reuters from telephone from Addu's Gan island, a former British air force base.
He said that police were arresting councillors from Nasheed's party, accused of fomenting the vandalism, but said the explosion of outrage was due to a false report.
The violence began the other day because someone gave the news that Mohamed Nasheed was dead, or was going to be killed by the police or military, Sharif said. Now that news is wrong.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)