US urges free elections in Maldives

The United States called Thursday for free elections in Maldives with every party at liberty to choose its own candidate, after the Indian Ocean archipelago's former leader fled to the Indian embassy.

"We urge all sides to remain calm, reject the use of violence and avoid rhetoric that could increase tensions," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

Mohamed Nasheed, the low-lying islands' first democratically elected leader who is best known overseas for his advocacy on climate change, fled Wednesday to the Indian embassy to avoid arrest when he did not appear in court.

Nasheed said that his trial on alleged abuse of power was a politically motivated sham, as a conviction would prevent him from leading his Maldivian Democratic Party into polls in September.

In a reaction similar to India's, the United States called for the September election to be "free, fair, credible, transparent and inclusive."

"We note that all parties participating in these elections should be able to put forward the candidate of their choice," Nuland said.

Nasheed resigned last year after a mutiny by police and military following weeks of anti-government protests in the nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims known for luxury beach resorts.

Nasheed, a frequent visitor to the United States, had voiced outrage after his resignation when Washington quickly said it was willing to work with his successor Mohamed Waheed and called on Nasheed to compromise.

Nasheed later accepted a Commonwealth-backed investigation that ruled that he was not ousted in a coup, as he resigned voluntarily and Waheed was constitutionally his successor.