COLOMBO (AFP) - Unidentified attackers set fire to the main pro-opposition television network in the Maldives on Monday ahead of a crucial court ruling on whether suspended presidential elections should go ahead, officials said.
At least six men stormed the offices of the Raajje television network in a pre-dawn attack and set fire to equipment after assaulting an unarmed guard.
"All broadcast equipment, transmission equipment, computer systems fully burnt and destroyed," the station said on its Twitter feed.
The Maldivian police force, which has been accused of heavy-handed tactics when dealing with protesters demanding elections in recent weeks, said they were treating the incident as an arson attack.
"Preliminary information revealed that the fire was set after assaulting the expatriate guard there on duty with a sharp object," police said in a statement on their website.
The Maldives has been wracked by occasionally violent protests since September 23 when the Supreme Court suspended a run-off election for which ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was the frontrunner.
The court suspended the vote while it heard a petition into allegations of electoral fraud made by a defeated candidate, businessman Qasim Ibrahim, who has demanded that the results be annulled.
A ruling on the case is expected after the court convenes at 2.30 pm (5.30 Singapore time).
Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party condemned the arson attack on Raajje television as politically motivated.
Police spokesman Hassan Haneef told AFP that officers, along with forensic experts were already at the scene and investigations were underway.
International observers said the first round of the presidential election on September 7 was free and fair.
Regional power India as well as Western countries and the United Nations have urged the Indian Ocean archipelago to go ahead with the second round.
The run-off election would be between Nasheed, who claims he was ousted last year in a coup, and Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled for three decades until 2008.