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Kerry warns Maldives democracy at risk after mass opposition arrests

Authorities in the Maldives have arrested nearly 200 anti-government protesters who had been demanding the release of jailed ex-president Nasheed. The US has warned democracy in the island nation may be "under threat."

Maldivian officials said Saturday that 193 people, including three opposition leaders, had been taken into custody after violent clashes broke out between police and protesters in the capital Male overnight.

The march was attended by several thousand people accusing President Abdulla Yameen Gayoom of illegally jailing his predecessor, Mohamed Nasheed, as well as any others he perceives as political threats.

"The increasingly authoritarian regime of President Abdulla Yameen responded... with tear gas, baton charges, stun grenades and mass arrests," Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the main opposition, said in a statement.

"All key opposition figures are now under arrest," party spokeswoman Shauna Aminath told news agency AFP.

MDP chairman Ali Waheed, leader of the Islamic conservative Adhaalath Party, Sheik Imran, and Ameen Ibrahim, deputy leader of the Jumhooree Party, were among those rounded up by security.

The Maldivian government said all 193 people remained in detention on Saturday, and accused the protest's organizers of inciting violence and encouraging activists to confront police.

Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed concern over the unrest in the Indian Ocean island. "There are troubling signs that democracy is under threat in the Maldives, where former President Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process," Kerry said, during a visit to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Saturday.

"That is an injustice that must be addressed soon," he added.

Fragile democracy

Mohamed Nasheed

Former president Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years

The Maldives archipelago, which lies some 750 kilometers (470 miles) southwest of Sri Lanka, has long struggled with political instability.

Former president Nasheed became the island nation's first democratically elected leader in 2008, following his victory over Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the country for 30 years. But in the 2013 presidential election, Nasheed lost to Gayoom's half-brother, Abdulla Yameen.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison in March, under the country's terrorism laws, accused of ordering the illegal arrest of a senior judge while he was president in 2011.

The case sparked an international outcry, with the United Nations calling it a "vastly unfair trial" and an "arbitrary and disproportionate" conviction.

Despite the reaction, the government has insisted Nasheed received a fair trial and has told its critics to respect the verdict.

nm/jil (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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