Several thousand supporters of former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed clashed with police and troops in riot gear Wednesday, a day after his resignation which he blamed on a coup d'etat.
Nasheed was among the crowd that rallied in the centre of the capital Male in a square next to the police and military headquarters.
Chanting slogans in support of Nasheed, the protesters threw stones and security personnel responded with tear gas and pepper spray, finally forcing the crowd back and away from the square.
"We're not going to stop," said Mohamed Abdulla, a supporter of Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). "We will just regroup and protest elsewhere." "These people have seized our power!" another protester shouted. Nasheed had led the crowd into the square following a meeting of the MDP leadership, which passed a resolution calling the new administration of President Mohamed Waheed illegitimate.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Nasheed insisted that he had been forced into resigning by a group of armed rebel police and army officers who had threatened a bloodbath if he refused. Police in Male said on Wednesday that a mob had stormed the Maldives national museum and smashed Buddhist statues, an act of vandalism which former president Mohamed Nasheed blamed on Islamic radicals.
"A mob entered the museum yesterday (Tuesday). They smashed many statues. This included some statues of Buddha," police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam told AFP.
In an interview with AFP, Nasheed, who resigned the presidency yesterday, said the vandals included Islamist hardliners who had attacked the museum because they believed some of the statues inside were "idolatrous".
Islam is the official religion of the Maldives and open practice of any other religion is forbidden and liable to prosecution. The museum in the capital Male boasts a large collection of historical artifacts.