By Shihar Aneez and J.J. Robinson
MALE (Reuters) - A former president of the Maldives whose removal from power this year threatened to plunge the tropical holiday island chain into chaos was not forced from office illegally, a commission of inquiry found in a report released on Thursday.
The findings of the Commonwealth-backed commission are likely to enrage the supporters of former president Mohamed Nasheed, who hours earlier had called on his backers and the army to topple the government.
"The change of president in the Republic of Maldives on February 7 2012 was legal and constitutional," the Commission of National Inquiry said in its report.
"The resignation of President Nasheed was voluntary and of his own free will. It was not caused by any illegal coercion or intimidation."
Hundreds of Nasheed's supporters have been on the streets of the capital, Male, since late on Wednesday in response to his call for them to topple the government.
There were no reports of trouble but the government has tightened security. Police have said they would not allow any disturbance and asked people to stay away from protests.
Nasheed's supporters called for more demonstrations later on Thursday.
Nasheed said at the time of his removal that he had been forced to resign at gunpoint by mutinying police and soldiers.
His resignation sparked rowdy protests by his supporters, some of whom complained of heavy-handed policing.
The ouster of Nasheed, the islands' first democratically elected president, dented the Indian Ocean archipelago's reputation as a laid-back luxury tourist paradise.
The commission was appointed to look into the circumstances that led to the crisis.
Nasheed and his party said the new government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik was illegitimate and they have been demanding an early presidential election.
But referring to Nasheed's accusations that his removal was a coup, the commission said: "Nothing in the Maldives changed in constitutional terms - indeed, the constitution was precisely followed as prescribed."
"Accordingly, there appears nothing contestable in constitutional terms under the generic notion of a 'coup d'etat' that is alleged to have occurred - quite to the contrary, in fact."
Waheed told a news conference the findings upheld his government's legitimacy.
"Nasheed was not under duress. He resigned voluntarily," Waheed said. "There is no chance to question the legitimacy of the current government now."
Nasheed, speaking to thousands of followers in Male late on Wednesday, called on the public, the army and police to rise up.
"If the commission report declares it was not a coup, then it is legitimate for the people to topple the government from the street," he said.
The nominee of Nasheed's party on the commission resigned from the panel on Wednesday after saying some evidence likely to support Nasheed's accusations of a coup was missing from the report.
The Maldives, for almost nine centuries a sultanate before it became a British protectorate, held its first fully democratic elections in 2008. Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who at 30 years in power was then Asia's longest-serving leader and accused of running the country as a dictator.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Robert Birsel)