MALE, Maldives (AP) — A raucous opposition protest kept the Maldives' president waiting more than nine hours and ultimately prevented him from opening Parliament on Wednesday, three weeks after he took office in a contentious power transfer.
Mohammed Waheed Hassan arrived at Parliament in the morning and sat in a waiting room during the day while protesters blocked roads leading to the building and clashed with police, who attempted to push them aside with their shields. He returned home late in the evening, having failed to make his speech to lawmakers.
Lawmakers from former President Mohamed Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party removed the seats reserved for the president and the speaker in Parliament, preventing Hassan from speaking.
The lawmakers sat on the speaker's table and some shouted slogans calling Hassan's government illegal.
Hassan conferred with advisers during his wait, spokesman Masood Imad said.
Parliament speaker Abdulla Shahid said he will announce a new opening date later. Shahid himself was blocked from entering Parliament by opposition demonstrators and suffered bruises as he tried to force his way.
Police spokesman Ahmed Shyam said 14 officers were injured by thrown stones, four of them seriously. Forty-four protesters were arrested for breaching the Parliament security cordon, attacking the police and setting fire to a police motorbike, he said.
According to the constitution, the president must speak to the lawmakers and officially open a new parliamentary session after a change in leadership.
Hassan went to a waiting room in Parliament hoping that the opposition lawmakers would end their protest, Imad said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the tensions.
"The secretary-general urges all parties concerned to resume immediately their political dialogue, both in and outside parliament, in order to find a mutually agreeable way forward," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Nasheed resigned last month after weeks of public protests and loss of support from the military and police. He later said he was ousted in a coup and was forced to resign at gunpoint.
A political stalemate has followed, with Nasheed calling Hassan's government illegitimate and campaigning for early elections. Hassan, Nasheed's former deputy, says the transfer was constitutional and was not forced.
The MDP said in a statement Thursday that they decided to block Hassan from speaking because he "refuses to yield his illegitimate grip on power, and seems intent on disenfranchising the Maldivian people of their right to elect their president."
"We will continue to hold to our position and it is imperative that an election takes place as soon as possible to resolve this political deadlock and bring back the democratic order," said party spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
The presidential election is scheduled to be held in late 2013.
The U.S. embassy in Colombo in a statement expressed concern over the "disorderly protests in Male and disruption of the opening session of the Majlis (Parliament)."
It urged all sides to work toward a peaceful solution without letting violence complicate the issues further.
Maldives, a nation of 300,000 people, introduced democratic elections after 30 years of autocratic rule ended in 2008.
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