New Zealanders caught in Maldives coup

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 15:53 10/02/2012

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New Zealand diplomats are in contact with eight Kiwis in the Maldives which is in political chaos after the ousting of the country's President Mohamed Nasheed on Wednesday.

"New Zealand is watching developments in the Maldives with concern," Foreign Minister Murray McCully said.

The New Zealand High Commission in Singapore had contacted the eight registered New Zealanders in the country.

"The travel advisory is being updated to advise New Zealanders to avoid travel to (the capital) Male at this time, avoid any protests and demonstrations and to follow instructions from local authorities," McCully said.

Dozens of Maldiveans, now involved in the unrest, have been educated in universities in New Zealand and Fiji.

Reuters reported that Nasheed had vowed to fight against the government he says ousted him in a coup with the connivance of the police and the military.

But as rain fell on Male, capital of the Indian Oceans islands renowned for their luxury resorts, and supporters stood outside Nasheed's family home, there was no sign of a move against him by the government or police.

Police Commissioner Abdullah Riyaz, asked by Reuters if and when Nasheed would be arrested, declined to comment, and the government said nothing on the subject.

Nasheed, the islands' first democratically elected president, appeared to dare the government led by his former vice president, Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik, to arrest him after violent protests spread outside Male.

"The home minister has pledged (I will be) the first former president to spend all my life in jail," said Nasheed, who was relaxed and smiling and showed no signs of his reported beating.

He said he hoped the international community would act quickly as "the facts on the ground are that tomorrow I will be in jail".

Nasheed said he would accept his arrest, as he had done 27 times before when former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was in power. Nasheed narrowly beat Gayoom in a 2008 election, defeating the man who had jailed him for six years in all.

On Thursday NZT, Nasheed declared that his resignation the day before was in fact a gunpoint coup engineered by a coterie of police, military and political rivals, and led thousands of supporters onto the streets where they clashed with riot police and troops.

Only about 330,000 people live permanently in the Maldives but there has been much interest in the tumult because of the huge number of holidaymakers who visit the islands.

The Maldives gets about one million visitors a year, most seeking a beach or scuba diving holiday getaway at resorts that charge up to $1,000 per night.

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- with Reuters

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