The Maldives said on Thursday it will leave the Commonwealth, weeks after the organisation warned it could be suspended because of its lack of progress in promoting the rule of law and democracy.
Best known as a paradise for wealthy tourists, the Indian Ocean archipelago has been mired in political unrest since Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group last month warned the Maldives that in the absence of substantive progress in rule of law and democracy, it would consider its options, including suspension.
The Commonwealth comprises 53 states that were mostly former British colonies.
"The decision to leave the Commonwealth was difficult, but inevitable," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"Regrettably, the Commonwealth has not recognised that progress and achievements that the Maldives accomplished in cultivating a culture of democracy in the country and in building and strengthening democratic institutions."
Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the move by President Abdulla Yameen's government was taken without consulting parliament and will bring "irredeemable damage" to the country's standing in the international community.
"This is an absolute despotic move, which says much about the Yameen regime and its political posturing and disregard for international or public opinion," it said in a statement.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland expressed sadness and disappointment over the decision and said she hoped the move will be a temporary separation.
Amnesty International said the Maldives authorities should address their own human rights situation rather than lashing out at legitimate criticism.
"Human rights have been in a complete freefall in the country over the past few years. The government has locked up opponents through politically motivated trials and led an unprecedented crackdown on independent media," Amnesty's South Asia Director Champa Patel said.
Yameen's administration reintroduced the death penalty in July, rejecting repeated requests by rights groups and the West. [L4N1AQ3VB]
Nasheed, in exile in Britain after being allowed out of jail to travel for medical treatment, formed the Maldives United Opposition in June with the aim of toppling Yameen.
Yameen's administration has arrested most of his opponents. The opposition says the administration is trying to cover up corruption including money laundering, accusations the government has denied.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Dominic Evans)