The legitimacy of the new administration in the Maldives could hinge on who wins a high-stakes debate over whether the former president resigned of his own will or was ousted in a coup.
When Mohamed Nasheed resigned at a televised press conference on Tuesday, the new administration
and the army moved swiftly to quash any suggestion he had been coerced into stepping down.
But the next day Nasheed fired back with his own version of events, saying he was frogmarched into his office by armed police and army officers who stood around as he was forced to pen his resignation announcement.
"They told me if I didn't resign they would resort to use arms," he told AFP in an interview.
His successor and former vice president, Mohamed Waheed, who was sworn in as the new head of state, insisted there had been no plot to overthrow Nasheed's government.
"It is wrong to describe the events as a coup. We did not know this was going to happen. I was unprepared," he said.
But Nasheed's version appeared to be gaining some traction both at home and abroad.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Wednesday she had "noted" the former president's account and said she was "deeply concerned" at developments in the island resort nation.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stopped short of describing events as a coup but said the United States was seeking information from all sides.
Washington often waits before declaring that a nation has experienced a coup, a designation that under US law requires all aid to be cut off.
Nasheed was provided space for an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Wednesday in which he asserted he had been overthrown "in a coup d'etat" and that Waheed "helped to plan it."
Independent Maldives MP Mohamed Nasheed -- no relation to the former president -- rejected the idea that a full-blown coup had taken place, but said his namesake seemed to have been presented with a fait accompli.
"The tipping point came when first the police and then members of the army began siding with the protestors," he said. "I believe he had no option. I think he lost the support of the military. He had no choice."
Ahmed Shaheed, a foreign minister under both Nasheed and former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who Nasheed defeated in the country's first democratic election in 2008, was more forthright.
"It was definitely a coup. Given the information that has come out, I don't see how anyone can credibly argue otherwise," he said.
Shaheed, who resigned from government in 2010 and is currently a UN Special Rapporteur dealing with human rights in Iran, said the debate over the events leading up to Nasheed's resignation carried major implications.
"It's a crucial argument to win as it will speak to the legitimacy of the current administration. In my view it has none, but of course it's what the general public come to believe that matters," he said.
Thousands of Nasheed supporters protested in Male's central Republic Square on Wednesday, where they clashed with security forces.
The violence spread to outlying islands in the renowned resort archipelago, with local officials reporting mobs attacking police stations and burning government buildings.
Alok Bansal, an Indian security analyst who closely follows Maldivian politics, said the final version of events would probably fall somewhere between the two contested narratives.
"I don't think it was a classic coup d'etat, but at the same time it's pretty clear it wasn't a smooth, democratic transition," said Bansal, a senior fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi.
Bansal echoed Shaheed's evaluation of the stakes involved.
"It's a key debate," he said. "If it's proved Nasheed was forced into resigning then Waheed's legitimacy will be seriously undermined."
Regional power India, which intervened with troops to prevent a coup in the Maldives in 1988, has so far been quite welcoming of the Waheed administration, exchanging diplomatic niceties and describing Nasheed's resignation as "an internal matter."
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