Thursday, March 8, 2012


The Maldives, a sprawl of more than 1,200 islands dotted across the Indian Ocean, is the most prosperous country in South Asia. For much of the world, the Maldives means idyllic and exclusive beach resorts. However, for many of the people who live there, it has been no paradise.

For most of the last three decades, the country’s autocratic ruler, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, pursued policies that kept many Maldivians poor while extending a warm welcome to well-heeled foreign tourists, which helped bankroll the government. That arrangement started to give way in 2008, when the country held its first democratic elections, installing a charismatic activist, Mohamed Nasheed, as president.

But after Mr. Nasheed left office in February 2012 in what he said was a coup, the government issued a warrant for his arrest on unspecified criminal charges. It also invited members of the business elite and representatives of the former dictatorship to join the cabinet, raising fears among many people that the country’s progress toward democracy was slipping away.

Though the Maldives is a tiny country of only about 400,000 people, the turmoil has attracted the attention of the United States, Britain, India and other countries because of its location near busy, pirate-infested shipping lanes. There are also concerns that Islamists, who have grown bolder in recent years, could gain a bigger foothold. The country’s official religion is Islam.

On Feb. 11, an American envoy met with both sides to encourage the formation of a unity government, in an apparent bid for stability.

The next day, the new president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, moved forward with what he called a unity government, which lacked the backing of Mr. Nasheed. Mr. Hassan swore in new members of his cabinet, including leaders from the party of the former autocrat, Mr. Gayoom, and politicians who have argued that the country’s laws should adhere to a stricter interpretation of Islamic teachings.

On Feb. 16, representatives of Mr. Nasheed and Mr. Hassan agreed to an early election to resolve the political crisis, after Indian officials intervened. No date was set for the new election, but spokesmen for the two factions said that the voting could take place in a few months, rather than in October 2013 as originally scheduled. The Parliament would have to change the Constitution to make the early election possible.

On March 1, in a sign that tensions were still running high, hundreds of supporters Mr. Nasheed blocked Mr. Hassan from addressing Parliament.

Though diplomats had tried to broker a settlement among Mr. Nasheed, Mr. Hassan and other political leaders, the talks had not yet produced an agreement on what appeared to be the main demand of Mr. Nasheed and his supporters, a date for a new election.

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