Maldives ex-president freed, 81 others arrested

Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed was freed on Wednesday after his overnight detention sparked anti-government protests that led to the arrest of over 80 opposition activists, police said.

The release of Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, came after he was taken before a magistrate on charges of abusing his authority when he was in power between 2008 and 2012.

"We produced him (before a judge) in court today as instructed by the magistrate and after today's hearing he was free to go," police spokesman Hassan Haneef told AFP.

Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the case had been put off for another four weeks.

But there was no ruling on the 45-year-old politician's demand to postpone the case until after the September 7 presidential election in which he is a candidate, the MDP said.

Nasheed says the charges are politically motivated and aimed at disqualifying him from contesting the September presidential elections.

Police detained him on Tuesday, defying pressure from regional power India which had called for him to be free to campaign for the elections.

During Wednesday's one-hour hearing, two women were arrested for causing "disturbances", police spokesman Haneef said, adding that a total of 81 people had been detained since protests erupted Tuesday.

In New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an address to parliament on Wednesday warned against "critical political instability" in the atoll nation.

"We remain concerned about critical political instability in Maldives. It is our hope that Maldives will have free, fair and credible elections in September to elect their president," Singh said.

"India will support all efforts to ensure free, fair and credible elections...We are closely monitoring the developments," the Indian leader added.

Amnesty International said Nasheed's arrest highlighted the failure of Maldivian authorities to investigate other serious human rights abuses in a country best known for its upmarket tourism.

"Of course political leaders, including Nasheed, should be held to account -- but the targeting of Nasheed is an example of selective justice," said Abbas Faiz, the group's Maldives researcher.

India, which moved to end a political standoff in the Maldives last month after Nasheed sought refuge at the Indian embassy in Male to avoid arrest, said it was monitoring developments closely.

The United States, Britain and Canada have expressed concern and called on the government in the Maldives to ensure an "inclusive election".

Male has been racked by violence and political infighting since February 2012 when Nasheed was ousted following a mutiny by security forces and street protests.

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