As India and its neighbors scramble to evacuate their citizens from Libya's turmoil, the president of the Maldives says he is optimistic about the long-term democratic future of the region, and says his country can help provide a model for emerging from autocracy.
India's government says it has chartered a passenger ferry to begin helping its citizens exit the country's domestic strife. The "Scotia Prince," with a 1,200 passenger capacity, is expected to set sail soon from Egypt to Libya's eastern port of Benghazi. India then plans to fly citizens home from Alexandria.
Indian officials say air evacuation from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, will begin as soon as the government receives clearance for aircraft on standby to begin landing there. About 18,000 Indian workers are in Libya. It is not known how many intend to return to their homeland as violence by supporters of leader Moammar Gadhafi intensifies against anti-government protesters.
Meanwhile, in the Indian capital, Maldives President Mohammad Nasheed offered his resounding support to pro-democracy activists in the Middle East. He told a group of scholars, following a path to democracy has served his country well.
"After two and half years of democratic government, the Maldives is strong, stable, and successful," he said. "Just as I am sure many Arab countries will become."
The Maldives, a chain of tropical islands southwest of India, experienced its own violent anti-government protests in 2004 and 2005. Nasheed became the first democratically elected president in 2008, replacing a president who held office for 30 years.
President Nasheed dismissed the notion held by some that giving the power of the vote to Arabs or Muslims could lead to chaos.
"Coming from a 100-percent Muslim nation that has peaceful, stable, and successful transition to democracy, I totally reject this line of thinking," he said.
Nasheed says his country has rapidly liberalized its economy, established a free press, built out its civic society, and welcomed the arrival of dozens of international nongovernmental organizations in recent years. Such pillars of liberal democracy, he says, act as a "pressure valve" against the rise of extremist factions, and are the only long-term guarantees of stability in the world.
President Nasheed is in New Delhi until Friday for top level meetings on anti-piracy efforts, climate change, and increased two-way trade and investment.