President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, who became the country’s first democratically elected leader in three decades, resigned on Tuesday following weeks of sometimes violent public protests over his controversial order to arrest a senior judge.
President Nasheed presented his resignation in a nationally televised address on Tuesday afternoon after police joined the protesters and then clashed with soldiers in the streets. Mr. Nasheed was expected to hand over power to Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan.
“I don’t want to hurt any Maldivian. I feel my staying on in power will only increase the problems, and it will hurt our citizens,” Mr. Nasheed said. “So the best option available to me is to step down.” he added.
The resignation marks a stunning reversal for Mr. Nasheed, a former human rights campaigner who defeated the nation’s longtime ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008 in the country’s first multiparty elections. Mr. Nasheed is also an environmental celebrity, travelling the world to persuade governments to combat climate change that could send sea levels rising and inundate his archipelago nation.
Mr. Nasheed fell out of public favour after he ordered the military to arrest Mr Abdulla Mohamed, the chief judge of the Criminal Court. The arrest came after the judge ordered the release of a government critic, calling latter's arrest illegal.
The Vice-President, Supreme Court, Human Rights Commission, Judicial Services Commission and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have all called for Mr Mohamed to be released.
The government accused the judge of political bias and corruption. It said that the country’s judicial system had failed and called on the U.N. to help solve the crisis.
After weeks of protests, the crisis came to a head on Tuesday when hundreds of police started demonstrating in the capital, Male, after officials ordered them to withdraw protection for government and opposition supporters protesting close to each other. The withdrawal resulted in a clash that injured at least three people.
Later, troops fired rubber bullets and clashed with the police. When Mr. Nasheed visited the police and urged them to end the protest, they refused and instead chanted for his resignation.
The Maldives, an archipelago nation of 300,000 people, is a nascent democracy, with 30 years of autocratic rule ending when Mr. Nasheed was elected in 2008. Mr. Nasheed is a former pro-democracy political prisoner.