MALE (Reuters) - Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed took refuge in the Indian High Commission in Male on Wednesday as police attempted to arrest him, risking fresh protests by his supporters who say he was overthrown in a coup last February.
Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, was removed from office in contested circumstances and his supporters have frequently clashed with security forces in the Indian Ocean archipelago famous as a luxury tourist resort.
Riot police barricaded the street outside the high commission after Nasheed's arrival at noon, as his supporters began to gather in protest against his possible arrest.
"Mindful of my own security and stability in the Indian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the Indian High Commission in Maldives," Nasheed wrote on his Twitter page.
A court ordered police to arrest Nasheed after he missed a February 10 court appearance in a case relating to accusations that he illegally detained a judge during the last days of his rule, a police spokesman said.
"We have received the order and we will be trying to carry it out in accordance with the Maldivian constitution and the order itself," spokesman Hassan Haneef added.
Police would wait outside the high commission, said Imad Masood, spokesman for the country's current president, Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik. "If he doesn't come, then police will begin to talk to high commission officials," he added.
If found guilty in the court case, Nasheed could be barred from standing in a September 7 presidential poll. His party says the trial is an attempt to prevent him from contesting and has challenged the court's legitimacy.
Nasheed says he was forced from power at gunpoint after opposition protests and a police mutiny. A national commission last August said the toppling of his government was not a coup, a ruling that triggered several days of large demonstrations.
The Maldives, a sultanate for almost nine centuries before it became a British protectorate, held its first free elections in 2008. Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was then Asia's longest-serving leader and accused of running the country as a dictator.
(Reporting by J.J. Robinson in MALE and Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO; Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in COLOMBO; Editing by Henry Foy, Nick Macfie and Ron Popeski)
(This story was cooected to fic the date of missed court appearance in the fifth paragraph to Feb. 10, not Friday)