Maldives crisis: Nasheed remains defiant

Male:  Three days after he was "forced" to step down as President, a defiant Mohammed Nasheed today demanded fresh polls in Maldives, where India dispatched a top official to assess the situation and offered help in early installation of a national unity government.

Refusing to give up his political ambitions despite an arrest warrant against him, 44-year-old Nasheed kept up the heat on new President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who was his deputy just three days ago, and demanded that he step down to pave the way for fresh elections.

Nasheed`s remarks came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s special envoy M Ganapati met him and Hassan separately, shortly after arriving here to assess the situation in the picturesque archipelago. Ganapathi, Secretary (West) in the External Affairs Ministry, conveyed India`s willingness to assist in early installation of a national unity government in the Indian Ocean atoll during his meetings with Nasheed and Hassan.

59-year-old Hassan is understood to have assured India that he would not indulge in a witch-hunt while dealing with Nasheed. In New Delhi, Prime Minister Singh said it was his sincere hope that the matter can be resolved through peaceful dialogue. "It will be our effort to use our influence in that direction," he said. In Male, Nasheed led a massive rally of supporters in the capital after Friday prayers, where he demanded that Hassan`s resignation to pave the way for fresh elections.

As concerns mounted over Nasheed`s impending fate and a possible arrest, UN Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco arrived here for talks with the new government. Late last night, Nasheed had addressed thousands of peaceful supporters and sought a fresh election to settle the political upheaval. "He (Hassan) must step down and then the Speaker of the Majlis (Parliament) can hold elections within two months," he said.

Earlier in the day, the US said it recognised the government of Nasheed`s successor Hassan, dealing a major blow to the toppled President who has been questioning the legitimacy of the new regime. The US sought clarification on the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power in the country, though it said it would work with the new government. When asked if the US recognised the new government, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "We do".

A disappointed Nasheed said he was "very unhappy" over Washington`s move to legitimise his successor. "This is not being helpful. They should really look at what has happened," said Nasheed who has insisted that his former vice president was complicit in the conspiracy to topple him. Maldives` first democratically-elected president had said that he was forced to resign as gun-wielding military men threatened that they would resort to using arms if he did not.