US, UN urge free elections in Maldives

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 15 2013 04:25 PM | Updated as of Feb 16 2013 12:25 AM

WASHINGTON - The United States and the United Nations called Thursday for free elections in the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean archipelago's former leader took refuge in the Indian embassy.

"We urge all sides to remain calm, reject the use of violence and avoid rhetoric that could increase tensions," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

The United Nations echoed her comments.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for all sides to "exercise restraint, renew their commitment to the Constitution and work toward creating conducive conditions for fair, peaceful and inclusive elections," his spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.

Mohamed Nasheed, the low-lying islands' first democratically elected president who is best known overseas for his advocacy on climate change, fled Wednesday to the Indian embassy to avoid arrest after he failed to appear in court to face abuse of power charges.

Nasheed, who stepped down last year, said that his trial was a politically motivated sham as a conviction would prevent him from leading his Maldivian Democratic Party into polls in September.

"All parties contesting the 7 September presidential elections should be able to field the candidates of their choice in accordance with the rule of law and the Constitution," Ban's spokesman said.

Washington called for the election to be "free, fair, credible, transparent and inclusive."

And in comments similar to the UN's, Nuland said "all parties participating in these elections should be able to put forward the candidate of their choice."

On Wednesday, India had also called for free elections, in a message seen as tacitly backing Nasheed.

Nasheed resigned last year after a mutiny by police and military following weeks of anti-government protests in the nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims known for luxury beach resorts.

A frequent visitor to the United States, Nasheed had voiced outrage after his resignation when Washington quickly said it was willing to work with his successor Mohamed Waheed and called on Nasheed to compromise.

Nasheed later accepted a Commonwealth-backed investigation that ruled that he was not ousted in a coup, as he resigned voluntarily and Waheed was constitutionally his successor.

The Maldives government said that Nasheed can leave the Indian embassy and would not be arrested because the warrant for his arrest has expired.

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