Maldives president's speech blocked

March 1, 2012 at 5:27 PM
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MALE, Maldives, March 1 (UPI) -- Hundreds of supporters of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed blocked the current president from delivering an address to Parliament Thursday.

Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the country, has demanded early elections, and that appeared to be the main demand of his supporters Thursday, The New York Times reported.

The current president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who had been vice president under Nasheed, has said elections would be held before the next scheduled vote in October 2013 but negotiations have not led to a date for the earlier elections.

Nasheed resigned Feb. 7 and has said he was forced out in a coup engineered by people close to the country's former dictator. Hassan has said the resignation was voluntary.

Hassan was scheduled to deliver an address on the state of the nation before the year's first parliamentary session. But members of Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party blocked roads outside the Parliament building, and lawmakers from the party removed chairs for the president and the speaker to keep them from taking their places inside Parliament.

Army soldiers entered Parliament in the evening and removed three members of Nasheed's party, and speaker Abdulla Shahid adjourned the session. He did not set a date for when lawmakers would reconvene.

Police arrested 44 protesters, officials said. Masood Imad, a spokesman for Hassan, said 16 police officers were injured and one suffered life-threatening wounds and had been flown to Sri Lanka for treatment.

India, the United States, Europe and other countries have been monitoring the tense situation partly because they fear increased fundamentalist Islam in the country, with a mainly Sunni Muslim population.

Religious parties had protested in late 2011 against what they called anti-Islamic policies backed by Nasheed and his party.

Maldives, an island national south of India known for its beaches, draws almost 1 million tourists a year, mostly from Asia and Europe.

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