File photo: Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed. Photograph:( Reuters )
The exiled former president of the Maldives said today he will run again for office, hours after a surprise Supreme Court decision to free a group of political prisoners led to unrest in the capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Current President Yameen Abdul Gayoom had been set to run for re-election virtually unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled. But ex-President Mohammed Nasheed, who is among the prisoners ordered freed, said he would challenge Yameen, who has rolled back many democratic reforms since coming to power five years ago.
"I can contest and I will contest and hopefully we will win it again," Nasheed told the AP in Colombo, the capital of neighbouring Sri Lanka.
Nasheed was jailed in 2016 but received asylum in Britain later that year after travelling there on medical leave from prison. He has lived in exile ever since.
Nasheed also called for reforms in the country's security services, telling the AP that "a small element within the military and police want to prop up the dictatorship" of Yameen.
Male, the capital, was quiet today afternoon, although an opposition leader said Yameen's opponents were planning further protests.
The Supreme Court of Maldives ordered the release of former president Mohamed Nasheed and former vice president Ahmed Adeeb along with other politicians.
The court ordered the immediate release of high-profile prisoners and held that "the prisoners were free until fair trials could be conducted without undue influence", a statement said.
The order given Thursday night could be a major blow to President Yameen Abdul Gayoom who has a tight grip on power, controlling institutions like the judiciary, police and the bureaucracy, Fox News reported.
The clashes lasted about three hours, with police dispersing rock-throwing crowds using pepper spray and batons. At least one injured police officer was taken to a hospital. It was not immediately clear if anyone was arrested, though some protesters were taken away by police.
Atul Keshap, the US ambassador to the Maldives, welcomed the Supreme Court order. "I urge the government and security services to respect this ruling, which bolsters democracy and rule of law for all Maldivians," he wrote on Twitter.
India, on Friday, said it was imperative for "all organs" of the Maldivian government to abide by the country's Supreme Court order to release all political prisoners "in the spirit of democracy".
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it was "closely monitoring" the evolving situation in the Maldives and also hoped that the safety and security of Indian expatriates in the island nation would be ensured by the Maldivian authorities under "all circumstances".
In 2015 Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison, convicted of terrorism charges in a trial widely condemned by international rights groups.
Yameen's former deputy, Ahmed Adeeb, who had been jailed on accusations of plotting to kill the president, was also ordered released.
Adeeb was sentenced to 33 years in prison in 2016, charged with corruption, possession of illegal firearms and planning to kill Yameen by triggering an explosion on his speedboat. However, FBI investigators said they found no evidence of a bomb blast.
(With PTI inputs)