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Maldives 'ready' for fair elections

06 September 2013, 21:00

Male - The president of the Maldives on Friday promised a free and fair election this weekend 18 months after a violent change of leadership shook the Indian Ocean archipelago.

"The atmosphere is ready for free and fair elections," Mohamed Waheed told AFP as the candidates standing in the presidential poll wrapped up campaigning in the popular holiday destination.

"I have given an assurance of my government's full support for anyone who wins the election," he added, speaking from the cramped capital of the nation of around 350 000 people.

In February last year, the Maldives' first freely elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, resigned after a mutiny by police which he claimed was a coup orchestrated by former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Waheed, who was vice-president under Nasheed, was swiftly sworn in to replace his former boss who continues to call the current adminstration a "traitor government".

Both men are standing in Saturday's vote, along with Gasim Ibrahim, a wealthy tourist resort tycoon, and Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom.

Nasheed is expected to easily win, but he needs more than 50% to avoid a run-off when his opponents would be expected to join together to oppose him.

His opponent in a run-off on 28 September would most likely be Yameen, observers say.

"We are apprehensive that renegade elements within the police and military... might intervene during voting or during counting," Nasheed told a press conference on Thursday.

Next 48 hours

He says he he is confident of winning and outright majority.

After a meeting of several thousand voters decked out in his party's yellow colour the night before, Nasheed held a final rally in the capital Male on Friday afternoon.

"The country seems to be prepared but its not the preparations that count," head of an observer mission from the Commonwealth, Lawrence Gonzi, told AFP on Friday.

"It's about what happens during the next 48 hours," he said.

Nasheed was briefly detained following the mutiny against him, leading to violent protests and arson attacks on police stations and court buildings on some of the more than 1 000 islands scattered around the equator.

The violence led to a temporary dip in tourist arrivals, which are the lifeblood of the country which welcomes more than a million mostly well-heeled visitors a year.



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