By C. Bryson Hull
MALE (Reuters) - New Maldives President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik said on Saturday he was open to an inquiry into how he took office after his predecessor said he had been forced out in a coup.
Diplomats from the United States, Britain, India, the United Nations and the Commonwealth have been pressing for an independent inquiry after President Mohamed Nasheed quit office on Tuesday.
"I have heard calls for an independent inquiry into the events that preceded my assumption of the presidency," said Waheed, who met U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake on Saturday. "I am open to those suggestions," he told reporters.
Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Indian Ocean archipelago and tourist haven, says he was forced out at gunpoint by mutinying police and soldiers. Waheed, his former deputy, says Nasheed resigned freely.
On Friday Nasheed threatened mass street protests unless his successor stepped aside and handed power to the parliament speaker until new elections are held in two months. The next elections are due in October 2013.
But Blake, after talks with the current and former presidents, said many people he met felt immediate elections were not feasible "because the police, the election commission and judiciary are not sufficiently prepared for a free and fair election."
Whether Nasheed's exit was the result of a coup or a voluntary departure needed to be investigated, he said.
"The circumstances of the transfer of power remain very much up for debate but it's up to Maldivians to decide," said Blake, who was ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives when the October 2008 elections that brought Nasheed to power took place.
Nasheed remains free despite an arrest warrant against him, issued, he says, by the same judge he ordered the military to arrest on the grounds he was illegally blocking multi-million dollar graft cases.
The judge's January 16 arrest sparked three weeks of protests which culminated in Tuesday's mutiny of police and soldiers.
CALM RETURNS TO ADDU
Maldives, a chain of 1,192 islands, is home to around 330,000 Sunni Muslims, and annually receives about three times as many visitors to its luxury resorts.
On Addu atoll, a southern island chain with 30,000 people, calm appeared to have returned after police retaliated against Nasheed supporters who rampaged and destroyed police stations and other government buildings.
Five people Reuters spoke to reported being assaulted by police and soldiers, and being detained for a few hours. Most bore bruises and visible signs of assault.
"My face was pushed into the ground, they walked on my back, pulled me up and I put my hands up and they began to beat me. They handcuffed me and squeezed, and then forced my eyes open and pepper-sprayed me," said Muaz Haleem, a Nasheed supporter.
Haleem, who lives on Hithadoo island in Addu, had bruises on his wrists and forearms, and swollen marks on his head. Police have denied attacking citizens, saying they only arrested people responsible for the destruction.
The rampage was sparked by a false report of Nasheed's death, according to people in Addu, home to a former British air base and a stronghold of Nasheed's party.
Across Addu, the police and military presence was subdued, and around 100 people carrying placards supporting President Waheed protested against what they said was the lack of safety caused by Nasheed supporters.
(Additional reporting by J.J. Robinson in Male and Eleanor Johnstone in Addu; editing by Myra MacDonald)