Police arrested at least 30 people following clashes between protesters and government supporters in the Maldivian capital, Male. The small nation faces political unrest caused by the arrest of former President Nasheed.
This arrest of the former president, Mohamed Nasheed, almost a week ago has since prompted clashes in Male
Opposition supporters called on Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom to step down and demanded that his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed be released from detention, during a large march on Friday in Male, the capital of the island nation.
Nasheed was arrested Sunday on terrorism charges over his alleged role in the arrest of a criminal court judge during his time in office.
The rally was peaceful until a group of protesters clashed with an unknown pro-government group close to the home of president Gayoom. A number of people from both sides were arrested, according to the police.
An 'average' crowd
A reporter at the scene estimated that somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attended the Friday rally, a huge number for a country with total population under 400,000.
At the same time, authorities estimated the crowd to be far smaller.
"Numbers are average. Only a couple of thousand people at best," Mohamed Hussain Shareef, a minister in Yameen's office, told Reuters, adding that police had found rods, machetes and knives on protesters.
Nasheed 'forced to resign'
Representatives of Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party claim that the opposition leader was arrested on the orders of the current president Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
"A liberal and democratic constitution has fallen into the wrong hands," MDP spokesman Imthiyaz Fahmy told Reuters, adding that Yameen was taking the country into a "dark reign."
"The people of the country will not let that happen. We will defend the constitution," he said.
The government, however, denies that the move to prosecute Nasheed was politically motivated.
In 2008, Nasheed became the first president to be democratically elected in the Maldives, following 30 years of autocratic rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is a half-brother of the current president.
However, Nasheed resigned in February 2012 after a mutiny by police and troops, following weeks of public protests over the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed. The former president has said he was forced to resign at gunpoint, and allies claim he was ousted in a coup.
The judge, who was arrested for bias and corruption, was subsequently released. Nasheed denies ordering his arrest.
The former president was thrown to the ground as police dragged him to court on Monday, and his lawyers said that he was denied access to his legal team. In addition, Nasheed has been given just three days to prepare his defense, with his party claiming that defendants usually have ten days to organize their defense.
The United States, the regional power India and the former colonial power the United Kingdom have voiced concerns about Nasheed's detention, his rough treatment by the authorities and lack of access to legal representation at the hearing.
Nasheed faces terrorism charges which can carry a prison sentence of over ten years.
dj/msh (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)