Leading article: A coup of more than local significance

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Clashes between government and opposition supporters on the Maldives have not spread to the pristine beaches and luxury spas of the Indian Ocean archipelago. So that's all right then. Except that it isn't.

There is more to what has been going on than a bit of trouble in tourist paradise. After weeks of unrest, the country's first democratically elected leader in four decades, Mohamed Nasheed, resigned on Tuesday with a gun to his head in a coup led by the Maldives police. He had been in office just four turbulent years, following the 30-year rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The coup appears to have been led by an alliance of Gayoom supporters and hardline Islamists. And its origins seem to lie in Mr Nasheed's efforts to bring Mr Gayoom's allies to justice for corruption and human rights violations, even as hardline Islamists forced the introduction of sharia law. An order to that effect was overturned by the Nasheed government – which feared the collapse of the country's economy. A warrant is now out for Mr Nasheed's arrest on terrorist charges.

Mauritius and the Seychelles have discreetly offered to accommodate the Maldives' tourists. But this is more than a threat to tourism. It is a threat to democracy, and Western governments must exert what pressure they can to bring the restoration of democratic order.

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