By J.J. Robinson
MALE (Reuters) - Unidentified men in masks attacked a private television channel in the Maldives that backs ousted leader Mohamed Nasheed and set it on fire on Monday, police said, amid protests by Nasheed's party over a suspended presidential election.
The Maldives, a tropical Indian Ocean resort archipelago, cancelled a presidential run-off election that was due to take place on September 28 after the Supreme Court ordered officials to postpone it. Nasheed had won a first round on September 7 but did not get enough votes for an outright victory.
Yamin Rasheed, chief executive of Raajje TV, said men in masks armed with knives entered the building early in the morning, attacked a guard, broke a door and poured petrol on the station floor.
"Then they set it on fire and escaped," Rasheed told Reuters. "We have one camera left, but we don't even know if it works yet. This is a very sad day for media in the Maldives."
Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party is holding daily protests against the Supreme Court order to postpone the presidential run-off even though the Election Commission wanted to go ahead with poll as scheduled.
Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, was forced from office last year in contested circumstances. His supporters say he was ousted in a coup.
Police spokesman Hassan Haneef said police were investigating the attack on the television station.
The Maldives held its first free elections in 2008. Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for 30 years and was accused by opponents and international human rights groups of running the country as a dictator.
Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of longtime ruler Gayoom, came second in the Sept 7 vote and was due to go up against Nasheed in the run-off.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robert Birsel)