By HUSSAIN SINAN and KRISHAN FRANCIS, Associated Press
MALE, Maldives (AP) — A court in the Maldives issued an arrest warrant Thursday for former President Mohamed Nasheed, a 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.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sent his assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, to the Maldives to help resolve the crisis.
"In this atmosphere it is very difficult for any meaningful and national form of discussion. I therefore request all political actors to remain calm and prevent any type of violence," Ferdandez-Taranco told reporters on arrival.
The U.N official is scheduled to meet Waheed, Nasheed, and other political, human rights and civil society leaders.
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 quiet 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.