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President seeking to restore calm

The Maldives' new president promised to protect his predecessor from retribution after he stepped down amid protests and clashes between the army and police over his decision to arrest a top judge.

President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who was sworn in on Tuesday, called for chaos on the streets to stop and for citizens of the Indian Ocean island nation to work together after months of political turmoil.

"I urge everyone to make this a peaceful country," he said.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party insisted his ousting was a "coup" engineered by rogue elements of the police and supporters of the country's former autocratic leader.

However, a Nasheed adviser denied the resignation came under duress from the military. The adviser said Mr Nasheed was left with two choices: order a bloody military crackdown on the police dissidents or resign.

Mr Hassan's office also denied the military pressured Mr Nasheed to quit in the wake of Tuesday's street clashes. "It was not a coup at all. It was the wish of the people," said Ahmed Thoufeeg, Mr Hassan's secretary.

Authorities denied Mr Nasheed was under house arrest, but said the police and army troops were protecting him at an undisclosed location.

"Mr Nasheed is protected by the current government because there might be some people wanting to harm him," said police spokesman Ahmed Shyam. "He's in a safe place now, but any other action will be decided by the government."

Mr Nasheed's resignation marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who defeated the nation's long-time ruler to become its first democratically elected president. Mr Nasheed was also an environmental celebrity, travelling the world to persuade governments to combat the climate change that could raise sea levels and inundate his archipelago nation.

Mr Nasheed presented his resignation in a nationally televised address after police joined the protesters and then clashed with soldiers in the streets. Some of the soldiers then defected to the police side. Maldivians waving flags poured into the streets to celebrate Mr Nasheed's resignation. Some playfully threw water at each other. Soon after, the judge was released.

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