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Maldives declares state of emergency

A 15-day state of emergency announced by president after opposition MPs attempted to impeach government officials.

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has declared a 15-day state of emergency and security forces stormed the Supreme Court amid a deepening political crisis in the island nation.

Police also arrested former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom at his residence on Monday on charges of bribery and trying to overthrow the government, according to a family member and a lawyer.

The state of emergency follows a shock ruling by the Supreme Court on February 1, which ordered the release of imprisoned opposition leaders. Yameen refused to comply with the order and accused the  court of trying to oust him.

Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor read out the emergency decree on state television, giving security forces sweeping powers to make arrests, and curtailing the powers of the judiciary.

Shakoor said the top court's verdict has "resulted in the disruption of the functions of the executive power, and the infringement of national security and public interest".

"The government does not believe that the Supreme Court ruling to release the political prisoners can be enforced," she added.

Yameen, who critics accuse of corruption, misrule and rights abuses, has also suspended the country's parliament, where the opposition have a majority.

Mohamed Nasheed, the country's exiled former president, called the state of emergency "tantamount to a declaration of martial law in the Maldives".

The decree is "unconstitutional and illegal," he said in a statement. "Nobody in the Maldives is required to, nor should, follow this unlawful order".

He was among the nine whose terrorism convictions the Supreme Court overturned last week.

Eva Abdulla, an opposition member of parliament, called the emergency declaration "a very desperate move". It is "nothing but a purge of the political opposition, the judiciary and the parliament," she said in a post on Twitter.

Taking the Supreme Court

Hours after the declaration, soldiers forced their way into the court building, a spokesman for the Supreme Court said on Twitter.

Husnu Al Suood, president of the Maldives Bar Association and a former attorney general of the Maldives, tweeted that security forces locked up the Supreme Court with the judges inside.

Judges are "without any food now," Suood said, adding that Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed has asked the public "to protect him and the institution".

Soldiers and police in riot gear set up barricades and cordoned off the streets leading to the court building, according to witnesses. The fate of the judges was not clear. 

Gayoom, in a recorded message posted on Twitter shortly before his arrest, said he will not "give up on working for reform". The 80-year-old is Yameen's half-brother. 

"I have not anything to warrant my arrest. I urge you to remain steadfast in your resolve, too," he told supporters.

Gayoom, who ruled Maldives for 30 years, joined forces with his former rival Nasheed last year following an acrimonious power struggle within the ruling party.  

His son, Faris, a member of parliament, has been detained for more than six months, also on charges of bribery. 

Earlier in the day, opposition members of parliament urged foreign intervention, calling on the international community "to impress upon the government of Maldives the need to respect the rule of law, and implement last Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that ordered the release of political leaders and the reinstatement of 12 opposition MPs".

They also called for "all necessary measures ... to hold government officials accountable for violations of national and international law". 

Tensions "could escalate to civil unrest and incite violence across the country", they warned.

The United Nations, European Union, and several foreign governments - including India, the US and UK - have urged Yameen to comply with the Supreme Court's order. 

The United States urged government restraint on Monday.

"The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching," the White House National Security Council said in a Twitter post.

Rights group Amnesty International denounced the government's "appalling track-record of suppressing freedom of expression and any form of opposition".

"This [emergency] cannot become a licence for further repression," Omar Waraich, the group's deputy South Asia director, said on Twitter.  

China, India and the US have issued travel advisories for the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago better known for its upmarket tourism.

But the Ministry of Tourism said the state of emergency does not "force any restrictions on travelling to or within the Maldives".


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