Maldives President Blocked From Opening Parliament

By Salon Staff

Published March 1, 2012 1:18PM (EST)

MALE, Maldives (AP) — Supporters of Maldives' former president prevented the country's new leader from opening Parliament and protested in the streets Thursday, three weeks after he took office in a contentious power transfer.

Backers of former President Mohamed Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party blocked roads leading to Parliament and clashed with police, who attempted to push them aside with their shields. At least three policemen were injured and a dozen protesters were arrested.

Lawmakers from MDP then removed the seats reserved for the president and the speaker in Parliament, preventing President Mohammed Waheed Hassan from making an inaugural speech.

According to the constitution, the president must speak to the lawmakers and officially open a new parliamentary session after a change in leadership.

Hassan then went to a waiting room in Parliament hoping that the opposition lawmakers would end their protest, spokesman Masood Imad said.

"He is determined to speak but the situation is still not conducive," Imad said.

He was still waiting by late afternoon, nearly six hours after the protests inside and outside of Parliament began.

Nasheed resigned last month after weeks of public protests and loss of support from the military and police. He later said he was ousted in a coup and was forced to resign at gunpoint.

A political stalemate has followed, with Nasheed calling Hassan's government illegitimate and campaigning for early elections. Hassan, Nasheed's former deputy, says the transfer was constitutional.

The MDP said in a statement Thursday that they decided to block Hassan from speaking because he "refuses to yield his illegitimate grip on power, and seems intent on disenfranchising the Maldivian people of their right to elect their president."

"We will continue to hold to our position and it is imperative that an election takes place as soon as possible to resolve this political deadlock and bring back the democratic order," said party spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

The presidential election is scheduled to be held in late 2013.

The United States embassy in Colombo in a statement expressed concern over the "disorderly protests in Male and disruption of the opening session of the Majlis (Parliament)."

It urged all sides to work toward a peaceful solution without letting violence complicate the issues further.

Maldives, a nation of 300,000 people, introduced democratic elections after 30 years of autocratic rule ended in 2008.

Salon Staff

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