Raucous demonstrations stopped the new leader of the Maldives from opening its parliament Thursday, three weeks after he gained control of the country in what protesters call a coup.
Lawmakers allied with the last president, Mohamed Nasheed, yanked the seats reserved for the new president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, and the parliamentary speaker and blocked the entrance to the chambers, the news outlet Haveeru reported. Some of them wore placards that said "Traitor."
"Total chaos inside parliament chambers. Pictures of members wrestling each other to the ground was just witnessed on television," Haveeru reported in minute-by-minute updates on the protests. Outside the chambers, protesters massed on the streets, waving saffron-yellow flags.
Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the island nation, had run afoul of the police and parts of the army after he fired a judge. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Nasheed claimed the judge had corrupted the courts.
Nasheed stepped down three weeks ago, saying it was for the good of the country, only to say a day later that he had been forced to resign at gunpoint. He was quickly replaced by Hassan, his vice president, who has denied there was any coup.
Hassan waited all day to address parliament before returning home. The Maldivian Democratic Party that backed Nasheed "took the decision to prevent Dr. Waheed from delivering his address due to the indications that he refuses to yield his illegitimate grip on power," it said in a statement Thursday.
Though the Maldives is a tiny country, it is important to India and China because it sits on a prime spot in the Indian Ocean, close to ships that carry billions of dollars of oil to Asia. India has been fearful that China could make a play for more power there now that the nation is unstable.
The turbulent change of power has also been lamented as a blow to democracy. The Maldives had only recently become democratic after years as a "beach dictatorship," as novelist Hari Kunzru once dubbed it.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the two sides to resume dialogue "to find a mutually agreeable way forward on the basis of the constitution and without jeopardizing the democratic gains achieved thus far in the Maldives," a statement said.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Video: Opposition protesters block the opening of the Maldivian parliament. Credit: Sofvan Ibrahim / Haveeru