Maldives denies deal as ex-president Nasheed back in action

MALE (AFP) - The Maldivian government on Sunday denied any deal to allow ex-president Mohamed Nasheed to end his refuge at the Indian embassy in the capital and resume election campaigning without fear of arrest.

Presidential spokesman Abbas Riaz said Mr Nasheed walked out of the embassy on Saturday afternoon of his own will and there was no agreement with an Indian mediator who rushed to the Maldives last week to resolve a tense standoff.

"There is no deal, absolutely no deal with the Indians or anyone else," Mr Riaz told AFP, in the government's first reaction to Mr Nasheed leaving the embassy to resume his political work.

Mr Nasheed, 45, sought refuge at the embassy on Feb 13, straining ties between regional power India and its small neighbour Maldives, after an arrest warrant was issued following his failure to attend court.

He has said his trial is a "politically motivated" attempt to disqualify him from an election due on Sept 7, a charge denied by the government.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said Mr Nasheed was meeting with visiting Western diplomats on Sunday and would start house-to-house campaigning from Monday.

"He is back on the campaign trail," MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told AFP. "India arranged a deal to give political space for Nasheed to contest... but still there is a risk (of arrest). We don't trust this rogue regime."

The Maldivian government insists that it will not interfere with a judicial process.

India sent its special envoy, senior diplomat Harsh Vardhan Shringla, to mediate an end to the crisis after Mr Nasheed took refuge in its high commission to avoid arrest.

New Delhi said in a statement shortly after he left the embassy that it had been working with all sides to "strengthen democracy" in the nation of 330,00 Sunni Muslims and urged all to main "peace and calm".

Mr Nasheed, a pro-democracy campaigner, won the first free elections in 2008 in the Indian Ocean holiday destination but was ousted last year following a mutiny by police and troops.

His court hearing slated for last Wednesday was postponed because he could not be arrested while he was inside the Indian embassy.