By Kurt Achin
The president of the Maldives has resigned after members of the nation’s police forces joined with opposition protesters.
The resignation of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed followed weeks of popular street protests in the capital, Male, culminating in a mutiny by certain factions of the country’s police.
Saying he did not wish to rule with “an iron fist,” Nasheed announced his decision to step down on national television, hours after protesters took over the broadcaster.
“He did say trying to sustain the government at this moment may lead use of extensive force and he wanted to avoid that, ” said Mohamed Zuhair, who was Nasheed’s press secretary.
Nasheed became president in 2008 after the country’s first democratic elections. He had been a frequent political prisoner of the country’s former autocratic ruler, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for 30 years.
Recent protests have been dominated by followers loyal to Gayoom, whose political allies joined forces to create a stalemate in the country’s parliament. Nasheed’s critics faulted him for economic policies they say fostered inflation and for being too lax in upholding the country’s dominant Islamic identity.
Witnesses say tear gas was fired as protesters tried to smash their way into the headquarters of the country’s military – the Maldives National Defense Force, or MNDF.
According to some reports, several dozen members of the army took the side of the protesters. However, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Latheef, a spokesman for the MNDF, denies that. He says the military will remain a force for national stability.
“MNDF will always stand as it is,” said Latheef. “There will be no problem in the MNDF. We will be with the president always. If there is a new president, we will be with the new president.”
Former Vice President Muhammad Waheed Hassan was sworn in as the new president later Tuesday. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year. Observers says they will be watching closely to see what impact the day’s demonstrations will have on such a young democracy.