A court in the Maldives issued an arrest warrant Thursday for former President Mohamed Nasheed, one day after his supporters rampaged in the capital and his claim of being ousted in a coup left unclear the stability of the fledging Indian Ocean democracy.
Police spokesman Abdul Mannan Yusuf refused to disclose the grounds for the criminal court's warrant, or say when Nasheed — who is living at his Male home, surrounded by supporters — would be arrested. Later, Police Commissioner Abdullah Riaz said it was not clear if the warrant was constitutional. He declined to provide details, but said the warrant's legality was still being examined.
Nasheed had announced he was voluntarily resigning Tuesday after months of protests against his rule and fading support from the police and the army. But the next day, as former Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan was forming a new government, Nasheed suddenly announced he had actually been pushed from power at gunpoint.
Thousands of his supporters swept into the streets. They clashed with security forces in Male, the capital, and attacked police stations in remote parts of this 1,200-island archipelago nation off southern India. The new government insists there was no coup.
Late on Thursday, Nasheed demanded his successor step down and called for new presidential elections, now scheduled for September 2013.
"We want an election as soon as possible," he told hundreds of cheering supporters gathered at a conference hall in Male, predicting his Maldivian Democratic Party will emerge victorious from the vote. "Forty-eight hours out of power and we have over 500 people in jail without any charges," he said. The number of people arrested could not be immediately verified.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake spoke by phone Thursday with Nasheed and assured him that the U.S. is telling the new government that his security should be protected, the State Department said.
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Blake also urged Nasheed — as it had Hassan — "that this needs to be settled now peaceably through dialogue and through the formation, as the new president has pledged, of a national unity government."
She said Blake will visit Male on Saturday and meet with the new president Hassan, Nasheed and civil society.
The dispute threatens the crucial tourism industry of this mostly Muslim nation of 300,000 people, which relies on dozens of high-end resorts that cater to the rich and famous. The developments also raise questions about the future of a democracy that only shed a 30-year, one-man rule with the 2008 multiparty elections that brought Nasheed to power.
Britain advised this week against all but essential travel to Male Island because of protests in the capital, but it noted the international airport and resort areas were operating normally. The United States is advising travelers to exercise caution, avoid protests and not engage in political activity while in the Maldives.
In nearby Sri Lanka, travel agents said they had seen no immediate drop in business, but predicted that would change if the crisis continued.
Rizmi Riyaz, of the firm Travel Global, said he was worried that tourists would soon "think twice (about going to the Maldives) as they are concerned about the situation."
The city of Male was calm but tense Thursday, with the streets crowded with commuters. Police said the violence in outlying islands had stopped.
Maldives police commissioner Abdullah Riyaz said 18 police stations on several islands, along with an undetermined number of court houses and police vehicles, were destroyed in the violence. Police said they detained 49 people after the Male rioting.
The new defense minister vowed to punish those responsible for Wednesday's violence, calling the destruction "acts of terrorism."
"The Maldives national defense force remains vigilant in enforcing the law and order and upholding the constitution of the Maldives," Mohammed Nazin told reporters Thursday, barely 12 hours into his new job.
Nasheed's party insisted his ouster was engineered by rogue elements of the police and supporters of the country's former autocratic leader, whom Nasheed defeated in 2008. Others blamed Islamic extremists.
Hassan, who was Nasheed's vice president, has denied claims of a plot to oust Nasheed and called for a unity coalition to be formed to help it recover.
The military also denied that it forced Nasheed to resign at gunpoint. "There is no officer in the military that would point a gun toward the president," said Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Didi. "The military did not call for his resignation, he resigned voluntarily."
Hassan, who had promised to protect Nasheed from retribution, said his predecessor was not under any restriction and was free to leave the country. However, he said he would not interfere with any police or court action against Nasheed.
Nasheed's wife arrived Wednesday afternoon in nearby Sri Lanka, according to Bandula Jayasekara, the Sri Lankan presidential spokesman.
Nasheed's resignation marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who had been jailed for his activism under the 30-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed also became an environmental celebrity for urging global action against climate change, warning that rising sea levels would inundate his archipelago nation.
Over the past year, Nasheed was battered by protests over soaring prices and demands for more religiously conservative policies. Last month, Nasheed's government arrested the nation's top criminal court judge for freeing a government critic and refused to release him as protests grew.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.