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Maldives situation raises wider concern

Feb. 10, 2012 at 1:40 AM   |   Comments

MALE, Maldives, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The Maldivian crisis has alerted neighboring India, with its national security and defense officials holding meetings, sources told the Hindustan Times.

The situation on the Indian Ocean island republic, with which India has close contacts, has tensed up following the ouster of its democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed faces arrest by the new government and his aides have contacted New Delhi, the Times reported, adding India updated a "contingency plan" to address any fallout from Maldives as the Indian National Security Council and the Defense Ministry held separate meetings to chart out a response plan.

The report, quoting government sources, said the high-level meetings also factored in a possible Chinese role.

Officially, India has said the developments in Maldives are internal issues.

A Los Angeles Times report Friday said the turmoil in the strategically located Maldives could be a potential opening for China as the communist country seeks to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean.

India, which fought a war with China in 1962, sees that country as a threat because of its growing military might and its closeness to Pakistan, India's tradition rival.

Maldives' strategic importance also derives from its location along Asia's main oil shipping lanes.

Nasheed, 44, was elected in 2008 but has been under political pressure from his opponents since then. Although he faces arrest, the charges against him were not clear.

The Los Angeles Times report said new Maldivian President Mohammed Waheed Hassan assembled a Cabinet Thursday that included the defense and home ministers who have had differences with Nasheed.

India's CNN-IBN television quoted sources in the Indian prime minister's office as saying they are also concerned about Islamic radicalism in Maldives.

The report said New Delhi has a plan ready for any possible military development in the island nation.

Nasheed remained in the Maldivian capital of Male but he told an Indian TV channel that his wife and daughter had gone to neighboring Sri Lanka.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland Thursday told reporters the United States considers the new government in Male legitimate and that Washington will work with it. She said the circumstances "surrounding the transfer of power must be clarified" and that all parties need to agree to an independent mechanism to do so.

Nuland said Assistant Secretary Robert Blake had spoken to Nasheed to say the United States supports a peaceful resolution of the situation and that Nasheed's security should be protected. Blake is due to visit Maldives Saturday.

While Nasheed's allies say democracy had been subverted just as it was taking root in the Maldives, the country's new Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview the violent protests Wednesday by Nasheed supporters were "clearly an act of terrorism."

Ahmed said he didn't believe the warrant for Nasheed was issued on terrorism charges but related to a police investigation of the president's firing of a judge last month that touched of public protests against Nasheed.

"The situation is very tense," Ahmed said. "We're trying to restore order."

Nasheed has said he was asked to resign at gunpoint.

The new president, however, has denied there was a coup and has called for a unity government, the Los Angeles Times said.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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