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Maldives Parliament erupts in protest; Prez prevented from opening Parl

March 01, 2012 18:36 IST

Angry lawmakers of former President Mohammed Nasheed's party on Thursday prevented the new President from delivering the opening address in Parliament even as protesters hit the streets clashing with police, deepening the political crisis in Maldives.

Even before President Mohammed Waheed came to parliament chambers, Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party members removed his chair as well as that of his cabinet ministers and shouted slogans demanding his resignation.

Waheed, who was scheduled to deliver the Peoples' Majlis (parliament) opening address, was forced to retreat to the waiting room.

As per the constitution here, the President must address the lawmakers and officially open a new parliamentary session after a change in leadership.

Opposition MPs also grabbed the Speaker's chair during angry scuffles. Pictures released from inside the Majlis showed MDP members of Parliament blocking the doors and sitting on the Speaker's bench.

Opposition legislators carrying placards that called Waheed a "traitor" also blocked the Speaker's entrance to the building.

Meanwhile, outside the parliament, MDP supporters clashed with the police.

The protesters threw stones and wood bricks at them. Even some petrol was splashed on certain police officials. At least 34 protesters were arrested including Nazim Sattar,

Nasheed's younger brother while 14 police officers were also injured in the clashes, including four seriously, police said.

Some of the shops belonging to supporters of the current government have been vandalised.

A motorcycle being driven by two police officers was also burnt after a group of protesters stopped the duo and assaulted them, sources said.

The parliament session was scheduled to begin today, less than a month after then President Nasheed resigned paving the way for his Vice President Waheed to be sworn in  as the new head of the government.

A day after his resignation on February 7, Nasheed alleged he was forced to resign and claimed there was a coup, a charge denied by the current regime. The fresh protests erupted a day after Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai ended his two-day visit during which he held talks with various stakeholders to hammer out a solution to the political crisis in Male.

India had helped broker a deal under which President Waheed agreed to a roadmap for elections ahead of the scheduled November 2013 date. No dates have been announced for elections in the island nation, where Nasheed was voted to power 2008 as their first democratically elected president.

Maldives, a nation of little over 3 lakh people, had introduced democratic elections after 30 years of autocratic rule by Maumoon Gayoom ended in 2008.

Meanwhile, the United States expressed its concern over Thursday's protests, saying that it "encourages all parties to continue to work collaboratively and peacefully" towards solving the political impasse.

There were also reports of protests in other cities including Addu, which had earlier witnessed large scale violence.

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