US Gov't Official Meets With New Maldives Leader

Published February 11, 2012 10:18AM (EST)

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The new president of the Maldives said Saturday that he was ready to face an independent investigation into the transfer of power in the Indian Ocean nation that his predecessor alleges was a coup.

President Mohammed Waheed Hassan said he had given an assurance to visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake that he was willing to submit to a probe by an independent body as questions had arisen about his takeover of power.

Blake flew into the Maldives early Saturday to assess the political situation in Maldives after the former president Mohamed Nasheed said he was ousted in a coup.

Blake also met with Nasheed and was scheduled to meet other leaders of the island republic later Saturday.

Nasheed resigned Tuesday after police joined months of street protests against his rule and soldiers defected. He was replaced by Hassan, his vice president.

Nasheed later said he was ousted in a coup, and there is an arrest warrant against him.

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

Soon after the meeting with Blake, Hassan told journalists that he wanted an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to Nasheed's removal.

"There are constitutional mechanisms to do that," Hassan said.

He insisted that no one had questioned the legality of his assuming office. However, "there are some questions as to what preceded my assumption of office. This is why we are saying we are completely open to an independent investigation," Hassan said.

Hassan has announced his intention to form a coalition to help restore stability ahead of presidential elections due next year.

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

The United States initially recognized the new Maldives government on Friday. It later backtracked, saying the situation was unclear and called for an investigation into the transfer of power.

Nasheed, a former human rights activist, came to power after elections in 2008 ended 30 years of autocratic rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed has said his ouster was engineered by rogue elements of the police and supporters of the country's former autocratic leader. Others have blamed Islamic extremists.

Over the past year, the Maldives witnessed demands for more religiously conservative policies and widespread protests over soaring prices. 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.

Male remained peaceful Saturday. There were no signs of extra security on the streets and people went about their normal lives.

Tourism is the main industry in the Maldives, a chain of nearly 1,200 islands off southern India blessed with sandy beaches and coral. Most resorts are located near the beaches and remained mostly untouched by the protests in Male and the southernmost atoll, Addu.

By Salon Staff

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