MALE (AFP) - The former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed can leave the Indian embassy where he has taken refuge because the warrant for his arrest has expired, the government said Thursday.
Opposition leader Mr Nasheed has said he would remain at the Indian High Commission (embassy) until authorities assure him that he will not be arrested and will be free to campaign for presidential elections due in September.
"Mr Nasheed is a free man and he can walk out of the embassy," government spokesman Masood Imad told AFP. "Police will not arrest him because the arrest warrant expired last night."
Mr Imad said police told courts that they could not reach Mr Nasheed, who took shelter at the embassy compound to evade an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate after he failed to turn up at his trial on Sunday.
"The court has not fixed a date for the next hearing and there is no threat of arrest," Mr Imad said. "He (Nasheed) has nothing to fear. He can come out of the embassy." Armed police outside the diplomatic compound had withdrawn, Mr Imad said.
There was no immediate comment from Mr Nasheed or his Maldivian Democratic Party, which considers his trial on charges of abuse of power to be politically motivated. A conviction would prevent him from holding public office.
The stand-off comes amid political turbulence in the upmarket holiday destination a year after Mr Nasheed, the nation's first freely elected leader, was ousted by violent protests and a mutiny by police and security forces.
His spokesman, Mariya Didi, told AFP earlier in the day that he wanted India to take a lead in bringing an end to the political crisis in the Indian Ocean atoll nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.
New Delhi said Wednesday that it was "necessary that the presidential nominees of recognised political parties be free to participate in the elections without any hindrance", in comments seen as tacitly backing Mr Nasheed.