Commonwealth urges Maldives to hold elections this year

The Commonwealth on Wednesday called on the Maldives to hold elections this year following the ousting of the president, but stopped short of suspending the archipelago's membership.

A three-member Commonwealth team visited the Maldives at the weekend to investigate the fall earlier this month of Mohamed Nasheed, who says he was forced to resign in a military coup backed by Islamic extremists.

The new president, Mohamed Waheed, has agreed to bring forward elections originally scheduled for October 2013 in an apparent concession to Nasheed, but has so far not named a date.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a panel that deals with serious violations of the 54-nation bloc's political values, met in London on Wednesday to discuss the team's visit to the Maldives.

Announcing its findings, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said: "The group urged President Waheed and former president Nasheed to commence an immediate dialogue, without preconditions, to agree on a date for early elections, which should take place within this calendar year."

The Maldives meanwhile would be suspended from the action group but not the Commonwealth, he told a press conference in London.

"Given the questions that remain about the precise circumstances of the change of government, as well as the fragility of the situation in Maldives, CMAG decided that Maldives should be placed on its formal agenda," he said.

"The group further agreed that, in situations where a member... was under scrutiny by the group itself, its CMAG membership should be placed in abeyance as long as it remained on the formal agenda of CMAG."

Sharma said that despite the Commonwealth team's visit to the Maldives, "it was not possible... to determine conclusively the constitutionality of the resignation of President Nasheed", and further investigation was required.

Surujrattan Rambachan, the foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago who led the visit, said a probe unveiled by the new president earlier on Wednesday would suffice, provided it has some international participants.

Elsewhere, the Commonwealth group called in a statement for "restraint and mutual respect" from all parties, and and expressed "strong concern" at the outstanding warrant for Nasheed's arrest.

It agreed to hold another teleconference next month and will decide at its next meeting in April whether further measures are required.

Nasheed, the Muslim nation's first democratically elected leader who came to power in 2008, has refused to recognise the new government and demanded early elections in a country otherwise known as a luxury tourist destination.

Waheed, who is from a rival political party, was Nasheed's deputy and took over on February 7 following a police mutiny that capped three weeks of opposition protests in the island capital Male.

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