COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A domestic inquiry commission in the Maldives has concluded that former President Mohamed Nasheed's resignation earlier this year was legal, and that he was not forced to step down at gunpoint as he has claimed.
Nasheed has rejected the report, which was formally released Thursday, and his supporters have resumed street protests in the Indian Ocean nation threatening to deepen the political divisions in the new democracy.
Nasheed became archipelago nation's first democratically elected president in 2008 after 30 years of autocratic rule, but his allegedly illegal order to arrest a senior judge led to public protests and his February resignation. The commission was set up to investigate allegations that mutinying police and soldiers forced him to step down.
The report was immediately welcome by the United Nations, United States and Commonwealth, a grouping of Britain and many of its former colonies that includes the Maldives.
"The resignation of President Nasheed was voluntary and of his own free will. It was not caused by any illegal coercion or intimidation," the report said.
"With regard to the idea that there was a 'coup d'état,' nothing in the Maldives changed in constitutional terms — indeed, the constitution was precisely followed as prescribed," the report said, referring to then Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan assuming power after Nasheed resigned.
It said even though Nasheed claimed a gun was held to his head forcing him to resign, he later said it was only a metaphor and there was no actual firearm.
The commission did say that acts of police brutality were committed against Nasheed supporters following his resignation. Nasheed's supporters were accused of attacking several police stations and court houses.
"It is evident that Maldives is experiencing the challenges of its transition. It is a young democracy with many new and fragile institutions and bodies which are contending with persistent elements and tendencies of a former political culture," the report said.
It recommended that the country's judiciary, police, legislature and human rights commission be strengthened to deliver an effective and independent service.
On Wednesday, a commission member that Nasheed appointed walked out of a meeting, claiming the final report excluded accounts from many key witnesses, as well as video and photo evidence.
Later, scores of Nasheed supporters demonstrated, apparently in response to the former president's claim that he was prepared to "change the government from the streets."
Nasheed has called for Hassan's resignation and early elections, but Hassan says the constitution allows an election only after July next year.
Addressing the nation after the report's release, Hassan asked his opponents to stop questioning the legitimacy of his government.
"It is time to stop illegal activities and activities that go against generally acceptable social norms," he said in apparent reference to opposition protests.
The report was welcomed by the United Nations, the United States and the Commonwealth, a grouping of Britain and many of its former colonies that includes the Maldives. All three groups released statements urging all parties to respect the report's conclusions.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement that Ban welcomed the report and the all-party political talks proposed by Hassan and hoped it would lead to "national reconciliation and a way of moving forward."
"He is concerned at the prospect of renewed political tensions should any side not accept the outcome of the inquiry. He calls on all parties to exercise maximum cooperation and restraint," Nesirky said.
Nasheed's nominee on the commission urged other countries and the U.N. to reconsider their support for the inquiry report. Saeed said important security camera footage was not viewed and that some policemen were intimidated by authorities into not giving evidence before the commission.
The five-member domestic inquiry commission was made up of four Maldivians, including Nasheed's representative, and a retired Singaporean judge who was a co-chair. Two legal professionals from New Zealand and Canada worked as advisers. It sat for more than six months and interviewed 293 people.