Angry protesters turned to the streets Thursday in the Maldives after a national commission found that its former president hadn't been ousted in a coup, but stepped down legally after losing political support.
“It is time to stop questioning the legitimacy of the government,” President Mohamed Waheed Hassan said after the report was formally released Thursday. “It is time to stop illegal activities and activities that go against generally acceptable social norms.”
Former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in February after weeks of turmoil, only to tell reporters the next day that he had been forced to step down at gunpoint. Nasheed had ordered the arrest of a top judge whose rulings he believed to be politically motivated, triggering protests and a police mutiny before he gave up his office.
His allies called the shift of power to then-Vice President Waheed a coup. Nasheed said he had been forced out by the same autocratic forces that had ruled the country before it became a democracy four years ago. Nasheed, once a human rights activist, was its first democratically elected leader.
The question of what happened in February was supposed to be settled by the Commission of National Inquiry, which took six months to examine the situation and interviewed hundreds of witnesses.
It found that Nasheed had chosen to step down without “illegal coercion or intimidation,” and that the chaos and conflict leading up to his resignation “were, in large measure, reactions to the actions of President Nasheed.” No one, it said, had ever threatened to kill Nasheed and his family, as he alleged.
The commission also found that Nasheed had violated the constitution by arresting and detaining the judge. Elected as part of a coalition, his support had splintered as he clashed with the business community and religious parties accused him of undermining Islam, its report said.
“This commission does not accept that there was a coup d’etat,” it said. “Rather, it is evident that President Nasheed lost the support of the coalition … which had brought him to power.”
The United States urged people in the Maldives to respect the findings, as did United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Commonwealth association of nations.
"Now is the time for all parties to work together through dialogue to chart a positive way forward that respects the Maldivian constitution, democratic institutions, human rights and the will of the Maldivian people," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.
Despite their calls for the Maldives to move on, the report did little to bridge the deep division and suspicion in the archipelago. About 1,000 people rallied in Male, the capital, hours after Nasheed declared that if the commission found there was no coup, “it is legitimate for the people to topple the government from the street,” Reuters reported. Some sparred with soldiers.
“We can accept [the commission] report only when we stop trusting our own ears and eyes!” the Maldivian Democratic Party declared Thursday on Twitter.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A supporter of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed shouts at a police officer after the Commission of National Inquiry released its report in Male, Maldives, on Thursday. Credit: Sinan Hussein / Associated Press