President Abdulla Yameen has declared a 15-day state of emergency, deepening a political crisis in the Maldives that has pitted its leader against the nation's top court.

Maldives defence soldiers patrol on the main street of Male, Maldives, February 5, 2018.
Maldives defence soldiers patrol on the main street of Male, Maldives, February 5, 2018. (AP)

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen on Monday declared a 15-day state of emergency as security forces stormed the Supreme Court in a sign that the crisis, partly over a jailed former president, is coming to a head.

The move came after opposition leaders in the Maldives urged the international community to pressure Yameen into obeying a court order to free political prisoners and "restore democracy" in the troubled islands.

"The President has been compelled to declare a state of emergency, due to the risk currently posed to national security," said a statement from the president's office. "Implementation of the Supreme Court ruling is – in its current form – incompatible with maintenance of public safety."

The statement also added that "despite the declaration of the state of emergency, there will be no enforcement of a curfew; and general movements, services and businesses will not be affected."

The Supreme Court on Sunday asked Yameen to comply with its order, saying the dissidents must be released because their trials were politically motivated and flawed.

But Yameen's government has so far refused to release nine jailed dissidents and reinstate opposition lawmakers as ordered by the Maldives' top court.

The court's ruling also opens the way for exiled former leader of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed to run for president after the Supreme Court quashed his conviction for terrorism.

"The Maldives Supreme Court has finally spoken. In the past, previously, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has already ruled that my charge, the trial and the sentence, were all politically motivated and that I should be released," said Nasheed.

Meanwhile, Maldives police arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Monday, his spokesman Abdul Aleem said.

Gayoom, who is Yameen's half-brother and ruled the country for 30 years until 2008, was arrested at his residence, along with his son-in-law. 

Gayoom's son Farish, an opposition lawmaker, is among jailed opposition leaders that were ordered to be freed.

The strongman leader has remained defiant, suspending parliament, ordering the arrest of two returning opposition defectors and staging a rally late on Sunday with hundreds of supporters in the capital Male.

TRT World's Philip Owira reports.

Reaction to Yameen

The United States on Monday called on the Maldives government and military to respect the rule of law after the president of the archipelago declared a state of emergency.

Nasheed - who was barred from contesting any election after a controversial 2015 conviction on a terrorism charge - has described Yameen's refusal to obey the Supreme Court as a "coup".

The court's ruling "effectively ends President Yameen's authoritarian rule", said Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party.

"We will hopefully come up with a new Speaker of the House and we will then investigate other institutions and also move towards a free and fair election. This is election year in the Maldives. I can contest and I will contest and we will hopefully win it again," said Nasheed.

Yameen has jailed almost all political oppositionists since 2013, when he won a controversial run-off election against Nasheed.

Opposition parties rallied in capital Male on Sunday, but there was no repeat of the police clashes and tear gas that rocked the capital over the weekend.

A number of countries including China, the United States and India -- issued travel advisories for the Maldives, a nation of 400,000 people best known as a beach paradise for tourists. 

Request for external support

In a letter addressed to the international community, opposition lawmakers appealed for external support in persuading Yameen to end the tense standoff with the country's highest court.

"We request the international community, including India, Sri Lanka, the US, Britain, the EU... to do everything in their power to help return power to the people of the Maldives and restore democracy," the statement read.

Yameen has faced increasing pressure to respect Thursday's landmark court ruling, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the weekend calling for "restraint" as the crisis escalated.

Impeachment 'illegal' 

The UN, Australia, Britain, Canada, India and the United States welcomed the court's decision as a move towards restoring democracy in the troubled Indian Ocean nation.

Yameen has faced previous unsuccessful opposition attempts to impeach him for alleged corruption.

But the court order, to restore the seats of 12 government MPs who defected to the opposition, would effectively reduce Yameen's party to a minority.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil warned on Sunday that any move to impeach the president would be "unconstitutional and illegal".

Two opposition lawmakers who returned to the Maldives since the court's ruling were detained by police to face court on Monday.

One was freed by a criminal court in Male, while the other awaits a hearing.

Parliament was due to resume on Monday, but was suspended indefinitely at the weekend by Yameen. He had deployed troops to occupy the People's Majlis since March last year.

Source: AFP