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Rioters back Malldives ex-president

Supporters of the Maldives former president rioted through the streets today demanding his reinstatement as the country's new leader appealed for unity.

Mohamed Nasheed, the nation's first democratically elected president, said he had been forced to resign at gunpoint on Tuesday in what he termed a coup. He demanded his successor resign and he promised to fight to return to office.

"We will come to power again," Mr Nasheed said. "We will never step back. I will not accept this coup and will bring justice to the Maldivians."

President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, the former vice president, took office when Nasheed resigned after police joined relentless street protests against his government.

Mr Hassan denied claims there was a coup or a plot to oust Mr Nasheed. He said he had not prepared to take over the country and he called for the creation of a unity coalition to help it recover.

"Together, I am confident, we'll be able to build a stable and democratic country," he said, adding that his government intended to respect the rule of law. Later he appeared to be consolidating his power by appointing a new military chief and police commissioner.

Mr Nasheed insisted he was pushed from power by the armed forces. "I was forced to resign with guns all around me. They told me, if I don't resign, they won't hesitate to use arms," he said.

Speaking to about 2,000 wildly cheering members of his Maldivian Democratic Party in the capital Male he called for Mr Hassan's immediate resignation and demanded the nation's top judge investigate those he said were responsible for his removal.

He then led an anti-government demonstration. Police responded by firing tear gas and arresting two MPs from Mr Nasheed's party.

"If the police are going to confront us we are going to face them," Mr Nasheed told the rally. "We have to overcome our fear and we have to get strength." His supporters began rioting, throwing fire bombs and attacking a private TV station that had been critical of his government.

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