World Bulletin/News Desk
Voters in the Maldives thronged polling stations on Saturday to chose a new leader 20 months after their first democratically elected president was ousted, causing months of sporadic violence and uncertainty.
Mohamed Nasheed, forced from power in February 2012 in what his supporters say was a coup, hopes to return to office and end a period of unrest that has tarnished the Indian Ocean archipelago's image as a tropical holiday paradise.
"Voting today is significant because we are going to establish a legitimate government," he said after waiting 15 minutes to cast his ballot in the city centre, near police headquarters.
Jostled by reporters, Nasheed was whisked to the front of the queue by bodyguards and then quickly out of the polling station.
He is running against three rivals, including Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who took over as president after his ouster.
But Nasheed's main rival is expected to be Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the man who ruled for 30 years and was considered a dictator by opponents and rights groups.
"I hope to get through in the first round itself," Yameen told reporters.
Also on the ballot is Gasim Ibrahim, a resort tycoon, media business owner and a finance minister under Gayoom.
Voters waiting in queues that stretched around street corners in the capital Male, were eager to cast their ballots after the prolonged period of turmoil.
"I've been waiting 19 months for this day. So I got here as early as I could. It's my way of standing up against the coup," said Ismail Shiyaz, 39, a backer of Nasheed.
Others, like Rooya Hussain, were less certain.
"I don't think any of these candidates are suitable," she said. "However, I cast a valid vote for one of them. Let's see if this brings any change for the better."
FORCING A RUN-OFF
Nasheed said he now enjoyed support in the ranks of the military and police which helped force him from office and expressed confidence he would secure 50 percent of the vote to win in the first round. A split vote would force a run-off on Sept. 28.
Nasheed was forced to resign in February 2012 after mutinying police and military forces armed opposition demonstrators and gave him an ultimatum.
His removal sparked unruly protests by his supporters and a heavy-handed police crackdown, pushing the country into crisis. A Commonwealth-backed commission of inquiry later concluded that his removal did not constitute a coup.
Human rights abuses and a lack of investor confidence after Waheed's government cancelled the country's biggest foreign investment project with India's GMR Infrastructure are among the critical issues the new president will face.
The Maldives, a sultanate for almost nine centuries before becoming a British protectorate, held its first fully democratic polls in 2008 with Nasheed defeating Gayoom, an autocrat who was then Asia's longest-serving leader.
Former Afghan rebel leader calls Taliban to peace after agreeing to put down arms
Paramilitary ranger, female gas station employee killed and 9 other people injured in separate attacks blamed on insurgents
Court appearance for man accused of transporting 73 men, women and children by boat to mainland
The official Xinhua News agency reported earlier that the villagers were found dead at their homes on Thursday morning.
The strikes aimed at "neutralising the terrorists" had caused "multiple casualties", according to the Indian officials.
China also sent fighter planes for the first time over a strait near Japan on Monday as part of a group of more than 40 jets headed to train in the West Pacific.
Military says findings show militant group involved in illegal drugs trade in troubled south, members on meth during combat
Statement comes after int’l probe finds flight carrying 298 people was downed by missile fired from launcher from Russia
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Wednesday that he will put a stop to joint military exercises with the United States, a move that could further cause frictions with a long-time ally.
India has launched surgical strikes firing teargas canisters on unarmed Kashmiri civilians
The landslide struck the village of Sucun in Suichang county of Zhejiang province at around 5pm (0900 GMT), the official Xinhua news agency said.
Military says 3 Abu Sayyaf members, 1 soldier also injured in back-to-back encounters in troubled southern island province
India has sought to isolate Pakistan in the wake of the raid on its base in the disputed region of Kashmir, which killed 18 soldiers and triggered public fury.
India has blamed Pakistan for a military unit attack with Pakistan denying charges and warning that it will use nuclear arsenal if necessary
Rescue teams search for 2 miners who remain missing after gas explosion authorities blame on ‘illegal mining’
Blast at mine in northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region believed to have been caused by gas