|Protests started in Maldives three weeks ago after the president ordered the arrest of an opposition judge [Reuters]
The president of the Maldives has resigned, after clashes in the capital, Male, between soldiers and police who sided with anti-government protesters.
Mohamed Nasheed confirmed his resignation on Tuesday in a nationwide broadcast after police seized control of the state television station.
«It will be better for the country in the current situation if I resign. I don’t want to run the country with an iron fist. I am resigning,» Nasheed said.
A statement issued by the president’s office on Tuesday called for people to remain calm.
«The government of Maldives together with all state institutions will work to ensure peace and stability in Male,» it said.
«Government of Maldives calls to people to remain calm and support to stabilise the situation.»
Dunya Maumoon, a member of the opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives and the daughter of the islands’ long-time leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, told Al Jazeera that Nasheed was under «military protection».
«The opposition parties have all aligned themselves together. We have been demonstrating on the streets for the last 28 days,» said Maumoon.
«As the Progressive Party of Maldives, we welcome his resignation, as we believe this will be in the best interest of the country and the people of the Maldives given his recent unconstitutional and illegal acts in arresting a judge and keeping him without charge for over 20 days in detention.
«There has been various other issues related to his unlawful actions, and generally the situation in the country has deteriorated since he came to power in 2008.»
Maumoon said a new coalition government would probably be formed, with elections due to be held in 2013.
Nasheed’s resignation comes after opposition protests gathered police support after three weeks as officers defied orders to break up demonstrations.
Police began broadcasting an opposition-linked television station’s calls for people to come on to the streets to overthrow the president on Tuesday, witnesses said.
Tear gas grenades
A witness had earlier seen soldiers launch tear gas grenades at a crowd of about 500 people, including several dozen police officers in uniform, who were trying to smash their way into the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) headquarters, Reuters reported.
Tuesday’s violence on the archipelago best-known as a luxury beach getaway destination is the worst in more than three weeks of protests.
Protests started after Nasheed ordered the military to arrest the top criminal court judge, whom he accused of being in the pocket of Gayoom, the former president whose 30-year rule was widely seen as autocratic.
That set off a constitutional crisis that put Nasheed, widely credited with ushering in democracy when he won an election victory in 2008, in the position of defending himself from accusations of acting like a dictator.
His Progressive Party of the Maldives has accused the military of firing rubber bullets at protesters and spokesperson Mohamed Hussain «Mundhu» Shareef said «loads of people» were injured. He gave no specifics.
Presidential spokesperson Paul Roberts denied the government had used rubber bullets, but confirmed that around 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,» Roberts said.
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.
They have reignited a longstanding and bitter rivalry between Gayoomn and Nasheed, who was jailed for a combined six years after being arrested 27 times under Gayoom’s rule while agitating for democracy.