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Maldives attorney general says court can’t oust president

February 4, 2018

Maldivian president Yameen Abdul Gayoom, center, surrounded by his body guards arrives to address his supporters in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. President Yameen said Saturday that he was willing to hold an early presidential election to allow voters to decide who they want to lead the Indian Ocean archipelago, as political unrest continued to grow after a court ordered the release and retrial of political prisoners.(AP Photo/Mohamed Sharuhaan)

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The Maldives’ attorney general warned the country’s Supreme Court on Sunday that a move to unseat the president would be unconstitutional, amid a political crisis that has left the government in chaos since late last week.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil said at a news conference that he had heard “rumors that the Supreme Court is going to order the impeachment” of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

He said that the president can be ousted only through a vote in parliament, and that police and security forces would not obey an impeachment order from an “illegitimate set of people.”

Mohammed Nasheed, the Indian Ocean archipelago’s exiled former president and Yameen’s main rival, responded angrily on Twitter, saying that comments from Anil and other officials were “tantamount to a coup.”

“Security services must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people,” Nasheed tweeted. 

Under Maldivian law, a vote for impeachment removes a president from office.

The crisis, which has included repeated rounds of clashes between police and opposition protesters, began when the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that that all politicians opposed to Yameen, including Nasheed, be released.

As of Sunday, no prisoners had been released. The government said it had been advised by the chief justice to follow due process in releasing the prisoners.

A government statement on Sunday said the prosecutor general had appraised the Supreme Court on the “numerous legal challenges” in the implementation of the ruling.

In an apparent response to the statement, the Supreme Court said in a news release that “there are no obstacles in implementing the ruling and releasing political prisoners and that this has been informed to the Prosecutor General’s office.”

Nasheed has been living in exile in Britain since 2016 after being given asylum when he traveled there on medical leave from prison.

In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the court also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had been ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. When those lawmakers return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which can result in the legislative body functioning as a rival power to the president.

On Saturday, police arrested two lawmakers upon their arrival from overseas. Ilham Ahmed and Abler Mohamed were among the 12 who were reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Police did not explain why they were arrested.

Lawmaker Ahmed Mahloof said opposition lawmakers would try to meet in parliament even though the scheduled opening of the sessions for the year has been postponed indefinitely. They plan to submit no-confidence motions against the attorney general, prosecutor general, home minister and defense minister, Mahloof said.

Military personnel surrounded the parliament building in a bid to prevent lawmakers from entering Saturday morning, and they remained stationed there on Sunday.

Speaking publicly for the first time since Thursday’s Supreme Court order, Yameen said Saturday that he did not expect the court ruling, but that all relevant authorities of the state need to do “a lot of work to see how to implement it.”

“We are working on making sure we can respect the Supreme Court order in a way that doesn’t cause any difficulties to the people,” he said at a rally in his support organized by his party

He also said that he is ready to hold early presidential election if the opposition wants to test who is popular among the people.

Known for its luxury tourist resorts, the Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule by the current president’s half brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

But the nation lost much of its democratic gains after Yameen was elected in 2013. He has maintained a tight grip on power, controlling institutions such as the judiciary and the police.

Yameen had been set to run for re-election this year virtually unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.

On Friday, Nasheed, whose conviction for abducting a judge was overturned by the Supreme Court order, said he would mount a fresh challenge for the presidency this year.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted of the abduction charge under the Maldives’ anti-terror laws in a trial that was widely condemned by international rights groups.

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