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Leader of Maldives is stymied

MUMBAI, India - In a sign that tensions are still running high in the island nation of the Maldives, hundreds of supporters of the country’s former president blocked the current president from addressing the country’s Parliament yesterday.

The former president, Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the country who resigned on Feb. 7, has said that he was forced to step down in a coup orchestrated by people close to the country’s former dictator. He has demanded early elections. The current president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who was previously vice president, claimed Nasheed stepped down voluntarily but recently said an election could be held earlier than the next scheduled vote in October 2013.

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A tiny country of 1,200 islands south of India, the Maldives is best known for luxury beach resorts that are visited by nearly 1 million tourists - mostly from Asia and Europe - every year. Diplomats from India have recently tried to negotiate peace between Nasheed, Hassan, and other political leaders by getting the country to schedule early elections, but the talks have not yet resulted in a date, which appears to be the main demand of Nasheed and his supporters.

India, the United States, Europe, and other powers have taken an interest in the turmoil in part because they fear a rise of fundamentalist Islam in the Sunni Muslim country.

A spokesman for Hassan said the president was in a waiting room in the Parliament building in Male, while the roads outside were blocked by supporters of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party. Inside Parliament, lawmakers from the party had removed the chairs for the speaker and Hassan to prevent them from taking their places for an annual address that is supposed to be conducted before Parliament convenes for the first time each year.

Masood Imad, a Hassan spokesman, said 32 protesters had been detained by police and that 16 police officers were injured by the protesters.

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