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Maldives leader claims supreme court order was part of coup plot

Yameen Abdul Gayoom said justices overstepped their authority in ordering jailed opposition politicians to be released.

The president of the Maldives said he ordered a state of emergency to investigate a “coup” involving a supreme court ruling which ordered the release of imprisoned opposition leaders.

Yameen Abdul Gayoom said on national television: “This is not a state of war, epidemic or natural disaster. This is something more dangerous.

“This is an obstruction of the very ability of the state to function.”

Mr Yameen, who has rolled back a series of democratic reforms during his five years in office in the Indian Ocean nation, said the supreme court overstepped its authority in ordering the politicians to be released, and that the order “blatantly disrupts the systems of checks and balances”.

His government has moved to assert its power since the supreme court ruling, announcing a 15-day state of emergency on Monday night which grants officials sweeping powers to make arrests, to search and seize property and to restrict freedom of assembly.

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Policemen arrest former Maldives president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, centre (AP)

Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces arrested two supreme court justices and a former ruler who is now an opposition leader.

“This state of emergency is the only way I can determine how deep this plot, this coup, goes,” Mr Yameen said.

Meanwhile, his main political rival called on India to send a military-backed envoy to free the imprisoned justices and opposition leaders.

Exiled former president Mohammed Nasheed, who was among the opposition politicians ordered freed by the supreme court and is now in neighbouring Sri Lanka, said Mr Yameen “has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power”.

He also called for the Indian envoy and that country’s military to be sent, declaring: “We are asking for a physical presence.”

The opposition leader also urged the US to stop Maldives government officials from making transactions through American banks.

There was no immediate response from India or the United States, though both have called on Mr Yameen to obey the supreme court order.

Mr Yameen has cracked down on civil liberties since coming to power in 2013, imprisoning or forcing into exile nearly every politician who opposes him.

Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces in riot gear stormed the supreme court building, arresting two of its judges, including chief justice Abdulla Saeed. It is not immediately clear what charges they face, if any. The whereabouts of the court’s other two judges are not clear.

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Ex-president Mr Gayoom is being taken to prison by police after the government declared a 15-day state of emergency (AP)

Later, former dictator and opposition politician Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was seen on a mobile phone video taken by his daughter being quietly escorted from his home by security forces, hugging friends and family and waving to supporters before being driven away.

Shortly before his arrest he sent a message on Twitter saying a large deployment of police had surrounded his house: “To protect me or to arrest me? No idea.”

His lawyer, Maumoon Hameed, said Mr Gayoom faces charges including bribery and attempting to overthrow the government.

Mr Gayoom was president from 1978 until 2008, when the Maldives became a multi-party democracy.

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