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UN Secretary-General Urges Maldives Government to End State of Emergency

A Maldives policeman charges with baton towards protesters after the government declared a 15-day state of emergency in Male, Maldives, early Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the Maldives government Tuesday to end the state of emergency and ensure the safety of its citizens, including judges and politicians who have been arrested.

Saying he is "seriously concerned about the unfolding situation in the Maldives," Guterres issued the pleas after the Maldives' exiled former president called on India and the United States to intervene in his country's political crisis.

Mohammed Nasheed issued a statement Tuesday urging India to send an envoy – backed by its military forces – to the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago to free imprisoned Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and court Judge Ali Hameed. Saeed and Hameed were arrested earlier Tuesday when security forces stormed the Supreme Court building in the capital, Male, just hours after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency.

"President Yameen has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power," Nasheed said in his statement. "We are asking for a physical presence." He also called on Washington to impose a freeze on all financial transactions of government officials.

Amnesty International also demanded the release of the judges and opposition politicians it says were arbitrarily detained.

"A state of emergency cannot be used to carry out what appears to be purge of the Supreme Court and the opposition," said Amnesty International South Asian Director Biraj Patnaik.

Nasheed was elected president in the Maldives' first mulitparty election in 2008, but he resigned in 2012 amid a military takeover. He lost the 2013 presidential race to Yameen, and was then tried and convicted of terrorism charges in a trial criticized by human rights activists. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, but later granted medical leave last year to travel to Britain, where he was granted asylum.

Police said in a Twitter message they had arrested Chief Justice Saeed and Judge Hameed "for an ongoing investigation." They gave no details about the allegations or charges against the two judges.

In addition to the two jurors, security forces also arrested former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

President Yameen imposed the state of emergency after refusing to comply with a Supreme Court order to release detained political leaders.

"During this time, though certain rights will be restricted, general movements, services and businesses will not be affected," a statement issued by the president's office said.

Yameen's administration defied the top court's order last week to release the prisoners, and asked the court Monday to revoke it.

Democratic gains in the Maldives have eroded under the leadership of Yameen, who has conducted a crackdown on the opposition and the press.