MALE, February 10, 2012 - A UN special envoy arrived Friday for talks with the new administration in the Maldives, as former president Mohamed Nasheed demanded fresh elections after being ousted in what he called a coup d'etat.
Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco reached the capital Male early Friday and was to hold talks with new president Mohamed Waheed, who has won crucial backing from the United States.
Three weeks of opposition-led protests were capped on Tuesday by a police mutiny that led to Nasheed's dramatic resignation, which he said was "forced" when armed rebel officers threatened him with violence unless he stepped down.
Waheed promised in a new statement that his "key priorities included the restoration of public confidence in democratic institutions by upholding the rule of law and uncompromising adherence to the constitution".
The legitimacy of the new administration hinges on whether Nasheed is seen as having resigned of his own will or having been ousted by force.
When asked on Thursday whether Washington recognised the new government of the Indian Ocean island nation, which has been wracked by violence, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland replied: "We do."
Nasheed, who became the Maldives' first democratically elected president in 2008, signalled that he intended to continue fighting, telling a meeting of his senior party workers that Waheed should resign.
"He must step down and then the speaker of the majlis (parliament) can hold elections within two months," he told thousands of cheering supporters late Thursday who then dispersed peacefully.
Nasheed, a former pro-democracy activist and famed climate change activist, has accused of Waheed of being party to the conspiracy to overthrow him.
A local criminal court issued a warrant for Nasheed's arrest on Thursday, but following external pressure from foreign diplomatic missions Nasheed escaped detention.
Police spokesman Abdul Mannan Yusuf told AFP that the force would be "tactical" about when they would use the warrant. "We can arrest him when we feel the need for it," he said.
Violence gripped the holiday paradise archipelago on Wednesday and Thursday, with demonstrators overrunning at least 18 police stations on outlying islands and torching government buildings.
Friday is a public holiday in the Islamic state of 330,000 Sunni Muslims and most shops and offices remained closed with no overnight reports of fresh clashes.
The UN's Fernandez-Taranco had been invited by Nasheed when he was still in power to help end a standoff with opposition parties over the arrest and detention of a senior judge.
The envoy made it clear that he was not there to dictate how the political upheaval of recent days should be resolved.
"There can be no externally generated solution to something that can be solved by Maldivians themselves," Fernandez-Taranco said, adding that the UN was concerned for Nasheed's safety.
"I would personally urge all actors to end the resorting to violence," he told reporters at the airport.
The violence this week could be extremely damaging for a country which depends on tourism thanks to its crystal-clear turquoise waters, coral-fringed beaches and ultra-luxury resorts.
"The violence has tarnished our image, we have become just another Middle East country with violence on the streets," Mohamed Sim Ibrahim, the secretary general of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry, complained on Thursday.