US Backtracks On Recognition Of New Maldives Gov't

Published February 10, 2012 7:45PM (EST)

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The United States on Friday backtracked from its swift recognition of the new Maldives government, which the nation's former leader claims came to power in a coup.

The Maldives has faced one day of rioting and two days more of a political standoff since Mohamed Nasheed announced Tuesday that he was resigning as president, following months of protests against his rule and fading support from the security forces. But the next day Nasheed, who now faces an arrest warrant, announced he had actually been pushed from power at gunpoint. The reality remains unclear.

Nasheed criticized Washington after the State Department said Thursday it recognized the new government as legitimate.

"It's unfortunate that the American government has decided to work with the regime," Nasheed told reporters.

On Friday in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the circumstances in the Maldives are murky and contested. "I got myself in a place yesterday that was not borne out by the facts," she told a news briefing.

"We will work with the government of the Maldives, but believe that the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power need to be clarified. And we also suggest that all parties agree to an independent mechanism to do that," she said.

Asked whether there had been an extraconstitutional change in power, she said the U.S. does not yet have a clear view of the facts, but would expect to have a clearer idea after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake visits Male, arriving Saturday.

Blake will meet with new President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Nasheed and representatives of all political parties, Nuland said.

Meanwhile, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco met Friday with Hassan, hoping to ease the political situation, and was expected to meet later with Nasheed. Fernandez-Taranco declined to make any comments after his meeting.

The new government insists Nasheed stepped down voluntarily. It has made no move to arrest Nasheed, who is living openly in his home in Male.

Nasheed is now calling for early elections, insisting his party would emerge victorious.

While the two politicians remain at odds, there has been no sign of violence in the country, located off southern India, since Wednesday. On Friday, the first day of the country's weekend, there was little extra security to be seen in Male, though a few dozen policemen in riot gear were posted outside Nasheed's house.

In New Delhi, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was sending a special envoy to Male to assess the situation.

"We sincerely hope that the problems that have arisen there can be resolved in a peaceful way and our effort is to use our influence in that direction," Singh told reporters.

After Nasheed's resignation, thousands of his supporters swept into the streets of Male, clashing with security forces, while others attacked police stations in remote parts of this 1,200-island archipelago.

The authorities have not yet announced the grounds for Nasheed's arrest warrant, and police officials have said it is not clear if the warrant was constitutional.

Hassan, who was Nasheed's vice president, has denied claims of a plot to oust Nasheed and called for a unity coalition to be formed to help the country recover.

Nasheed's resignation marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who had been jailed for his activism under the 30-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed also became an environmental celebrity for urging global action against climate change, warning that rising sea levels would inundate his archipelago nation.

Over the past year, Nasheed was battered by protests over soaring prices and demands for more religiously conservative policies. Last month, Nasheed's government arrested the nation's top criminal court judge for freeing a government critic and refused to release him as protests grew.


Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

By Salon Staff

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