Security forces in the Maldives have sealed off the country’s parliament and arrested two opposition legislators amid a deepening crisis over President Abdulla Yameen’s refusal to free jailed politicians.
Soldiers in riot gear surrounded the parliament building in Male on Sunday soon after the opposition petitioned the parliament to remove the island nation’s attorney general and its chief prosecutor.
Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the parliamentary leader of the opposition, accused the pair of breaking the law by failing to act on a Supreme Court verdict overturning “terrorism” convictions against nine dissidents, including exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The top court’s ruling has plunged the Maldives into fresh political turmoil and dealt a major blow to Yameen, who is accused of corruption, misrule and rights abuses. He denies the allegations.
The verdict also gave the opposition a majority in the 85-member parliament as it reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year.
But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport on Sunday, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after months in exile.
Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed were detained on charges of bribery, a police spokesman told Al Jazeera.
Solih condemned their arrest in a statement.
“We call on the police to release the MPs immediately, and to stop following unlawful orders, to stop obstructing the lawful mandate of parliamentarians,” he said.
“In a desperate attempt to cling onto power, President Yameen has illegally overrun the state: his attorney general has illegally assumed the powers of the apex court, while the military has overrun the legislature,” he added.
The motion to remove Attorney General Mohamed Anil came hours after he accused the Supreme Court of trying to impeach the president.
“I have informed all law enforcement agencies they must not obey such an illegal order,” he said in a televised appearance flanked by the chiefs of the army and the police.
Ahmed Shiyam, the army chief, said the security forces would follow Anil’s advice and “will not wait and watch as the Maldives descends into crisis”.
Later, in a ceremony broadcast live on state TV, Shiyam led soldiers and police officers in reciting their oath at the military headquarters in Male.
Meanwhile, the official who heads the parliament secretariat has also resigned.
“I have stepped down,” Ahmed Mohamed told Al Jazeera on Sunday, without offering further details.
The heads of the Maldives’ main high-security prison and the elections commission have also resigned in recent days.
Following the ruling, Speaker Abdulla Maseeh, a Yameen ally, called off the opening of the parliament, scheduled for February 5. In a text message to legislators, he cited unspecified “security concerns” for the cancellation.
Nasheed, speaking to a private television channel from neighbouring Sri Lanka on Sunday, called for protests and urged rank-and-file members of the security forces to arrest the attorney general as well as the chiefs of the army and police.
Anil’s statements were “tantamount to a coup,” the former president said in a post on Twitter.
The United Nations, European Union, and several foreign governments including India, US and UK, have urged Yameen to comply with the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.
Additional reporting by Hassan Moosa from Male
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS