MALE, Feb 13: Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed was locked in a stand-off with police on Wednesday as he took refuge inside the Indian embassy after a local magistrate ordered his arrest.
The new crisis comes amid more political turbulence in the Indian Ocean holiday destination a year after Nasheed, a former pro-democracy campaigner, was ousted by violent demonstrations and a mutiny by police and security forces.
"Mindful of my own security and stability in the Indian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the Indian High Commission in Maldives," Nasheed wrote on Twitter as armed police stood outside the diplomatic compound.
A local magistrate´s court, where Nasheed is on trial for abusing his powers, issued an arrest warrant for him on Monday after he failed to appear for a hearing at the weekend.
A legal challenge to the arrest order in a higher court failed on Wednesday, his party said.
In this photograph taken on August 31, 2012, former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed addresses journalists in Male. (AFP)
The former president´s supporters believe the trial is a politically motivated attempt to prevent him from leading his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) into upcoming polls. A conviction would disqualify him from politics.
Nasheed´s former foreign minister Ahmed Naseem said Nasheed would remain inside the embassy until there was an agreement among all political parties that candidates would be free to campaign before the September 7 elections.
"President Nasheed will be staying at the Indian High Commission until this situation is resolved," he told AFP.
MDP spokeswoman Shauna Aminath warned of "a long stand off until his safety is assured".
Masood Imad, a spokesman for current president Mohamed Waheed, confirmed to AFP that police were waiting to arrest Nasheed on court orders, but said they would not enter the diplomatic compound.
"Maldivian police under no condition will enter the Indian High Commission and so it´s a wait-and-watch situation for the police," he said.
The Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi said it was "in touch with the relevant Maldivian authorities to resolve the situation" and called on Waheed´s government to ensure fair elections.
"It is necessary that the presidential nominees of recognised political parties be free to participate in the elections without any hindrance," said the statement.
"Prevention of participation by political leaders in the contest would call into question the integrity of the electoral process, thereby perpetuating the current political instability in Maldives."
Nasheed, a famed global warming activist, won the first free elections in the Maldives in 2008.
He claims he was ousted in a coup orchestrated by former strongman ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in alliance with the Islamist opposition. The current government denies the allegation.
An international investigation concluded that the transfer of power did not amount to a coup.
Nasheed, who was repeatedly detained and tortured during his days as a pro-democracy activist, was briefly arrested in October last year at the start of the trial.
If convicted of abusing his powers, he could be fined $130 and sentenced to three years in jail.