Ousted president pleads for help as he fears being left to rot in jail

Mohamed Nasheed calls on international community to protect democracy in Maldives

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The ousted leader of the Maldives called on the international community to support democracy in his country as it emerged yesterday that a court had issued a warrant for his arrest. Mohamed Nasheed, who claims he was forced from office at gunpoint during a coup led by security forces on Tuesday, said he feared he could be sent to jail any time.

"The Home Minister has pledged [that I will be] the first former president to spend all my life in jail," said Mr Nasheed,. "I hope the international community will take note of what is happening in the Maldives... The facts on the ground are that tomorrow I will be in jail."

As rain pounded down in the capital, Malé, Mr Nasheed spoke to the media as 200 supporters gathered outside his house. Reports said his wife and daughters had already fled to Sri Lanka.

In a move that shocked many of Mr Nasheed's supporters, at lunchtime it was announced that the Maldives criminal court had issued a warrant for his arrest. The court is headed by a judge whose arrest at the orders of Mr Nasheed was the source of weeks of protests that ended with him resigning. A warrant was also believed to have been issued for the arrest of Mr Nasheed's former Defence Minister.

As rumours ciculated that police were on their way to arrest the ousted leader, officers said that while they had received the warrant, they were still examining its legitimacy. One Western diplomat told The Independent that he believed the ex-president could be charged with terrorism, adding that the international community was urging all parties to act with restraint to avoid violence.

On Wednesday, after members of Mr Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) clashed with riot police, officers appeared on state television to accuse his supporters of terrorism, and later detained up to 50 people. The new Defence Minister, Mohammed Nazin, said anyone causing trouble would be punished. "The national defence force remains vigilant in enforcing the law and order and upholding the constitution of the Maldives," he said. Several arrests were reported in Addu City, the islands' second-largest urban centre.

Supporters of Mr Nasheed were said to have seized control of police stations on outlying islands in the Maldives archipelago, where the ousted leader remains popular. Yet it was unclear whether he or his supporters could realistically do anything to reverse the situation. Sources close to Mr Nasheed said they had asked India to intervene but Delhi declined to help, saying what had happened was an "internal matter" for the Maldives. However, envoys from the US and UN were en route yesterday.

A senior member of Mr Nasheed's party, who asked not to be named, said it was now demanding new elections. "We want fresh elections as soon as possible, while appealing for everyone to remain calm," said the politician.

Many observers believe the unrest is down to Mr Nasheed's predecessor as president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was defeated in the first open election in 2008.

Mr Gayoom denies any involvement in the current unrest, while his party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives, said it was appalled by its opponent's "desperate attempts at insurgency to return to power barely 24 hours after his resignation". It added: "Nasheed must know that militancy and chaos do little to repair his tarnished image."