By C. Bryson Hull
MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives, one of the world's most renowned tourist destinations, installed a new president after the man credited with bringing democracy to the Indian Ocean islands resigned, apparently under military pressure following a police mutiny.
His party called it a bloodless coup.
On Wednesday, just 24 hours after police joined opposition protesters in attacking the military headquarters and seizing the state TV station, the streets of the capital island, Male, were calm as people went to work and children to school.
The political tumult, like most of everyday Maldivian life, was far from the tourists who stream to the chain of desert islands, seeking sun-and-sand paradise at luxury resorts that can command $1,000 a night.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned on Tuesday and was later freed from military custody. His deputy, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, was sworn in by the speaker of the People's Majlis, or parliament.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he hoped the "handover of power, which has been announced as a constitutional step to avoid further violence and instability, will lead to the peaceful resolution of the political crisis that has polarized the country."
Nasheed's order to the military to arrest a judge, whom he accused of blocking multi-million dollar corruption cases against members of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's government, set off three weeks of opposition protests that peaked with Tuesday's police revolt.
"FORCED TO RESIGN"
In the end, elements of the same military marched him into his own office to order his own resignation, a close aide told Reuters in the first witness account of Nasheed's exit.
"The gates of the president's office swung open and in came these unmarked vehicles we've never seen before and Nasheed came out with around 50 soldiers around him, and senior military men we'd never seen before," said Paul Roberts, Nasheed's communications adviser.
Nasheed was brought to his office, met his cabinet, and then went on television to announce his resignation, Roberts said from an undisclosed location.
"He was forced to resign by the military," said Roberts, a 32-year old British citizen. "He could have gone down shooting, but he didn't want blood on his hands. The security forces moved against him."
Amnesty International urged the new government to avoid persecuting people based on political affiliation, amid opposition calls for Nasheed's prosecution and rumors his senior allies would not be allowed to leave the islands.
The new president, Waheed, was expected to run a coalition national unity government until the presidential election in October 2013.
On Tuesday, he said it was wrong to characterize the change of leadership as a coup and pledged that tourists were at no risk. Tourism is estimated to account for two-thirds of the Maldives' gross domestic product of about $1 billion.
Although there were some travel advisories, including from Britain, against travel to Male, most of the Maldives' nearly 1 million annual visitors never reach the capital.
Instead, they are taken straight from the airport island by speedboat or seaplane to their resorts. Flights on Wednesday were arriving as usual.
"FIDELITY TO DEMOCRACY"
Disparately minded opposition parties eyeing position for next year's poll found common ground against Nasheed amid the constitutional crisis and protests, and had begun adopting hardline rhetoric to criticize his Islamic credentials. The country is wholly Sunni Muslim.
Analyst N. Sathiya Moorthy, writing in Wednesday's Hindu newspaper, said Nasheed would be remembered for being the Maldives' first democratically elected president but also for "avoidable constitutional and political deadlocks."
"Rather than allowing events to drift towards a political or even military showdown ... Nasheed has shown great fidelity to democratic principles in a country where none existed before him by stepping down from office with grace and poise."
In a sign that the era before Nasheed had returned, the state broadcaster MNBC was rebranded TV Maldives and it streamed interview after interview with opposition figures.
It had that name under the 30-year reign of former president Gayoom, Nasheed's rival who was criticized for his authoritarian style. Nasheed spent a total of six years in jail, spread over 27 arrests, while agitating for democracy against Gayoom.
Nasheed beat his nemesis in a 2008 poll, the first multi-party democratic election in the history of the former British protectorate, home to about 330,000 people and for centuries a sultanate.
He won further acclaim for his passionate advocacy about climate change and rising seas, which threaten to engulf the low-lying nation.
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Robert Birsel)