Maldives says parliament shut for security

COLOMBO (AFP) - The Maldivian government on Tuesday (July 25) defended its controversial deployment of troops to block opposition legislators entering parliament, saying the move was part of security measures undertaken for a visiting dignitary.

On Monday President Abdulla Yameen ordered troops to evict legislators and prevent the impeachment of his speaker, the opposition said, in the latest turmoil in the honeymoon islands.

Yameen's office said in a statement that the legislature was shut as part of tight security measures undertaken for the country's 52nd anniversary of independence on Wednesday and an "incoming VVIP visit".

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be the chief guest at the celebrations during his three-day visit starting Tuesday, the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo said.

"The special measures taken by the security forces at the parliament building on 24 July 2017 were to ensure the security and safety of the premises, as mandated by the... constitution," Yameen's office said.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said several MPs broke through a cordon only to be pepper sprayed and evicted from the parliament building on Monday.

The country's exiled main opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed called the eviction illegal.

Earlier in the day, parliament's gates were padlocked by members of the armed forces and MPs were prevented from entering the parliamentary compound.

The opposition this month secured enough support from government defectors to begin impeachment proceedings against the speaker, in a bid to wrest control of parliament from Yameen before presidential elections next year.

However, in a statement on Tuesday, the parliament secretariat said the impeachment was declared invalid and the next sittings will be on July 31.

The first attempt to impeach the speaker in March sparked chaos when Yameen ordered troops to enter parliament and remove dissenting opponents by force.

The political turbulence has seen the international community, including the United States, urging the Maldives to safeguard democracy.

The opposition coalition, led by Nasheed, wants to defeat Yameen at elections next year but faces an uphill battle.

All their key leaders are imprisoned or have fled to avoid a lengthy crackdown on dissent under Yameen's leadership.

The instability has dented the Maldives' image as a tourist paradise.

Nasheed became the Maldives first democratically-elected president in 2008, but was narrowly defeated by Yameen in a controversial 2013 election run-off.

In 2015, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges that were widely seen as politically motivated. He now lives in exile in Britain.