Maldives to hold first polls since president toppled

COLOMBO (AFP) - The Maldives is to hold presidential polls on Sept 7, the first since the archipelago's first democratically elected leader was toppled in what he called a coup, the government said on Wednesday.

"The election commission has announced Sept 7 as the date," Mr Masood Imad, media secretary to President Mohamed Waheed, told AFP. "Administrative work has already begun to conduct the election."

The election announcement came on the eve of the first anniversary of Mr Mohamed Nasheed stepping down as president and later declaring that he was forced out of office in a coup backed by security forces, police and Islamic extremists.

However, a Commonwealth-supervised investigation rejected his claim of a coup and said that the transition of power to his deputy Mohamed Waheed was in line with the constitution.

The country of 330,000 Sunni Muslims has been rocked by political unrest in the past year, denting its image as a peaceful paradise for up-market tourists and honeymooners.

Mr Nasheed, 45, has won nominations from his Maldivian Democratic Party to run for the presidency, but his main opponents are not yet clear.

He has warned that Islamic extremists are taking control of the Indian Ocean archipelago, a charge denied by Mr Waheed.

The Maldives has been under intense international pressure to hold early polls after the resignation of Mr Nasheed last year, which followed weeks of opposition protests against his administration and a police mutiny.

The Commonwealth asked Mr Waheed to hold elections before the end of 2012, but Mr Waheed had insisted he was not empowered to call snap elections.

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