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Protests in paradise as riots follow coup in Maldives

Newly appointed Maldives President Mohamed Waheed Hassan denied being part of any plan to remove President Mohamed Nasheed. "Do I look like someone who will bring about a coup d'etat?" he asked journalists on Wednesday.

Updated 12:05 p.m. ET: Supporters of the Maldives former president rioted through the streets and seized some police stations Wednesday to demand his reinstatement as the country's new leader appealed for an end to the political turmoil roiling this Indian Ocean nation.

Allies said former leader Mohamed Nasheed and other top party officials were beaten by police in the street chaos. The nation's first democratically elected president, Nasheed resigned Tuesday after police joined months of street protests against his rule and soldiers defected.


Late Wednesday evening, Nasheed supporters seized some small police stations but larger ones stayed under official control, police spokesman Amhed Shyam said. Residents told local reporters that as many as 10 police stations on small islands may have been seized. The Maldives is made up of nearly 1,200 scattered islands, some of which have just a few hundred residents.

Nasheed said Wednesday he was forced to resign at gunpoint and he promised to fight to return to office.

"We will come to power again," Nasheed said. "We will never step back. I will not accept this coup and will bring justice to the Maldivians."

New President Mohammed Waheed Hassan denied claims there was a coup or a plot to oust Nasheed. The former vice president, he said he had not prepared to take over the country and called for a unity coalition to be formed to help it recover.

"Together, I am confident, we'll be able to build a stable and democratic country," he said, adding that his government intended to respect the rule of law.

Later in the day, he appeared to be consolidating his power by appointing a new military chief and police commissioner.

A U.N. team is expected in the country later this week.

Original post: MALE -- The ex-president of the Maldives said on Wednesday that he was forced to resign at gunpoint, despite earlier claims by the Indian Ocean resort islands' new leader that there had been no coup.

"Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint," Mohamed Nasheed told reporters after his party meeting a day after his resignation. "There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn't hesitate to use them if I didn't resign.

The Maldives, one of the world's most high-profile luxury tourist destinations, installed Mohamed Waheed Hassan as president on Tuesday after the man credited with bringing democracy to the islands resigned, apparently under military pressure following a police mutiny. It was not immediately clear who was holding the guns.

"I call on the chief justice to look into the matter of who was behind this coup. We will try our best to bring back the lawful government," said Nasheed, a former pro-democracy political prisoner who campaigned successfully for democratic reforms and was elected to office in 2008.

Just 24 hours after police joined opposition protesters in attacking the military headquarters and seizing the state TV station, the streets of the capital island, Male, were calm as people went to work and children to school.

Trouble in paradise: Maldives president quits after cops mutiny

Former Vice-President Waheed, at his first news conference as president, said he was holding discussions with all Maldivian parties and expected to have nominations for his cabinet ready in a few days.

He denied being part of any plan to remove President Mohamed Nasheed, whose party described his ouster as a coup.

"Do I look like someone who will bring about a coup d'etat?" Waheed asked. "There was no plan. I was not prepared at all."

The political tumult, like most of everyday Maldivian life, was far from the tourists who stream to the chain of desert islands, seeking sun-and-sand paradise at luxury resorts that can command $1,000 a night.  Tourism is estimated to account for two-thirds of the Maldives' gross domestic product of about $1 billion.

Sinan Hussain / AP

A Maldives police officer, in blue, charges soldiers during a clash in Male, Maldives, Tuesday.

Nasheed resigned and was later freed from military custody. Waheed was sworn in by the speaker of the People's Majlis, or parliament.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he hoped the "handover of power, which has been announced as a constitutional step to avoid further violence and instability, will lead to the peaceful resolution of the political crisis that has polarized the country."

Nasheed's order to the military to arrest a judge, whom he accused of blocking multimillion dollar corruption cases against members of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's government, set off three weeks of opposition protests that peaked with Tuesday's police revolt.

'Forced to resign'
In the end, elements of the same military marched him into his own office to order his own resignation, a close aide told Reuters in the first witness account of Nasheed's exit.

"The gates of the president's office swung open and in came these unmarked vehicles we've never seen before and Nasheed came out with around 50 soldiers around him, and senior military men we'd never seen before," said Paul Roberts, Nasheed's communications adviser.

Photos: Soldiers clash with police as Nasheed resigns

Nasheed was brought to his office, met his cabinet, and then went on television to announce his resignation, Roberts said from an undisclosed location.

"He was forced to resign by the military," said Roberts, a 32-year old British citizen. "He could have gone down shooting, but he didn't want blood on his hands. The security forces moved against him."

Amnesty International urged the new government to avoid persecuting people based on political affiliation, amid opposition calls for Nasheed's prosecution and rumors his senior allies would not be allowed to leave the islands.

Although there were some advisories, including from Britain, against travel to Male, most of the Maldives' nearly 1 million annual visitors never reach the capital.

Instead, they are taken straight from the airport island by speedboat or seaplane to their resorts. Flights on Wednesday were arriving as usual.

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Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.