Commonwealth calls Maldives crisis talks
LONDON (Reuters) - Commonwealth foreign ministers will hold talks on the crisis in the Maldives, whose former president says he was forced out of power at gunpoint, Commonwealth officials said on Saturday.
Akbar Khan, leading a Commonwealth fact-finding mission to the Maldives, said Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma had called an extraordinary meeting of nine foreign ministers who form the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the 54-member group's democracy watchdog.
Ministers will hold a teleconference "to review the circumstances pertaining to the transfer of power," Khan told Reuters in a phone interview from the Maldives capital Male.
The former Maldives president, Mohamed Nasheed, widely credited with bringing democracy to the Indian Ocean archipelago, resigned on Tuesday in what his party said was a coup after weeks of opposition protests.
He handed power to Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the former vice-president, but later said he had been forced out of power at gunpoint. Waheed has denied being part of any coup.
Khan said his message in separate talks with both Nasheed and Waheed had been to exercise restraint.
"It is absolutely essential that the constitution is upheld and law and order prevails ... All the parties must refrain from taking any provocative or inflammatory acts which may lead to an escalation or the loss of innocent lives," he said.
"This is a time when responsibility and maturity need to be shown in order not to squander the hard-fought gains of democracy," he said.
Khan said the Commonwealth, a grouping of mostly ex-British colonies including Maldives, had not yet drawn any conclusions about whether the transfer was constitutional or not.
The CMAG has the power to suspend member states from the club if they violate democracy. Fiji was suspended after a bloodless coup in 2006.
Police have clashed with Nasheed's supporters in the wake of him stepping down, raising fears of a protracted crisis in islands famed as a holiday paradise.
CMAG's members currently include Australia, Bangladesh, Canada and Tanzania as well as the Maldives, although it was unclear if Maldives would take part in the talks. A Commonwealth spokeswoman said the talks are likely to be held on Sunday.
The Commonwealth ministers will consider a fact-finding report submitted by Khan, who heads the Commonwealth's legal division. Nasheed has also sent the ministers a statement on what happened, Khan said.
(Editing by Ben Harding)
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