Ex-president Nasheed welcomes early polls
The new president, Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, agreed on Thursday to bring forward elections originally scheduled for October 2013 in an apparent concession to Nasheed, who claims he was toppled in a coup d'etat. The country has endured political turmoil and violence since February 7 when Nasheed, the nation's first democratically elected leader, stepped down following street protests and a mutiny by police officers. "We are very happy, early elections is a position we have been lobbying for hard," Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesman Hamid Abdul Gafoor told AFP. "We believe president Nasheed was deposed at gun point, through a very craftily orchestrated military-backed coup that gave an impression he was ousted by popular revolt," said Gafoor, who is also an MDP lawmaker. Visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, who helped broker the early election deal on Thursday, departed with the understanding that the MDP would call off the rally on Friday evening because of the risks of further violence. But Gafoor said the event would go ahead and people were seen arriving in Male from outlying islands by boat in the afternoon wearing the MDP's trademark yellow shirts. Several hundred were already at the location for the show of strength by mid-afternoon. Police said they expected 3,000-4,000 people and were not deploying any extra forces on the understanding that there would be no trouble. "We will keep up our peaceful political activities until an early election date is announced. Our rally today will be a peaceful one," MDP spokesman Gafoor told AFP. The United States and Britain have issued travel advisories urging citizens against "all but essential" travel to Male, though the outlying islands that host luxury beach resorts were unaffected by the warning. The Maldives relies heavily on tourism for income, with the industry estimating it could lose more than $100 million in revenue due to the cancellation of visitor bookings after the political unrest.